My former pastor used to often say, "Life is messy." This was meant to contrast the cool, collected theological knowledge often gleaned from graduate school, periodical literature or professional workshops with the pastoral realities of everyday life. For my generation, it's something like the notion that "Life is what happens when you are making other plans." And of course the same could be said about GRACE.
My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this August. For them, and by extension in a very real way for me and my own family and for my brother and sister’s, Life and Grace is certainly what has happened these past 50 years while my parents and others were busy making other plans.
Ever mindful of our gratitude and humility before God, my parents chose to renew their vows and receive a blessing during a small gathering in a church nearby where they had reserved a place for all of us to spend the entire week. Simple enough, a gesture and intention also meant housing 4 different families of their children and grandchildren as well as a handful of relatives also traveling in from the four corners of the world. Coordinating flight schedules, arrivals and departures, mixed in with the complexity of gathering for at least one communal meal amidst the call to see the sights, use the resort amenities, and see everyone who came. In short, it was messy.
Of course there was always daily morning Mass. Of course there was grace before meals. But the number of people arriving and departing on different schedules also meant that the "We" who gathered were never the same, were never quite complete, yet “We” were always more than just the total.
As a gift of remembrance, my eldest sister had asked guests and those unable to come to contribute writings or artistic musings that were gathered together in a scrapbook-like memory album. Many offered poems or paeans to love and the significance of its long endurance, permanence, fidelity. Often this invoked an insight into the presence of God and the Lord's steadfastness. Other contributions were more personal from a sibling, an in-law, a cousin, a grandchild, etc.
One thread that caught my attention, perhaps because it was similar to my own, were those that measured the irony or life's humor between my parents' piety and morals and the changes and complications that life brought their way. In the end, in life's messes, love endured, God was there. Their beliefs and values remained...and so did life's messes.
Although I did not follow in my parents’ footsteps and become a physician, we had talked in the past about how pastoral work and medicine were similar. We both help heal the injured, for example. Family histories are important for understanding what needs or circumstances brings a person to “the office.”
I also shared my memories of when they lauded their parents, my grandparents, at each of their 50th Wedding Anniversaries. Back then, it seemed to me, was when Life was simpler. We were all still Catholic. We were all still the Filipinos that my parents had raised. This was before we went off to live in different states or places around the world. This was before we children chose our own spouses, who were often not Catholic or Filipino, or had children of our own. In short, before “Life got messy.” I have no idea how they chose to laud or reflect upon their own parents’ 50 blessed years, nor what that meant for their own lives.
For myself, I noted that over this time I saw my parents work hard and travel extensively. I watched them pack and unpack on various journeys. I saw them generously give to those who asked and visit those in need. These are all good examples of simple things in a complex world. They are things that I too have seen in my own married life of 17 years as examples to follow.
I imagine my parents also have things that they are proud of and ways in which they may or may not have measured up to their own parent’s images. Being both child and parent myself, I know about these musings even if these are not always shared from one generation to the next.
What we can share is that we are not done praising. We are not done living out in gratitude the abundance of what has been given. And for me, I am so amazed at the humor and insight of looking at a “messy life” so richly lived.
For Reflection: Family gatherings help us feel the hand of God at work throughout generations.
- What paths has God led your life along with or alongside the members of your family?
- How is your “messy life” more or less a shared journey?
Copyright © 2015 Jay Cuasay
Photography, Three Generations, Mata Hari Long, August 2015. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
Jay Cuasay is a freelance writer on religion, interfaith relations, and culture. A post-Vatican II Catholic father with a Jewish spouse, he is deeply influenced by Christian mysticism and Zen Buddhism. He was a regular columnist on Catholicism for examiner.com and a moderator and contributor to several groups on LinkedIn. His LTEs on film and Jewish Catholic relations have been published in America and Commonweal. Jay ministered to English and Spanish families at a Franciscan parish for 13 years. He can be reached at TribePlatypus.com.