Islands listen to me, pay attention.
The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb He pronounced my name. It is He who created me, knit me together in my mother’s womb. Already He knew my soul, my body held no secret from Him when I was being fashioned in secret, moulded in the depths. He searches me and knows my resting and rising, my purpose. All my ways lie open to Him.
I am not the one you imagine me to be.
(Readings for the birthday of St. John The Baptist)
From the time I was a boy in the Aran Islands I knew that God was with me there, and it seems that He spoke to me through island, sea, sand and rock. And it seems that the island was listening to me, that He listened to me through the same island, sea, sand and rock.
We spoke the same language, dreamed the same dream and yearned with infinite desire for simple unattainable experiences, experiences that would somehow express something of who we are in each other’s presence; who I would become in Him – He being the greater.
As with John the Baptist He would increase and I would decrease. I would ascend to the heights by descending, by waiting and waiting and waiting. I waited, I waited for the Lord and He stooped down to me. (Psalm 30)
The sea expresses something of the vastness and majesty of God, something of the expanse of my own soul, hinting at the great unfathomable mystery of God and of each of us created in His image and likeness. We are the likeness of majesty, mystery, unfathomable.
I am not the one you imagine me to be! I am mystery, unfathomable even to myself and much more are we mystery to each other, a mystery to be honoured with silence, a mystery that does not need to be worked out in all its detail.
The beauty is in the mystery. And yet we try to rob each other of both mystery and beauty in our search for knowing. It was the original mistake in the Garden of Eden – they wanted to know too much, to possess too much and in the process lost almost everything. And life became more difficult than it needed to be. Became intolerably difficult at times.
Mystery, desire and prayer require us to wait for the unfolding of what God is offering; to wait rather than to reach out and grab what we want, what we want to become. We run ahead of ourselves, we run ahead of God in our eagerness to get life right and we forget about gift and grace. This is true of our eagerness to repent and be converted, our eagerness to become better people.
I have discovered that everything I desired comes to me in its time, usually after many years of waiting, years even of forgetting what it was that I desired until the moment when it was fulfilled.
Katie took me by the hand when she was eight years old and we went walking to the river in Holycross. She told me how she has wished for things but that they don’t happen and I suggested that she tell her wishes to God and then wait like I waited for years. But it’s impossible for a child to think in terms of the waiting of a 60 year old adult. I told her some of the things that I desired as a child that came to pass in my adult.
I desired to travel on a yacht and it came to pass thirty years later; staying in a lighthouse happened after fifty years; working in radio took forty years or more. And recently I got to board a Lifeboat, a desire that travelled from Aran and around the world as far as Hastings and a distance of fifty years or so – even though the boat was only on the shore! But they have promised to take me to sea one day. It was for the blessing of the boats and sea a couple of weeks ago that this happened. Deacon Duncan and I joined Fr. Sean from Christchurch who was leading the service.
We climbed the ladder up onto the Lifeboat which became for me like the high altar of God’s own life-saving grace. Glen showed us around the inside and spoke with great affection of this boat that he has served on for 26 of its 29 years. He had become part of her and she part of him. It’s what is required of us too that we become part of a similar life-saving mission, that we embody it.
All of these experiences point to God’s attentiveness and fidelity and each experience expresses something of who I was and who I have become. The experience of the Lifeboat also suggests to me that I belong here in Hastings.
Elizabeth and Zecharia waited until it was almost too late for the child they so desired and when all hope seemed lost then God stepped in and gave the gift. There are people without children whose yearning is answered by God in unexpected ways; there are children without parents who receive the blessings of motherhood and fatherhood also in ways they dared not dream of.
The lesson is that when we find ourselves lacking the people or the things we desire, God provides in other ways. Just as I have desired to be a biological father and did not become one, but became father to specific people in a different way – so those who desire a child may find one in unexpected ways and a child who lacks father or mother may also find one in other ways. We need to be on the watch for what He will give and then to accept what and who He sends us to bless our lives.