I can remember the night, several years ago by now, when I looked across the table, expecting to find the familiar looking little boy with the shiny brown eyes who normally occupied that particular dinner-time chair. What I found instead, was another boy whose baby teeth had long since been pulled and replaced. This youngster’s mouth had some growing to do if it ever hoped to adequately warehouse the domino-sized front teeth that were lapping over his bottom lip.
“The boy with whom I have shared a few thousand meals, who is supposed to be sitting in that chair,” I thought to myself, “has folds of baby fat that form into dimples when he smiles or giggles.” This youngster before me, who dared to usurp my little boy’s rightful spot, was shorn clean of any cushy folds of residual toddler facial fat.
I imagined asking this lean, stretched boy to search and find out if my little son was dallying in a basin full of water as he so often did just before dinner…playing make-believe with a bath-tub boat…overflowing the sink and soaking the floor with his little man-made lake. “Could you call for him? “I’ve been busy fussing with the last few details of dinner, he must have gotten away. Could you just take a minute for me and see if you can find him? Let him know we’re ready to eat now. Tell him we’re waiting for him.”
And I imagined that the youngster before me would give me a look, quizzical at first…slowly transforming to a kind of knowing empathy. I could see him shaking his head as if to say what I already knew… “That little boy is never coming back. Your tiny son is gone now.”
As I took stock of this new version of my son, I could see that there were many things he shared in common with the boy he replaced: the curve and color of his eyes, the playful spirit constantly on the lookout for a stray laugh, a love of sports and all things mathematical. To love this new model, I had to take down the picture of John Harry that had previously been hanging in the halls of my imagination and replace it with this new, updated, John Harry 9.0 portrait.
In the Gospel passage for the first Sunday of Advent (Matthew 24: 37-44), Jesus said it would happen like that. We’d be busy with our daily tasks, only to look up and find that someone or something with which we had grown familiar was gone now.
A Greek philosopher once compared life to an ever-changing river. Just when things seemed solid and stable, that river would pick things up and float them away. Had that ancient philosopher (i.e. Heraclitus) lived to peer through an electron microscope he would have seen his hypothesis confirmed. Everything we presumed to be solid and stable is actually made up of tiny particles of matter that are in a constant state of movement. He would have seen with his own eyes that nothing in this world stays put.
This Sunday’s Advent Gospel reminded me of an aftershave commercial that is about two or three TV generations old by now. The scene would always begin with a sleepy looking character staring into the mirror with eyes at half-mast. The next thing you know, an aftershave soaked hand would deliver a sharp slap to his face. With eyes wide open, the character would turn to the camera and say, “Thanks. I needed that.”
Like that commercial, this Sunday’s Advent Gospel seemed to take hold of our faces and give them a stout pull toward a reality from which we all try to look away. Our hearts long for eternity, but on this side of infinity, everything is in a state of flux. This week’s Gospel invited us to “wake up” (vs. 42) to the ever-changing nature of things. The only possession to which we can really lay claim, is this moment of grace present here and now.
To cling nostalgically to a former version of my son is to miss the opportunity to know and cherish the new young man before me. Seems like common sense doesn’t it? But how many of us reject the current marriage we are in because it does not conform to the distant memory of a time we perceive to be happier? Or how many of us feel betrayed by our current body all marked up by gravity and diminished capacities?
This Sunday’s Gospel invited you and me to wake up to a foundational grace that is the prerequisite for all the rest…the grace to let go of what was in order to accept what is. Holy Mystery is present in this moment, with all of its imperfections, aches, pains, losses, and limitations. For those who have worked at developing the eyes to see it, an unclaimed gift stands waiting for you to claim it. It may be the kind of gift that is like a bracing wake up call leading you toward another hard won transformation. Or it may be another species of gift that simply asks for you to sit still and savor the current beauty of what God is unfolding in your life.
The doorway to the kingdom of God is right here hiding in plain sight. This week, choose to pass over the threshold of that doorway by continually focusing the power of your mind and heart back to the now moment. The gift you will provide is the power of a mind and heart that is fully present. Such a gift has the power to transform the world.