Who am I, Father, that you touch me so deeply?
Who am I to be cherished and embraced by you?
And yet you enfold me in your embrace at all times,
sheltering and guiding me every step of the way.
You do this, my God, for all of us…
for each child of yours, touching, guiding, embracing.
In this illness I cannot work, can hardly read,
and pray also simply in silence…and yet I know:
under the surface a fire is gently burning.
I cannot focus to draw or paint, and so I turn,
in the midst of my solitude, in the silence of my life,
to look for a while on photographs of my friends,
taken by them years ago.
I carry this all within me, what I see,
the persons whom I love, so beautiful,
and all that surges up within me from this encounter.
This little house and the parish next door
is now my world, apparently so small, yet so big.
But at this moment I see so many images of the larger world,
which we once drank in together, all of us,
touched so deeply by your beauty, God.
Sunrises and sunsets,
mountains cloaked in clouds and rain,
friends embracing by the water,
twinkling eyes burning with an inner joy.
Hiking up the mountain, or through the city,
standing around with headphones in our ears,
walking around the vineyard, falling in love
without knowing the depth of what this meant.
Gelato by Saint Peter’s; Chiesa Nuova in the evening,
praying in the little chapel alone, during Mass,
while others look on, smiling.
They experienced so much, so much aliveness, my God,
and I felt it too, in those months of such grace.
Ah, Father, my mind and heart go back to those times,
seeing so many places, traveling so many miles,
overwhelmed by the sights, the sounds, the information.
My experience during those months was so intense…
but there were so many of us together receiving this grace,
each with our own story, our own inner pain,
our own tremendous beauty, Father, in your loving eyes.
Yet you know, Father, that the intensity that enfolded me then
was an intensity born from within, that carries me still,
though now it is so much pacified by your gentle embrace,
the thirsting heart resting in childhood, though thirsting still.
Rising at four in the morning every day,
walking through the chill, the wind, and the rain
to that little chapel at the front of the campus
with the San Damiano crucifix on the wall.
Those hours were so sacred to me,
but I feel, if it is not too much to say…to us.
Someone needed to be present here,
in this whirlwind of activity, of studies, of life,
to remain present, abiding, and still,
pressed up against your Heart, unfelt but welcoming
…drawing so ardently into its burning flames,
yet stretching me out also to embrace others from this place.
My vocation was so much fashioned in this time, Father,
but more than that, simply my person,
drawn through the pain to deeper sonship in you,
to the joyful repose of pure love and intimacy.
In Assisi, in Florence, in Venice, in Greece, and in Spain,
so many places, wherever we went, my God,
I remember so vividly rising in the morning,
sneaking out so as not to wake my roommates.
I would sit in the hall or the lobby of the hotel,
or wander through the streets in the dark and the cold,
drinking from the fountain for which I was dying of thirst,
and then be pulled through the busyness of our days,
my heart panting after you all the while,
yet gazing out…though I did not know it then…
with this burning flame, on your children, so beautiful.
Now, so far from them, from so many things,
yet with so many other relationships too,
with a heart burdened by illness yet so much alive,
I carry them all, my Father, within my life.
Yes, I take them up as much as I can,
pressing them lovingly and tenderly to my heart,
as I in turn repose, Father, against your breast,
breathing out my desire, and theirs as well,
to dwell forever in your perfect embrace.
Ah, to be so fully alive that it hurts,
a union of joy and longing, inseparable:
the painful missing of those I will never see again,
yet the joy—if only glimpsed—
that the eternity we glimpsed will one day enfold us,
sheltering us, together, united in your loving arms.
Yes, the glimpse of eternity already binds us together,
even over the distances that in this life keep us apart.
Together we watched the moon rise over the water,
reflecting on the lake formed in the old volcano.
This dim yet beautiful reflection of eternal rays,
the sun shining on the face of the moon
and the moon glistening on the face of the water,
this water welling up on the pool that was once so aflame,
yet now is tranquil and still, speaking of peace…
This, dear Father, we will know in the fullness of light,
as divine glory is reflecting on our faces, unveiled,
glittering on the limpid water of our souls.
Here we will be together united in perfect embrace,
within the Son’s loving, enfolding arms,
in which he presses us, Father,
against the furnace of your own tenderest Heart,
the breath of the Spirit gently caressing our face
…and thrilling our heart.