We flew home from Texas last night and I finished another great book during the flight. My mom's pastor recommended this author to her and she allowed me a chance to read the book first. Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith by Nora Gallagher is an absolutely beautiful book. She uses the seasons of the church calendar to share her journey of faith during the course of one year; a journey marked both by doubt and revelation. During the course of the book, she uses the voices of her beloved friends in her church community and the words of a number of well-known writers to help articulate her struggles and triumphs in her walk towards God. While I sometimes got bogged down in her stories about the day-to-day life of her parish, I was rewarded over and over again with some incredibly profound insights. Perhaps, as she says, "the road to the sacred is paved with the ordinary."
Here are a few of the lines that touched me:
On the voice of God--"...and we felt that if we just listened hard enough, we could make out the words. That is how it is when I hear God speaking, when I see what could be or even what is, but too dimly to make it out. I can almost hear, I can almost see. I can almost touch the peace proclaimed. Sometime I think that faith is only about increasing peripheral vision, peripheral hearing."
On the story of Jesus turning the water into wine----"What I'm hearing is that we are asked to turn something ordinary, something like water, into something full of life. We are asked to take ourselves--our ordinary souls and bodies--to be a 'living sacrifice', to make of our own ordinariness something fully alive."
On going deeper---"If it can be put into words, what I yearned for was to embody my shaky faith, to feel my faith in my flesh, acted out, incarnate."
On living as a new creation---"drowned to the old life, to insensibility and unconsciousness, and risen into a new life, into compassion, availability, abundance."
On walking with a dying friend---"She needed me to help carry the load. I didn't. That had nothing to do with respecting her autonomy; it was about washing my hands. We pretend to respect the autonomy of people who are sick or dying; in actuality, we hang them out to dry. I see something then, just at the periphery, about faith. I want to remain clean, innocent, above the fray, but faith requires me to get down and dirty, to risk making a mistake for the sake of another, to join in the awful intimacy of her suffering."
On the excessive love of God---"Excess marks the lives of saints and pilgrims. Viewed through the lens of faith, however, these lives reveal this truth: the love of God for us is excessive and deserves, even demands, extravagance in return."
On commitment---" we have a choice in our culture, to have a cultural Christianity or a committed Christianity. A cultural Christianity is a Christianity where you go to a nice church and you take your children to a nice church where you have a liturgy that pleases you without any depth of commitment. A committed Christianity challenges people to cross that bridge from a cultural inclination to a commitment in faith."
On the "least of these" among us---" In our midst is a homeless man without a blanket and shoes too large for his feet. We have organized our lives so that he is hidden from us. He lives, like God, in invisibility. But when we do see him, I think tonight, we keep a rendezvous. In the seeing is a glimpse, a foretaste of the Kingdom; it will be a place where everyone is seen, including us. Here we are together, in Ordinary Time, learning how to see."