A couple weeks ago Zoe was too sick to take to Mass so I stayed home with her. During the time Mass was going on she was sleeping so I sat down and read the Mass readings and then went to Jean’s Manna Gathering to read her meditation. I started back on the 1st Sunday of Advent A and in that meditation she spoke about “The present moment with God has its own particular power.”
She went on to talk about how when we live in the past or the future we miss what God has for us right here, right now, because He is in the present moment: Advent does not mean ‘preparation’, it means “the arrival.” However, we are encouraged to use this season to make ourselves mindful of the advent of Jesus and, in terms of our everyday life, He is coming all the time.
Staying in the present moment is not something new for me, I’ve been trying to practice it ever since Bernadette got sick. I discovered in a very powerful way that it was only when I remained in the present moment that I had any chance of functioning and surviving. And now, I’ve come to notice that the past is far too painful and I tend to break down in tears thinking about Bernadette’s illness and reliving the last three months over and over in my mind, or tormenting myself with little reminders of ways I failed her when she was little. And the future feels like an empty void. Just the thought of having to live the next X number of days/months/years without her is as painful as the day she died and my mind just can’t go there without the same reaction as living in the past. The only place my mind and heart can find any peace and I can function as a somewhat normal human being, wife, and mother is clinging to the present moment like it’s my life raft. It’s not foolproof because there are always going to be moments and memories that whisk me away but it’s where I need to come back to to find peace again.
As I was reading Jean’s meditation, I found myself connecting it to what I’d recently read in Peter Kreeft’s newest book How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint where he talked about ‘practicing the presence of God’:
That “seeing” God everywhere and everywhen, that ‘sacrament of the present moment’, that ‘practicing the presence of God’, is the single most effective aid to becoming holy that I know of, from all three sources of knowledge: my own experience, my faith, and my reason. Another word for it is ‘prayer’. It is our umbilical cord to God. It can and should become habitual. There are many ways to obey St. Paul’s advice to “pray constantly.”
I confess that up to that moment, my staying in the present moment was more a matter of survival. But suddenly I felt an overwhelming longing not just to stay in the present moment to hide from pain, but to look for and experience God in this here and now and not continually try to run away from Him. If I can just stick it out and stop running from the pain it causes to stand in God’s presence, I’m thinking it might be the type of pain that brings with it His healing.
And that’s what got me through advent and Christmas thus far – doing my best to remain in the center of life’s tornado, in the peace of the present moment – where God is. It doesn’t mean I feel His presence but I certainly can feel His peace and strength.
I’m not say I was totally successful every single moment. These last two Christmases I’ve taken an ‘angel’ card off a Christmas tree at the mall and bought a special gift for an unknown little girl who was the age Bernadette would have been at Christmas and bought a gift that I would have bought Bernadette and I dropped it off wherever the gifts were to be dropped off. This year when I handed it to the lady collecting the gifts I told her that we were giving it in memory of Bernadette. Catherine was a little embarrassed at my sudden choking up and on the verge of tears when I mentioned Bernadette’s name, but other than that we got through it. For Christmas Marc gave me a photo book of Bernadette and I confess I tear up every time I go through it. But then I continually drag myself back to the present moment.
The amazing thing about it all was that in trying to stay in the here and now, I was able to be present to Marc and the kids and help make Christmas as enjoyable as possible- without feeling like I was faking it. There was no heavy blanket smothering me. And I was open to seeing and appreciating all God’s blessings in my family and friends instead of focusing on the one person I wanted present and who wasn’t.
Johanna, Catherine, and I had a lovely time together making a chocolate Nativity scene for our parish’s birthday party for Baby Jesus after Mass Christmas Eve.
We had Johanna’s boyfriend, Gideon, and his mom and brother over for Christmas dinner and it was a very pleasant evening. Not that we invited them to be a distraction, we invited them because Nanci and Talon were going to be all alone, but the reality is that they were a distraction and kept us from focusing on the giant hole Bernadette left behind. It just seems far more pronounced and hard to handle when we’re all together than at other times.
But the greatest gift I received was the reassurance that Christmas is still Christmas with or without Bernadette because it’s not just about my family, my children, gifts, and turkey dinners; it’s about celebrating the Incarnation, “God with me” – and not JUST at Christmas but with each breath I take! God is with me, especially in this ever present pain, and I can seek and experience His presence in everything and everyone and everywhere and at every moment. Wow!!!!