10 December, Messengers

In today’s Gospel Story (Mk 1:1-8) we hear the familiar words, ”Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”. The majority report understands them to refer to the historical scriptures foretelling the birth of Jesus, which they well might. Seen in this light, they are nice thoughts about back then and about what might be coming later, but they have minimal impact on my everyday living here and now. So I can, if I choose to do so, look for my own minority report and prayerfully consider what these words say to me here and now. 

One way of doing this is to read the Story a few times slowly, calmly, and ask, “are you saying something to me here?”, all the while believing God really is saying something to me. The Story says “I am sending my messengers ahead of you”. Am I willing to wonder who these messengers are that God is sending to me and go where this takes me? Do I really want Jesus to be an active part of my life, and to prepare for him however I need to? If, maybe when, I come to know them, might I be surprised at who they are and where they are pointing me? Might I even resist? If I think they are asking too much of me, what do I do? Stop looking and wondering? Many believe their traditions have all the answers already and simply pass them on to their followers, who are expected to just accept them as they are. Some have begun to realize that their life is not what what they are told it should be, so there are challenges, or invitations, to go deeper in being open to the Spirit. Some folks are aware of the disconnect, and simply walk away, all the while continuing to do good without the religious terminology or connection. Institutions claiming to have the answers don’t like that.

One thing I need to look at, though, is how serious I am about gospel stories, and the scriptures in general. Do I really want to be open to growing, maybe even changing somehow, or am I just going through the motions? Am I serious about asking such questions and really looking for the answers, or do I just want somebody else to give me the answers, to tell me what to think? Do I see God only as out there somewhere more or less uninvolved in things, or can I believe that God is also here and now, very involved in my life? Can I really believe that God loves me enough, that I am important enough to God, that God wants to be involved in my every day living as a partner and very close friend, even as a ‘team’? What if someone or some group tells me how I have to understand a given story does not reflect what I am seeing in my life as I read or hear it? Or that my life as I am experiencing it is not what others tell me it should be? That very little in my life is clearly black or white, but is enormously varying colors and textures?

The Gospels don’t call us to ease and comfort, to make us feel good. Really, there is nothing “nice” about them. When we are open to the possibility, they show us how to live our every day life by the same values Jesus did, and at times they do this with very specific notions, maybe even some unexpected desires to move in directions we never thought of before, sometimes in little ways, other times in some pretty big ones. Questions we might ask ourselves from time to time are along the lines of, what is God calling me to here and now, what is God not calling me to here and now? Is a particular desire or urge from God or from me?

Am I ready to be seriously surprised if and when it dawns on me that a particular person(s) or situation is a messenger from God helping me to prepare his way in my life? What if this whatever makes me feel very uncomfortable? An underlying principle is that God does want to be in my life, and does give hints, guidance, and so on, and wants only my good as God sees my good, which might be quite a bit different from how I see my good, or how others see my good. Am I willing to ask questions when I really don’t know the answer, and maybe sense that the answers I get from others, who claim to know much, don’t really fit my life? Do I change my life to be what others tell me it should be, or do I go on looking for “answers” myself in the belief that God is somehow leading and walking with me. If it comes to this point, am I willing to stand alone? Do I need others to agree with me? Is this God or me?

From time to time we wander through our own desert, and the Spirit walks with us, preparing the way and straightening out the paths. Usually this is not an easy thing, but we are not walking alone. When we come to realize this it is a great gift, even life changing. Pope Francis teaches and lives what he calls discernment: recognize what God is doing in my life. God’s word speaks to us in our life as it is, not as someone tells us it should be. “The goal of discernment is to recognize the salvation God is working in my life. It reminds me that I am never alone and that, if I am struggling, it is because the stakes are high”. God’s word is a presence in our life when we are open to letting it happen. It is  what God is calling us to do, not what we are to demand others do so we feel comfortable. This is real.

A key factor in all this — people are important and necessary. While our relationship with God is personal, it is never private. It involves everybody who is in our life in any way, whether we know them or not, whether we enjoy them in our life or not. We may have some letting go to do. We cannot put any limit on what God is doing, how God is being God in us. This is something we come to learn through our own experience, sometimes powerfully so. We grow in the questioning, not the answers. The value of answers is that they lead to more questioning. We are continually called to leave our safe places and move ahead. It’s kind of like going on a dangerous jungle or desert patrol with the Spirit walking point, leading us to react to every situation as it arises with whatever we have at the time, and is always different. In a sense this is its own adventure, we don’t know where we are going, we just feel we are being led. It’s ok, and in its own way, exciting.  Just sayin  .  .  .