During June and July this year I had the privilege of meeting many friends and relatives of the Missionary Society of St Columban at our Society’s centenary celebrations in Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne was a huge gathering for a Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral and most of the people I met were new acquaintances as I am new to Melbourne. In some cases, however, they were long term donors to our Society’s missionary work so I was able to put a face to names of people that I had read and written to in my role as Regional Director.
Many people contacted me to say that health or distance prevented them from attending the Melbourne Mass or reception. I know some of them are now living alone. Reflecting on some of those conversations I thought about the importance of relationships in our lives and how each of us changes as relationships come and go. Many of these friends of our Society have been faithful readers and donors for many years and are now less active and less mobile. As we grow older many of us move into lives with a degree of solitude, especially after the death of a spouse or family member. Being alone can be challenging and painful but if we are able to face those moments it can become a pathway to a deeper understanding of ourselves.
When we can take time to sift through memories we can rediscover important moments of inspiration and growth in our lives, moments when something greater was happening which we perhaps did not sense at that time. If we can be still and present to the feelings which arise at these times we can discover a new inner wisdom and belonging that God invites us into. Sometimes we may be overcome with moments of grief. Sometimes we have to let go of unfulfilled hopes and own moments of doubt or feeling lost and surrender to them. As one author puts it: “By trusting your unknowing, your old standards of progress dissolve and you become eligible to be chosen by new, larger standards, those that come not from your mind or old story or other people, but from the depths of your soul.”
Learning to trust this inner guidance system takes time and practice but if we look around we may find people who have taken that pathway. They are good role models for us and some of them may like to companion us. Perhaps they are waiting for an invitation from us to begin such a conversation. The saying that “old age is not for the faint-hearted" is applicable to any age when we risk listening to the inner voice of God as it takes courage to persevere as we walk through clouds of unknowing.
One hundred years ago the founders of the Missionary Society of St Columban had eyes only for China but they soon had to learn to let go of many of their major plans when their priests were expelled from that country within a few decades. The Society had arrived in China with a missionary fervour but soon had to find new places where God was calling them. Many of us have had to move to new places for work and set up house in an unfamiliar place which can be challenging. Later in life we may also sense a call to a new place where God is calling us and while sometimes that may mean leaving a familiar town or house, more often that journey is an inner rather than outer journey.
Parker J. Palmer quotes an old Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” He says by that they mean before you tell your life what you intend to do first listen to what it intends to do with you, what truths you embody and what values you represent. In the Southern Hemisphere we are coming through winter which for the natural world around us is a time of hibernation, of going inside or underground. Indigenous peoples remind us that the land does not belong to us but we belong to the land. This can be a time to discover where we really belong. My life is not about me. I am not my own but part of a larger thing called Life. Life is living itself in me.
Fr Brian Vale
LISTEN TO: Director - Let your life speak
(Duration: 5:01 mins, MP3: 2:30MB)