Nineteen years ago today I got off a plane in Paris to begin an eight-month sabbatical that would take me to 15 countries. In reflecting on this experience last night I became really aware of how much that experience changed me. The Albert who got on that Continental flight to Paris was a different person than the Albert who would get off the Continental flight from Bolivia the following May.
Coincidentally, about ten days ago I was sitting in the monastery garden after 5 p.m. mass when I opened my book and noticed what I'd been using for a bookmark: a postcard reproduction of Claude Monet's painting entitled "le Parc Monceau." What happened next was something right out of Lewis Carroll or C.S. Lewis: As I started smiling at the memories of a delightful afternoon I had spent in that park in Paris almost two decades ago the bright patches of sunlight on its green lawn began drawing me, inviting me to step into the painting. So I did. I started walking in the Parc Monceau, enjoying the familiar, muted sounds of traffic on the nearby boulevard and the shouts of children playing nearby. Then I felt the gentle breeze, just as I remember it that autumn afternoon almost two decades ago.
|Claude Monet "le parc Monceau"|
I was not feeling nostalgia, which by definition includes a tinge of regret or sorrow, but rather an overwhelming sense of joy in God's protective presence. As I traveled all alone through all those countries I had become more and aware of God's watching over me. I used to refer to that feeling in my prayer journal all the time.
I also felt something else as I walked through the park, namely the Lord calling me once more, challenging me to entrust myself to him once again the way I had on that long sabbatical. This had now become a call to get out of my comfortable rut and let go of the deadening realities of my daily routine and listen for the Lord's voice challenging me to turn around, to convert, to let him do something new with me, to lead me further into the Kingdom.
MEANWHILE BACK IN NEWARK...
When I stepped out of the Parc Monceau and back into the monastery garden I felt refreshed by the beautiful memories and energized by the thought that the God of Surprises, who is always doing something new, had just put me on notice; but he had also assured me that the two of us were still in this together. Just like the old days.
My favorite spot in le Parc Monceau