Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Our Spiritual Carbon Footprint

I'm walking around campus today, and looking at thousands of students (half of whom wear make up) subjecting themselves to this very curious ritual, that of having their gleaming foreheads smeared with the junk of this earth.

And at the same time, I've been processing a lot lately about our environment, what we create, what we leave behind... the good and the bad.

There's a poignant juxtaposition of these two realities: Ash Wednesday, which reminds us of the fact that we've only got a few precious years on this little blue marble in space – that we will eventually return to that from which we were made: cosmic dust.

The other reality, if you will, is the "secular environmental" one: that we are stewards of the earth, and we use things, and we leave things behind. Neither of these perspectives are half-bad to meditate on right now, and they're more intimately linked than one might think.

The environmentalists will ask what kind of a carbon footprint you leave in your wake. The spiritual stewards of this world will put a different spin on it: What kind of holy footprint do you leave behind?

Lent is a time when a lot is going on in the world of campus life, and much of it is future oriented: Will I get an RA position next year? Will I graduate? Where will I end up? What's the future of my relationship with (fill in the blank). Is this what God wants of me, or simply what I want? Some students, facing spring break in a couple of weeks, will choose to bury these questions in frolicking and alcohol. But others will find places to work these issues out in quiet and holy ways: walking, retreating, serving others.

Lent is a good time to look at our footprints. Where we have come over the past few years. What we're up to. What we've been doing (the good and the not-so-good).

What do we leave behind? What's our spiritual carbon footprint? How have we used the things that have been given us – not just the tangible, quantifiable things of this earth, but the more intangible (and more powerful) unseen gifts of the Spirit? What's our record of stewardship when it comes to the things we've been given?

It's a good time to look back. Look back upon our tracks.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What if God IS the fog?

Even though we've been back at Notre Dame for weeks, I find myself still thinking about the retreat we had at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and the words that were imparted by the students in my choir.

One of the extraordinary talks that was shared, by one of our Juniors, was about an event that took place along the Camino de Compostela in Spain. On this pilgrimage, this particular choir member became separated from the rest of his friends, and he found himself smack dab in the middle of one of those overwhelming fog banks that rolls into the high mountains. The Camino, at times, is not well-marked; this young man found himself alone, lost, battling fear, not knowing which way to turn.

But here is where the remarkable insight of this choir member kicked in. As the fog enveloped him, his first response was to see it as an adversary, as an enemy, something keeping him from finding his way. But then he sat down. Took a while to pray. And this is what his prayer told him: what if the fog wasn't his adversary? What if the fog was God?

And then, almost as if God was proving the point to this young man, he happened to look down as he was sitting there. And out of his mouth – came the fog of his own breathing. God was in that, too.

There is a lot of fog around Notre Dame right now (and not just with the picture of the Basilica that I snapped on the way in to work today). A cloud of unknowing: Which path to choose? Which internship to accept? What will happen after graduation? What major to declare? Yet in all of this, I believe the story of my fellow chorister offers a great lesson: sit, wait, pray.

What if the fog is not our adversary? What if the fog IS God, surrounding us, accompanying us, enveloping us on your journey. To paraphrase the Book of Job: if God gives us the bright sunshine, must we also be given the fog as well? Both come from our Creator. Both are part of the journey. Our challenge is not to give in to the uncertainty, to the fear. We simply need to see God in the fog.