Deut 4, 32-34.39-40; Rom 8, 14-17; Matt 28, 16-20.
We often hesitate to speak of God. We have been taught so many things about God, but to use Thomas Aquinas’ metaphor, that is all ‘straw’ in the light of reality. Much of what we transmit as our faith, remains to a large extent the fruit of imagination, given that it is from our standpoint as humans that we speak of the divine.
Today it is easy for us to live as if God does not exist. To live as if He exists and carries us on the palm of His hand is a challenge and can keep our hearts burning within us. Belief is always a venture. It cannot be simply a conventional way of life, just drifting with the surrounding currents.
The words of Deuteronomy today are really intriguing, especially when they link faith in God to prosperity: “Keep His laws and commandments as I give them to you today, so that you and your children may prosper and live long in the land that the Lord your God gives you for ever.” The claim in some circles that nowadays it is only children and the simple-minded that believe in God is simply a myth.
In a recent publication, two authors from Canada voice ideas that sound completely out of sync with the normal stereotypes we keep repeating about our secularised society. In their book The Sacred in Exile. What it Really Means to Lose Our Religion, they claim the following: “As religion has been losing much of its influence, a growing body of research is revealing that religious belief and practice has a significant positive effect on human health and well-being.”
Even where belief is concerned, we should avoid settling down for stereotypes. Unfortunately, the way we depicted God in the transmission of our faith fossilised God in a manner that alienated Him and kept Him at a distance from our daily busy-ness. God is not out there, alien to what we feel and desire, to whatever we go through and, particularly, distant from our suffering. As St Augustine remarks in his Confessions: “He departed from our sight, so that we should turn to our hearts and find him there.”
Etty Hillesum, killed by the Nazis in 1943 aged 29, seems to evoke this same thought in one of her diary entries when she writes: “There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too. But more often, stones and grit block the well and God is buried beneath. Then He must be dug out again.”
God is a mystery not because He is incomprehensible or because we are intellectually incapacitated in His regard. God is a mystery because He enters to be part of our humanity in a way that we can really experience His touch. God is all-powerful and majestic, the Rex tremendae majestatis of Mozart’s Requiem, not because He is unreachable, but because He Himself reaches out to save us from being miserable.
St Augustine interprets our lack of insight and understanding in the way we live and in the things we settle down for, believing to have found what satisfies the heart’s deepest desires. He exclaims: “I was in love with beauty of a lower order and it was dragging me down”. There is a beauty of a lower or higher order and we need the wisdom of discernment to distinguish between them. We should aspire to what lifts our spirit, not to what drags us down.
Much happens in the world and in our lives that makes it impossible to speak of God. In spite of all that we know about God, it is high time that we stop and learn to speak again the language of mystery. In St Luke’s Emmaus narrative the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were in utter darkness and disoriented because of all that had happened. The stranger who joined them did not change the facts but put them in perspective. At the end of the journey they invite him to be their guest, but at table they discover that it is they who are his guests. This changes their standpoint completely.
We often claim to believe in God with the understanding that we make time and space for Him as our guest in a life that is ours and for us. But when we discern our life from the right perspective, we discover that He is the host and the more we attend to Him, the more we acknowledge that believing in Him is a welcome gift that keeps our hearts burning within us.
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