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Issue Date:  November 25, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Moments when God acts

If your reading habit is to go from front to back, this week I invite you to upend the routine a bit and go straight to Dr. Will Meecham's captivating essay, he takes on the matter of how and when God acts in an individual life. (See story)

A confession: I react with not quite a rash, but almost, when people begin to declare their certainty about what God has told them or led them to do, to purchase, to say, or whom to spurn, to marry and so on. I’m wary of people who give up wonderful careers because they were “of the devil” or say that God has “given” them a $350,000 house or “led” them to take a Caribbean vacation or that God is constantly healing them and everyone they know of all sorts of ailments, major and minor.

Perhaps I am simply jealous that God hasn’t gotten around to dealing with me with such clarity or largesse. It just always appears to me that such an approach involves manufacturing God according to our specs. It would require, for me, doing the impossible, that is, knowing with certainty the unknowable.

Whatever the case, Dr. Meecham brings searching and penetrating questions to a moment in which he believes his life was touched by God.

I won’t ruin it by saying more.

~ ~ ~

Reading his words caused a memory -- and in the writing of it, perhaps a second confession in a single column -- to surface. I was barely of drinking age when I rented quarters in a ratty little rooming house in Bethlehem, Pa. My door opened to a hallway where, opposite, hung a picture of St. Lucy bearing her eyes on a plate. At the top of the stairway, a Playboy centerfold covered the transom over the door to a shared bathroom. It was a weird place and a strange time.

Scattered everywhere in the tiny room were my books: Merton, Camus, Kazantzakis, a Bible, commentaries, a four-volume comparative religion set, various bits of history. I was going to read and even pray my way to clarity and conviction. Somewhere along the way in this six-month journey of discovery, with the help of a priest or two and a community of other friends, I did make some decisions about re-upping with both the Catholic community and the journalist’s craft. I did the latter by taking a job at a newspaper that would prove one of the most important steps in a not terribly tidy career path.

All that accomplished, I sat down and wrote a letter to my father, one of the gentlest humans I’ve ever known, even if he was, I felt, a bit conflicted and frustrated. I always thought he lived with one foot in the immigrant community of his youth and the other in the sprawling reality of American culture that claimed him as an adult. He was a welder by trade, a horse lover from his early days on a farm, a gymnast for the joy of it, a music teacher in the off hours and, in the latter years of his life, a more than fair representational drawer who began dabbling in paints but ran out of time. The letter was a long and unabashed appreciation of all that he had done for me, for the moments and words that perhaps he had not known had influenced me deeply.

He received it one week in mid-March, I believe. By early April a brain tumor was diagnosed. By August of that year he was dead. We had some fine moments in those last months.

Whenever someone mentions “Providence” I think of that time and that letter. I have no problem believing that God acted in that moment, while at the same time I can’t say I am certain of it.

Some years later, I heard Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan, in what might be an apt summary of more classic literature on the matter, provide a thought that at least quieted the questions. It is a line that I have repeated countless times to myself. “We live,” Berrigan said, “at the intersection of mysterious freedoms, God’s and our own.”

~ ~ ~

I am pleased to introduce a new member of the NCR family, Philip D. Hageman, who joined our production department as assistant to layout editor Toni-Ann Ortiz. A resident of Kansas City, Mo., Hageman is a 2003 graduate of Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. He is a graduate of Rockhurst High School, a Jesuit institution in Kansas City, and he spent January to May 2003 in Seville, Spain, at the Institute of International Studies Abroad. He previously worked as a reporter and layout and design editor at The Lexington News in Lexington, Mo.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 25, 2005

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