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Having coffee with God

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  • January 31, 2014

On one of the darkest, chilliest days of the year, I met an old friend. This day had been long coming: I’d accidentally managed to stand him up a couple of times before this rendez-vous. He forgave me.

We sat with coffee and cake, exchanging news. Much had happened since last we talked. I observed the extra lines around his eyes, the heaviness on his shoulders.

As we shared stories, we remembered crossroads faced, decisions taken, the hope, anguish and uncertainty of finding one’s way.

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.

“Why can’t God just be clear with us?” someone said to me recently. “If He knows which way is better, why doesn’t He tell us plainly?” Who, trying to follow God, has not pleaded with Him in just such a way. Who has not, along the route, stumbled into places of pain and fear, where chaos reigns and you’re in such a deep well that you can’t possibly see anything but the walls all round you. “Sometimes,” writes poet Rilke, “I feel I am pushing through solid rock. Everything is close to my face, and everything close to my face is stone.”

I thought I was following you — how’d I get here? Is this where love leads? What’s going on?

Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

My friend was speaking of the way he’s taken, telling me his daily struggles to assist unimportant people suffering in ordinary ways. He doesn’t look for reward, or even improvement. He just sticks with them, helping with practicalities, accompanying faithfully, present no matter what. And praying, continually, in the hidden presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This is his unseen, quiet, regular work. He once told me, in my early days of parish ministry: “If you come home at night tired and depleted, don’t think this means you failed. It means you were there.”

He knows God hides in ordinary things; in our practical needs and daily sufferings. He likes being with God in the hidden places. Maybe that’s why he looks so much like God. Lined and weary as he is, radiant and shining like the night star.

We’re a practical people. We like to be in charge. We know how to get answers, services, systems, solutions. We’ve learned much about subduing the world to our will, manipulating behaviours and thoughts, body parts and even DNA.

God fashioned us this way, to be part of creation, to discover and work with, heal and create it... to dig deep inside. He’s hiding there, too, in the secrets of the earth, in the wonders of reproductive systems and geological formations and mathematical formulas. In the questions and dilemmas. Even in the walls that block our way and limit our vision.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures —
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

We celebrate this month (Feb. 15) a hidden little feast day, from a little story hidden in the shortest New Testament letter. Writing to his friend Philemon, Paul sneaks in an exhortation to receive back his runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul has come to know and cherish this man, but now returns him to Philemon with the letter. He speaks of Onesimus not as a possession or criminal — which he is, legally speaking — but a beloved brother and fellow Christian.

Paul doesn’t tell Philemon to abolish slavery, nor even to free Onesimus. He only shows him the dynamism of love in action, for “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” Could God, through Paul and Onesimus, be making His will known to Philemon and leaving him free to decide?

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,

The day we finally met, my friend didn’t solve any problems for us or the human race, but I left uplifted. The light of the Spirit is hidden brilliantly in him. In our encounter, something was revealed.

Maybe God doesn’t want us to follow Him the way we follow a manual or a schedule. Maybe He likes to chat with us, to walk and talk with us — as He enjoyed walking with Adam in the garden — with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and I believe, with my friend and me. Children love games of hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo. Might they know something about God that we forget?

for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Prayer of Abandonment written by Charles de Foucauld who lived and died hidden in the desert with God. My friend, member of a community inspired by Brother Charles, taught me this prayer.

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