A BRIEF BRIGHT FLASH | by Jeannette Suflita
Among the stories of God’s “epic” interventions in the lives of saints and sinners, the most well-known in the New Testament, I suppose, is Paul’s (Acts 9:3-9). Jesus burst into his life — literally in a blinding flash — accused him of persecution, and changed Paul’s life so dramatically he began to champion those he once tried to destroy. Peter’s story, not as dramatic as Paul’s perhaps, is still quite striking. Jesus chooses him as a rock on which to build the church (Matthew 16:15-18) and in the next breath calls him Satan (Matthew 16:22-23). He is one of the chosen to see Christ’s glory (Matthew 17: 1-2) yet three times denies knowing him (Luke 22:54-62). Three times a denier, Peter is asked three times if he loves (John 21:15-17).
The stories continue in “modern” times. Francis spoke with God in dreams, met him in a leper, heard Jesus plead for him to repair the church. Joan of Arc heard voices that told her to lead an army. Augustine, Constantine, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero…the list goes on; their lives and deeds are memorable.
For most people, though, and certainly for me, there is no blinding light, no voice from heaven, no walking on water, no armies to lead, no lepers to kiss, no threats of execution for our faith. For most of us, life is quite ordinary, filled with day-to-day busyness, joy and pain, selfishness and generosity. How does the Spirit intervene for the likes of us?
In reading Working Paper I: On Xaverian Spirituality, a quote from Jan van Ruusbroec suggests that God gives people “…glimpses (blicke) into their spirit, just like lightening in the heavens. These glimpses come as a brief flash (blic) of particular brightness….Then suddenly, the light is gone and the person comes back to his usual self. When I first read the passage, a memory from forty or more years ago surfaced instantly. I was at a party, a gathering of women friends to share good food and good laughs.
“How can I help?” I asked. “Well,” said our host, “I need onions chopped for the salad and the cake needs to be frosted.”
Oh! I’ll frost the cake,” I volunteered. No problem; that cake would be gorgeous! I spread raspberry preserves on the bottom layer, as conversation churned around me; butter icing on top. And between one swipe of the spatula and the next…blic!
You chose to frost the cake so everyone will admire you.
No one will ever notice how well the onions in the salad are chopped.
I stood still, spatula poised, hardly breathing… and understood with overwhelming clarity, how self-serving my most ordinary choices often were.
Then someone laughed or made a comment and I “came back” to myself. I couldn’t say now who was at the party, nor what the occasion was, but I can still see the kitchen, the counter where I stood, and the beautiful, half-frosted cake – accusing me of being less than I was called to be. A small moment, almost laughably insignificant – but all these years later I still recognized the power of the message, still felt the depth of the remorse.
My small cake-blic makes me wonder how God dares be such an audacious risk-taker. One less focused moment, one side comment, one more glass of wine and I may have been totally oblivious to any movement of the Spirit. Yet, “experiencing blic is not rare. It is also an ordinary event since ‘God in His free goodness calls and invites to union with Him everyone, both good and evil, without distinction, and He does not leave out anyone.’” Risky business indeed. When I am so busy, so distracted, so anxious, so driven, I sometimes wonder, at the end of a day, how many blics I never noticed.
Still, if God is a risk-taker, God is also persistent, embedding blic invitations to conversion in the most casual of places. Some are a bit scary and disconcerting, some awe-inspiring, some humorous. I treasure them, remembering the leap my spirit made when I experienced them.
“We live on the inheritance of Christ whose love is so abundant, we cannot spend it all.”…from a Sunday homily
“Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God and his messengers.”…from a book on writing
I hold an oyster shell – a gift from my niece. A “shell phone” she says, with a sly smile, so we can talk. …from Siobhan, aged 6
“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked….The acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices.” …from a pamphlet, a quote from Basil the Great, 4th c
“When confusion’s my companion/ And despair holds me for ransom…
When I’m caught deep in the valley/ With chaos for my company…
My help comes from You…
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders…”
… heard by chance when radio-surfing in the car
“What do you, personally, believe about forgiveness?” …question put to me during a team building training session I was facilitating
“The deeper we move in the body of creation and in the inner landscape of the human soul, the closer we come to the Presence.” …quote by J. Phillip Newell printed on a desk calendar
These are, no doubt, not epic interventions, but I believe they are holy moments, invitations to become who I was called to be. They are moments of grace, which Carlo Martini, SJ defined as knowing “you have been loved for a very long time.” These brief, bright flashes remind me there is a Presence beyond my current landscape, touching me, calling me to follow. Perhaps it is best described by author and poet Brian Doyle as a language without words. In one of his poems, he describes how, at the funeral of his wife’s mother, people going up to communion touch her hair or her shoulder as they pass, or how they bend to hug her or cup her face in their hands.
…We speak many languages without words. We are so much wilder and wiser
Than we know. There are so very many of us without words,
Speaking the most amazing and eloquent languages; we sing
With our hands. I have seen it happen. You have seen it, too.
It’s a little thing, but there’s a shimmer of something beyond
Moments of blic, a shimmer of something beyond vast.
 Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, quoted in Working Paper I: On Xaverian Spirituality, p. 5.
 Working Paper I: On Xaverian Spirituality, p. 5
 Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write.
 Brian Doyle, A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance.
About the Author
Jeannette Suflita, a Xaverian Associate and Associate Coordinator, is a retired organization development consultant and training manager. She is currently a volunteer at Our Daily Bread Employment Center.
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