Saturday, April 28, 2012

Over and over, again

You might think that, after Holy Week and Easter at Notre Dame, things would quiet down a bit. But such has not been the case! We are in the thick of preparing the Folk Choir for an epic, post-graduation tour of Ireland and Scotland. And we've just moved into "wedding season" – my wife and I have a wedding every Saturday from last weekend through Commencement.

But today, I want to muse a bit on repetition.

About three weeks ago, one of my dearest friends – a physician and a visionary and a man whose zeal for excellence in health care is nothing short of breathtaking – this physician friend of mine came very close to open heart surgery. Only at the last minute, in something that might've been seen as a bit of a miraculous intervention, did the doctors decide on "bypassing the bypass" and electing for stints instead. It was a life-changing, and life-giving, decision.

This dear friend talked with me a lot about the days heading into surgery, knowing as only a physician can, that he was going to have his sternum cut apart, his heart lifted out of his body, and then all of it put back together again. And after the initial days of panic and soul-searching, he decided to do something that touches the deepest parts of our own hearts and souls.

He decided to say things. Over and over again. Repeating things.

With his permission, I am sharing his mantras with you now:

"Please, Jesus, I am uniting with you, because of my love for you."

"Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus."

This was his own, personal chant – a mantra of thanksgiving, miraculously enough. A mantra of hope in the midst of potential terror and despair.

As I reflected on my friend's profound stance toward his own fragile state and mortality, I became acutely aware of what we all need to do as pilgrims on this earth: we need to say things, over and over again. Likewise, we need to hear things, over and over again. Because seldom do our hearts and souls retain the deepest truths in the deepest recesses of our being. Repetition is part of the key to retaining these truths; it is an intimate part of our spiritual journey.

This world frowns on repetition. Society seldom hits the repeat button. "What's next!" is our theme, our modus operandi. We prefer the new, the exciting, the yet-to-be-encountered. But rosaries, mantras, litanies: all these things, wrapped up in the counter-cultural stance of seeming monotony, are the things we truly need. We need to hear our parents say "I love you" daily: when we hear this, it's a little easier to understand the everlasting love of our Creator. We need to say "I forgive you" often, because when we do this, it's a little easier to understand that God does so, with us, every day as well.

Repetition: thanking a person, or our Creator, over and over again. Pleading and praying, over and over again. These are the things that bring meaning and hope to our lives. Not the caricature of the new and improved.

I thank God for the friends I have in my life. My physician friend is someone who has partnered with me for almost a decade, enthusiastically breathing life into the mission and ministry Notre Dame Folk Choir. I was humbled when he shared his mantras with me, for though he may not have understood it, his simple stance of thanksgiving was one of incredible courage and holiness in the face of death.

And it is when we walk these roads with our friends, when we walk them over and over again, that we become aware of the fact that we are, indeed, treading the paths of holy ground.

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