A colleague drove me home, a long trip across the city. I volunteered directions. He, absorbed in the dulcet tones and colourful maps offered by his GPS (Global Positioning System), didn’t listen. The computer knew better than I did where I lived and how to get there. “Her” regularly interjected directions were the influential force of that journey.

Published in Mary Marrocco

While the Lord is experienced in positive and negative ways, He is always love

A man’s heart cries out. For years, Jeff has tried to follow God, but hasn’t found his dearest dream: a woman he could love and be loved by, who wants God as the foundation of their marriage. Why the rejection? Isn’t God love? Isn’t this cruel?

Other Christians have experienced God as silent, steel, remote, distant, stingy, unyielding, ruthless, “the great vivisectionist.” At other times we know Him as tenderness, gentleness, beauty, life, creativity, kindness, compassion, intimate presence. Who is He really?

“You’ve got to learn to wrestle with God!” Our model is Jacob, who spent the night wrestling someone (Genesis 32). At dawn, Jacob’s adversary wounded him, blessed him and gave him his name, Israel. In the struggle with God, we may discover our true name, and our real self — wounds and all. At least by wrestling, we dare to show what’s going on inside us.

The Church helps us wrestle by giving us Lent. Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, shows Lent is physical as well as spiritual: we mark our bodies with a reminder of mortality, we take on spiritual disciplines that affect us in the flesh. It’s total; we use everything we have and are to communicate with God.

In its early centuries, the Church wrestled with many questions about God, including this: how could there be any true communication, any meeting-point, between the real God and us? Wouldn’t humans be lost in God’s vastness or God somehow be made less by being grasped?

Wrestlers get so intertwined that they look almost like one person. They feel each other’s strengths and weaknesses, bodies and spirits. Could it be like that between us and God? Could Jeff, by not giving up but coming back and back with his question, be in true communication with the living God?

Among us humans, communication happens through electronic forms known as “social media.” These involve much self-presentation: showing photos and videos of ourselves, our friends, food or pets or silly moments; we write bits of news about what we were thinking just before breakfast; we put together montages revealing our thoughts and desires, without discrimination, the painful and the odd, the beautiful and delightful. It allows for creativity as well as self-exposure.

It’s as though people are holding their faces up to an invisible mirror. Through it, they see their own reflection and invite others to see it too. Like the ordinary, visible mirror, this sort of self-study can be destructive, as in the myth of Narcissus: the youth whose handsomeness broke many hearts. One day he saw his reflection in a still pool. He had nothing to prepare him or help him understand it. He fell in love with his own beauty, but died because he couldn’t touch or fulfill his love of the image he saw.

Underneath the Narcissus story, and behind the passion for electronic self-exposure, lie understandable human desires. We want to see and know ourselves, to contemplate our image — though we can’t see our own faces. We want to show ourselves to others, be reflected back, have someone find us beautiful and interesting and love us. We want to dig inside ourselves and find creative ways to bring forth what we discover inside. We want these things even though we fear they’re impossible, since we also experience ourselves as ugly, unimportant and unlovable.

These desires reflect a divine movement: God beckoning, reflecting back our true image, the image of beauty He called forth in us. God “bending the heavens,” as the psalm says, to show us we’re beloved. God doing the impossible to call us to this truth of ourselves, beyond the scars of sin — our own and others.

Deepest, truest, wildest in us is our desire for God, without whom we can never find rest. Our need to communicate, to be seen, can’t be fully satisfied by any human communication, by electronic self-disclosure or song and dance or feasting, by studying ourselves or even by loving one another — though all these things may, and some must, bring us closer.

That’s why human communication always involves frustration, even when it’s exhilarating. Whatever we seek is never truly found except in God. And He’s completely beyond us, though nearer to us than our fingernails to our fingers.

How could there be a meeting-point between God the Creator and us His creatures? Only in the one who in Himself unites human with divine. There’s no humanity without God — and because of Christ, there’s no God without humanity.

That’s the intimacy we seek, whether through electronic media or dances in the village square. It’s what we invite through our Lenten spiritual practices. They prepare us to receive the fullness of God’s love without any shadow or cruelty or pain.

