I Search For God

The other day I found a prayer among my material from an old retreat I attended.  As is sometimes the case with these old handouts I discover, there was not source attached to the prayer. [Update: Thanks to the reader who commented to say that Joyce Rupp is the source of the prayer.]  The prayer seems a wonderful follow-up to my posts of the last two days, so I thought I would share it.

I search for God;
elusive, hidden God.
I long to dwell in the heart of mystery.
I search for my true self,
more of whom I already am,
Knowing there’s so much yet to be discovered.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

I search for love,
the unconditional love of a God
who enfolds me and asks me to come close.
I search for vision
in the shadows of my soul
impatiently waiting for the moment of light.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

I search for a quiet heart
amid life’s busyness and distractions.
My soul cries out yearning to rest in you.
I search for compassion
in a world that has grown deaf
to the cries of the hurting and the pleas of the powerless.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

I search for you in the events of my life,
always discovering that you are already there.
You search for me.
You believe in me.
You love me unconditionally.
You wait for me and welcome me.
Let me truly hear your invitation to come.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

P.S.  If anyone has a source for it, I’d be grateful if you would share that with me.


Is There Life After…

I just saw a post that reproduced a parable written by a Hungarian writer.  I thought it worth sharing, although, perhaps like my failure to understand the source of Superman’s superpowers (see yesterday’s post), everyone other than me has already heard this story.  Here it is:

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

With thanks to Útmutató a Léleknek (the author) and Diane Roth (who posted it on her FB page).

What Will Convince Us?

Today’s Gospel reading is Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the upper room – actually, two appearances. The first time Jesus appears (and it is that appearance I am concerned with here), Thomas is not with the twelve.  We are all familiar with Thomas’ reaction when the others tell him they saw Jesus:“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

For that reaction, we give Thomas the moniker “Doubting Thomas.”  I confess I’ve always had some sympathy with the poor man.  We make fun of Thomas, but can you blame him? Put yourself in his position. If someone came to me a week after my father died and said, “Hey, we just saw your dad,” I’d say “you’re nuts.”  That is not something I would believe on someone’s say-so.

But John Henry Newman’s comment about Thomas is worth reflecting on.  Newman suggests that Thomas’ fault was in “pick[ing] and choos[ing] by what arguments he would be convinced,” that is, in demanding a particular form of proof, rather than examining whether there was enough out there already to convince him. Newman said:

He said that he would not believe that our Lord had risen, unless he actually saw him. What! Is there not more than one way of arriving at faith in Christ? Are there not a hundred proofs, distinct from each other, and all good ones? Was there no way of being sure he came form God, except that of seeing the great miracle of the resurrection? Surely there were many others; but Saint Thomas prescribed the only mode in which he would consent to believe in him.

If we are honest we will admit that we, too, are often guilty of expecting God to act in a particular way, of expecting to find God in the way that we prescribe, of setting the rules by which God ought to operate. Thomas is not the only one guilty of picking and choosing what arguments would convince him. I think we all would do well to examing whether there are ways in which we “prescribe the only mode” in which we will see God.

O God, I Am Thine!

Earlier this week was the seventieth anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Nazi Germany.  Although Bonhoeffer is someone whose writings I have found enormously beneficial and someone whose faith and courage I greatly admire, I was not aware of this poem of his until I saw it on my friend Neil Willard’s blog.

Bonhoeffer wrote this poem while imprisoned.  It is titled, Who am I?  Its ending provides the only answer we need to have to that question.

Who am I? They often tell me
I step out from my cell
calm and cheerful and poised,
like a squire from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak with my guards
freely, friendly and clear,
as though I were the one in charge.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear days of calamity
serenely, smiling and proud,
like accustomed to victory.

Am I really what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird,
struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled,
starving for colors, for flowers, for birdsong,
thirsting for kind words, human closeness,
shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult,
tossed about, waiting for great things to happen,
helplessly fearing for friends so far away,
too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work,
weary and ready to take my leave of it all?

Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!

Neil’s post also has a clip from a film about Bonhoeffer I showed to my Heroes and Heroism seminar students this past January: Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.  Take a look at the clip if you have a chance.

