Here is the grace which our soul is seeking now, and which it will ever seek until that day when we know for a fact that he has wholly united us to himself.
Dame Julian of Norwich [c. 1417]
The Catholic theologian G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the thing that makes human beings appreciatively different from, say, dogs is the human’s ability to discern the meaning of symbols. Point to a ball, said Chesterton, and the human being will walk right up to it, while your doggie friend (man’s best or not) will only look back -- politely, perhaps -- and blink. Therein, he says, is the distinction that marks the human from the animal order. Maybe he’s right...I don’t know.
On most days, I’d like to hold out hope that my own dog, Lewis, might at last catch on to the gist of my own finger extended, pointing him to the lie of his mud-caked green ball; equally, but in the other direction, I do not find myself as enthusiastically convinced (as Chesterton) that the human being, so pointed, will make a great deal more sense of the action. Or have you ever pointed -- with the whole of your heart -- toward an end you desired -- with the whole of your heart -- for a person you loved -- with the whole of your heart -- only to have that one sit still and blink?
It is sometimes painfully obvious that instilling new perspectives, new actions, new hope -- CHANGE -- is not the sort of thing that you or I can will for another (fill in the blank) child, parent, friend, whomever.
Which brings us back to my dog. Lewis and I spend hours together, playing together, running together. He and I can tell you every bounce and inch of the yard we share. Throw a ball one thousand times and no probability goes untested. Occasionally, though, he’ll loose sight of a ball tossed high in the air, and he’ll panic. The yard that -- one toss before -- had held our common familiarity, now, in this moment, becomes a challenge to him. These are the moments I test ol’ G.K.: as Lewis looks to me, eyes begging direction, I turn and I point to the spot of the ball.
He never finds it.
Not with me standing there, hollering, encouraging, pointing. But then, if I’m patient, I’ll take a step forward in the direction of my point -- and then another. Mind you, I don’t get the ball for him (after all, who’s training who?), but I do give him a living sense of the direction I intend. By three steps in -- even toward a ball some fifty yards off -- he’s got it.
Two Sunday mornings ago I was uniquely struck by our prayers in the early morning liturgy (hang with me here). We were praying the Prayers of the People -- and more specifically the petition for “bishops and other ministers, that they may set forth, both by their life and doctrine, thy true and lively Word...” As I listened -- prayed these words -- the union of life and doctrine could not have rung more truly: doctrine and living; pointing and walking; belief not being separable from the living pursuit by which that truth is embodied in the faithful.
There is not -- I am convinced -- one soul among us who does not desire to share the truth she has found in the Good News of Jesus: that sins are forgiven (even mine); that old wounds are healed (even mine); that mercy is the flood and drenching promise made to each and every child of God (even me). Even so, may we remember -- that is, may we never forget! -- that the surest means of sharing our fervor, of relaying this truth, remains in every moment to walk, together, toward the ball -- even the abounding grace we find as a People in Christ Jesus our Lord.