Since several people have asked me about the picture on the banner for Live Greater, I would like to explain why I chose a parachutist and a sunset to be the primary image on the page. Here is the whole (crazy!) story…
In the summer of 2009 I made a directed Ignatian retreat in Rome, guided by a wise Jesuit priest who has given the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius to many priests and lay people in the Eternal City. I had just finished my doctoral dissertation after several years of intense work, and the last few months had been particularly difficult and exhausting. I knew that I needed a spiritual jump start, as my prayer life had been very unfocused during the final stages of writing and editing. I made this retreat “in the world,” that is, I was still working every day but I made time each day for recollection and spiritual focus. For thirty days I set aside two hours for meditation, following the plan of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, going through the life of Christ and asking the Holy Spirit to help me apply the insights contained in the Gospels to my present life situation. It was an amazing experience of God’s understanding and love present in the midst of the very specific crosses and challenges that I was facing at that particular moment in my life.
One of the themes that kept coming up in the retreat was, “What does it mean to be free?…Where is there freedom in my life?” It was a question that kept pulling at my heart…there were days when it seemed that I was trapped by the monotony of the daily grind of my vocation – sitting at a desk day after day, always the same, not terribly exciting, nothing “amazing” happening nor seeing any fruit, spiritual or otherwise, from what I was doing. This is of course the daily lived reality of many vocations, and it is no different for a priest. So I kept asking myself and the Lord in prayer, “What does it mean, Jesus, that you want me to be free?” Because in many ways it seemed to me that the overwhelming amount of work I had to do made me anything BUT free…obedience to God’s will seemed at times to trap me in the same boring place rather than let me be free to do amazing and exciting things….
OK, so for 30 days I wrestled with this and other questions. At the end of the retreat, I was blessed to be able to take three days to go to Assisi, the home of Saint Francis in the mountains of Umbria, to finish off the retreat. On the last day of the retreat (July 31, the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola as a matter of fact!) I took a hike up the mountain above Assisi, stopping at the hermitage of Saint Francis where he often used to go and spend time in solitude and prayer.
So, I was hiking down the mountain, and I had finished saying the Rosary, and decided to turn on my ipod for a little inspirational music…and I looked out and saw…a PARACHUTE!! High above the little village of Assisi, a parachutist was twirling around (just like the one in the picture above!), going this way and that, slowly descending into the majestic valley below, as the setting sun beamed over the mountains and illumined the whole scene with a glorious and radiant light. I stood there in awe at the beauty of God’s creation and the human freedom embodied in that moment. It is hard to explain exactly how I knew, but I instantly understood that this parachute was the answer to the question I had been asking in my prayer for the last thirty days:
Someone who is descending in a parachute is simultaneously the most trapped and free person imaginable! On the one hand, they are strapped in by all sorts of belts and buckles, and there is absolutely no way to go back! They made an (admittedly totally crazy!) decision to jump, and now they are “stuck” with their decision…they are not free at all to do “whatever they want.” However, having made that irrevocable decision to jump, that commitment if you will, they now enjoy the most amazing freedom a human being can know – the parachute opens up above them, and if they relax and enjoy the ride, they are going to see the most amazing views and enjoy the most incredible ride! Whatever fear they may have had about jumping is now best left behind – if they just surrender to what is happening, the fact that they are bound by the parachute actually increases their freedom to do what is impossible – to soar like an eagle and take in the immense beauty and grandeur of God revealed in his creation. Is this not the way in which the Holy Spirit of God’s love and mercy carries us through the hills and valleys of this life? So much happens that is beyond our control, and we must always be faithful to our baptismal promises to be obedient to the Word of God in every moment, but if we have a good parachute, we can be confident that we will be held up in safety…and from that place of confidence and peace we can marvel at the view as, day by day, the amazing plan of Divine Mercy for our lives and for the entire world unfolds.
The icing on the cake was that just at that moment my ipod shuffle brought up “Oh Praise Him” by the David Crowder Band…which is pretty much one of the all-time most amazing blow-the-windows-out-for-Jesus songs of praise and joy at what God has done for his people!
I stood there on Mount Subasio above Assisi, my eyes transfixed by the parachutist descending into the plain below, listening to the words, “Oh praise him, he is holy!” and the tears just streamed down my face. “Trust me, my son,” our heavenly Father seemed to say to me in that moment, “if you persevere in following me, I will show you the immense joy and freedom that my Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love, wants to anoint your life with! Day by day, my plan of goodness and love is going to unfold in your life, not without the Cross, but always with the abundant outpouring of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit: joy, love, mercy, peace, and all the rest.” It is a moment that I have not ceased thanking God for since.
And that’s why there’s a parachute at the top of this blog…
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17
Mary, Star of the Third Millennium, pray for us!