Adoration of the Shepherds by Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, 1632. Wikipedia

Leah Perrault: God comes as He is to the world as we are

By 
  • December 28, 2019

I have been thinking a lot over the last couple of years about how God comes to us. In tragedy and grief, in deep joy and hope, in confusion and in waiting. In all these places, I am deeply convinced that He comes. Still, I often struggle to recognize Him.

I think when I go looking for God, I look so decidedly from where I am. Each experience has me looking from a different place and space in myself. And as I get lost and found, I expect God to show up in certain ways, and then find myself surprised.

It isn’t new to reflect on how Jesus comes to us at Christmas, but something new has emerged for me from my reflection this year. On pewter ornaments and in old worn Nativities, in art from every century and many of the world’s nations, Jesus is depicted in swaddling clothes, coming among us. And He usually looks like the artist, in the time and place that they find themselves.

I look for God as I am. This is a miracle of our creation in God’s image meeting God’s taking on human flesh, that we can imagine a God like ourselves. So, in one sense, I am not surprised that I look for God lost and waiting, God grieving and afraid, God full of joy and longing in hope.

Sometimes, I find God in these spaces in the Scriptures, in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, in Samaria and the Jordan River, in Samaria and Egypt. And sometimes, I find him crying into my pillow with me, marvelling at Atticus’ joy at the Christmas tree, or sitting with me in my office chair waiting.

But maybe more often, I don’t find God in the places I expect. I ask a question and hear silence. I feel lost and God allows me to stay there for awhile. Things I want to be resolved in days take years (of confusion, as well as patience). God is so much deeper and more than I could want or hope for.

We depict God in so many ways and these depictions suggest some of the ways God can work, but they aren’t exhaustive. God allows the depictions and is not limited by them. I think this is my favourite thing about all relationships — that my preconceived ideas about who others are will always be insufficient. Who you are is always bigger and more that I can know.

This Christmas, I have been reflecting on how God comes to us as He is. In the Nativity, that means an infant, vulnerable and human, in need of us as much as we are in need of Him. He wasn’t what people were expecting.

As I celebrate the God who comes to us where we are, again and again, I am delighting that who God is always exceeds my experience and understanding. The space between who God is and where I am means there is mystery and possibility between us, that the encounter can be messier and longer and more awkward than I want.

And it is always more real and more respectful because we both get to be who we are.

Over the Christmas season, we will navigate who sleeps where for family gatherings, what food to eat and which traditions will work. We will gather with some of our people and wish it was possible to be in the same room as others. Meltdowns will accompany moments of contentment and joy. By the end, we will be ready for routine to return again.

God comes — for all of it. As I celebrate Christmas, I’m trying to let go of my expectations of God and everyone else. It is freeing to come as I am, ready or not, and let others do the same.

In the sacred spaces when I find myself sitting with God-with-us, my picture of God expands. Then, so does my understanding of who I am. And I find more space to love the world as it is.

It is the closest thing to peace on Earth for me. May there be a moment or two this Christmas season where who I am collides with who He is. That’s what I want for Christmas.

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatoon and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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