I knew God through the stories my mother read when I was a little girl: Jesus walking on water or helping the Samaritan woman. I knew God when I prayed the Hail Mary before falling asleep, when I sang “Silent Night” while holding a sparkler in front of our Nativity Set on Christmas Eve. On Confirmation day, when the dark brown cross around my neck threw a shadow on my white robe. I stood, a red rose in my hand, symbol of God’s unconditional love. I was too young to understand. All I heard were the priest’s lectures about sin, redemption, and human unworthiness.
I avoided God through countless hours spent in cathedrals and monasteries all around France listening to my parents’ depiction of devotion and sacrifice in the Middle Ages. I preferred the safety of the postcard stand in the narthex and the timid lights of candles, 10 cents for a prayer heard and received…”Get me out of here!” I avoided God while practicing with the church choir and dreaming of mass-free Sundays and late breakfasts. The sound of the guitar in those icy walls never warmed my heart to His presence.
I swapped God for the race to success and the whirlwind of London’s financial markets. Professional achievement filled my heart with pleasure and left my soul unsatisfied. I swapped God for the careless attentions of men who never tried to know me, for the mirage of a carefully decorated interior that never reflected the wildness of my most secret hopes. I spread my wings away from home and yearned for the wind that would lift them to new heights. I did not know that it had to blow from within.
I heard God whisper in the generous smile of my future husband, in the giggles of my sweet children as a mighty wave of love changed me forever. I heard Him whisper as I held my father’s hand on his hospital bed, and watched in wonder as four days of closeness erased years of discipline and distance. I said goodbye on a freezing January morning finding comfort in the belief that he would remain by my side, proud witness of my uneven steps towards Grace.
I cried to God when the images sent by my battered brain frightened me more than the roaring in my ears, when the endless spinning made me wonder if the world would ever be a safe place again. I cried when I lost Myriam and Maman and woke up at night surrounded by shadows that painted my future in a pallet of anger and despair. I could not make sense of the blows that left me utterly broken. I didn’t know then that tending my wounds would allow my spirit to start talking. My tears did not fertilize a desert. They gently moistened my soul and let hope find a corner in which to rest.
I thanked God for the relief of walking unsupported. I thank Him for the opportunity to find out who I truly am, and for the loved ones allowing me to follow my heart. For showing me how illness and struggle open onto creativity; onto words and the journey to write them. I thank God every day for the miraculous world around me and the love that I receive with every breath I take. For the chance to spread it like a cloud of endless energy reaching the ones in need of what I can give.
I know God when my eyes are closed and my body is filled with golden trumpets, when the song in my heart explodes in a harmony of fulfilled desires and renewed joy. Or when the wave of grief floods my inner light with doubts and blame. She is with me when my unanswered questions threaten to shatter my heart, when I meditate, or when I wrap Christmas presents. I know God because I choose to feel His gentle touch in my every moment. I know God because I’m alive and I pay attention.
And may you feel too that you belong in the Light. Merry Christmas to you all!
Maryse G. Copans © 2011