Birthday Pilgrimage

Path to S_ Baume-provence2010In 1947 in the July heat of the Fresno valley I took my first breaths, released from my mother’s watery womb, having been created in the heart of God. Being the firstborn, my parents named me traditionally after my great-grandmothers, Christine (Norwegian) and Gertrude (French-Irish). 

We didn’t have much, but we lived in an America that honored family, faith, and hard work. We were rich in all three. 

Two years before my birth, my father, William Carl Thomas, discharged from the Navy as a chaplain on the USS Phoenix in World War II, had married my mother, Helen Martha Martin, in a church near her home in Inglewood, Los Angeles. They didn’t have photos taken, so they dressed up later for a picture in a garden. That was 1945. 

My journeys in time through my sixty-eight years have known everyday miracles, full of twists and turns, ups and downs, rarely along the road I had chosen, but, by grace, pulled along a better one. As I look back it seems I traveled many paths that wove in and out of one another, forming a cloth of many colors. 

My body traveled with me, naturally, housing my soul, growing, aging in sickness and in health, knowing the pains and pleasures of each day granted. My flesh has changed on this journey as cells have rearranged. Its waywardness has been partially tamed through habit and inconsistent discipline, exercise and diet. Hopefully, my body has grown to know its proper place in my life, subject to my soul and not its dictator. But the two don’t always agree on this; it is a work in progress, a journey ongoing. 

My soul traveled through these years, discovering the rich fullness of Christ at twenty and beginning that bright pilgrimage to God in God, as St. Benedict said. I traveled into the Eucharist, uniquely encountering Christ, and I traveled into his Body, the Church, learning to love and forgive, and most blessedly, being loved and forgiven in return.   

My soul learned in its journey how to wash itself clean with confession. All that I have done wrong and all that I have left undone can thus be seen in the light of Christ, purged by my penitence, my re-penting, changing. Such washing grants me the joy of waking each morning with a clean heart and soul, one open and honest and loving and unafraid. This is Christ’s healing tonic, forgiveness through his Church, His Body. And in this way we set out on the right path, at least for that day. 

I traveled as well into my own little gifts, such as they were and are, that grew tentatively, surprising me like green shoots sprouting from the earth, as experience sculpted memory, hopes, and fears. A student of history, I’ve learned how little I know, and it is humbling. But I’ve grown to know the face of freedom, its nature and its challenges, when it is threatened, and when it is nourished. I can recognize freedom’s enemies, hidden or disguised as friends. I am beginning to understand the difference between liberty and license. 

I also traveled in and through words on the printed page, blessed to grow up surrounded by books and book lovers. We poured over encyclopedias and dictionaries to answer our questions. We carried home stacks from the library. We listened to stories read aloud at bedtime, that borderland between listening and dreaming, wakefulness and sleep, when the heart and mind are open to the imagination and words are savored. This was our entertainment in an age when TV was limited, even (in our home) suspect. But reading aloud made language sing and dance. Meghan Cox Gurdon writes: “To curl up with children and a good book has long been one of the great civilizing practices of domestic life, an almost magical means of cultivating warm fellow feeling…and a common cultural understanding.” Today more than ever reading aloud together is an antidote to reading screens alone. We thus personalize our shared stories, joining the generations and renewing our culture. 

I traveled with others along the way, gathering together, working together, healing and helping: brothers and sisters in the Church, family and friends now scattered. These many and varied people of God are so unique that their differences complement rather than copy one another, forming an infinite rainbow, an eternal spectrum of type and color. There were mothers who mothered and fathers who shepherded. These many stars in a firmament of folks twinkled their way into my heart, lighting my path. I shall see them again one day when we gather at the river that runs by the throne of God. 

I’m still traveling through my time, glad and thankful that my destination is clear, the pathway well marked. I need merely read the signposts found in the forest of sacrament, scripture, and prayer. I began in the mind of God, swam in my mother’s watery womb, breathed my first air in a farming town called Fresno. As I begin my sixty-ninth year, I watch and listen, waiting for the words to see and hear, praying without ceasing, thy will be done within my free will, so that I choose the right path, home to God.  

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