Master of the Table
Last week, Br. Daryl sent me a picture of the two gentlemen who have just been welcomed by the Carmelites into the pre-novitiate program. One of the guys had been in my “class”, at least that is what it feels like. We had attended the same discernment retreat weekend and had made a connection from the start. We spent a good part of each night during the retreat telling each other our stories: where we came from and how we ended up sitting on a couch at 1am in Chicago. We kept talking right up until our respective airplanes were close to boarding at the airport and we have exchanged emails since then, though not as regularly as we should have, to encourage each other on the road. As a matter of fact, his email was the first to congratulate me on this blog. It is a strange, awkward feeling to see him standing in front of the tabernacle at the Carith House chapel, looking at him as an outsider. I was hoping to go through formation with him, to make my vows with him, to be ordained with him.
Back in April, I had decided that I would delay my entry into the pre-novitiate until my niece and nephew turned two years old. I figured by that time the newborn-twin-maelstrom would have quieted to a dull roar and it would be safe enough for me to step into the background and step into my vocation. I hadn’t counted on it being this hard to stay outside the Order. The twins just celebrated their first birthday, and so my year has just started. I already feel like an old man, counting the wrong turns and missed opportunities and settling into a life he never wanted because it is the only life he has left.
I have to remember that God doesn’t just bring good out of bad; He brings the most good out of any bad situation. Like a confident pool player who sees a combination shot no one else does, he shoots the cue ball incomprehensibly toward a side bumper, knowing that just the right angle and speed will move all the balls on the table in a chain reaction toward the pockets He intends for each of them. I have to stop playing my vocation as if its my game. It’s His game. He racked them up and he will put them away. Rather than a player, I’m more like a ball on the table, moving inexorably to the pocket He intends for me, when it is most advantageous for me to move. His grace, mercy, providence and care come hurling at me like a cue ball, banging into my life, driving me into some situations and away from others.
In the case of God’s economy of salvation, the table is the entire planet, the balls number about 5 billion and the resulting permutations of providence are incalculable to us. But we are not the consummate pool player; we do not see the combination shots that tie our lives together and the seemingly random series of ricochets that work to bring miraculous good out of seemingly hopeless evil. I have to keep reminding myself that I am on the outside looking in for no other reason than He wants it that way. Maybe He wants me to marinade in my discernment a little longer, maybe He has another plan for me entirely, maybe my presence in this time and place is meant only to block a pocket so that the wrong ball doesn’t drop in the wrong hole or in the right hole at the wrong time. Conversely, God may use me to bump someone into a better position on the table or it may be my great privilege to have a part in nudging someone toward their pocket, that is, their personal union with God in their own vocation. Even my vacillations of doubt and certainty have their place, God moving another series of balls inside my soul in an equally incalculable number of permutations that will ultimately shape me as a man, a Carmelite, a priest.
In the end, it all comes down to faith. Faith in the skill of the master. Faith that He will always shoot straight and knows every angle, every possibility. Faith that if He can rack them up; He can surely put them all away.