No wonder we experience Him in negative as well as positive ways: thirst and hunger, pain and longing, cruelty and ruthlessness. Gentleness, kindness, wonder, delight. And love.

He’s in everything, even in Jeff’s long longing.


Published in Mary Marrocco

Questioning Faith

Once, a parish priest asked me and my brother if we would offer a Bible study in the nearby seniors’ home. We invited all residents to an afternoon series in their lounge. Two or three showed up regularly, but nobody else. What were we doing wrong? Why didn’t they like us?

Finally one of the attendees, who was Protestant, acknowledged to us: “They wanted to come because they like this sort of thing, but they couldn’t understand why anybody would send Catholics to do a Bible study.” This took the pressure off!

Though it cherishes a sacred book, Christianity is not a religion of the book. It’s a way, “the way,” to use one of its earliest names. It offers life through encounter with One who is the door to life. Why then does the Church have a special book (or rather, collection of books) that it considers sacred? Where did it come from, and what are we supposed to do with it?

The Church considers the Scriptures “inspired.” Perhaps this makes them seem distant, reserved for the learned few. We may want to get closer to them, without knowing the way (which, at times, is how we feel about God, too). On Oct. 18, we celebrate the feast of St. Luke, one of the four evangelists. Luke, tradition says, was a physician and knew the Mother of God. The first semester of my theological studies included a class assignment to read a Gospel from start to finish. Because the feast day was nearby, I chose Luke’s Gospel; the experience was moving and educational. I discovered somebody behind the Scripture texts. I’d always been taught God was behind them, but now I began to see and hear a human writer. Could it be that God and Luke were writing together?

What a combination — a collaboration between God and a human, in which I could join. It was like being part of a conversation and discovering that in the process, you were getting to know God. So I learned that if the Bible is inspired, that doesn’t put it far away from me, but brings it close. It’s for me, for all of us (including Catholics)!

But what does it mean to say the Bible is inspired?

The other day I saw a photograph of a nice-looking young man. A self-portrait, it showed him wearing a black, short-sleeved T-shirt and black shorts, sitting on a column like a Greek hero. His figure exuded strength and compassion. Noteworthy, but not dominant, was the lack of three limbs, though the bare scarred skin was unabashedly visible.

While on assignment in Afghanistan in 2011, photographer Giles Duley accidentally triggered an explosive device. He endured the amputation of both feet and one hand, and resumed his photography career. Differently. He explains there are things he can’t do any more, such as keep his balance while looking through a viewfinder, and some things he can do in ways he couldn’t before, such as “focus even more on the connection with people.”

Duley’s story was inspiring to me. I imagined how I might respond to similar losses, reflected on the strength of his spirit, the human capacity to transcend itself, how it often falls short but at times rises to glory. His story, his person, evoked a deep response in me.

There are degrees of inspiration. We wouldn’t say the photograph is inspired to the degree the Bible is. We hope the inspiration we get from many things will help us learn to encounter the Spirit in the Bible, where of all books He is most meetable.

The word “inspire” means to “breathe into.” For Christians, it’s a deeply laden word with profound meaning. It reminds us that God “breathed into (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). It’s the truth of our humanness, that held within us like a treasure is the living Spirit of God. The Mother of God is the archetype of inspiration, so open to God’s Spirit that the Word can take flesh within her.

“Inspiration” is not a thing, but a relationship. God breathed into Adam, but Adam also started to breathe. Scripture’s authors were inspired by God, but we too, people who read, study and pray with the Scriptures, find God’s Spirit within us helping us to understand them — we, too, are inspired. That’s why the Scriptures are the books of the Church, though the Church is not a religion based on books. It’s based on a relationship between God and us.

We need this sort of inspiration in our day-to-day lives. Otherwise we get anxious, like a tiny child whose parent is out of sight. The Scriptures help bring us into the ongoing dialogue between God and humanity, in our present affliction and struggle. They’re a unique place of encounter with God. The dialogue between God and humanity becomes a person. It’s this person whom we encounter in the Scriptures, Christ who alone fills our hunger.

Published in Mary Marrocco
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