“Jesus also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. … You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’” —Luke 12:54-57.
I sit and watch a storm come up the beach in the early morning. The sun is out and there are blue skies to the east, but to the west the sky is grayer. Clouds begin to move overhead. Sometimes this dark overhead carpet seems so close I think I can touch it. Fishing boats come back into port to weather the coming storm. Birds begin to take shelter. The great blue heron moves inland. The pelicans are nowhere to be seen. The mighty osprey is the last to give up looking for one more meal before she moves back to her nest. A violent wind precedes and announces the main event, the driving rain, which is almost horizontal.
Jesus reminds us that we see signs in our own life that indicate storms may be coming. Our children act out or their grades at school begin to drop. We get little hints that a project is not going well; but we are too busy to take care of that matter right now. Later. Too many other things going on. We remember how a certain food affected us in the past, but we eat it anyway. Our clothes no longer fit, but we do not change our eating, our exercise habits, or our lifestyle. We ignore a pain that is a sign that some body part needs attention.
The same is true in our spiritual life. Our prayer life seems dry. We cannot remember our dreams. We can no longer write. All we read seems dull and uninteresting. We think of every excuse not to attend corporate worship. We stop going outdoors. It is too hot. Too cold. Too sunny. Too cloudy. We stop talking with friends. We isolate ourselves.
In medicine, a sign is an outward or objective appearance that suggests what is going on—like the red butterfly rash across the nose that is characteristic of lupus erythematosus. A symptom describes something subjectively experienced by an individual, such as the fatigue of lupus, or pain with a urinary tract infection, which requires some interpretation.
We constantly are given signs and experience symptoms in both our outer and inner life that can direct us. God never abandons us. We are called only to keep ourselves “in tune” in order to see and hear. Spiritual directors, spiritual friends, spiritual practices all are gifts that can help us along this journey. They assure us that we are not alone, and that a directional move or change in course may be needed in our outer or inner life.
My own experience, however, is that I am so much like that osprey, waiting until the very last minute before I surrender to something greater than myself.