Discerning Among Particular Options

Yesterday was the the seventh session of the program I am offering at UST Law School during this academic year on Discerning my Place in the World. In our prior sessions we’ve addressed a number aspects of discerning vocation, including getting in touch with our giftedness, identifying what brings us joy, prioritizing our values,  reflecting on our deepest desires, growing in our appreciation that we are each individually called by God, and gauging the internal freedom with which we approach discernment.

Yesterday’s session focused on how we discern among particular options. In my talk I shared with the participants some tools from Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that are a help in discerning among various options.   I distinguished between different types of life decisions we might be discerning with respect to, talked about how Ignatius helps us frame our choices and to come to a decision with God as to the best path.  Following my talk the participants had some time for individual reflection, after which I invited sharing about some “big” decisions they have made and how they have approached those decisions.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 25:06.) You can find a copy of the handout I distributed for the participants’ individual reflection time here.

I will be leaving this afternoon for a weekend retreat I am giving for members of the St. Catherine’s University community.  Please keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.

A Parable, A Ballad, and some Metta

Yesterday was an embarrassment of riches.  At noon I attended our Weekly Manna gathering where two students were the presenters.  That was followed by a talk on G.K. Chesterton sponsored by the law school’s St. Thomas More Society. Later in the afternoon I had a productive meeting with some members of the Project of Mindfulness and Contemplation, on whose advisory board I sit and which sponsors the lovingkindness (metta) meditation I lead biweekly on the St. Paul campus.

At Weekly Manna, the students opened their talk with the Parable of the Flood, with which many people are doubtless familiar.  (It it reproduced at the end of this post.)  They sued the parable as a jumping off point for talking about the surprising ways we encounter God – and how important is it not to have preconceived notions of how God may appear to us.  In fact, God is often present to us in the form of other people – as we are the face of God to others.

The parable is also an important reminder that faith in God does not mean sitting back and allowing God to do all of the heavy lifting.  Rather, God expects us to participate in his work as well – to grab the ropes and climb the ladders he gives us.

Our Chesterton speaker spoke about many of the themes of Chesterton’s writings, particularly using his Ballad of the White Horse as a way to explore those themes. I found much in the talk worthwhile, including the speaker’s discussion of what it means to talk about cultivating a culture of life.  But what I most was drawn to was his discussion of the eyes with which Chesterson saw the world.  Like anyone to whom we give the label mystic, Chesterton had an acute awareness of God and of God’s gifts.

In an essay on Chesterton, Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, wrote

Chesterton tells us the things we already know, only we did not know that we knew them. The difference between him and us is that he is trying to give us the same vision he has, what Father Wild calls his “contagious happiness and inner peace…he was imbued with a kind of unpretentious beatitude that tended to convey itself to those around him.” He is trying to share his sense of wonder, his thankfulness, his joy. And the source of all these things is God.

I think our speaker did a wonderful job of conveying what it means to see as Chesterton did, using the example of the wonder with which the speaker’s six-month old views everything he sees.

All in all, a lot to reflect on – including my gratitude at working in a place where we have such varied opportunities for reflection.


Here is the Parable of the Flood:

A man was trapped in his house during a flood. He began praying to God to rescue him. He had a vision in his head of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety. The water started to rise in his house. His neighbour urged him to leave and offered him a ride to safety. The man yelled back, “I am waiting for God to save me.” The neighbour drove off in his pick-up truck.

The man continued to pray and hold on to his vision. As the water began rising in his house, he had to climb up to the roof. A boat came by with some people heading for safe ground. They yelled at the man to grab a rope they were ready to throw and take him to safety. He told them that he was waiting for God to save him. They shook their heads and moved on.

The man continued to pray, believing with all his heart that he would be saved by God. The flood waters continued to rise. A helicopter flew by and a voice came over a loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder and take him off the roof. The man waved the helicopter away, shouting back that he was waiting for God to save him. The helicopter left. The flooding water came over the roof and caught him up and swept him away. He drowned.

When he reached heaven and asked, “God, why did you not save me? I believed in you with all my heart. Why did you let me drown?” God replied, “I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused all of them. What else could I possibly do for you?”

God Asks

On this feast of the Annunciation, I prayed with morning with Luke’s account of Gabriel’s encounter with Mary. It is a scene I pray with often.

Usually my focus is Mary’s yes, about which I have written on numerous occasions.

