I recently finished reading Jon Acuff’s new book, Start. In one section of the book he mentions that he always wanted to be in a plane crash. Before you begin thinking he has lost his mind, he makes it clear that the kind of crash he was looking for is the kind where everyone walks away a survivor, having had a near death experience. Since it is very unlikely that most of us will ever be in a real plane crash, he suggests that surviving a plane crash in one’s head is much easier to accomplish. I might add that it is also much safer.
Most of us don’t have near death experiences every day to remind us how precious life is. But all of us have the opportunity to ask ourselves the kind of questions that such an experience can bring to the surface. Acuff suggests two:
1. If I died today, what would I regret not being able to do?
2. Are those the things I’m spending time doing right now?
Over the last few years I have found myself allowing unimportant things to take center stage in my life. As a result, many of my more important goals have fallen along the wayside.
Standing in an open field and looking back at the wreckage of a smoldering plane makes it much easier to be thankful for life and to find the answers to the questions posed above. But answering the questions is just the beginning. Once the answers are clear and we know the extent to which our time is not being spent on the most important things, the real work begins. There is no time like the present to start.
During my last weekend at St. Thomas, a friend and parishioner handed me a book called Hiking Throughby Paul Stutzman. He told me that it might have a message for me. This past week I have been reading it, reliving my own moments on the Appalachian Trail and remembering the lessons learned through the experience. I am beginning to see that that quite a few of the things I have learned on the trail apply to living in sobriety. Here is a small story from Stutzman’s book:
Relaxing alone in my tent, I thought about the month I had spent on the trail. I’d seen and done so much, everything far removed from my previous life. I had learned to accept the friendship of others quite different from myself, and I was beginning to be happy being me, even with all my shortcomings.
Every day, it seemed that God revealed more of Himself to me. Perhaps it was because I wanted to hear. Several days before, I had been following a young man on the trail. When I was within speaking distance, I attempted a conversation with him, but was ignored. I realized he had earbuds in and was focused on his music. Everywhere these days, people are plugging their ears and depriving themselves of good conversation. That earpiece is like putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign. This ear-plugged hiker shut out not only all conversation with fellow humans, but also all the sounds of nature. He could not hear the singing birds or the whispering pines.
Apparently he could not even hear approaching thunder. The ear-plugged young man had a hiking partner who was a short distance ahead of him. Thunder had been rumbling around us, and raindrops started to fall as we crossed a road. The unplugged hiker had heard the warning rumbles; catching sight of a country church down the road, he dashed to the refuge of its little porch. But the other hiker marched on, head down, watching the trail and concentrating only on his music. His friend stood on that dry porch, calling, but the hiker never saw his friend leave the trail and certainly did not hear his name called out. He was soaked by the rain and separated from his partner. I wonder how far he walked before he realized he was alone.
Though I watched with amusement as this little scene played out, I felt an inner nudge that said, “That’s you, you know.” And I got it. I saw myself in church on Sunday mornings, hoping to hear from God but letting so many worries and distractions clog my mind that I never could hear Him, even when He stood there calling my name. I saw the times I had knelt for a quick prayer at night and then immediately tumbled into sleep. How could God talk to a sleeping person?
Now I had finally removed everything plugging my ears and my head, and I felt willing and able to listen to God.
” I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock.”
Acts 20: 29
The recent movie, The Grey, tells the story of a group of men who survive a plane crash in Alaska and are left at the mercy of savage wolves. As they attempt to make their way out of the wilderness, they are separated from the group and killed, one by one, by a pack of wolves.
Images from the movie filled my head as I listened today to Paul’s farewell to the leaders in Ephesus. His words are a reminder that we are most vulnerable when we attempt to face our challenges alone. The good news is that while each one of us alone is weak, together we are strong.
This short clip from The Straight Story always reminds me to be grateful for God’s gift of family and friends. Our Christian pilgrimage is full of adventure, but it is also a journey filled with dangers best not to be met alone.
At today’s mass we heard the account of Paul’s preaching to the people of Athens about the unknown God. Paul cleverly used the Athenians’ catch all shrine to enlighten them with words about Jesus and his resurrection. As I have reflected on this account it strikes me that there will always be much more that [...]
During the homily at my ordination to the priesthood, Archbishop Kurtz mentioned that he had recently seen a bumper sticker that caused him to think of me. The sticker read, “You are a unique individual, just like everyone else.” He then went on to remind me that God had indeed given me unique gifts that [...]
“We can safeguard the Church, we can cure the Church, no? We do so with our work, but what’s most important is what the Lord does: He is the only One who can look into the face of evil and overcome it. The prince of the world comes but can do nothing against me: if [...]
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. During my first weeks of high school, I learned along with the rest of my classmates that there was a long tradition of freshman hazing. It was nothing that left me with trauma. We all had to wear bibs, participate in tricycle races, [...]
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for [...]
This past weekend I announced to my parish that I will be taking some time to address a personal struggle with an alcohol addiction. As a result, I will also be taking a break from regular blogging in order to focus more fully on my own health, both physically and spiritually. I ask that you [...]
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” -Jackie Robinson Several of my summers as a college student were spent working for a program run by Johns Hopkins University called CTY. CTY is short for Center for Talented Youth. Those of us who worked there playfully called it “geek [...]
Today Pope Francis reminded us of the destructive and divisive power of gossip. Gossip is a great temptation to all of us and is deceptive in the way it does damage to others, both those who are the object of the gossip and those engaged in it themselves. “When we prefer to gossip, gossip about [...]
Recently I learned that I am in my last months as pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle and that I will soon be on my way back to Johnson City, Tennessee to serve as the campus minister at East Tennessee State University. And so it is that I find myself once again in this strange [...]