Spiritual truth is always right on time
For the past two months, I’ve been receiving emails and private messages from folks who read Rejoice and Be Glad, my book of daily reflections for Easter to Pentecost. Although each message was different in content, most had a similar sentiment. People were reading my 2020 reflections in the midst of the pandemic, knowing I must have written them long before —more than a year before—but feeling as though they were speaking to the conditions of the present day. How, they wanted to know, could I be addressing the current situation from a place in the past?
I wish I could take credit. In fact, I wish it had anything to do with me or my writing skill or spiritual prowess, but the truth is that it’s all thanks to Scripture and spiritual truth. Scripture is like a living thing; it is always new, and so it can always speak to us in a new way. It’s not that my insights were particularly keen, but rather that spiritual truths are never out of time.
So often when I read Scripture in order to write about it, I wonder how I will possibly find something new to say about a reading I’ve heard over and over again in a way that will be helpful to a reader. There’s a been-there-done-that feeling as I approach a familiar scene. And then I read, and read again, and reflect, and suddenly a line or a detail jumps out at me as if it were just added to the text. I look at it and ask myself, “How did I miss that for so long?” But at that moment, coming from a specific vantage point—life experience, age, location, weather, spiritual landscape or whatever is going on in the world from day to day—I see something I never noticed before.
That’s why we can take the words of some of our great saints and sages from centuries or decades ago and feel as though they were written for us today. I think of St. Francis de Sales, Thomas Merton, St. Therese of Lisieux and so many others. How can people of another time and experience speak to us so directly today? It’s because spiritual truths are not bound by time and space. They operate on an entirely different plane, speaking to people across centuries and continents and sometimes even across faith backgrounds.
This was driven home to me just this past weekend when my yoga teacher, who had a copy of my Easter-to-Pentecost book, asked me to open our teaching training class by reading my reflection and prayer for that day. At first, I felt worried. My class includes people of many different faiths and no faith in particular. How would they feel hearing me talk about Jesus and, at that moment in time, the Ascension, about prayer life and trust in God? But as I read the reflection, it seemed to be a perfect fit, talking about the need for community and spiritual support and faith during dark times, about feeling abandoned and alone, something most of us know all too well as we grapple with the ongoing requirements of social distancing. Rather than be offended, my classmates said they were tearing up; one texted me to order five copies of the book even though it will technically be out of date by the time she gets it.
That is how the Spirit works. It finds its way into our daily life—often in the most unlikely places—and offers us opportunities to discover bold newness and familiar comfort, enduring wisdom and sudden inspiration in words spoken by kings and shepherds, prophets and beggars, and to hear them as if they were written for us today.
This column originally appeared in the June 3, 2020, issue of Catholic New York.