A couple years ago, I joined several busloads of high school students on a trip to the annual March of Life rally at our nation’s capital.
We journeyed hundreds of miles in cramped quarters, rested minimally, took part in a monumental walk with throngs of others along Constitution Avenue and enjoyed a fair amount of sightseeing.
Our trip was nearing its close when our bus stopped for one final point of interest at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
I’d been to the basilica on an earlier trip, and taken it in with wonder, sizing up the awe-inspiring, stained-glass windows depicting colorful stories of Christianity through the ages and myriad artistic renderings that cause the heart to surge.
The basilica also contains a plethora of Marian shrines, all bearing different depictions of Jesus’ mother from nearly every corner of the world.
On this visit, however, the strain of our travels had reached deep into my bones, and despite the incredible beauty all around, I couldn’t absorb it. My soul seemed only to call out, “Rest.”
Departing from our group, I found a side shrine harboring a statue of Mary from a faraway land. I remember less about her distinct features than how it felt to slip into one of the benches there, her loving gaze upon me as I slowly stretched into a horizontal position.
Using my coat for a cushion, I settled in, slowing my breathing as every atom within seemed to halt. Though aware of others praying nearby, I tossed aside my pride, seeking only the gift of solace, allowing Mary’s maternal presence to coax me into one of the most blissful catnaps of my life.
I’ve returned to that memory many times since and wondered why we don’t allow ourselves to rest in the Lord more often, to let the stress of this world dissipate for just a while so we might be ready to face it again, and do God’s will.
Recently, I experienced something similar at my church’s side chapel here in Fargo. Along with another “adorer,” I pray weekly at this small sanctuary for an hour, tasked only with the challenge of gazing at the Lord in the Eucharistic host displayed for world-weary sojourners.
In this quiet cove, directly above the host, a crucifix hangs, reminding us that though we suffer, we follow in the footsteps of another who experienced the worst kind of abandonment, then conquered death to lead us into eternity.
This night, I’d been tempted to stay home and sleep. It had been a rough week and my own soft bed invited. Yet my weekly obligation also called, along with knowing I’d never left the chapel emptier than at arrival.
I also remembered our pastor’s words during an instructional meeting on evening prayer. We could come ready to spill out our hearts to God, he said, but mostly, we should approach with the goal of simply sitting in the presence of the Lord and let that fill us.
“It’s even okay if you fall asleep,” he’d added. “The Lord won’t mind.”
Since my shift ends at the midnight hour, I’ve nodded off briefly in the past. This time, my eyelids were so heavy and I kept thinking back to D.C., so just before departing for the chapel, I grabbed my pillow and lap blanket along with my devotional books.
Once inside, I prayed and read until coming upon Psalm 57: “In the shadow of your wings I take refuge till the storms of destruction pass by.”
At the words, I closed the little book, curled up in the pew at God’s feet and rested again in him.
The peace that took hold might be like how a baby feels when nestled against its mother, swaddled and folded in, her heartbeat the thrum of sleep, or like being wrapped in heaven itself.
It’s been a hard season for many, with months on end of heated political controversy and tension. But God does not want to leave us this way. We weren’t meant to carry the burdens of this life for lengthy periods of time.
We all need pauses to rest before the almighty. It might be at an adoration chapel, a quiet room of the house, or some other place of repose that can guarantee a moment or two — or maybe even an hour — of solitude. The seeking out of such a corner should be a regular quest.
I urge you, find that spot and let go. Our souls are thirsting for reprieve, and God alone can quench them.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Dec. 17, 2016.]