For you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
This week at church, we are asked to provide a picture of or describe something that God uses to offer comfort, either now or in the past. I struggled a bit with this exercise because my inclination was to offer up something like walking on the beach, or being in desert mountains – two places where I feel very connected to God and freed of some of my daily burdens.
However, that somehow didn’t feel right. The first part of the challenge came to me yesterday during Communion at church. When we sung Agnus Dei, I was overcome with emotion, remembering the times I attended Catholic Mass with my maternal grandmother.
I was a teenager, and in the space of a year and a half, I had lost both my paternal grandparents and a friend. That much death in a short period of time is hard for anyone, but particularly devastating to me because I was extremely close to my grandparents, whose unconditional love and support helped shape who I am today.
Although I had been baptized Catholic, I wasn’t raised in the Church and was unfamiliar with the service and its liturgical elements. But the haunting beauty of Sanctus and Agnus Dei, sung weekly during Communion, brought comfort to my raw grief and helped me understand that the soul is eternal, even when the body is no more. It brought me comfort too, to be with my maternal grandmother and share that time of worship and reflection with her. We were just happy to be together.
This morning, I was sitting out on my screened-in back porch, in quiet reflection and meditation. It was cool and humid, and the backdrop of trees in the ravine behind my house were draped in mist. As I sat there, the cardinals who live in this wooded area swooped, chattered and poked around curiously nearby.
My paternal grandmother, with whom I shared a very close bond, loved cardinals. She loved them so much she told us once that if she could be reincarnated, she would want to return as a cardinal. Since her death in July of 1986, whenever I see cardinals, I experience warmth and comfort, a reminder that she is here and looking after me.
The natural world is full of God’s presence, and the cardinal represents for me ever-present, undying love. There have been times where a cardinals will sit on a branch right outside my window and look at me intently, as if to say, “I am here with you to lift your spirits and remind you that everything is going to be OK.”
Both sources of deep comfort are connected with my grandmothers, the women who love me just because I am here to be loved. What an immense, humbling and beautiful gift of God!
Photo credit: Robert Williams
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