Thursday, August 27, 2020

God's Shelter by Regina Madonna Oliver, A Promise of Presence

Unsplash: Joe Valve

"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;

for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth;

the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove

is heard in our land. . . .

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."

Song of Solomon 2:10-13 (NRSV)

God is always softening our transitions for us. Although we are no more aware of this than we were aware of our mother's hand gentling us into sleep by "tucking us in" or fluffing our pillow, God nestles us into change.

God "gentled" me through a major transition and taught me an important lesson about the final transition of death. In 1975, my first cousin, a physically challenged woman nearing fifty, was suddenly left alone after her mother died. A care giver had been found to stay with my cousin, but without family intervention Social Services would take over. It was clear that I was the only family member within traveling distance who could do anything.

At first I dealt with the situation by traveling from Philadel­ phia to Washington, D.C. on weekends. This was the preferred step my community authorized at the time. In addition to handling a full teaching roster, I was the chairperson of the drama department and involved in the major production of the year: Hello Dolly. Within two months, full days of teaching, late-night rehearsals, working on set construction and choreography, and the long commute began to take their toll on my health. I was advised that something had to change or I would break down and be of no use to anyone. I knew this myself.

My mother general was understanding and said she would do her best to find a substitute, which would not be easy because my roster was peculiar, consisting of dramatics classes and communi­cation arts. We both knew, however, that if this was in God's plan the needs would be met- and they were. Mother Claudia notified me that on my next trip to Washington, over the Halloween weekend, I should remain there, live in the local convent, and assume the responsibility of full-time care of my cousin.

God was faithful in this circumstance. As God promises, every need was met, including a capable director to complete the last phase of the theatrical. I was privileged to return to Philadel­ phia to be in the audience for opening night.

The bigger lesson God taught me at the time, however, was how lovingly God shelters us and protects us during life's major transitions. Being a coordinator of the drama club had been important to me. The student members and I formed a special community of friends, and I savored the theatrical challenges and satisfactions we shared. Now I was suddenly to leave it all behind to move to Virginia to begin work I knew little about. Yet, amazingly,

I was joyful as I prepared to leave. It was, of course, because God's will was clear, although the details were far from clear.

When I got to my new ministry, my cousin's care, I had breathing time to reflect. I realized that, despite the major shifts in my life in a short period of time, I was not traumatized. In fact, I had energy to begin the new work with zeal.

What had happened to shield me from the shock of a major transition? I prayed about that, and God let me know more than I bargained for. "Do you see how you have moved from one life­ experience to a totally different one and have not suffered the trauma of change?" God asked. "That is because I sheltered you. Don't you see how I lifted you up gently, as in my hands, and set you down in your new environment ever so carefully, preserving you from the brunt of transition? Know, too, that this is how it is when you die. I know how to bring my own gently from the awareness of this world into the brilliance of eternity, without their experiencing total shock. To those who look on, it may seem as if dying is a terrible and painful process, but they don't know how I am loving and sheltering the dying as they move out of their present awareness into my awareness."

This was the revelation that took my breath away. Sad to say, my response was ever so human: "Why are you telling me this, God? Am I going to die soon or something?"

No answer!
I asked myself later if this "revelation" could be verified in the writings of major theologians or spirituality experts- and sure enough, I happened upon a description in William Johnston's book Silent Music, which said the same thing about God's embrac­ing love cushioning the dying person into eternity. What a comfort this insight is to us as we face our own dying and as we support our loved ones in theirs.


Be with God for a few moments, and recall a major transition in your life. See how God was there for you, helping you over the emotional hump. Thank God for that presence in your time of need. Praise and celebrate yourselfl


Look back on your life and see how many times you were chal­ lenged to accept a major change. Recall how you may not always have responded gracefully or courageously but did meet the challenge. With God, look at those times. See the changes you made and the generosity with which you made those changes; see how you were left a better person. See how God played a part in your ability to respond affirmatively. Talk with God about this.


In your prayer today, talk with God about the power and necessity of change. Bless the challenges of change for the growth they bring. Ask yourself if you might be sheltering yourself or someone else from the demands of major change right now. Think about the meaning of"tough love," with an emphasis on "love."


Think about those times when your life situation developed in a different direction than you had planned. Where do you see God being your shelter in that unplanned development for your life? Perhaps this was evident in your call to marriage, parenthood, a certain career or ministry, or the religious life. Find how God was there for you, for indeed, God was there. Talk with God about how his love sheltered you at the same time that God urged you to act.


Just be in God's presence today in the security of knowing that in all the fluxes of life God is there for you, God shelters you.


Spend time with God today thinking about death, even if this frightens you. Think about your fear; perhaps you've never gone beneath the surface of your fear to see God's providence and mercy preparing you for death in the very rhythm of your daily life. Just as God is there when you give yourself over to the state of sleep at the end of your day, God promises to be there when you give yourself over to that eternal rest of death. Talk to God about this promise. Recall Jesus' promise to the good thief: "This day you will be with me in paradise."


Make Psalm 91 your prayer today. Select one line from the psalm that strikes you in a special way, and savor that line throughout the day. Let the words console you. End your prayer time by entrusting God anew with your life and with your death.

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