Those who are lost shall be found

  • September 28, 2023

Once, in a public place, I overheard a couple of men talking as they walked along behind me.

“Where do you think you left it?” said one. 

“I’m not sure,” responded the other. “And it’s going to be hard to find, because it’s black and the floor is black.” 

As they passed by and their searching voices got fainter, I noticed in front of me, on a shelf, a black-covered phone. Actually, I noticed it because it happened to light up at that moment with a call. Though occupied with other thoughts, I connected this sight with their words, turned and ran after them to tell them where their lost phone was.

“Lost,” from their point of view. From mine, visible all along, and “found” once I heard their words and understood what I was seeing — aided by the extra light from the simultaneous call.

Lost can be one of the most painful experiences, when we recognize it. We might not “feel” lost; we might feel numb or satiated, self-satisfied or lonely, unable or unwilling to admit to ourselves that we really are lost. From our point of view. 

Yet even when we’re lost, and can’t admit we’re lost, we are seen, known and sought. We are called for. We are the lost; and we are the sought. We can no more become un-sought, un-called, un-cared for, than the man’s phone can. We can run further away, stop up our ears, hide, try to become something else. None of that changes the fundamental reality of ourselves that we are sought.

It can, however, make us like the young man who was speaking with me one day. He sat facing the opposite direction, his back toward me, his face towards the wall and completely hidden from my view. This was the only way he could find a voice at all, and begin to talk. So afraid was he to be seen, so hidden inside himself, deeply overloaded and weighed down with shame, that he kept saying (at first with his actions, eventually in words): “Don’t look at me. I’m no good. I am lost.”  He was lost, and could know he was lost, only because he was also found. And seen.

The one who seeks us sees us, though in a way that respects our desire to be hidden. The one who seeks us calls us. Our hope is in this, that whatever else might be screaming or whispering at us, whatever injury or harm has broken our hearing, we can hear that call.

We never have to invent the call. Even when we cry out in rage or despair, turn our backs or run away, we’re hearing and responding to it. As Adam and Eve did in the garden, when the Lord called to them while they were hiding. As the bride in the Song of Songs did in her locked room, when the beloved brought his sweet-scented oil to lure her out of hiding. As Simon Peter did when from bended knee, after Jesus used his boat to catch people and fish, he spoke his love and fear to the long-beloved one he had just met face-to-face.

The man’s phone was lost until someone intervened, having heard and understood that the phone was lost. When a lost person is listened to by another, a real change happens. By speaking our lostness to a witness, even with our back turned or through a grill, we are found. 

On our own, talking only to ourselves, we keep going around in circles, like someone lost in the forest who keeps thinking she sees a path but is only getting more and more thoroughly bewildered and confused. When someone mirrors us back, we no longer disappear into nothingness. 

Being sought is just as real as being lost, but when we’re alone, only one thing feels real: that we’re lost. 

It’s difficult if not impossible, even on the psychological level, to find ourselves while wandering alone. And on the level of the soul, we need another; the soul is created in and for relationship.

That’s how God frees us, as we confess to another person. Something shifts when our groaning is heard by another — when we speak, however haltingly, to somebody who cares about us. Ultimately, the Sacrament of Confession is for this, to free us in our radical lostness, as only the humanness and divinity of the Church can give. 

We live now in the age of faith, of not-seeing — except “darkly as in a mirror.” This need not make us afraid because we have the true mirror, and we have the ears to hear the word of the one who calls us. Marvelously, we can hear and mirror each other, imperfectly but really, until (cf 2 Peter 2:19) “the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.” 

Seeking and finding the lost is a divine task in which we can share.

(Marrocco can be reached at mary.marrocco@outlook.com.)