Finding God in the midst of it all

  • May 30, 2013

Late one pleasant evening, I was putting out the garbage. A neighbour stepped out with her garbage, too. Seeing me, she came over; I know her only by sight, but I like to get to know my neighbours, so I was pleased. Momentarily.

“What a coincidence,” she smiled. “I just sent you an e-mail.” She proceeded to tell me that I “beeped” the locks on my car doors too often and the noise was irritating her. “Other neighbours are bothered, too.”

I retreated indoors, my skin tingling from vexation. Was she being annoying, or was I? Whose garbage was it?

I dislike petty things. Spending time on them always bothers me, but too often seems unavoidable. What do we do with the daily small-but-big irritations? It’s impossible to escape them, any more than we can avoid the big sorrows. They happen. Small or big, it’s tough to find a peaceful, dignified, Christ-like response.

Help is available. Way back in the second century, one of our early Christian writers, Irenaeus of Lyons, reflected on human interactions. I like Irenaeus (feast day June 28) because he looks for God in our midst — among the petty annoyances and big tragedies — knowing that if we can’t find Him here, we won’t have much luck finding Him anywhere. Irenaeus searches the Old Testament through story after story in which suffering and evil take hold of people. Always, he finds God there.

He explains that God created Adam and Eve as children, innocent, full of potential, intending them to grow and become ever more like the God who gave them life. After listening to evil and taking it into themselves, they couldn’t stay in the garden. So He took them to dwell instead on the roadway to Paradise. That’s where human history takes place — on the way to Paradise. Here the woman and man “fell into many troubles of anxious grief, going about with sorrow and toil and lamentation in this world. For under the beams of this sun humankind tilled the earth, and it put forth thorns and thistles.”

Ah. Thank you, Irenaeus. The purpose of human life didn’t change when sin entered human hearts; but the way we fulfill that purpose did change. We’re still destined to grow more and more like God. Now we accomplish this destiny on the roadway to Paradise, among thistles and thorns, petty angers and injustices, big sorrows and anguishes. God didn’t abandon us when we couldn’t stay in the garden, sinless and innocent, walking with Him in the cool of the evening. He doesn’t jettison us when we have petty arguments with our neighbours. Instead, patiently, faithfully, He comes out of the garden to walk with us. Even in our wanderings, He teaches and guides, loves and cherishes us.

The shadowy, dark places of our lives — big and small — don’t keep us from Christ’s light. These shadows accentuate His light, helping our weak eyes grow in strength to see the light of God. The world is “seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil,” but in this smudged, smelly place, the grandeur of God “will flame out, like shining from shook foil” (Gerard Manley Hopkins).

My beeping scolding was one of three petty, energy-consuming irritations that week, inescapably directing me to the thorns and thistles in myself. The only way I see my thorns and grow from it is by feeling their sting, if I am aware and humble enough.

During the same week, I saw the shining from foil shaken by three different people, each alive with God’s glory.

First, Fr. Bill, accompanying us on a retreat, who loves to tell stories. Every story — tough situations he’s been in, difficult decisions he’s had to make — featured these words at the turning-point: “And so I prayed.”

Second, my mother, who so often shakes the foil into shining. On an evening walk, she remarked, “God is friendlier than we usually give Him credit for. He likes us.” Laughing, she added, “That didn’t come from me. I was asked to say it, so I did.”

Third, a friend who’s long suffered from mental illness. Looking outdoors, Steve said: “We’re not like the leaves, blown about by the wind. We take the wind inside us, breathe it in, move with it and move the world.”
St. Irenaeus has it. We don’t suffer through darkness in this life so that some day, eventually, we can see the glory of God. We can see God’s glory here, today, in humans fully alive.

Thank you, God. For brilliant flashes of light, sunshine filtered through shadow, for hope and joy, faith and integrity, among the thorns and thistles. For training our eyes to see you, our hearts to know you, our lungs to breathe your Spirit. For the gift of prayer, for teaching us to love our neighbour and ourselves; for your friendliness. For loving us so much that you want us to become like you.

(Marrocco can be reached at