Friday, February 7, 2014


Yesterday was the second anniversary of Susan Niebur's death.  In the morning, I checked Facebook and saw a link to a beautiful arrangement and performance of a hymn called "His Eye is On the Sparrow". Susan's best friend, a woman she spoke of to me often and lovingly, had done the arrangement and actually played and sang this at Susan's funeral.  I had never heard this popular hymn before the day of the funeral.  I was in absolute awe as the music rolled over me and stole into the shadowed crevices in my soul that felt abandoned and angry.  Along with so many people, I'd prayed so fervently for Susan's recovery, for one more day, one more month, one more year for her to be with her family.  I was devastated that God's answer to my prayers was not what I wanted and I was really having trouble reconnecting to the mercy and love that I knew he was offering.

And then, this absolute, incredible gift.  The sheer beauty of the song, its expectancy, floored me.  I'm no music critic -- I know very little about technical musical things (see, I don't even have the vocabulary to talk about it properly), but the music says to me, "something wonderful is on the way; no, it's already here."  It's like those old Disney time lapse movies of a flower opening, petal by petal, to glorious perfection.... and it's repeated again and again in the song. It was amazing, and beautiful, and such a balm for my troubled soul.

So, to be reminded of that yesterday morning was a gift all over again.

Of course, I thought of Susan throughout the day, but the day-to-day has a way of taking over -- I worked, I made dinner, I observed Chickadee #1 in her French class.  And then it was time for School of Community.

We are currently reading Don Luigi Guissani's At the Origin of the Christian Claim and the topic of the night's discussion was the section on Human Stature.

The whole point of this section is trying to understand the human in the light of the divine. What does it mean that Christ looks at us, that he sees us as we are?  One strain of Christianity would shrink from the gaze of the Divine and feel unworthy.  Guissani's concept, like that of Blessed John Paul II, is that human beings must become who they truly are -- they must step up to the plate and not accept a lesser good than the one for which they are made.

Even more radically, it seems to me, Guissani asserts,

This leads us to consider the value of the human person as something incommensurable, irreducible.  The problem of the world's existence is the happiness of each single person....So what is the foundation, then, for Jesus' impassioned and intransigent affirmation of the absolute value of the individual, if it did not exist before, if it surged up from the world like foam on the crest of a wave only to dissolve back into the world, if it is a phenomenon derived from the past, the effect of a previous biological input destined to be consumed?...Christ pinpoints a reality in man...which is a direct, exclusive relationship with God [and] love is also the adequate expression of this relationship.

This is a crazy claim -- the problem of the WORLD's existence is the individual happiness of people?  You can have a direct, exclusive relationship of intimate LOVE with God?  We aren't just matter, here one day, gone the next, stardust and memories?  This is shocking stuff, even to me, a committed, lifelong, believing Christian.

This passage, with its radical claim, of course had me thinking about Susan  -- whether she is merely something that surged up like foam on the crest of a wave, ephemeral, and, at the last, unimportant on a cosmic scale.

That was the direction in which my thoughts were tending, when WHAM!  Godsmack, again. Immediately following this passage is another:

this hymn (the Beatitudes) finds its confirmation and its enchanting application in that total abandonment to God which Jesus requires with incomparable tenderness and force in Matthew 6:25-34 when he sends his apostles on their mission:  

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows....

Sparrows again.  And, just now, writing this, I thought of something else, something confirmatory to my sense that God is telling me, "Don't be afraid.  My eye is on the sparrow.  My eye is on you.  My eye is on Susan, and her boys, and all those whom she loved and who loved her..."

In the last months of her illness, our book group read a novel which basically is a meditation on what you do when you are destroyed despite the love you have for God, despite your best attempts to do his will.  How do you live with that?  How do you reconcile the notion of a loving God with the hell that happens here on earth?   I gave it to Susan when she asked ... she was too ill to attend the meeting, but wanted to read the book.  Then I worried that it would be too difficult for her to read, because, really, she was living this situation I was reading about for entertainment, for enlightenment, for Aristotle's catharsis.  She was living it.

The book's name?

The Sparrow.

Thanks, Susan.  I get it.


  1. Beautiful and insightful. I awoke yesterday to Marty singing her arrangement for Susan and I, too, was reminded and overwhelmed as I pondered God's care for the sparrow and for me. Marty and I also said goodbye to the love of my life, her dad, my husband, three years ago today. February can be a sad month, but I have every confidence in God, "who I know is watching me." Thank you for your post.

  2. That song and the way Marty sings it takes my breath away every time I listen to it.

  3. Beautiful post Colleen.