This year, our family marked the 20th anniversary of my dad’s passing. If you have lost a loved one, you may have had a similar feeling that the time they are gone feels like a brief moment, but at the same time, you hold a heartache like a faint, white scar that reminds you: you will always carry traces of that wound.
To get through the anniversary, spontaneous emails from my siblings were shared of a particular memory or thought about our dad. They were all beautiful, but I would like to share with you my brother Mike’s reflection:
Just a couple weeks ago, I was reading a book that included a quote from Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit philosopher also trained in geology and paleontology. It reminded me of a Saturday back when I was about 7 years old. Dad brought me along with him to light a candle and say a prayer at St. Francis Church. We took a walk afterward and he began to talk with me about what it did, and did not, mean to light a candle and say a prayer as we just had. He told me about Teilhard de Chardin and some of his ideas. He said that de Chardin taught us that humankind was always evolving and still was a long way from really being able to understand God or the mysteries of faith. We should use all our gifts, including our intelligence, to our fullest ability. Good would come from that, but not a full understanding of the sacred. He wanted me to understand that just because we could not achieve that kind of understanding, did not mean we could not have faith. He said that we may not be able to jump 20 feet in the air, but that did not mean 20 feet in the air did not exist. So, he told me, we go to church, light a candle, and say a prayer not because we blindly imagine that some magic occurs, but as a way of embracing faith. As I look back on that day, I realize that he must not have said all of that in that exact way. But I really think it was pretty close to that. And I do remember for sure: Dad wanted me to understand that there was no need to sacrifice thinking for faith; they were not in conflict.
This year, it can feel as though loss has permeated our culture. During times like these, when we need the kind of faith that allows us to see beyond the present moment and ponder things beyond our understanding, my dad’s spiritual counsel anchors my occasionally unmoored heart. It reminds me to hold onto our values of faith even in a world that can seem in constant conflict, underpinned with fear, and burdened with stress. We can use our good minds to think about how to negotiate the issues we face and not lose sight of the values of our faith – acting with civility and kindness, choosing carefully our words, holding unselfish intentions and, in our care for ourselves and others, having faith in “20 feet” of God’s love that we cannot see, but nonetheless is there sustaining us.