The saints––Barbara, Buena Ventura, Fernando, Francisco––stand up straight in the painting outside the door to my room at the retreat center. They appear neat, tidy, benign, as if they never got dirty, never made a mess of things, never got in trouble with the bishop or the neighbors. But, hah, I’ve been studying spiritual formation. I know better! I read a little about the saints and find out they were, “like, real people, totally!” Life was never neat as a pin, pretty as a picture. Underneath the groovy outfits and golden halos painted behind their heads, the saints battled demons and ridicule, sunburn and lice, measles, and diarrhea.
I try to remember that when I wade through the muck of introspection, carting my old garbage and recycling, smacking into people and things while carrying my cross. Listening to God is messy business. Open the door to my room at the retreat house and you’ll see ear plugs to block out the noise, an eye mask to block out the porch lights, a heating pad for my backache, a special pillow for my neck, a travel clock and cell phone both with alarms set. I want to be prepared for everything, but I’m never really prepared for life, annoying the Girl Scout in me. There are jumper cables, Powerbars and bottled water in my car. But maybe I need an apron, rubber gloves, waders or Lysol?
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stayed home. After all, there are 187 channels on cable, a zillion shows I’ve never watched, which could be informative, educational, food for thought. But I’d have to learn to work the remote.
So, I get up off the couch and remind myself that life is chaotic and disease-ridden. Life chooses its course, and it comes, tidal wave or puddle, or something in between. Either way, life floods across my path and when the time comes to decide, I step in. I might as well have company on the journey. I might as well try to walk with God.
If you’re anything like the saints I know, you don’t really have a choice. It’s a no-brainer, reflex kind of thing, this standing up, this stroll with the divine, even without a groovy robe and golden halo. Just ask some of my recent companions on the journey––Saints Erika, Diane, Chris and Jim; Saints Nancy, Nan, and Monika––why they do it. What makes them pull on their slickers and wellies and venture out in the storm, looking for Jesus in the rain, offering umbrellas and towels to those caught in the down pour?
At home now, I stand in my garden in the dusk after the first rain, looking at the poppies I didn’t plant, the larkspur that has volunteered to grow with the strawberries, several boxes away from the flowerbed where I planted it. I remember a friend’s hearty volunteer peach tree, and my mother-in-law’s volunteer tomatoes. I think of the birds that spread the seed and our surprised delight in the gifts we didn’t know they brought us. The saints I know sow the gospel the way birds spread seed, mostly unaware. God’s good news springs up in unexpected places.