“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
I sat in a Catholic cathedral a few mornings ago, gold stars shining from the celestial blue of its ceiling, stained glass window in front of me, and a quality of reverent silence in the air that only a church can hold. I prayed, and let the peace of that sacred space spill over me, gently washing away the tension I only vaguely realized that I was carrying.
Places like that, places of holiness and quiet, have always been my refuge, the space for which my soul longs amidst the business and busyness of the workaday world. And a cathedral, spires soaring to heaven and stained glass windows pouring in a garden of light, is the image I hold of this refuge.
But a few moments before, I had been sitting on a bench in a little urban meditation garden next door to the cathedral. The small park honors Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk, social activist, and mystic who wrote movingly of his conversion experience and his rich work and conversations with Asian religious figures such as the Dalai Lama and Thic Naht Hanh at a time when most people were deeply suspicious of anything that might now be called “interfaith”. The little park was well shaded, with two lovely fountains adding the soothing sound of running water to the street noises from the road running alongside, and a mural of Merton and Hanh together. It is just a bit of quiet and serenity placed smack in the middle of the clamor and commotion of urban life.
Sitting on that park bench, glancing up at the church spire visible above the trees, I realized that I am always going to find my refuge in the cathedral but that nonetheless I am called to be like the little urban park. For much of my life I have wanted to flee to the quiet, secluded refuge, to be alone with books and thinking and God in my cathedral with the doors shut firmly behind me. But God will not let me shut those doors. Instead, I must carry that holy space with me into the world, create it around me as a bit of refuge for myself and maybe also for others who need it. It is not my work alone to do – one person does not build a park, even a small one – but nonetheless it is my work. So I will pray amidst the street noises, watch close for the tranquil flow of water when all I am seeing is concrete, and know that everything I touch is just as holy as light pouring through stained glass windows. Cathedral and concrete, fountain and fire hydrant, it is all beautiful, it is all God, and I will go where I am called to be.