Love, prayer, and Our Blessed Mother

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Veronica and Rafael Dy-Liacco
Simple Gifts

OUR journey back to God, together as a married couple, began most clearly after what my husband now refers to as his conversion. It happened at the point in his academic career when he seemed to be moving away from faith and belief at the highest speed. Always intense about his academics, he had gone to Alaska to observe the aurora borealis, as part of his research for the Ph.D., on the topic of ancient sky reading. American geophysicists had suggested, decades ago, that the vision of God contained in the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 1, was actually the prophet’s experience of an aurora over the Babylonian wilderness. My husband’s research uncovered more published evidence, from Russian geophysicists, for the plausibility of this hypothesis. All he needed now, my husband believed, was actually to see an aurora that conformed in some way to the imagery in the Biblical text, as nothing that he saw of the aurora in videos uploaded on the internet seemed quite to do so.

The funding for his trip was not easy for him to obtain, and for a while he believed he might never make it.During this time of uncertainty he sometimes seemed in despair of accomplishing his work. Once, in passing, he asked me to pray for him. So during this period, including all the time that my husband was actually in Alaska, unbeknown to him I began praying the rosary for him, asking Our Blessed Mother to let him find what he was looking for. My husband himself said that even if he made it to Alaska, he knew that his chances of seeing what he needed to see were exceedingly small. He needed a solar event (“the sun exploding”, as he put it), but the explosion must be pointed in the direction of planet Earth. He needed clear skies. And he needed to be there in the right place at the right time when the actual aurora appeared. Yet despite these odds, and the difficulty of finding funding, something inside of him was driving him to go.

When funding opened up, my husband grabbed it. Immediately he planned his trip down to the last detail of date, location, gear, and equipment that he believed would maximize his chances within the budget allotted to him. Then he was off. What he did not know at that time was that he was flying into an already month-long cloud cover over Fairbanks, Alaska, his chosen place of observation. Nor did he know that despite the approaching date of the spring equinox, Alaska was experiencing its worst winter ever recorded. The first solar explosion occurred as his plane left Manila for Oahu, Hawaii. The second solar explosion occurred when his plane left Oahu for Fairbanks. When he landed, the cloud cover over Fairbanks lifted. On his second night in Fairbanks, he was waiting for the expected aurora. Ignoring the posted warnings about Alaskan wildlife and about going out alone, he trekked with his equipment to an open field a kilometer and half from his lodge, at 10 in the evening.

It was so cold, he recounted, that he could hear the ice crystals on his eye lashes click every time he blinked. And when he would come in from a night’s observation, the inner lining in his nose would thaw, crack, and he’d get a nosebleed. But more seriously, the lithium battery in his electronic camera would freeze after thirty minutes and stop working. At the onset of the most spectacular moments of the aurora that hit that second night, when inserting his last functioning battery, he accidently dropped it in the snow and immediately it froze. In the end that was for the best, he said later, because otherwise he would have spent time fumbling with his equipment, focused only on obtaining recordings. Instead, he was forced to stand back and simply watch the sky. Afterwards, he would hear Fairbanks residents saying about that night’s aurora: “I’ve lived here all my life, but I’ve never seen anything like it.” In the words of other residents: “It was an incredible explosion of activity; I didn’t know which direction to look”, “the sky exploded”, “the lights were really mobile, pin-wheeling and swirling across the sky”.

From the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 1. Ezekiel the prophet recounts what he saw: “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God… As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures… In the middle of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire. The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning. As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel… one for each of the four of them…Their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel… When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.  Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.… Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell on my face….”

When my husband came back home from Alaska, he was very quiet. He seemed lost in a void, alone in some interior sub-arctic wilderness of his own. Sometimes I’d find him looking at the NASA satellite photo of the sun of March 13, 2012, the time of the second solar explosion, the explosion that gave birth to the amazing aurora that he had witnessed. “At first, I thought someone on the internet had Photoshopped it”, he would say, referring to the photo. “But it’s real.” As reported on the internet at that time: “A large and very oddly-shaped coronal hole has appeared on recent images of the Sun taken from various American space-based observatories…. The hole is distinctly triangular in shape and is pointed at the Earth”.

He lost taste for his research. He no longer seemed to desire his Ph.D. He seemed to lose interest in everything. Inside he seemed to be suffering. It turned out he was searching still, but not for data nor for concepts, not even theological concepts (he was already well familiar with those). Now, he was searching for Someone. He found an extra rosary among the things on my shelf, made of wooden beads and a wooden crucifix, held together by twine. He would lie beside me in bed at night as I prayed, insisting that I say all the prayers out loud. As I prayed he would hold the wooden rosary in his hands and pass the beads between his fingers. At the start, he would often fall asleep this way. Then one day he said that he should take the lead. He would say the Creed and the Our Fathers, he would announce each mystery, he would say the Glory Bes and the O My Jesuses, and he would say the Hail Holy Queen and the Let Us Pray. After some months of our praying this way, he then said that we should preface our Rosary with petitions to Our Blessed Mother, and that before each mystery we should ask her for graces, because she is “full of grace”.

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