“One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.” (G.K. Chesterton)
God on the Greyhound
It was a late night in December 2010, I was aboard a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Buffalo, NY to catch a red eye flight to Boston, to then return home for Christmas driving a U-Haul rental truck with a man I had met on YouTube that spring. This may sound like some segue into a romantic comedy and perhaps it is fitting that way. In hindsight everything has a way of appearing more pruned, calm, and collected. There is a certain liberated clarity we can look upon the past with and enter into it not in a spirit of dwelling, but of immense gratitude. It becomes then a classroom for us of a school we have already graduated from yet perpetually an eternal student of.
The past lives with us; not as a weight, but as a reminder of where we have come from and helps us to define our present purpose. It keeps us humble. Everything with any value tends to work out that way. As a phoenix arises from ashes, we too are invited, by remaining attentive, to arise from our own ash and interior desolation.
I did not fully recognize the weight of my own ashes until I was given the grace to see just how much darkness surrounded me. Though this sounds poetically similar to the lyrics of Amazing Grace, I must in fact acknowledge that this is a truth I have lived. Any pattern or likeness to another's journey of being captivated and transformed through faith by the loving embrace of God is reflective of a fundamental truth; of God's tireless pursuit of us all and our human ignorance to flee the authenticity of where and to Whom we most belong.
I don't seek to convert anyone or impose values and beliefs. The last thing I seek to do in this is offend anyone. If it convicts you it is the work of God's grace. If it angers you, what a blessing, and if it moves you, in that I'm pleased.
Anyway, Back on the bus.
I was a bit apprehensive about riding a Greyhound, I'm not one usually filled with fear but just recently in Canada a man had beheaded someone aboard a Greyhound bus, so my usual gazing out the window and peacefully nodding off was out of the question. I was definitely wide eyed and attentive to everyone and every movement. I wasn't without comfort though. I had a met a young girl and her brother prior to boarding. She asked to sit with me. She was very polite and pleasant. She was extremely modest in her dress and delicate, wearing a skirt that was floor length, but not frumpy. She radiated a beauty I couldn't describe, but was drawn to in curiosity. She spoke with prudent chattiness and I could feel my fear aboard the bus begin to dissipate in the light of my new pleasant companion. We grazed over the formalities of initial conversation before things became far more imbued with great meaning. I peered over toward her brother who was seated across the aisle and just behind us. It was night so most the bus was in darkness, some asleep, and based on the sounds coming from the back of the bus, some were drinking their way through the night. Her brother had the light on above his head and I could see that he was reading. In the dim bus light I noticed he was also wearing a Roman Collar, and peering down to his reading material I could see he was immersed contemplatively in reading the Bible. Peace overcame me at once. I humbly asked the young girl if he was a priest, and she softly shared that he was studying to be one and in the seminary. This intrigued me. She then said that she was also discerning Religious life herself, but was still high school aged so had some time before the community she was feeling called to would be open to her more seriously.
It is amazing how God works. Sometimes in the most intricate subtle ways and other times He makes Himself very apparent, but He is always at work. God showed up on the Greyhound that night and I was all ears. Four months earlier I had begun an honest stumbling toward the Catholic faith. I was Baptized and Confirmed as Catholic but lived most of my young adolescent and adult life in the shadow of a pre-converted Augustine, (more on that later)... I'm not really one for labels and find the term conversion to be used far too loosely, (and yet not taken seriously enough) but I had in many ways experienced what I can only refer to as the beginning of a radical transformation.
The tone of our conversation became much more relaxed. I asked her where she was going. She told me that her and her brother were heading to a retreat to pray with monks and be in silence. As much as I was converted this idea was alarming, yet made me curious. “Real monks?" I questioned. "Where is this place?" She then rambled on about waking to pray at 2:00am and walking to the Church with a flashlight in the dark of night to join the monks in their Vigils. She assured me she would be walking even in the cold of December, even through the winter snow of Upstate New York (which can be quite unforgiving).
Our time together was cutting short. The Buffalo airport was in sight and I was getting ready to depart. She told me she was going to a place called Genesee. She scribbled down her email, and contact information, I did the same, and we prepared to part ways.