Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Paradise Outside My Window

My favorite window is a large double one in the office, under which is a small prayer altar where I can pray silently and offer the Daily Office. It looks out onto the sidewalk in front of my patio area, to the left, and the next building, to the right. There are lots of bushes: fragrant honeysuckles and many others I can't name. A leafy, shady curved tree of some sort. Some sort of, maybe, a spruce bush. The two neighbor cats, one gray, one a calico, from across the way often stretch out at the base of the tree, oblivious as I pray the Magnifcat over them! The sun shines beautifully through the tree in the morning and evening. In the winter the tree stands bare and lonely looking, the leaves all fallen. But out of the fog and rain drops often form on the bare branches, almost like clear crystal beads, or tears, or sweat.

What I see looking out that window, whatever the season, is paradise; or, I should explain, a reminder of paradise. A new book I just read talks about how terribly important images of paradise were to the Christians of the early nine or ten centuries. If you look at the catacombs and other early Christian art you don't find depictions of the Crucifixion, but rather of paradise. It was the Church's way of holding before us the reality of the Risen Christ and his original gift to humankind of peace and harmony, of a place rich with life-giving water, of abundance of the sweet fruits of the earth, a place of non-violence and peace and sabbath rest. The early Christians believed in that image and reality for the hope which it held out, even amidst and despite the sufferings, disjointedness, perplexities, and oppression that might have been part of the fabric of their immediate lives. Always there was hope; paradise was real; and God was to be blessed for that gift.

And so, as I look out the window onto the remnant of paradise that appears before me, I'm drawn to its heart, which is the Heart of Love itself. In Him I take joy in such magnificence as the bushes and growth and the tree before me, in the animals whose simplicity and peace challenge me in my "antsiness" to get side-tracked by distractions or to get on with my busy-ness, in the sheer miracle of life at work in all of them. I'm led to thankfulness to be part of this paradise and to the hope which it holds out.

I'm daily led to remember the people all over the world, particularly in this community or even in this very complex of neighbors who may not be aware of this gift of paradise. Occasionally, people walk by and I can pray for their welfare and safety and happiness as they go off, perhaps to work, or school, or to whatever. Sometimes it's unavoidable to hear neighbor siblings venting on one another, or parents arguing, and it becomes an occasion to pray for God's mercy, love and comfort for all of us who are in the same boat at one time or another. At other times my mind meanders to the national crisis of the day, or to the thousand other challenges which face us all in our largely messed-up U.S. society...and I'm led to pray for those who govern and make decisions which affect us, for those in the media whom I can hardly stand sometimes, for the murderers and rapists and con artists in the morning headlines, or the people who've been killed in accidents, the victims of the health care system, for those who die, far too young, from cancer. The paradise outside my window many times draws me out of my surrender to negativity and gloom and near-despair back into the hope which Love, here and now, holds out to all of us. That and the awareness and recollection of all the incredible mercies so many good people around me lavish upon other people, quietly and consistently, every day, never making the headlines, seeking no more reward that to just see another person smile, have the strength to survive another day, pass on a good word or gesture to someone else down the line.

Dorothy Day wrote, in 1961: "I was thinking, how as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on earth, the suffering, the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy that goes with loving." (The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, Ed. Robert Ellsberg, Marquette University Press, 2008, p. 310) As I sit by my office window each day, unavoidably getting older, I thank God for this little paradise outside helps me understand a bit better what Dorothy Day might have been talking about.

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