My brother Jim had his second brain surgery for glioblastoma cancer just before Thanksgiving. Thankfully, the fast-growing tumor was necrotic (dead) tissue caused by the intense chemo and radiation. However, he came out of it with the permanent loss of his left visual field. Because he cannot see the left half of anything he looks at, he will never be able to drive again. Little by little, this disease is taking away abilities and functions that we all take for granted, and that trajectory will continue until there is nothing left. In the meantime, Jim is living as fully as possible, working out in the gym, keeping his perspective, and remaining the incredible person we all know him to be. He gets down sometimes; anyone would. But he digs deep to find the strength and faith he needs to go on with resolve and hope.
In many ways, our world right now has “brain cancer.” The poor are becoming poorer while the wealthy line their pockets. Women increasingly report the sexual harassment and outright abuse they have endured, and rape is an accepted weapon of war. Peace between countries and religions seems more distant than ever. Treasured and sacred public lands are being lost to development and drilling, and environmental regulations are watered down or dismantled. I could go on and on. I’m sure you have a list that, although it may differ from mine, is also a source of dismay or even despair.
In the midst of this, it can seem that the voice of God is being drowned out. Where do we hear the voice of justice? Where do we see the beatitudes and the teachings of Jesus being lived out? Where is compassion and care for those who struggle? Can we dig deep and find the strength we need to go on with resolve and even hope? Does that exist anymore?
Yet even when all I feel is absence, I believe and know that in the face of my brother’s dire diagnosis, God is calling. In a world filled with noise, electronics, political upheaval, natural disasters, violence, and all the things that occupy our minds and hearts, God’s persistent voice can still be heard. In this Christmas season, we proclaim the God who is with us. The question is whether I can truly believe it when hope seems dim.
It helps me to remember that God is more determined that we can ever be. God is calling constantly, working to heal, pushing on to spread truth and bring the reign of heaven to this earth. It helps me to remember, too, that sometimes, like Eli, even wise and experienced prophets can fail to recognize God’s voice. Sometimes, it takes the persistence of the “little people” like the boy Samuel to get leaders and spiritual guides to wake up to what is really happening. God is always calling; it’s we who fall asleep.
So just as Jesus needed to retreat from the world and go into the desert, I need even more to take quiet time to pray. I need to sit patiently, surrendering my own perspectives and longings and turning them over to the grace of God. I need to be persistent and faithful, and listen….listen….listen. God is calling.
Then, I need to answer that call. In this new year, I resolve to be more present to individual people in need – people like my brother who are ill or facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles, people who are caught in war or refugee camps, and people who work endless hours trying in vain to make ends meet for their families. I resolve to work harder on issues of justice – to raise my voice in protest and advocacy, to defend those who believe, look, or act differently than me, and to fight for Gospel principles in the face of immense social and political opposition.
God is calling. I will work even harder to say “Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.”
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.corgenius.com/.