Clarity, Consolation and the Fog of this Life
I was seeing a sweet lady with dementia one day. We were trying to ask her some questions about what was hurting her, why she seemed to feel badly. She was vague. It was difficult. She searched for the words, looking into the distance as if hoping the answers were displayed for her somewhere. Consciousness is a wonderful and fascinating mystery, but for those whose consciousness is dimmed and disrupted it must be horribly disheartening.
She seemed to know, a bit, who she was, where she was and which of her family was with her. ‘What’s the matter mama? Are you hurting?’
‘Yes, and it’s the place but I don’t think that…maybe…hmmm.’
‘Mama, it’s Carol, here I am. What’s wrong?’
‘Oh, hello! Well, you see, we went over to Bill’s….’
I see these sweet people all the time. But that day it occurred to me, with shocking clarity, that for Christians, our lives on earth are like this. We are vaguely aware of some truths, some bits of the reality that God lays before us. But so much is dim. I believe, and I think scripture supports me, that there is a spiritual reality all around that we are not yet fully equipped to see or engage. Ask anyone who has experienced the miraculous, or the demonic. There are things we don’t get.
We struggle, also, to perceive the will of God. We try to pray and use reason, to couple what we know with what we feel. To read the Word and apply it to our lives. And yet, decisions still vex us. Fear and anxiety leaves us tremulous. Sometimes, I am certain that we make good decisions and the enemy of our souls still assaults us with doubt about everything as if we had made poor ones. But I digress.
In 1 Corinthians 13: 9-12, Paul says ‘For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.’
So perhaps, it is less that we are like confused seniors and more like inexperienced, uneducated children. The point remains, we cannot comprehend the movements, forces and directions of our lives. We cannot fully grasp our suffering or the direction in which it is leading us, the shape into which it is heating and hammering us.
Some days, and tonight was one, I get a moment of clarity, a glimpse that things are alright and going the right way. My friend Matt, a wonderful Catholic brother in Christ, says that in the Catholic Church these are sometimes called ‘consolations.’ I have had them, and had a brief one tonight. It was like breathing cool air on a hot day; like drinking water when thirst parches. It was like seeing the path through the brambles, however fleeting the view.
It is a hard, confusing life. But if we believe, and if we trust, we will see that for all our confusion (like my patient with dementia) there are those looking after us. And like a child, we are being led and protected.
What relief to see that now and then.
I plunge back into the thicket and press on.