Friday, September 14, 2012

An Experience of God

By Ted Furlow,
Director, Department of Pastoral Planning

In the summer of 1955, I was planning to spend my free time as I had always done. After breakfast and chores, I was off on my bike, the only rule being that I headed home when the street lights came on. Lunches were catch as catch can, usually depending on how many empty soda pop bottles I could liberate off of back porches, cash in for the deposit, and buy something to eat.

But that summer, two members of the bicycle pack that I ran with had an aunt who offered her screened-in patio as a club house of sorts for us to use. It was perfect, tons of magazines, comic books, games, comfortable furniture, and an endless supply of iced tea. In retrospect, I suppose that the parents had gotten together and planned a safer place for us to be than the empty lots where we usually played. It was great for three days, but on the fourth day we became the 10 year olds that we were, rough housed the place, and got bounced out of it by the not so happy aunt.

In the almost sixty years that have passed, I never forgot that screened-in patio and the comfortable feeling of someplace special. As I grew into adult hood, I often sought out places like that, looking for the feeling of safety and comfort that they offered. I was fortunate to find many spots that filled that need, and as I grew older those “spots” become places which played a role in the “who” which I was becoming.

As a student at Loyola High School, I served Mass in the mornings for the priests in residence, and standing next to the priest in an alcove altar space, become one of those “spots”. Being three feet away, watching and hearing as the priest breathed the Latin words of consecration over the host and the wine, had a profound effect in shaping my sense of faith and love of the Eucharist.

As an adult, I was asked to participate in a food program for the homeless. One of my “spots” became literally in the streets at 6 am in the morning, feeding 300 homeless men, women, and children. Leading the grace before meals standing a concrete curb, surrounded by bushes is an unusual place to share faith, but the reward of seeing men and women of all stripes in the morning cold, with their heads bowed in a prayer of hope and thanksgiving, was priceless.

As a married man I was asked to participate in Marriage Preparation Classes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, discovering a “spot” which I could share with my wife. In facilitating life with young people, making the same choice that we made to become a Domestic Church, the building block of the Universal Church, I found a way to give back some of the blessings and graces that my “spots” have given to me over the years.

My pursuit of “spots’ was not linear, and in the midst of my peripatetic seeking I knew that there was always someplace else to go. So, some years ago I found myself, in a “spot” not of my choosing, on a hillside in New Mexico inside of sacred circle that I had drawn with a walking stick. I had spent the day alone in prayer with no particular purpose in mind but to listen. I had passed the early hours of the day swatting flies, squirming in the hot sun, and resisting a mounting thirst.

I was looking at a horizon marked with red stone buttes, a cerulean sky, and topped with white thunder clouds. I don’t know how long I watched, but somewhere in that time, the heat, the thirst and flies became unimportant. I remember thinking how absurd it was for me, a seeker, full of anxieties, fears, passions, and stubbornness to be called to a remote corner of northern New Mexico, to sit on a hillside in the wonder of nature and listen for God. But then, most unexpectedly, I heard that soft voice in the stillness and felt that presence.

It has been years, and I still cannot fully explain what happened that day. But my need to listen was resolved, as were the questions which I had carried as life baggage. In an experience of God, I had stepped over a threshold. As I looked back at a life lived that finally made sense, I knew that I could only go forward. There would be other “spots” in my life, but this “spot” on that hillside was the one which I had always been seeking.

I was shaken from my reverie by the sound of someone laughing aloud; I was surprised to find that it was me.

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