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Put Out Into the Deep

“At present I believe, but in the glory to come…what appears to me at present so perplexing, so foolish, so  inconsistent…will all be entrancing, and will delight me eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and incomprehensible wonders it will all display.”    –Fr. Jean Pierre De Caussade

I sat across from the seasoned face of Monsignor John Esseff on a retreat decades ago, his deeply set Lebanese eyes boring into mine. “I see you,” he said–intimidating words coming from an exorcist with the gift of reading souls. I braced myself. “You have a fear of not ‘producing’ enough for God’s Kingdom.” He leaned in closer for the kill. “Do you know that if all you ever did for the rest of your life were to unite yourself with God’s beauty in all that makes your heart soar, that would be enough?!” I was transfixed. How could he know how entirely life-giving was
the sway of the branch beyond my side porch window accompanying my prayer time? Did he taste the utter elation that coursed through me, years ago when the early morning sun sliced through a bank of gray, instantly goldening everything in its path including my anguished heart? Was he pierced to the quick with me the day I discovered C. S. Lewis to be my kindred spirit in rapture in his The Weight of Glory? “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

BEAUTY–a vocation? In Monsignor Esseff, God my Father was validating what felt like the deepest truest home in me. I backpedaled to times this “call” seemed an extravagance. As a teenager reveling in glorious clouds over far-away river hills all breathed through by their lavish Creator, the vague ruckus of ten younger siblings downstairs pricked my conscience. Was I being selfish? Grateful as I was for the family that awaited me, there was always a profound “wince” in leaving my third floor window seat. Monsignor Esseff helped me understand why.

Fast forward to summer ‘23. Time to downsize from the absolute gift of our family homestead, the “place” Jesus had indeed “gone to prepare for us” as we transitioned from a challenging chapter in a Catholic Charismatic Community. Its gracious spaces circa 1905, its archways and moldings and expanses of windows held almost thirty years of our lives–children becoming adults, grandchildren and great-grands welcomed, extended clan and “God-family” insuring a blessedly revolving door. Kitchen revelry and wintertime fires and loops of patio lights in the
summertime trees, all manner of moods worked out at the piano and guitars. . .sudden eruptions of dance and song. . .joys, tears, prayer. . .life! Every lovely nook, every entrancing view was sacrament. It all came from Him, and pointed to Him. Home to so many, and home to my heart, this place so tailored to my “vocation.” My Father God has always been the most faithful of realtors. He knew the “death” leaving this beloved anchor meant. He knew our finances and our timing. His fingerprints were unmistakable in the successors He chose for our homestead; the young family came unbidden, heartwarming in faith and vision, requiring neither realtor fee nor home inspection. The ground was laid for the second half of the miracle–the new abode He was surely orchestrating.

The tight market yielded only one possibility–with zero natural appeal. Dread replaced expectation. Jesus, are you inviting my “fiat” here? The psalmist’s lament caught in my throat–”I looked for comfort and could find none” (Ps. 69:20). The irony! On a street known for its canopy of shade, ours is the only block where the aged sycamores have come down, sterilizing the house fronts. Lofty boughs grace our neighbors’ back yards; ours is barren, save a mocking electric pole and its cold tangle of wires. An insistent brick wall three feet from the kitchen window greets my eye as I work at the sink. Sizewise? I had looked forward to “cozy,” but “doll-house” never entered my mind. And no fresh designing to salve my creative itch–we paid top dollar for brand new, questionable renovations.

“You duped me, Lord,” I cried out with Jeremiah (20:7). This is where I am to spend my waning days? I felt exiled from life, put out to pasture, aesthetically starved, utterly disoriented. I could barely squeak out a “Jesus, I trust in You.” The tears wouldn’t stop–every place my glance fell brought visceral chafe. The long-ago words of a beloved spiritual director, now with the Lord, nailed it: “God got you right in the Achilles.” Spiritual logic told me that I should give thanks for this stripping–a gold mine of intercession for all the beloved of my heart, and a purification for all my “entitlement.” A perfectly designed purgatory–better here than on the other side, all the saints agree– and just short of my ninth decade it was time to detach and “put my mind on higher things.” But logic didn’t quell the pain. It seems I had missed the sign over the front door, “Duc in altum”–“put out into the deep.”

Love was at work here, a wooing going on. Jesus, minus the “sacramentals”–my sole sufficiency as never before. “Our communion with Him is even more meritorious when the means that serve to make it closer are repugnant to nature”–Father Pierre De Caussade’s words hit home. His classic Abandonment to Divine Providence became my lifeline. “The divine action by one and the same stroke kills and gives life; the more one feels the death to the senses and reason, the more convinced should one become that it gives life to the soul.”

I clung to every word. In previous sadnessess, all things beautiful were my shortcut to “the God of all consolation”(2 Cor.1:3). This cross was new, and I needed the fortification. “To enrich the soul at the expense of the senses, filling it by so much the more as they experience the more terrible emptiness, is a secret of the divine wisdom.” Ten minutes later I’d need the next dose: “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss, you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires.” The IV drip never wavered. “Do not worship your own illusions…when the senses are terrified or famished, despoiled or crushed, then it is that faith is nourished, enriched, and enlivened…that which I might endeavor to find in other ways seeks me incessantly, and gives itself to me through all circumstances.”

My Beloved, the Hound of Heaven, “seeks me incessantly” in the fast which is this house. My own son Christopher’s words, in the closing chapter of Eating the Sunrise, stop me cold. Quoting the Orthodox theologian Timothy Patitsis, he writes, “To fast is to leave behind every partial beauty, every sacrament of Beauty, and leap into the abyss of Infinite Beauty itself.” Aha–that leap requires a death…to leave behind. Christopher continues, “Can we let go of our need to be in control of our own satisfactions and open wide our mouths before the Lord so that he might fill

Such utter abandonment required here, an invitation to let go of all grasping, all grumbling, and embrace this “vocation” in ways far past my understanding. Jesus, without You I can do nothing. Your words to St. Margaret Mary ring truer than ever–“Let me do it.” The sole possibility here. Fr. Jean D’Elbee, in his beautiful I Believe in Love, gives us her further insight, “His Sacred Heart will do everything for me if I let Him. He shall will. He shall love. He shall desire for me.”

“I living in you, you living in Me” (Jn. 15, 4). . .the beckoning is always to union. Have your way with me, dear Jesus. Help me see the tender smile in your words when I behold that electric pole, “Friend, come up higher.” My new address is a marriage proposal from Beauty Itself. This is not deprivation; this is glorification, if only I “let You.” Thank you, Monsignor Esseff. Thank you, C. S. Lewis. You were prophetic in ways “so far surpassing hope or thought,” as the lovely hymn goes. Thank you, dear Jesus, that fast leads only to feast.

Copyright 2024 – Bonnie West

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