Sunday Surprises

It’s been a day of pleasant surprises.

As I checked my email this morning, before leaving for church, my picture flashed up on Catholic.Ink, a newsletter of CatholicFiction.net and Tuscany Press showcasing Catholic authors and books. The interview was a while back, and I had forgotten it. What a surprise! I read it with fear and trembling, thinking occasionally, is that really me? It was one of many seeds planted in the last year. Many seeds I plant never sprout, let alone flower. So it was a pleasant surprise. 

I had forgotten about it by the time we arrived at church in a bitter, numbing fog. I turned on the heat in the Sunday School rooms (heat in August? I asked myself, shivering). The balloons and welcome sign were already by the entrance and I set out the materials for the crafts, the cloth for our circle time, the storybook, the snack, and the poster board attendance chart waiting for its sticky stars to shine like a rainbow. Our sunflower plants had emerged from the black loamy soil in their little pails and there were even some green leaves. Natalie (3 ½) will be happy with that, I thought. 

Summer Sundays are often quiet and predictable, for folks go on vacation, attendance is lower, and today our rector was gone as well, and it, well, it just seemed like it would be quiet, slow. 

The children arrived and we stuck our sticky stars on the chart and gathered together around the circle, praying, talking, and singing about the saints of God. We worked on our crafts and watered the plants and lined up in the narthex for our blessing, then stepped solemnly up the red-carpeted aisle to the altar rail where our senior priest blessed us and gave the teachers Holy Communion. We padded back to our classroom and finished our projects.

We were beginning to put things away when I saw, standing in the doorway, a gentleman from the past whose uncle had been a dear friend, now in Heaven, probably one of those saints we were singing about. What joy it gave my husband and me to chat with Tim, mid-forties I guessed but looking much younger as he spoke of God in his life (“I’ve been reborn,” he cried at one point), what memories he brought back, as though Father Gilman were right there with us, chuckling and rubbing his chin, and saying I told you so. 

Happy with this turn of events, we headed toward the stairs to go down to the hall for coffee. Swimming in a current of memories of Father Gilman, I was surprised by the approach of my good friend Edwina. She introduced me to her pretty granddaughters, seventeen and eighteen. “They want to be baptized,” she announced quietly, her face alight as though she had discovered a great secret or was planning a coup. “When can we do it?” she asked me. I led them to the baptismal font in the back of the nave and we spoke a bit about baptism, the action of God through water and the Holy Spirit, the becoming part of the family of God, the Body of Christ. I gave them some materials to look over and promised that the rector would call them soon. By the time we all trundled down to have our coffee, we had become family, soon to become God’s family, a close connection indeed.

Downstairs in the parish hall I rejoined my husband and Tim. We chatted about Father Gilman, the old times, sharing the many stories of this robust man of God. Father Gilman was tall, a hefty man, once an engineer (he built tunnels through the Rocky Mountains, he told me), who had found his priestly vocation upon retirement. He loved to laugh, but what many recalled was his discipline. He ran the Bishop’s office like a Marine another once said (I for one appreciated this aspect, working in the office from time to time). He barked at acolytes who were late to Mass. He was a practical man and a spiritual man too, an effective combination. He knew when to be quiet and he knew when to act. He was thoughtful and watchful. He wasn’t afraid of warning people they were going to step off a cliff. As we chatted with Tim, I thought how the past linked us together like a great fishing net, or wove us into a huge tapestry. Seeds sprouted, full-flowered, within minutes in my soul. “As you get older,” Tim said, shaking his head and smiling (just as his uncle once did), “you look back and see connections.” How true, I thought, and how good it was to have such blessings travel with us as we age. 

Looking back in my own life I see patterns form, remarkable connections made, and I often think the saints in Heaven pull the strings this way and that as though we were part of a great drama, but of course it’s so much more than that. I do wonder, though, at times, if one day from my Heavenly perch I might be able to nudge or prod those I love who are still on earth, nudge them toward God, since I would be surrounded by the power and glory of the Father, Christ would be beside me, the wind of the Holy Spirit would be at my back, the angels would be whispering and fluttering. The temptation, it seems, would be to forget those on earth when one is so transfixed with God himself. One day I shall see; one day I shall know.

In the meantime I watch and wait for these amazing surprises, these moments of sudden joy, of the sun coming out. C.S. Lewis once said (and Father Raymond Raynes said this as well, so I’m not sure who was first; they were contemporaries, both saintly men) that belief in Christianity was like belief in the sun rising. When the sun rises, we know it has risen not because we can see the sun clearly, but because we can see everything else. Just so, God lights up the world and we can see.

I suppose the greatest surprise of all is that I’m still surprised, surprised by joy, way more than pleasantly surprised, but stunningly, excruciatingly, sweetly surprised. Today I have added a few more bright sticky stars to my own chart of Sundays. My chart is sprouting color like crazy, this sudden Sunday, the Tenth after Trinity in the year 2013, with all these rainbows weaving through my time, here and in eternity.

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