I have just finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s remarkable novel, Gilead, which recently won the Pulitzer prize. Very near the end of the book the narrator, an elderly preacher composing a long letter for his young son to read after his death, writes:
I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word “good” so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.
Our Cenacle foundress Saint Therese Couderc also knew that radiance. For her too, the word “good” was profoundly affirmed in her soul. She had a vision in which she saw the goodness of everything around her, and learned that God has communicated to all creation “something of his infinite goodness, so that we may meet it in everything and everywhere.”
I believe that one thing the Ascension of Jesus shows us is the goodness of earthly existence, indeed the radiance of human life.
As Karl Rahner points out, Jesus has not only ascended to heaven, but he has taken us with him! In this Rahner is following Paul who writes in Ephesians:
God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (2:4-7)
Because Jesus has taken us with him, all that is proper to our human existence has become radiant. Nothing in the humanity which we share with Jesus is left to languish: neither our loves, nor the delight we have in the things of creation, nor our diminishment as we age, nor our disappointments, nor our pain. Nothing is wasted.
The radiance is often hidden, but occasionally we are vouchsafed a glimpse of what is really there, sometimes through simple occurrences and very small encounters. While ordinarily everything may seem solid and stolid to us, revealing nothing more than a surface reality, in those privileged moments events and people appear as if translucent, letting the glory that is theirs in Christ shine through.
If we are not paying, attention, however, we may not notice the beauty spread out before us:
- - A neglected plant in a pot abandoned outside the kitchen blooms through hurricanes and drought.
- - A student is returning to her homeland this summer to work for the destitude, in spite of the dangers of the political situation there.
- - The homeless woman who comes by our house expresses her longing for a real lodging, then prays, “But more of Jesus and less of me.”
Truly we should be amazed, like the narrator in Gilead, that we are allowed to witness such things.