Consolation Beyond a Smile – Rest in the Peace of God’s Hands

I’m glad you can’t see me right now.  If you could imagine me writing this post, I hope you would imagine me sitting in a lovely, cozy writing space – but no, there is no cozy here.  We have just moved back into our home after 5 months of unexpected delays, problems, and expense for what was to have been a simple, two month home renovation.  There are few flat surfaces without boxes or bags, and the prospect of “order” lies in the remote future while life goes on and we try to remember what “normal” was and struggle to find it.

Yesterday, I worked for hours trying to write about peace and managed not a word…on paper.  There were lots of words in my prayer ( Help! being the most frequent)  and with myself ( Mary Ann, WHAT were you thinking when you signed up to write about Peace? You have lived your whole life in a wind tunnel.  What do you know about peace?).  I knew enough to stop there, because those words were not from God.  Today, I begin again.  

Peace be with you.”  

It is so easy to package these words into an image of a simple pastoral scene of a countryside filled with sunshine and flowers speckling a country meadow.  How many times did Jesus use those words in greeting the disciples…and us…in the post traumatic days following his death?  “Peace be with you.”  Soothing, healing, merciful words that likely didn’t take root until the sorting, sifting, grace-filled days after Pentecost when all their memories began to make sense.

The wind tunnel is an apt description though. For me, the pastoral scene has always been lovely on a museum wall.  As much as I might wish for that tranquility, my real world has always been more about triage and working with people in distress – all of which is messy, chaotic and as cluttered as my house.  So…where is peace?  What is it?

Peace is not an absence of noise, of burdens, of pain, of pressure although that may be the case at times.  In consolation, peace is a presence.  Peace is the grounding presence of the Holy Spirit in my real life, in our lives right now; a grace, a pure gift that only God can give.   Consolation can seemingly come out of nowhere and flood our hearts with joy and peace.  St. Ignatius calls this surprising wonder “Consolation without preceding cause.” Sometimes it is a result of our mind or heart responding to a spiritual activity or memory that then fills us with Consolation’s peace. This St. Ignatius named “Consolation with preceding cause.”  (Spiritual Exercises #330)

God’s love is so expansive and enthusiastic, God must shower us with grace. That is consolation, and when it comes, how it comes is always a surprise.  Soft and warmly quiet or breathtaking, consolation is much more than a smile.  It fills and warms us, comforts and steadies us, and fills us with peace in every type of situation. 

Yesterday I went to a funeral for a man I’ve known for almost 40 years. Martin was larger than life, kind, funny, generous, compassionate, prayerful.  He survived the sadness of the death of his son in Afganistán and faithfully lived until cancer took his last breath.  The church was filled.  We were all sad, perplexed… still stunned by the reality of what we all knew was coming.  As our pastor told the few stories that our friend “allowed” him to tell, we heard even more of his courage and laughed at his humor. 

On the church wall behind the altar, there is a banner of a sketch of Jesus as Divine Mercy.  I noticed that the rays of blue coming from His heart seemed almost silver and were pointing to the altar.  During the homily and the mass all the way to the consecration, those rays glowed silver in the sunlight.  Curiously, that was the only place the sun rays touched. I know the story of St. Faustina and her work comforting the dying, but I had never been able to relate to the painting.  This was different and I was drawn to those silver rays immediately.  I was at the back of the church yet felt close to  them.  At the end of the Mass, when the body was blessed for the final time, the sunlight shifted and the rays on the banner were just threads.   I was surprised by the warmth and peace that filled me. I was happy for Martin and deeply grateful for the quiet calm and peace which seemed to touch everyone in the church. I was resting in the peace of God’s hands. 

Nothing in this life lasts forever.  I sit here surrounded by clutter and am surprised by how peaceful I feel. The clutter won’t last forever.  The truly grace filled gift is the realization that I am in a stage of life that requires making peace, letting go of possessions filled with cherished heart memories.  I can bless them with my tears and slowly, intentionally move them to new homes.  I am satisfied with every minor victory of a cleared surface and feel lighter for the grace that is clearing the cluttered surfaces in my heart.  I am at peace in the richness of my mess of memories.  It is time to close this prayerful respite with a soft thank you to the Holy Spirit and get back to work.

Peace be with you.”

Going Deeper:

Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV has written many books interpreting the work of St. Ignatius.  The Discernment of Spirits, An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living has helped me so much and continues to guide me.  There is a companion workbook, like a journal, which helped me to understand by  personalizing St. Ignatius’ rules making them a  real and essential part of my prayer.  I recommend both to you.

Image used this week is a sculpture by artist Kathë Kollwitz

Link to the sculpture on the artist’s website: click here

Information regarding Kathë Kollwitz from Mary Ann. Kathë was a German artist whose life and work has always touched my heart.  She created the image above as the marker for her family’s grave.  She lived with deep depression and sadness throughout her life and made peace with God, her life and losses before she died. The link provided will introduce her story if you don’t know it. This image is Peace for me…resting in the peace of His hands.

Mary Ann Gessner has worked with all generations as an art teacher, in Nursing Homes as Recreation Director, a Social Services and Admissions Director and Administrator. She was the Director of Admission with a focus on international student recruitment for St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and holds a BA in Studio Art and Art Education from the University of Bridgeport, CT and a M.S.A. from St. Michael’s College in VT. Since retiring in 2015, Mary Ann enjoyed the gift of time to nest, quilt, and cook. This gift of time led to Ignatian Spirituality in the Inner Chapel and Becky’s Overwhelmed No More retreat and the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. Mary Ann is currently an intern in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH and is rediscovering her love of storytelling. Her two sons have moved gracefully into their adult lives with their families. Mary Ann and her husband still live in the log home they built 45 years ago in the woods of Sheffield, Vermont.

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