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Spirituality of the Readings
Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 5, 2018
John Foley, SJ
Endlessly Softly

Doesn’t the word “falling” describe our lives? Falling into debt, falling from faith, falling into blazing temperatures, or freezing ones, or happening into fallen youths, saying “what shall we believe in?” And the fall of that one true foundation of society, the family?

The First Reading talks about a time like ours. God had pulled his people out of ancient captivity by sending them on a 40-year “exodus” (“wandering”) from Egypt. But in the difficult journey and fierce heat, things had begun to collapse. The freed people began to scorn and censure Moses and Aaron, their leaders. They actually said that they would rather have been killed in the land of Egypt—which at least had flesh-pots to eat from—than to starve, wandering, through the desert.

And how does anyone face the “falling apart” of the world?

Maybe these words of Annie Lamott hold a key:

When a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born … and this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.*

Instead of despairing, let us wait and let us help in the birth.
In that ancient, 40 year “exodus,” something very big and lovely was trying to be born. God was holding the people’s “falling to pieces” gently. He sent a huge flock of quail for meat, and also “bread from heaven” (manna) from the skies.

The Gospel for Sunday flows straight out of this incident. The crowd that Jesus had fed grumbled to him:

Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written. “[But Moses] gave them bread from heaven to eat.” What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?

A strange question, since only the day before Jesus had multiplied five barley loaves till there was enough to feed this very same huge crowd. Did they forget in one day?

Jesus replied, “It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” God sends the manna, God sends Jesus, the true manna. God holds it all in his kindly hands.

There is a poem by the German poet, Reiner Maria Rilke, which may apply here. If you will indulge me, I will quote it. It is called “Autumn.”

The leaves are falling, falling as if from afar,
as if from some far garden in the sky.
They fall with gestures of denial.

And in the nights the heavy earth falls
out of all the stars, in the loneliness.

We all fall. This hand, here, falls.
And look at the rest: it is in everything.

And yet, there is one, who holds all this falling

endlessly softly

in his hands.**

Perhaps the careening earth, the crushing human affairs, everything that falls apart, all of it, every bit of it, perhaps it has behind it something big and lovely trying to get itself born.

There is really no other answer to the continuing state of the world, the failures of our lives, the dropping away of opportunities, the shattering economy, the terrible leadership—no answer at all unless those supporting hands make our falling safe somehow and support it with tenderness.

So, instead of despairing, let us wait and let us help in the birth.

Perhaps something most lovely is being born.

John Foley, SJ
________
 * From Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts of Faith. Riverhead Books. 2007, p. 107.

 **The above is my own translation of Rilke’s poem. You can read other translations
here. In any case, here is the original German of Herbst:

Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen
unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält.

Rilke, #51, Das Buch der Bilder [The Book of Pictures]


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Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go http://www.ltp.org