Reflections On Life
Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
“Do you take time out to meditate every day?”
The question came from longtime friend Carolyn “Mikki” Ghavam, a Jackson, Mississippi, transplant now living aside a river flowing into Chesapeake Bay.
No, I do not have a time set aside for meditation, because meditation is an integral, natural part of every day, every hour. As far back as the early 1950s, I recall sitting for hours on the seawall of the backwaters of Bay St. Louis, in front of our summer camp that we called “Sunnybank,” watching thunderheads form under the broiling summer sun. There was something far greater than I gathering its might, churning black, then live gray-green rainclouds bursting with lightning and water.
Who could help but meditate at the sight? Or could then seminarians Father Armand Francis Theriault, SVD, and I do more than the terrified apostles in the storm on the lake when a sudden thunderstorm surprised us while fishing in a skiff? Knowing that we were the highest points of the surroundings, we feared that one of those blinding bolts of lightning would turn us into toast. Yes, we meditated.
In a similar way, Mother Nature sometimes drives us into meditation through the likes of a Hurricane Betsy, Camille or Katrina, overwhelming us with killer winds pushing devastating storm surges and spawning deadly tornadoes. Most of the time, we are gently coaxed to meditate by telltale signs all around us. There is a browned water oak standing 130 feet beyond the south side of St. Augustine Residence. It appears to have no indications of what killed it unless one looks very closely.
Close scrutiny reveals faint traces of the path of a lightning bolt that hardly disturbed the bark, unlike the bark of pine trees that is severely ripped off by the path of a lightning bolt. That water oak is a deadlier case than that of a live oak standing near the Tomb Of The Unknown Slave at St. Augustine Church in New Orleans. Part of it was electrocuted by touching high-tension wires overhead.
Other signs easing us into meditation are gentler still. Interspersed at infrequent intervals by the booming croaks of bullfrogs, the incredible imitations by a brace of mockingbirds fill the air and human hearts with joy, praise and thanks.
Riding a tram in Rome in September 1957, I was baptized into the local culture as I stood with a firm grasp on an overhead support. Suddenly, the growing crowd moved a young mother flush in front of me. With evident strength and dexterity, she, too, was holding an overhead support while she breast-fed her little baby with delight. Her face indicated that this was what mothers should always do.
Apparition that it was, it was also a supreme moment of meditation. Who could ever possibly think of bringing any harm to such a mother or her baby? And to think that her baby, barring untoward circumstances, is now about 59 years old!
A second apparition from a tram back then was a man – with his back to us to be sure – wetting the old Roman wall in the process of easing nature. It was at that time that I nicknamed the Romans “children of nature.” Surely, a meditation.
“May I?” a Dutch lady asked in 1960, holding her hand over my head.
“Of course!” I answered obligingly. Upon touching my hair, she exclaimed,
“Es ist wie baumwolle!” (It is like cotton). Meditating, now it also looks like cotton.
Powerful meditations are ancient churches, the Catacombs, the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the other ancient ruins of Rome, Herculaneum and Pompeii. And so it is almost universally with the city of man, like the huge Domus Aurea (Golden House) of Nero, vying for attention, dominance and meaning with the City of God.
Flying over the frozen Alps from Zurich to Logano, Switzerland was always a background for meditation. Likewise flying back from Europe became dramatic and heart-stopping as the plane eased away from Scotland toward the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Shortly, one or the other iceberg appeared, then dozens, hundreds and more, starkly outlined from 35,000 feet, reminiscent of the ill-fated Titanic.
Daniel 3 sets us up for praise, thanksgiving and meditation, in particular verses 57, 65, 66 and 70 with regard to winds, peaceful weather, storms, heat, icebergs and such, “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord… All you winds, bless the Lord… Fire and heat, bless the Lord… Hoarfrost and snow, bless the Lord.”
Mother Nature, the people around us and the rapidly changing conditions of our environment and life encourage so much meditation that all we must do is stay focused on life as it comes at us, but especially as it unfolds deep within us.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, lives in retirement at St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)
Reflections On Life