September 10, Gathered

In today’s Gospel Story (Mt 18:15-20) Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.” In the Psalm we pray, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”. The Psalm sets the tone for us to receive what Jesus says in the Story. In fact, it might also set the tone for our daily living, if we let it. When, or if, I pray, “If today (I) hear his voice, harden not (my) heart”, do I really mean it? Or am I saying, in effect, ”this is what I want God to say and if this is what I hear, I believe”. But if God is saying something else, I won’t believe, because (my) God will say only what I want to hear. If I hear anything else, then it isn’t (my) God. 

God doesn’t often speak to us in words or voices. Most of the time it’s an unexpected idea, maybe something we hear or read or experience that suddenly grabs us. It could be as simple as hearing a line in a song (thanks to Alexa I’m listening to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”), noticing something we hadn’t noticed before, spontaneously turning right when we usually go left. God is full of surprises, so if I’m serious, I have to be open to being surprised. When I have everything figured out I’m not comfortable with surprises, and so I miss a lot.

When/if I pray and try to live the words of the Psalm, I must be willing to be led. The voice of God, the Spirit, is forever calling me forward and deeper, to leave my place of comfort, knowing, and safety and move to places and situations I would not choose, and cannot control. Salvation, growing towards the fullness for which I am created, happens now, not just later, and involves the people in my life. Some I may know, others I may not know. It is not a matter of pleasing a distant god, but of recognizing God being God in my everyday life here and now. Little certainty, but much wondering and amazement.

It is worth remembering that while my relationship with God is personal, it is never private. If I think it is a private matter between God and me, I am missing out on a lot. My relationship with God incudes everybody in my life, whether close or far away, even brief encounters. I may never know the effect that a simple remark, gesture, or glance has on someone else in what is going on in their life. Every one in my life has the right and the need to be there. I don’t have to like or agree with them, just ask the grace to be open to the Spirit coming to me as them, and learn and be amazed.

I am not in the position of being able to judge others. I don’t know their story or their conscience. It’s not good to believe I have all the answers, or know how other people should live. I certainly am not qualified to decide who is sinning and who needs to repent. Each  of us has our own idea of God, and each of us would say our idea of God is the true one. But our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than it does about God. Each of us is trying to understand God in some way, so we develop our image of God, usually with the help of a religious tradition. But there are many traditions and their ideas of God differ greatly. Persons with a sincere prayer life can differ greatly in how they see God. I cannot try to force my idea of God on any one else, or judge anyone by the values of my understanding of God. And I certainly need to respect other persons and their idea of God, even though I may not agree with them. It’s not a matter of what others should or should not do, but of me being open to God in everything, trusting in the Spirit.

Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This hints at the importance of chance encounters with others, a request to pray for someone or something. Prayer is an openness to God happening in what is. We don’t pray to get God to change his mind. Mother Teresa used to say, “we say prayer changes things, but it doesn’t; prayer changes us and we change things”. She knew something. We pray to God for a lot, and sometimes our prayers seem to be answered. When we don’t get what we want we go through mental gymnastics to explain why God didn’t “answer our prayer”. If someone asks us to pray for them and we agree to do so, we are undertaking a serious responsibility. We can’t let it be something perfunctory. We don’t know where this will take us. Again, the need to be open and trusting, and really hold them in prayer, trust, and openness, willing to be involved somehow if that is where our prayer takes us.

As I’m writing this early in the morning, the fire alarm is making a lot of noise. I hear the fire fighters in the hallway outside my apartment probably having nasty thoughts about whatever glitch is causing the alarm. Nothing bad is going on, but it is annoying. Thy are here ready to risk their lives for us if the situation were to warrant it, an example of being open to life as it happens. Learning from them, perhaps the hardest thing about trying to follow Jesus is being open and willing to be led in every situation, in others words, giving up my sense of control and having things figured out. There’s little in life that I can control. Bad things happen to good people. My fellow residents have fascinating stories abut how they have lived. Even now many have difficult lives. The death of people important to us is almost a weekly happening. The love couples have for each other is something beautiful, and I feel privileged to be a small part of it. Many are aware that somehow God is involved in all this. In no way is God ever remote from us no matter what is going on. God is happening all around us. As a friend says, “God protects us from nothing, but sustains us in everything”. We are in a good place, wherever we are. Today heading off to my annual retreat, and it couldn’t come at a better time.  Just sayin  .   .   .