It was another wonderful day at Notre Dame filed with much intellectual stimulation. We were all treated to Sr. Mary Johnson, SND’s words on spirituality and then three wonderful vocation stories from our peers including my good friend Fr John Grace, the campus minister at Virginia Tech. Fr. Edward Beck again led us in prayer last night and again he moved me into contemplation.
Sometimes I think I know so much and that I know how to fix every situation. Fr. Beck reminded us the story of Naaman the Leper, where despite his gallantry he has a flaw: leprosy. It takes a slave girl to get him to do something about it and then when the great prophet, Elisha doesn’t even see him, but sends a messenger, who asks of him something simple, to wash in the Jordan River he thinks he knows better. He essentially says “THE JORDAN? Please! I know better rivers that could probably make me cleaner than that filthy Jordan! And what do you know anyway? You are not the healing prophet!”
Eventually he becomes persuaded, again by servants, to do this simple act and is healed. And Naaman worships the God of Israel.
I think Naaman is also a lot like Joseph, Mary’s husband. For you see, Joseph, an upright man of the law knows everything. And he knows that Mary is pregnant and he also knows that that child is not him and so the law gives him the right to dispense with the betrothal. In fact, the law gives him the right to stone Mary.
But Joseph, a kind man, decides to divorce Mary quietly. I imagine him to be really angry at the breaking of the betrothal agreement. I imagine he had a few derogatory words to say too. And I know if any of this happened to me, I would not have a sound sleep. Rather my unconscious would be working constantly and I would dream all night.
And the same thing happens to Joseph who comes to trust God through his dreams and continues to trust God and Mary even though he may not always be given the gift of truly understanding.
Last night…I was clearly a Naaman and a Joseph. Whenever my wife gives me some bad news, I often try to offer her a solution. And sometimes she’s even taken that advice. Most of the time though, what I am offering her is for myself, for my comfort and not hers. I try to control situations which actually limits her freedom to choose and to be who she is.
In fact, while I’m not always conscious of it, I try to control a whole lot. Including my sunset walk last night where I tried to recapture another gorgeous picture by the lake here. But each shot fell short of my expectations. So I gave up and I got back on the winding path by the lake and there it was:
The beautiful random swans just quacking and floating and being who they are. Glorious. I turned around and here were two mallards, a male and a female and three little ducklings. I tried to take their picture but it was too dark and then God’s voice clearly hit me.
“Stop trying to control everything. You are even trying to control the sun, you dope!”
I sat and watched those little ducklings and the swans and the little raccoon that that came along further down the path. They were there for me to simply see and to shut off my camera and let them just be there for me to see and experience–to walk with and most of all to shut up and not say anything or do anything (and here I am blogging–perhaps I still don’t get it?!”) but simply to be still and to notice the beauty of creation.
Perhaps there is a lesson for me in noticing and not doing. Do I notice how my wife solves her own problem? After all, she did this for her entire adult life before she met me and apparently that worked out OK. Do I do the same thing with my students sometimes, especially the ones that I think need a shove or perhaps might not be as intelligent as others?
Where is my Jordan River that I need to get rid of my own leprosy and be simply healed? Where do I take the opportunity to let go of how I think things should go, my own laws perhaps, and instead experience things as they are?
As I returned back last night, I passed the grotto here at Notre Dame a small cave like place of prayer dedicated to Mary and filled with candles. I imagined that if I were Joseph’s, I would grow in frustration with her. I imagined saying as Joseph, “So what makes you think you know everything there is to know about this child?” And I imagined Mary saying, “I don’t think. I just trust and then I know.”
I just trust and then I know. Walk with someone today who needs you to walk with them. And be willing to trust that they know and that all will be well.
And if that doesn’t work, throw yourself in the river and wake up.