My new book, Light When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness, and Seeing God in Everything, has just been published by Eerdmans, and they asked me to write a blog post for their blog introducing the book to their readers for what they call a “Meet my Book” column.
Meet My Book
It was a foggy January day. I was walking across campus to my next class, and I saw a man pruning a plum tree, by the Life Sciences building. I had a lot on my mind. Students hurried around me. But I looked at the man in his overalls doing his clear, simple work, clipping here, then there, and at the dark structure of the tree, the wet trunk and the bare, wet branches, clear and clean against the fog, and I thought: No, I’ve not wasted my life.
I don’t know why that idea popped into my head—it didn’t make sense, really, didn’t follow—but I’ve learned over the years to try to notice moments like this and remember moments like this and to trust them, to see them as God speaking to me and the Spirit reaching out to me, and in Light When It Comes I encourage you to think of these moments in the same way, as the Lord speaking to you. Because He always is. God is always speaking to us, through the fog, when we’re on our way to somewhere else, though we’re usually so rushed and skeptical and discouraged we let the moments pass.
In a way we don’t want moments like this. They’re too small: we want big. They’re too subtle: we want clear, unmistakable. And we can’t control these moments or reproduce them or pretend that they have anything to do with our merit or worth or superiority, because they don’t.
But these are the moments when God is speaking to us, moments sometimes of joy, moments sometimes of sorrow or loss, and using “the examen of conscience,” the prayer technique developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, we can learn to spot them and hold on to them. At the end of each day:
- we remember the light and give thanks for the light;
- we remember the darkness and ask for forgiveness, and refuge, and strength;
- and we let it all go–we ask for the grace to follow the light, to know what we should do—but then we leave it all to God, trusting in his kindness.
This is what my book is about. It’s a collage of examples of how the examen can work, drawn my life as a husband and father and teacher and deacon. I tell stories, I share images, and I hope these stories and images will trigger your own memory and desire. I leave gaps between the stories, white space between the images, as a way of suggesting the presence we all sense sometimes, beneath the jumble of our lives, a tenderness, a gentleness, we can’t explain or describe.
The old woman meets me on the hill and takes me to where her boys are buried, in a single coffin—Davy with his head on one end, Mike with his head on the other. Elbows touching. They drowned, they pulled each other in, many years ago, and now the woman is old and gray, and she is telling me her story, and she is weeping.
It’s a beautiful sunny morning in early fall. I look out at the fields and trees, and everything is turning, the hay and the wheat and the leaves.
Everything is turning, amber and lemon and gold.
Our call is rarely clear, and what we glimpse we glimpse day-to-day, and all we can do is live with that uncertainty, trusting God to hold the pieces together. Our call is finally to the moment, because where God is calling us is deeper and deeper into the mystery of things.