ONE of my favourite places is looking up at the magnificent Resurrected Christ – freed from the cross beam – high above the main altar of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane.
On Holy Thursday night I was at the cathedral for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The choir was magnificent and, during the washing of the feet, they sang so beautifully about this new commandment – to love one another.
Many years ago I took a group of young Australian pilgrims to Paris for World Youth Day.
On the way we stopped at Taize.
The sight of hundreds of young people kneeling in the main chapel as we adored the Cross and the sound of their chants will never leave me.
Before Taize we attended Mass at the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon.
The basilica was overflowing with pilgrims from Oceania, all making their way to Paris.
Bishop Patrick Dunn, from Auckland, celebrated the Eucharist and we concluded with the singing of the Maori hymn to Mary, Mo Maria, with some thousand Tongan, Samoan, Maori and Pakeha (European) voices.
They lifted the roof off the basilica and their performance sent shivers down my spine.
Great liturgy, great music, great ritual – great use of symbol can lift us to our Creator God. But so too can the ordinary and the everyday.
Fr Jean-Pierre de Caussade is famous for his treatise on the spiritual life, the Sacrament of the Present Moment.
I truly believe that God comes to us as our lives and while this is true, it can be oh so easy for this great gift of life to pass us by.
Our lives are full of encounters – with people, with mystery, with beauty, with pain – but it will only be in our awareness of the sanctity, sacredness and holiness, sometimes hidden within that moment, that encounter, that we will be transformed and truly meet the God beyond all names.
The mother holding the newly born, the son or daughter sitting by the death bed of their beloved parent, the heart-torn parent watching the substance abuse of a loved one, the beauty of a rainbow, sunrise or mountain wild-flower.
All of these and more are holy potential encounter moments with the divine if we but stop, choose to be deeply aware and open ourselves to that love and energy beyond us, deep within and all around us; God.
One time in Kolkata a young boy named Raoul from the Christian Brothers’ orphanage at Dum Dum was invited to show me around.
After some time, Raoul invited me to meet his mother.
In and out, down dark alley ways, we finally came to an old stone wall in a slum with tattered tarpaulins going from the top of the wall to rocks on the pavement.
Under these tarpaulins lived families.
Raoul bowed low, saying “Namaste” to his mother.
As I took tea (chai) from a tiny cup I could not but notice the awe in which Raoul beheld his mother.
Then as she shuffled about making the chai I noticed that she only used her hands. Her beautiful sari covered the stumps of legs – she was the victim of polio.
That night the Brothers told me that each day Raoul’s mother would go, on her hands, several kilometres (sometimes catching a bus) to a large rubbish dump.
Her whole day was spent there with a small hessian bag over her shoulder.
The bag had two compartments; into one she placed small nails she discovered in abandoned pieces of wood, cleaned and straightened out, to be resold later.
Into the other were placed small pieces of unburnt coal discovered and shifted from the remains of cold cooking fires of other slum dwellers; the coal to be resold.
Each week, Raoul’s mother would make her way, on her hands, to the Brothers’ orphanage at Dum Dum and insist on giving the Brothers a few rupees to assist with Raoul’s education.
Now I could see why Raoul’s eyes so sparkled and why he bowed so low with his Namaste – with his hands in the praying pose – for his weekly encounter with the Sacrament of the Present moment in the form of his mother.
Each day I thank my God for people like Raoul and his mother, for great music and art, for liturgy and ritual from the heart and for the simple ordinary faith to remain open to encounter – in the ordinary that in its “God touched-ness” is extraordinary.