Memorial of Saint Scholastica
1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13
It happened again today. I received a religious email promising that if I forward it to a certain number of other people, God would do something amazing in my life. I did not forward it. God continues to do amazing things in my life.
A speaker at a conference recently told about his visit to Portland. Going into Starbucks the morning after he arrived, he almost literally had to step over a homeless woman with a red scarf around her neck. The next morning at Mass, he approached the table for Communion and the minister offering him the Body of Christ was the same homeless woman, red scarf still in place.
Ever since antiquity, when Solomon built a temple as the one and only home where God would dwell, we have tried to control God and God’s actions according to our own specifications and human-made images of the Divine. Although I do not create or forward those email chains, I am essentially doing the same thing when my prayers dictate to God what I want done (or express my frustration that God is failing to comply). How often do I speak of my "prayer life" as if it were a separate and more God-centered reality than my daily life, instead of looking for God in every mundane moment (and person)? Far too often I tuck God away in my pocket, conveniently ready to pull out when I am in need. I avoid God’s challenging voice or refuse to listen when I know I need to change something I’d rather hang onto. I have misjudged a person, believing he or she has nothing to teach me, only to discover a vibrant and trusting faith that leaves me in awe. I can only wonder how many opportunities and graced experiences I’ve missed because God wasn’t acting as I expected or telling me what I wanted to hear. Perhaps I would miss Jesus standing right in front of me because he wasn’t behaving according to my ideas.
Repeatedly I discover that God is wiser than I am, refusing to be neatly defined, put into a box, or contained within a building or an institution. God is God and I am not, and my challenge is to maintain an open heart to the expansive, unpredictable ways of the God of surprise. I’m not very good at it yet. I tend to be a control freak, and old patterns are hard to change. Although it formed the basis of my faith, in some ways my Catholic upbringing isn’t always helpful, centered as it was on maintaining narrow parameters that defined how God acts, declared who is acceptable, and promoted endless ways we should condemn and exclude people. But I know I need and want to keep changing.
My prayer today is that I can take down the walls of all the boxes I built for God and shatter my every concept of where God is to be found. I pray that I can continually become more comfortable with the sure knowledge that I am not in control and never will be. I pray that God will act in my life in the ways I most need instead of in the ways I expect. I pray that God will send me to whomever I can serve, regardless of how they are viewed by others, and soften my heart to receive the gifts God wants to give me through them.
I also pray for our Church, that we may whole-heartedly follow the Gospel-centered example of Pope Francis and become an ever-brighter beacon, drawing people not to a predictable God that we can define and contain, but to the God of surprise, joy, challenge, sacrifice, and pure love. May we all see warm, inclusive red scarves wrapped around each person, and reverently approach the Body of Christ dwelling within.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.