Growing up in the 50’s and early 60’s was a very different experience than growing up in today’s world. I grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Except for marauding gangs of kids, we lived a very stable and safe life. I remember going with my friends on the subway to Yankee Stadium without adults with us. It was a different time in which a morality pervaded our city and an accepted pattern of behavior permeated everything.
Our families were all working class. Money was very tight and there were no credit cards or easy ways out of paying for things except the ‘lay away plan’ that kept something to be bought reserved for you until you could dollar-by-dollar come up with the full price. Then you got it and not before!
So we kids lived in the streets and had to be very resourceful in our way of playing and getting money. Contrary to my Dad’s wishes, I joined the gang of kids on the block in collecting old newspapers and bringing them to the ‘junkie’ who would weigh them and give us money for bringing them in. We promptly then went to the corner candy store and bought ice creams sodas! (My Dad did not like his son collecting refuse for money. He felt it was below our dignity as a family. I just thought it was fun!)
A frequent stopover on our long summer days was the lumberyard where they would have a bin of used and useless craps of lumber that we could take for free and bring home. These were the raw materials of our ‘club houses’ and ‘go carts’. We took pride in what we built and decorated them with leftover paints from home. In doing this, we learned how to work together, how to respect and even value the talents of our friends, and began to have a healthy respect for hard work. We used the ordinary means of what we had around us to construct new realities that we could be proud of.
I write this by way of analogy since I believe that much of the spiritual life involves this same element of resourcefulness. The times of the Apostles are over, as are the times of the Medieval Saints. While we can learn from their examples, we must strive to be holy using the means that are available today in the United States.
While this will necessarily and beneficially remove much of the nostalgia and the idealization of the past, it will also confront us with the necessity to be holy while living in the 21st Century right here in Astoria. For this, we must ask God to enlighten us so that we can perceive what we need to utilize to become holy today right here and now.
The raw material of our spiritual journey are found right here, right around the last stop of the N and W subway lines! It is this radically particular ‘here and now’ that is the raw material of sanctity. We can read about the exploits of the saints in Loyola and Assisi, but God speaks to us in Astoria and He speaks in our language and is found in the ordinary events of our lives.
The importance of perception in this way of seeing is without a doubt very important. We can have our heads in books or our minds in dreams, but if we have eyes to see what is right in front of us, we can perceive the contours and colors of the Divine. This is especially true in our sufferings, which are often seen as hindrances to seeing God in our lives. How can God speak to me in my Doctor’s waiting room as I await the results of my tests? In one word: powerfully.
In our daily struggles, we find the royal road of the Cross. But we can miss it when we think God is not here but somewhere else. Resourcefulness in the spiritual life is being able to go to the lumber yard of our consciousness and fit together the scraps of our daily perceptions into the reality of God’s ever present wisdom and care for us.
God is constantly present to us, but we often fail to notice and take in the reality of that presence and its practical significance. Part of that blindness has to do with the poverty of our imaginations. We conceive of God in a very primitive way as, for instance, the old man in the sky. It has not even dawned on us how connected we are to God, a fact so amazing that the true perception of God’s closeness and our connections to Him are positively terrifying. That is why the full reality is shielded from us, for as the Scriptures say: “To see God is to die.”
God is greater than we can ever imagine. Our minds and concepts cannot contain all that God is. God is all around us and within us and beyond us.
The Spiritual Life is therefore a quest of self-discovery. And when we find ourselves in the here and now, we find Christ.