Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
A matter of perspective
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Feb. 8, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
While walking past a playful group of third-graders the other day, something told me that I would be in trouble if I stopped, but I stopped anyway. Perhaps it was the playful tone in one girl’s voice that cautioned me. Snagged by an enticing, “Hey, come here, Father; we have a question for you!” I gave my full attention to the little inquisitive minds.
“Father, if all you had was a pair of binoculars and a set of tweezers, how would you put an elephant into a refrigerator?”
I must confess that I was expecting something a bit more profound – maybe a question like, “Who made God?” I quickly bounced the riddle about in my mind, but, being in a hurry to get to an appointment, had to admit defeat.
With obvious glee that transformed feigned seriousness into dancing joy at having stumped the priest, the little voice blurted out with superiority: “Geez, Father, all you have to do is turn the binoculars around, look through them at the elephant, pick it up with the tweezers and then toss it quickly into the refrigerator!” The laughter at my being duped still echoes in my ears. Why couldn’t I have been smart enough to figure that one out!
The riddle, of course, turns on one’s familiarity with binoculars. Their normal use, obviously, brings distant things visually closer. Turning them around makes objects appear rather tiny indeed. It literally all depends on the point of view.
Not one to lose an intellectual battle, I found myself applying my encounter with that giggling gaggle of girls to a homily a few days later. My goal was to describe the grace of conversion, especially its amazing giftedness. Musing on the girls’ trickery, it occurred to me that an understanding of conversion requires an unexpected reversal of perspective.
Normally, we boldly speak of conversion as if it were the result of our thinking process, or collection of insights. We want to understand and control it as some kind of deductive reasoning at the end of a series of experiences. Conversion, we dare to reflect, is the result of capturing the big picture of things.
Such thinking, of course, is false – and a danger to our spiritual journey. It places us in the driver’s seat vis-a-vis conversion, as if it were something we essentially make happen.
It is beneficial to consider conversion, not from the big perspective of our righteous activity, but from the perspective of our relative smallness before the vast expanse of reality.
Even looking through a pair of binoculars at the night sky, it makes us feel infinitesimally small to realize that we are but a speck of cosmic dust. To capture such a feeling all one has to do is realize that in the space of horizon covered by a thumb stretched out against the night sky there are billions and billions of stars and other celestial bodies. In just that one tiny bite of cosmic real estate! From that perspective, by comparison we are as close to relative nothingness as nothingness can get without being nothing!
Yet our faith affirms for us that the God who created the vast expanse of the cosmos – and still wills it into being – is a God who speaks to the very core of each and every piece of cosmic star dust we call a person. You and me! Surely the phrase that leaps from the heart of an overwhelmed psalmists is appropriate here: When I see your heavens the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have set in place, what are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
A proper understanding of conversion begins with a humble recognition that we humans truly can do nothing to establish our greatness. Our greatness and honor is all gift from God. Yet among the stars and all things existent in the cosmos, God chooses to speak to the heart of these little specks of cosmic dust that we call ourselves. Conversion begins and ends as the initiative of God, the engagement of God’s gift of self. Lacking any word that captures it completely, we call it “grace.”
Grace is a saving relation that keeps on saving. In dimensions that may even be smaller than the proverbial speck of stardust, God persistently calls to our hearts, beseeching us to turn away from selfishness, sin and any other way we try presumptively to save ourselves. It’s okay to be small. From that perspective we can see more correctly the true nature of God’s awesome, saving love.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
Inland Register archives
© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved