As a teen-ager, Jesus’ words about the end of the ages (Mk 13:24-32) seemed so frightening that I quickly moved past them to latch onto the lesson from the fig tree. I knew what it meant to look to signs in the natural world (e.g., clouds) as possible predictors of upcoming events. Before the storm clouds broke, I had grabbed my younger brothers and headed home. We were together safely inside even as the storm began, then raged outside.
I can vividly imagine the story’s chaos and horror as forces beyond mankind’s control ravage the earth. I know the pain of suffering, loss, and grieving. Yet, as an adult, I realize the visual images of worldly despair and destruction are simply the background images. The story’s focus is on the arrival of the Son of Man. Jesus pauses the powers of destruction as those to be saved safely pour in from all peoples and places of God’s earth.
Jesus’ words clearly speak to us about one event at the end of time. Yet, if we delve a little deeper, those same words speak to us about our lives each day. Our world is daily scarred by storms of injustice and inequality. Jesus’ words not only guide us in finding our way, but also in choosing how to act to best make a positive difference in the lives of others. The focus is first to live a good life (follow that Greatest Commandment, then love thy neighbor as self). Second, remain vigilant for the sound of the Son of Man’s call home.
In her book “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” Rachel Naomi Remen invented a word – Endbeginnings. She shared a tale from her life. She had designed and made a ring. An impressed colleague sent her to a designer so other copies of the ring could be made. Rachel left the ring there. Later that night there was a huge rainstorm followed by a mudslide. Both the designer and the ring were gone forever.
Rachel stood on the cliff looking down where that designer and Rachel’s ring had fallen into the water. She actually heard the voice of each of her parents speaking to her. Then, she heard a young voice from within herself ask where the ring was. As the adult Rachel looked at her finger, she wondered what would fill the empty space.
Rachel realized there was no beginning without an end to something. Hence, her phrase Endbeginnings. The perception of end was really the tell-tale sign of a beginning. Back to the Gospel, at the end of time, the elect who are gathered from throughout the world are brought to be with the Son of Man. It is the beginning of their time in Heaven.
What do Endbeginnings look like in our daily lives? It could be the death of a loved one, the physical destruction of property by natural disaster, being a victim of an accident, the announcement of an incurable illness, the loss of that ideal job, or the unanticipated ending of a human relationship. It could even be falling victim to another who had chosen to strike with the express purpose of hurting. Each of these is an end to something one had thought was a good path. That end will inevitably be followed by a new beginning.
I am rather a resilient person. However, I don’t initially feel that knock down flat onto the dusty road as an exciting opportunity. I lie there feeling the pain wondering if I should have seen this coming (and ducked). After I realize I survived, I sit back up telling Our Lord that I don’t understand why and most definitely am not liking this. Today, I can hear my guardian angel saying, “Lookout all — she’s griping again! Oh, why did I have to be assigned someone who makes it harder than it has to be?”
By the time I am getting to my feet, I remember Rachel’s Endbeginning as a reminder to look ahead. I, too, ask what will fill the empty space. The answer from our Providential God is a gentle “Look around you.” I suddenly realize that I am looking forward to the adventure.
It is as Rumi says, “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” Looking back on many journeys, I realize how they guided me to explore and share the many gifts God had given me. I treasure the many compassionate kindnesses shared by others.
I can now see others on a similar daily journey. Along the way, each of us can choose to reach out to calm a storm another might be facing. Ram Dass said, “We are all just walking each other home.” Hmm, maybe those streaming in to stand with the Son of Man heard the call and began the journey a very long time before the forces of nature were unleashed.
Let’s all walk one another home in compassion, safety, and kindness.
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.