After the Friday evening session ended, we visited with Nan and her friend, and arranged to meet the next day. Then we walked back to the hotel, sat in the elegant lobby and talked for a couple of hours about what we had heard, and anything else that came up. Then off to bed, for the next day's session was to begin at 9:00 a.m.
Mom and I ordered room service the next morning, to save time. We met the others and drove up to the cathedral, parked and found good seats for the day. We settled in to listen.
Father Rohr was speaking about one of his new books, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. It takes what he calls "the great themes of scripture" and "connects the dots" between them, so we can see what the scriptures are telling us over and over again, in different settings, through different people, in different ways and eras. It's a wonderful book; I feel as if am eating it, as much as reading it. He also answered questions from the people in the audience.
The conference moved at a perfect pace for me. His humor and humility made the teaching accessible. It made sense to me at a deep level. I have told many people that, before Katie got sick, I loved Fr. Rohr's teaching and writings, and they felt true. After she got sick, and after her passing, I know they are true, in my life. His book of daily meditations, Radical Grace, is all that I could work with on a daily basis while we lived in the hospital and at Ronald McDonald House. It is all that made sense to me through Katie's illness and death.
I had a spiritual practice before Katie became ill: I would get up before everyone else in the mornings, sit in my favorite spot on the couch, read and pray silently. Once we moved into the hospital, this wasn't a possibility; privacy was non-existent. I had to learn to pray on the move, and to trust that God knew my heart and my desires. It was a different sort of conversation with God; I was essentially living my prayer that Katie would be healed, and that all would be well, through my loving care for Katie (and David and Gregg). Contemplation wasn't easy. I had a lot of moments of knowing that God was going to have to read my actions and daily life in order to know me and my prayers. I came to the point of reasoning that, if I had to tell God what I desired, or beg him/her to take care of us, that he/she wasn't really God, as I understood God. The kind of being, who one had to beg or nag, wasn't one in whom my faith rested; it came to rest in God as Love, the kind of Love that showed itself daily in the gentle, skillful, generous hands and actions of nurses, doctors, Childlife workers, social workers, volunteers, family and friends. That Love was alive in my own heart, growing hugely, beyond what kind of person I am; it was a gift, -- perhaps we might even call it "Christ living in me," as Paul did, or grace. Grace made this possible, and grace showed itself over and over again, even though things did not work out the way I had hoped and prayed they would.
Back to Fr. Rohr's message: he teaches many things, but one of the most powerful ideas, for me, is about allowing the opposites we encounter in life to co-exist, without fighting; allowing things to be, as they are, even if they are unresolved within us and around us. This is radical teaching, where I come from. Here is a quote from Things Hidden:
"To accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is." There is a stance of love and spaciousness. This speaks right to where I am, trying to forgive this life for being so cruel as to make me live without my daughter.
There is a passage in Radical Grace about Mary, the mother of Jesus, that spoke right to the heart of me. Fr. Rohr is writing about the visitation that Mary experienced, and how she responded to the message of the angel, when she was told that she was going to become the mother of God. He says that if this had happened to him, he would have planned
"a thirty-day retreat or something. I'd say to myself, 'I gotta go into solitude and get it together and purify my motives and work this out theologically.' I would go inside my head.
Yet read the passage. She is out of herself; she is free of her need to get it together. Immediately she set out for the hill country of Judea to help her cousin, whom she heard was pregnant, too (Luke 1: 36-39).
"Marian images are so simple that we can listen...And here it is, the primacy of action. God can teach me in my taking care of my pregnant cousin, in moving toward the world as it is. I think when we respond to need as it is right in front of us, usually we are not as susceptible to our egos. Life in front of us pulls us out of ourselves and we have to do it because it's there. That's how I see people being purified. That kind of spirituality I can trust."
This is what happened to us with Katie. There was no other way than to give my whole self to taking care of her, and in taking care of her, I found my truest, deepest self. My ego (or "false self") got broken open, and died a little bit. This is how he describes transformation.
Being able to read about my own experience, explained by someone who doesn't know me personally, is profoundly helpful and restorative to my soul. It helps me to be able to allow what I don't love to live alongside what I love, and to do my best to trust, in hope and faith, that it is all held in the infinite, unfathomable Love that is God.