Once I had the good fortune to visit Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. It was quite a few years ago, but I will never forget the causeway that connects the peninsula of Nova Scotia to the island. My traveling companion and I were driving late at night and it was very dark, a kind of darkness like swimming in a pool of dark chocolate. We were getting extremely close to the causeway, according to the map, but navigating without a reliable GPS certainly hampered our certitude.
Suddenly she pulled over, stopped the car, turned off the engine and said, “Listen to the darkness.”
A bit fearful of the uncertain terrain where we had stopped, and realizing we did not know exactly where we were going, and anxious to get to the hotel before it got any later, I apprehensively got out of the car.
And there we sat listening to the darkness. There was nothing we could discern around us; our surroundings were totally blinding and bewildering because of the isolated terrain around the causeway in the pitch black of night. But sitting there on the hood of the car, we felt the night breeze, we heard a wolf’s call (or so I surmised) floating from somewhere, and the stars glittered in a lively jamboree.
Then she said, “Those stars are talking through the darkness. Listen.”
Many years have passed since that trip to Nova Scotia, but I still remember that night and the lessons it taught. Our Catholic Church is on a journey through time, circumstances, contexts, and awakenings. Perhaps many of us find ourselves asking where is the light, the hope, the direction?
Tumultuous times challenge our core beliefs and raise questions about our fundamental notions. Now what: the old or the new? The certain or the undetermined? As it was or as it will be?
Harkening back to an unsettling night in Nova Scotia, I wonder if perhaps the Holy Spirit might be suggesting that we listen to the darkness.
There is that wonderful segment in 1Kings 19 that comes to mind as I reflect on the future of the church and the awareness of God. Elijah has fallen on some frightening days to the point of telling God that he has had “enough” and wanted to die. God says to Elijah: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
You will recall that God was not in a great wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but rather in the gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. And the voice asks: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And Elijah knew what to do.
I am not sure what God is asking or saying to us about the future, but my unshakeable core beliefs tell me God remains vigilant. My hope is that “church” will always mean “community” and that we — as members — will see and hear and understand our future together. Sister Thea Bowman (Servant of God, 1937-1990) might add, with arms linked so “we won’t lose anyone.”
But for now, I believe that I need to be prayerfully listening to these transitional times, to be watching for the signs of light however fleeting, and to be faithful to my calling so when the stars start talking, I will be prepared to listen and respond.
Sister Ann Heath, I.H.M., is a professor of higher education at Immaculata University.
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