“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth, what a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.”—Annie Lamott
I believe the right book comes along at just the right time.
As both bibliophile and believer in a God of surprises, how could I not? Whether at home or away, I always have a book, or ten, by my bedside. I like to have choices. I have dozens of books on shelves I want to re-read (and do) (and will). I also have dozens of books that I haven’t read yet. So when I go away, I pack 3 or 4 to choose from depending on my mood. When I’m at St. Benedict Center, sometimes the books don’t even leave my suitcase; instead I let Serendipity choose for me. I go into the solarium, peruse the book titles and wait for one to speak to me. And the right book always presents itself. There is never a wrong choice.
People are like this too. I seem to meet the right people at the right time, especially at the Center. Contemplative prayer retreats have helped me connect with some of my closest friends, like Steve (we meet regularly for meditation and conversation) and Colleen (who I met at my very first contemplative prayer retreat 12 years ago). I’ve rekindled relationships with friends and family, like Francis (I hadn’t seen since 7th grade, some 30-ish years ago) and Marilyn (my dad’s cousin); even running into Laura, a teacher from my high school, who I had never had a conversation with before! (Big high school…I wouldn’t consider either of us aloof :)). Each of these people has brought joy and spirit into my life and I feel like Serendipity brought us together.
“Friendship is the linking of spirits. It is a spiritual act, not a social one. It is the finding of the remainder of the self. It is knowing a person before you even meet them. I am not so sure, then, that we so much find a friend as it is that friendship, the deathless search of the soul for itself, finds us.” The Friendship of Women, Joan Chittister
Recently, I was chatting with two acquaintances in the lunch line at the Center about how we had spent a few morning hours of free time. One woman enthusiastically recommended a short book that she had enjoyed reading, a spiritual memoir that ended with a delightful surprise, she said. She mentioned the title, “Gift of the Red Bird”. It sounded familiar and I wondered if I had read the same book before, but for the life of me could not remember what it was about. I have 202 books on my Goodreads list of books-to-read (and I’ve added one since I started writing this blog), so I just simply made a mental note of the name.
But out of sight, out of mind…a week went by and I didn’t give the book another thought.
The next time I was at the Center, I decided to let Serendipity pick the book I would read over breakfast. I’d wanted to read more about Teresa of Avila, so when “The Interior Castle” caught my eye, I pulled it off the shelf. Before leaving the solarium, as a last minute thought, I shuffled through the pile of books needing to be shelved. Third from the top was “Gift of the Red Bird” by Paula D’Arcy. Surprised that it hadn’t been put back on the shelf since my last visit, I wondered if perhaps it was a popular book. I thumbed through it quickly and realized I had my hand on this book many years ago. The initial recommendation, the fortunate placement of the book needing to be shelved and the subtitle, “The Story of a Divine Encounter”, were all the signs I needed. I knew this was the book I was going to read. And once I started reading, I knew why I had avoided it before. And, thus, began my morning touched with a Divine Encounter.
“When Paula D’Arcy lost her husband and baby in a car crash, she began an inner search for a faith that was stronger than fear. She tells her story of spiritual exhaustion, her journey alone into the wilderness for three days, and the renewal she was blessed to experience.”
This was as far as I got the first time I picked up the book, many years ago. The moment came back to me vividly. Like a hot potato, I had put the book back. The pain of contemplating losing a child was just too great. I didn’t want my mind to go there. It touched on my deepest fear. I had already lost two babies to miscarriage. I had one beautiful, healthy daughter and after a few attempts at fertility medications, I was never able to conceive again. I had one child and I couldn’t lose her. I knew that I was abundantly blessed and eventually developed an attitude of acceptance that D’Arcy writes about:
“I slowly begin to understand that it is up to me to choose how I will respond to this pain. I can let it eat me, and grow my own bitter eyes. Or I can let go of my assumptions about how life should be, and search for the beauty in what life is. It’s like bread loaves from crumbs. The pieces of my life transformed into something beautiful.” (Gift of the Red Bird, p. 36)
Finally I released this assumption that having an “only child” was unfortunate, and my life, my mothering, was indeed transformed into something beautiful. But still my greatest fear, that sometimes kept me awake at night, was losing her. I was afraid if I thought about it, that if I sympathized with this author who had lost a child, then it could happen to me too. If I believed that D’Arcy was strong enough to handle the pain and grief and loss, then God could test my strength. It’s as if I believed I had the power to create a reality based on my fears.
I know it’s irrational, that fear is an attachment to one way, my way, of things working out. It’s a way to avoid or control a situation. Perhaps if I feel fear, I can prevent what I fear from happening. I continue to race through this small book, finding more that resonates. D ’Arcy, in the pain of losing her first child and her fear of giving birth to her second, hears a voice within that says,
“I want you to want me more than you want anything…Look at yourself, I hear God gently saying. Really see yourself. See how you hold onto things. Whatever comes first…whatever you want the most…whatever you have to have, becomes your God. Put me first. That will change everything. Without trying I am suddenly seeing my life through a different set of eyes. I see clearly that my daughter, Sarah, has been my god. Yes, I loved her, as a mother should. But I also clung to her. I thought I owned her. I made her my purpose for living. She was not a soul with whose care I had been entrusted. She was someone I believed to be mine. I see her and all my other false gods…With my eyes still shut, I finally relinquish the need to be right and to have my own way. I stop trying to be god.” And after she gives birth to her second child she writes, “As I look at her I see that she is a gift. She is mine to hold, but not to possess. It makes all the difference. You treat a gift differently than you do a possession.” (Gift of the Red Bird, p. 40-41)
Finding the right book, the right people, at the right time is really a Divine Encounter.
That morning was a flood of epiphanies, a new-found clarity that thoughts and fears can become a god.
- That having our own way, controlling an outcome, writing our own story, can become our god.
- That worry and fear do not create a situation, or help to avoid it.
- That resting in God, not holding too tightly to anything is what brings peace.
- That God and fear cannot coexist. Our fear pushes God out and becomes the god itself.
- That fear is from the ego; based on what we want, what we need, what we must have.
- That letting go of fear is our invitation to God.
- That people are placed divinely in our lives.
- That God’s timing is perfect.
- That I needed healing in this area of my life.
- That I am on a journey of surrender to the Divine.
- That life and learning is a gift.
That this is a Divine Encounter.