As a child, I stood in the middle of our Bronx street and stared up at puffy gray clouds sliced by tranluscent spears of light. I imagined the Baby Jesus sliding into the world on one or the other of them giggling and laughing. When I was a little older with a few years of Catholic education under my belt, I noticed it again. This time, I wondered if that was part of what the Apostles saw at the Transfiguration or if, perhaps, Jesus rode the rays of light like an escalator back into heaven during the Ascension. And, finally, just before we moved out of the neighborhood, I wondered if such startling and majestic images were there as reminders that there is something beyond self, that there is a God and there are paths to peace even in the midst of tumultuous days. There are, of course, no answers. But there is a threshold, a beginning, that profers the promise of peace.
The Ascension is a reassurance of “God with us”. It is a recognition of the cycle of life and connections among people, and it is the beginning of new learning for the Apostles and for Christians. There is always more to learn, at every phase of life, and the celebration of the Ascension underlines that. It is both a letting go and a new beginning, a moment fraught with mystery and overflowing with light. Hearing the story in a world of dystopian tastes and the magic of supehrheroes generates anime images that hide the simplicity of the message: “I may not always be with you, but I will never leave you.”
There is a profoundity to such an idea, but it is mirrored in stories of human relationship, of love and loss and grief and being. It is the assertion that our ties are stronger than mere physical bonds, and our capacity for connections and presence to another is not confined to time or space. In other words, there is more to life than what is visible; the Ascension is a moment of pause in the possibility, a moment of grace to see beyond what is to what also is, that which often escapes notice.
Signs and symbols of all that “also is” abound. For some, it is the spires of old churches; for others, it is the gift of a gathering of friends or the quiet sacredness of a walk in the woods. The flight of a sparrow, the dart of a blue jay, the sloppy kiss of a pet or the unexpected green light. Familiar lyrics drifting from a car radio, the brush of a breeze against a cheek, the soft and insistent charm of waves lingering at the shaore. Each one speaks of so much more than what it is if only we take the time to notice. The Ascension is all about noticing, acknowledging, and embracing the next phase. It is sunrise after mourning and hope after grieving. It is about becoming more than who we have been, accepting who we are, and trusting who we can become.