A Sign of the Times

This Mission Monday continues our journey with Christians throughout the world who move through their sacred season of Lent. In the Lenten Scripture readings for this week, we engage with a familiar story from the Old Testament. Moses, tending his flock, encounters a burning bush. To his surprise, the bush remains intact, continuing to burn but unconsumed by the blaze. So, Moses investigates … and he hears from the flames the call of God. Mysterious, commanding, fearsome, the voice of God speaks to Moses. His life, as well as human history, will never be the same.

Lucky Moses. His sign came in the form of a supernatural occurrence—a non-perishable shrub—and the self-identified voice of God calling him by name. It would have been next to impossible for him not to have noticed these things around him! My signs are usually a little more difficult to discern. Maybe yours are too.

I am not saying they are not there. I believe we do get signs all the time, from God, the universe, our Higher Power, or perhaps just as a result of how we choose to make meaning out of the things in our lives. Whatever the source, receiving a sign can be a purposeful, powerful event. It can give us strength, conviction, and guidance. But it is seldom as obvious as a burning bush.

Then how do we discern the signs in our own lives? The rainbow after a shower that gives us hope. The call that seems more like a whisper. The invisible hand of God. If asked how to discover the signs around us, Vincent de Paul would very likely advise paying close attention to our own life experiences.[1] Reflecting upon our thoughts and feelings, our successes and failures, our values and desires, our relationships and behaviors—honestly, humbly, patiently, compassionately— allows us to learn and grow. It is a practice Vincent and his colleagues devoted their lives to, and it contributed to many of the decisions they made in establishing what we now know as the Vincentian Family.

So many of us are eager to encounter and cooperate with the signs that we believe exist in and around us, to connect with that which is bigger than ourselves. Cultivating a practice that helps us attend to the signs in our lives is time well spent. We may never come upon a burning bush. But undoubtedly, we will discern the wisdom, truth, and hope that are there for us and that we are meant to uncover.

Invitation for Reflection:

How do you look for signs around you? How do you discern them? When have you discovered and been led by them in the past?

What might be signs in your life right now? What are they calling you to or pointing you toward? Are you excited by them? Do they evoke other feelings (uncertainty? fear?) in you?

Consider how you can cultivate a practice of reflection and discernment. What questions do you have? What might be helpful for you to make this a successful practice?


Reflection by: Tom Judge, Assistant Director and Chaplain, Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] See for example, Letter 1138, “To Étienne Blatiron, Superior, in Genoa,” September 17, 1649, CCD, 3:480; and Letter 460, “To Pierre Escart, in Annecy,” July 25, 1640, CCD, 2:84.

 

Moving from Revelation to Action

Have you ever had an uplifting, transformational experience that is so striking that, at least in the moment, you don’t think you can go back to the way things were? Where you lost your routine thoughts and cares and became one with the moment, washed away with wonder? Did it feel as if you were no longer just “you” but part of a broad tapestry of life and being, woven together in uncanny ways? This happens to me most often when I’m on a trip or in nature, quite appropriately in a liminal or in-between space. Often, it takes such distance from the mundane to open myself up to transformation. Hiking the heights of mountains, staring off into the sunset of a boundless ocean, living and caring for others on a service trip, or closing your eyes and hearing the echoes of music in an ancient cathedral … these experiences connect us to something deeper, as we let go of our normal patterns of thought and being. They remind us of who we are and who we can be.

Details of such moments abound in good books, engaging movies, the sacred stories of many faith traditions, and in different narrative accounts of personal and collective transformation. We find one of those in the Christian scriptures in the readings prescribed for this week of the Lenten season. It is a story of a literal mountaintop experience. A few disciples have hiked up a mountain, following Jesus. At the top, they see a “transfigured” Christ, who has been revealed as supernaturally radiant. They also have visions of Elijah and Moses. We don’t need to go into the religious connotations to see this reading’s relevance in our lives. For the disciples, their mountaintop revelation is an uncanny experience—an event that they believe will forever mark a line between the before and after. They are transformed as much as Jesus is transfigured. One of the disciples wants to pitch tents and stay in that moment longer, but it is carried away, quite literally, with a passing cloud.

That’s the thing about transformational experiences. The clarity that they give can pass by as quickly as a cloud. Even as we try to hold on to them, their impact can fade with time. We can be tempted to try and stay within them—lost in their beauty, but without a clear idea of how to integrate that experience into our lives. I’m sure we’ve all been there: we come back from a trip and pledge that we’ll do things differently! But soon we lose that urgency and inspiration and fall back to the status quo.

Our own Vincentian tradition at DePaul counsels us to lean into action after these transformational experiences. Vincent de Paul had his own seminal experiences, most of which were grounded in his interactions with others. From the dying peasant in Folleville, to the outpouring of charity and the insistence of Madame de Gondi on “what must be done,” to his lifelong friendship with Louise de Marillac, Vincent was transformed by his mutuality with others. He was able to integrate these experiences into sustainable action. They revealed to him our shared mission to help others with our goodwill and honest efforts. He charged us “not only to do good, but to do it well.”[1]

What are some experiences that made you lose yourself and feel a deeper connection to the world? Did these experiences share anything in common?

Has there been a time when you’ve returned from a trip or a momentous experience, and you implemented change in your life? What was it?

What helps you personally make sustainable change? How about collectively in your work with others?


Reflection by: Alex Perry, Program Manager, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 177, “Repetition of Prayer,” November 25, 1657, CCD, 11:289. Available at https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/37/.