This is a guest post by Gretchen Crowder.
Thomas Merton once had a revelation on a street corner in Louisville that made the love of God tangible, visible for him in every person he saw walking by. He reasoned, after this revelation, that it would be something very difficult to explain in words to those he encountered. He wrote: “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
I came across this passage from Merton early last year. It was right before a string of challenging and unexplainable things happened in my life and the lives of those around me. And with this passage in mind, every time I encountered another inexplicable moment, I found that I also encountered yet another person who shined like the sun in a moment of darkness.
One way of prayer in the Spiritual Exercises is to place yourself into the Gospel stories – to imagine yourself as one of the characters enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells alongside Christ. This past year, however, I kept imagining Christ present with me in my own story. He was there shining like the sun through the minds and hearts of those walking by the corners of each street where I stood. Each one of these moments of encounter with others left me feeling comforted by the warmth of their sun in my life.
One such experience happened very shortly after I read the Merton quote for the first time. I was sitting in a rocking chair at one of our senior events at school, and a student I had not met before sat down next to me to introduce himself. Having no idea what impact it would have on me, he began to tell me his story. When he started to speak his voice distinctly reminded me of my son’s voice, and his way of facing me as I spoke was familiar as well. A few lines into his story he told me he had started losing his hearing at the age of nine. Eventually, he told me more about himself, his interests, and his hopes for the future beyond high school. Finally, he excused himself to go meet more teachers and have more conversations. I sat there for a long time after acutely aware that in that moment, Christ had sat down next to me.
My son, four years old at the time, had been having a lot of trouble communicating. He was also constantly in trouble at school and at home for things that ultimately boiled down to misunderstandings and miscommunications. My husband and I had asked doctors, speech therapists, and others if they thought he had hearing trouble, but every time we were told it was something else. He was dismissed as a problem. I was frustrated, scared, and uncertain as to what to do differently to help my son. I was worried about his future. And then, Christ, shining like the sun, sat down in the rocking chair next to me and brought me hope — and led me to answers. Over the next month, I pressured my son’s doctor to do more to definitively figure out if my son had hearing loss. I remember distinctly the moment when the audiologist sat down next to me and told me they finally agreed he had hearing loss. I can still tangibly feel the wave of emotion and relief wash over me.
Sometimes we may miss those moments when Christ pulls up a chair. Often, we may be so engrossed in our lives that we miss the shining lights walking by us on the street. That moment, that day, I looked up and it meant everything.
 Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday: 1966), 140-142.
Gretchen Crowder is the Director of Campus Ministry at Jesuit Dallas and adjunct faculty member at the University of Dallas. She has a masters in education from the University of Notre Dame and a masters in theological studies from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX with her husband and three sons.
Gretchen, thank you for sharing this encounter with Christ’s messenger. God always is present with us and guards over us in many different ways.
Thank you~ I needed exactly this today. I’ve been in a real funk and I must pray AND be open to moments of Light. Kathy
Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!
An excellent reminder, and on one of my favorite passages of Merton. Thank you!