Years ago I had the opportunity to go on retreat in Santa Cruz. I spent a good amount of time that week sitting on the rocks of the coastline praying and journaling. As I sat there, I could feel the rocks trembling beneath me as the waves crashed below. I was in awe at both the power of the water and the stability of the rocks. Even with the relentless pounding from the surf, the rocks did not give way. As I contemplated further, though, I realized that the steady rhythm of the waves actually was changing the rocks. Most of the changes simply happen so gradually that we can’t see them. The transformation is only apparent in retrospect or by comparing the coastline to images from the past. On occasion, though, the changes occur in rather dramatic fashion as the force of the water, perhaps driven by the strength of a storm, causes entire chunks of rock to break free and crash into the sea.
Over the years I have found this experience to be a fitting metaphor for Christian life. Our baptism began in us a process of transformation that will only be complete when we return to God in eternal life. In the meantime, we are consistently called to change our lives, to turn away from sin, and live more faithfully in accord with the Gospel. Much like the waves are consistently shaping the rocks of the shoreline, God’s grace is constantly working in our lives, shaping and forming us as disciples of Jesus. We know we encounter grace in the regular rhythm of celebrating Mass each week with the community of believers. We also encounter grace through personal prayer, reading scripture, practicing the works of mercy, and even in the everydayness of life. Most times as these waves of grace wash over us, the changes in our lives are gradual and only apparent when we look back to see how far we’ve come. But on occasion we are ambushed by grace in ways that are so profound that the transformation in our lives is unmistakable.
Change is at the very heart of our faith, and it is most fully expressed in the Paschal Mystery. Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection we have hope in the promise of new life. But there are no short-cuts in the cycle. When we try to avoid Good Friday, we never make it to Easter Sunday. Resurrection does not merely restore what was, it brings forth something altogether new! Transformation is only possible after we let go of the old, entrust it to God, and allow it to die. The death, the loss, is real, and it must be grieved. This prepares us to receive the new life that God is preparing for us.
Right now, we are all living through a time when life has suddenly and drastically changed right before our eyes. Each of us has a choice to make: Will I try to cling to the life I had known, with it’s familiar routines and comfortable rhythms? Or will I entrust that old life to God and allow it to die so that God can transform it into something new?
It sounds so simple. My experience has been much more complicated. There are days when I want nothing more than to hold on to the way things were just a few weeks ago, often when I miss being able to spend time with friends and family for something as simple as sharing a meal together. But most days I find myself looking forward with hope! I know that God brings order and creates good things from the midst of chaos. Chaos is a fitting word to describe the extent of disruption we have experienced in all aspects of life over these past couple months, so I can’t wait to see what God is creating from it! But I also know that I have an active role to play in working with God’s grace to change and transform my personal life, my ministry, and even our broader society. The choices I make, and that each one of us makes, can and do help to shape the future. So, what do you think? Are you ready for change?