December 31, Meaning

In today’s Gospel Story for the Feast of the Holy Family (LK 2:22-40) Mary and Joseph take the newborn Jesus to the Temple to fulfill the law. There they meet Simeon and Anna, two people who had spent a good part of their lives looking for the Messiah of God. In the Gospel Verse we pray, “In the past God spoke to us through prophets; in these last days he has spoken to us through his son”. What does this mean? The Gospels reflect these words. Jesus is everything I can know of God from our human perspective, and shows me God in ways that I can experience if I want to. But, it is easier for me to create my own image of God than to let God lead me into God as God is. No matter what my image of God is, it is not God. It is also the only place where I can begin my journey into God being God in unexpected, unfamiliar, and perhaps uncomfortable and unwanted ways.

In the story Simeon says, “O Lord, now you can dismiss your servant, I have seen you”. He had met and recognized God in his life. When I come to recognize God in my life it is the beginning of an ongoing and wonderful journey that covers everything and every one in my life, the people I know and the people I don’t know. Both Simeon and Anna had been searching for God for a long time. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and so could recognize God among them in an unexpected way, the child of poor parents. If I am interested in “finding” God I have to be active in living my desire in my ordinary everyday, trying to be open to the Spirit. Usually this happens not in a big way, but in simple everyday choices that don’t make me hide from ordinary life in search the spiritual, whatever that is, but in beginning to see ordinary daily life in different ways. I have to mean it. This can be a long journey, but as I look back on it I might recognize small but significant steps I took whose import I did not recognize at the time, but can see now were responses to grace.

Grace itself takes on a new and practical meaning. It is not a thing that I can get more of, like gasoline for the car. Grace is God being God in my life. When I consent to this, often without understanding what it really is, I learn a lot by looking back at choices and decisions I have made, some of which I regret and hope I would not repeat in similar circumstances. Yet, if I had not done these things, I would not be who I am today. The one constant in all this has been God, but I did not know this at the time.

I find myself continually beginning a way of trust that God is in what is, even though I may not understand it all. This is especially powerful when I look back at how I have gone through the dark parts of my life. I recognize God being God after the fact. This helps me now as I deal with the difficult times, looking for God being God without any expectations that this will happen in a certain way, but rooted in trust that it is all good somehow. This doesn’t always make things any easier, but it presents a hope that is constantly expanding. I can understand Simeon’s feeling and prayer. I’ve been wondering what the next step is or will be like. This experience and awareness of God being God is comforting and challenging: comforting, because from time to time, definitely not all the time, it is very clear that I am not alone in whatever is going on; challenging because it reminds me of the power I have to refuse to accept what I don’t understand or like, that I am on a constant journey of trusting and letting go, if I want to move in this direction. Also, a journey of wondering and wandering, where it is all going, when, where, how it will end.

This is helping me try to see people, everybody, in a new way, perhaps even in a simpler way, keeping what I want out of it. God is in people as we are. At times this is not easy. People have no obligation to live in a way that makes me feel comfortable. It seems to take a while for me to really get this. Also there is tremendous evil in the world, and the problem of evil is something humanity has struggled with since our beginning. I have seen, participated in, and tried to remedy, evil. What does it all mean? Where is God in all the suffering? There are folks in my life now that have suffered greatly at the hands of others. Their healing is not going well and is the cause of pain to folks who would help them. I know what that’s like. God is with the people who are suffering and those who would help, but what about the people who are causing the suffering? God is creating them in God’s image just as God is creating me and the people who are suffering. No simple answers to the mystery that God is and we share. A journey of hope and trust. More questions that answers. This might bother folks who want the security of knowing, of always having answers. Questioning offers no security and is quite an adventure, even a scary one at times.

From the way Jesus lived it is clear that real trust and openness are important. A lot of life makes no sense and is often unfair, as today’s headlines show. Evil is happening and getting much more publicity than the good that is also happening almost because of the evil. Ordinary are people doing what they can to help. Maybe that is what I’m called to on my journey of trust, to get involved and not just sit on the sides and watch. This is where an attitude of prayer is so important: “Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, do what you want me to do, say what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way”. I don’t have to know. I just have to do what comes natural.  

Encountering God is always a call to get involved in some way, to do something, not just sit around with thoughts and prayers. I have responsibilities beyond my comfort and convenience. God doesn’t call me to be sad or feel sorry for myself, but to act, to help folks having a tough time however I can, always to remember I am in Someone much greater than myself or any challenges I am facing. Joy is a reaction to the experience of grace. This doesn’t mean things will be easy. Trust isn’t easy, but it is the way. I have no idea what this means, but I believe it. More letting go.  Just sayin .  .  .