Rediscovering The God I Had Forgotten About Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/acatholicthinker/2015/04/redi
Something happened to me on Easter. Something extraordinary. It was like a longstanding logjam that had clogged up the flow of a heaving, impatient river suddenly, miraculously became free. And the dancing waters flowed once again. Effortlessly. And with exuberance.
Let me explain.
It was Easter Sunday and my wife, daughters and I had gone to Mass followed by a quick brunch. We returned home to a chaotic house of unopened mail, unpacked bags and unanticipated duties in the wake of a Spring Break trip and in advance of a busy week at work. Not ready to see the serenity of vacation and reverence of Holy Week subside, we decadently ignored the bags and mail and turned on the TV. And there it was. Just as it was when I was a little boy watching it with my parents. Franco Zefferelli’s incomparable 1977 mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth. All six hours of it.
Needless to say, with two young girls and things to do, we couldn’t offer the show our undivided attention, but we made great efforts
nonetheless. I remember watching this repeatedly as a young boy, teenager, young man, early in marriage and now once again. My dad, especially, was a true fan of the show pointing out one extraordinary miracle or parable after another to his three kids who sat amazed that a television production could bring such vividness to the stories of the Bible. As a young boy, I came to appreciate the profound experience in witnessing the narrative (even 6 hours of Jesus of Nazareth is not complete) of Christ from Conception to Resurrection. And now, on Easter Sunday, my family was likewise entranced.
Just as it had been when I was young, Jesus of Nazareth was spellbinding. The assent of Mary. The calling of St. Matthew. The conversion of Mary Magdalene. The miracle of the loaves and fishes. The blind man gaining sight. The Roman Centurion’s request. The raising of Lazarus. The Beatitudes. The Confession of St. Peter. The Pharisees rising anger. The Agony in the Garden. The betrayals. The Passion, Crucifixion & fear of the disciples. The glory of Easter. My daughters were transfixed. The questions they asked, the wonder they expressed, the rapt attention they gave made me as proud as I could possibly be. This is what matters. This is what matters. And the number of times I found myself with a lump in my throat spurred by one of Christ’s loving gestures or profound teachings is beyond counting.
But what about the extraordinary event that happened to me?
I learned how to pray again.
Now don’t get me wrong. I pray regularly in Church, with my family, on my own. I love my God and believe in his love for me. But one of the greatest traps in my faith is to intellectualize and not experience. To analyze and not to be. At risk of seeming immodest, I can discuss nuances of dignity, calling, suffering and grace. I can quote Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, Georges Bernanos and Hilaire Belloc. I can revel in the brilliant thoughts and ideas of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Leo XIII and Pope Benedict XVI. And I can marvel at the wisdom and actions of Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. But sometimes, I can feel dislocated from God when it is just him and me in a church, a room or a car by ourselves.
Why is that?
It seems my problem has been in how to approach this Magnificent Being. Sometimes, this God that I find myself standing before is so large, so awesome, so “omni-everything” that, at times, I don’t know what to say, how to say it or what his answer will be. Will he answer? How? Will he be aloof? Why? Does my prayer affect him? Is the world spinning without his further intervention or does he act? Is his intervention sporadic or regular? Why does he respond sometimes and not others? Or is he responding and I am simply blind and deaf to it? These are some of the questions that would cloud my prayer life.
I found myself getting lost in the Mystery of God. His massiveness made him seem impersonal. His inscrutability made him seem more distant. And what I perceived to be the unanswerables made my God seem even more abstract. This, in turn, made me feel more detached which made prayer more difficult. The logs of uncertainty were jamming up my river of faith.
But then I saw (as if for the first time), in Jesus of Nazareth, Christ reclining against a wall, fire-crackling in front of him and a disciple leaning in to ask him a question. And Jesus looked at him with love and answered him. Christ engaged the disciples and the masses. He engaged those who worshipped him and those who reviled him. And he engages us. Passionately. Christ taught us how to pray, how to be merciful, how to be just. He taught us what the prophets meant before him and what to expect after his death. He told us not to worry or fear, to love and forgive, to be holy like our Father is holy, to expect both suffering and salvation. He showed his power over the elements, but even more his power over temptation, sin and evil. He listened as no one has ever listened, understood as no one has ever understood and loved as no one has ever loved. And Christ told us he would be with us to the end of the age.
This is the God I had forgotten about.
Please understand, I know the Gospels, the story and wonder of Christ. I feel very comfortable with the narrative. And my faith has been a very active and vital part of my everyday life. But to reconsider and apprehend (truly apprehend) the approachable God found in Christ in my own prayer life was an epiphany of old truths I had somehow forgotten. The awesome, omni-everything God is the man Christ. Fully divine, but also fully human. The ineffable became the supremely palpable. The blinding face of God became viewable in the bearded face of Jesus. As G.K. Chesterton once wisely noted about the Incarnation,
“The hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”
Fully divine is glorious. But it is the fully human part that makes my God emerge from the abstract with warm, sharpened outlines that I can approach just a little more easily. Fully human gives me a hand I can hold, footsteps I can follow, a shoulder I can lean on and a back that can give me rest when I am so very world weary. When I knock, Christ opens. When I ask, Christ answers. When I seek, it is Christ that I find. Pope Benedict XVI wonderfully spoke of the warmth found in this relationship with Christ.
“We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man…A mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”
“We are Christians only if we encounter Christ… Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians.”
This is the God I can approach. This is the God I can pray to on Easter morning in the majesty and reverence of the Mass or in the middle of the night as I stare at the ceiling with a worry on my mind. I can talk with Christ anywhere at anytime about anything. He longs for it. As do I. And it is the most liberating, meaningful conversation imaginable (please see my previous post regarding the prayers of a Pope and a twelve-year old on the wonder of this praying relationship).
But I am weak. I will backslide. I will doubt. I just know it. And just like Doubting Thomas, I will need to jut my fingers into Christ’s wound again and again to try and comprehend once again this glorious, yet approachable God whose grace is sufficient for me. And when I do this, like St. Thomas, I will be left stammering in wonder, “My Lord and My God”.
My Lord and My God.
How wonderful to meet you again.