A Quiet Start, Barely Audible
My teens and early twenties were, in a word, turbulent — mired in self-destructive behavior and emotional flights. Typical. Oh so typical was my pushing the world away in order to create an explanation for my feeling of isolation. In my impatient mind, the world had promised me much and delivered little.
The fruits of this attitude, and of the atheism with which it tumbled, were borne as I sat by one of my apartment’s two windows, on a day away from my gray office cubical, and heard nothing in response to my demands that God provide a decisive sign of His existence. Promises being what they were, surely He owed me a voice from the sky — something so miraculous as to be unreal and inspire doubts about my sanity were I to describe it to others (whom I had well prepped for such doubts). Yet I heard nothing.
On a Saturday shortly thereafter, I paced my apartment while my new wife was at work. I drove the streets. I found myself at a Catholic Mass in Fall River, the church dark, its windows covered during renovation. And there, amid the legs of scaffolding, I heard the phrase for which I longed: “Peace be with you.” I don’t remember specifics about the scriptural readings and homily, but my recollection is that they dealt, even more than usual, with the message of internal peace, and when I turned to shake hands with the child in the pew behind me, it was as if Jesus himself were looking through that boy’s eyes as he spoke the compulsory greeting. Indeed He was.
Today we celebrate the birth of a child to little immediate fanfare. Three magi saw some signs, and a king arched his eyebrow. Some shepherds heard a herald — in a sense of the arrival of the apotheosis of their profession. It would be decades, however, until the significance of that child truly came to be felt, and centuries and millennia would pass with the slow growth of his message.
The difference between one’s early twenties and early thirties — between one’s first standard workyear and one’s calculation that a decade and more of labor are light on the scale against the possibility of 2,500 workweeks remaining — is a better understanding of time, and of the ways in which seeds grow in life.
We’ve recently installed a gate across the front lawn from one of the houses on which my company is working, and it will be four or five years before the bushes that line the property are high enough to give it coherence. During that time, the gate will look unnecessary and awkward. It will wear and be repainted. Ultimately, however, it will make sense and fit its surroundings.
Life’s promises, I propose, are always kept, although we are deceived in hearing what we want. Prayers are answered, but the response is often, by necessity, not as clear or as quick as we would like. In the noise of our philosophies and desires, Truth is often too soft to register.
Peace be with you, this Christmas Day, and may the child born of Mary in the manger help us all to understand that He does not merely whisper, but speaks in such long phrases as to require close listening.