What I sat with this morning, however, was God’s request for human participation in his plan of salvation.  God asks.

If you think about it, that is pretty amazing.  God did, after all, create us.  God could have created us with no will to do anything other than that which he demanded.  But God didn’t.  Instead, God created human beings capable of consenting to or deviating from God’s plan for salvation.  And while God desires our consent and cooperation, he will not force it.

And so God asks – not just to Mary, but to each of us: Will you consent to your part in my plan?  Will you act with me?

It is your choice.  What do you say?

More Endo

A couple of weeks ago I shared some reactions to Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, the story of a Jesuit missionary in 17th Century Japan.  Let me now add to my recommendations of Endo’s work, his book of short stories (better described as spiritual narratives), The Final Martyrs.

For Endo, the short story form was a way to try out ideas and characters that would later take shape in a novels.  So while some authors settle on one genre or anohter, Endo believed that “the best way to give concrete embodiment” to his themes was to alternate between the writing of short stories and novels.

All of Endo’s characters reflect, in his words, “portions of myself.” And his stories contain many biographical elements – his early family life in Dalien, the impact of his parent’s fractious relationship and ultimate divorce, the life of a Japanese student studying abroad, the questions of religion so central to his being and writing.  The themes of exile and alienation are almost always present.

Endo’s characters often find themselves facing complex moral dilemmas. How his characters resolve those dilemmas often reminds us of our frail humanness.  In Life, the same boy who reaches out in kindness to a young soldier billeted in his families home for a few days (the soldier had been mistreated by his superiors and the boy tried to gift him with one of his most valuable treasures) allows the Manchurian houseboy who had treated him always with kindness and goodness to be wrongly punished for an act of theft the boy himself had committed.  In The Final Martyrs, reminding us of one of the characters in Silence, a weak man apostatizes but can’t completely give up his faith.

But his characters also remind us of the good we are capable of.  In The Box, a woman who had been treated badly by the military police during the war refuses to witness against them after the war, preferring instead to report that they had given her potatoes and milk when she and her father lacked food.  In A Sixty-year-old Man, the old man does not give in to his temptation toward a young girl willing to trade relationship with him for some clothes and music, remembering the painting of paradise the appeared in the dream of a character in a Dostoevsky novel.

Another good choice for some Lent reading (which I say recognizing that the end of Lent is closing in on us).


One of the books that has been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time, but which I finally sat down to read this Lent is Silence, by Shusaku Endo.

Shusaku Endo was one of Japan’s foremost novelists, and he wrote from the perspective of a Japanese Roman Catholic.  Sometimes referred to as  Japan’s Graham Greene, Endo’s novels engage in questions such as how Christians should engage a culture when that culture is foreign.

That he addressed such questions is not surprising; I read in one piece about him that “The Christian faith never did rest easily on Endo’s shoulders. Ever since his baptism at the age of 11 at the behest of his mother, Endo often spoke of a faith as awkward as a forced marriage, as uncomfortable as a Western suit of clothes. ‘This clothing did not suit me,’ he later wrote. ‘The clothes and my body were not made for each other.'”  In the novel, he has a Japanese officer argue to the protagonist that  “A tree which flourishes in one kind of soil may wither if the soil is changed.  As for the tree of Christianity, in a foreign country its leaves may grow thick and the buds may be rich, while in Japan the leaves wither and not bud appears.”  (Later in the book, a former Catholic priest makes the same argument to the protagonist.)

A novel of historical fiction, Silence is the story of a Jesuit missionary who endured persecution in Japan, and most of the book is written in the form of a letter written by him. As many people know, although early efforts to bring Christianity to Japan met with some success, Christianity was outlawed in the early part of the 17th Century, ushering in a period of great persecution of Christians.  The priest is presented (or at least sees himself), particularly in the latter part of the book, as a Christ figure, and Endo gives us a Judas figure in the form of the Japanese man who betrays the priest and other Japanese Christians.

The “silence” of the title is the silence of God in the face of suffering.  God’s silence is remarked on a various times, but becomes almost unbearable when the priest is in prison hearing the sounds of Japanese Christians who are being tortured.  They are being tortured, not so that they will renounce Christianity – they have already done so under the strain of the torture, but so that he will.  If the missionary is willing to step on an image of Christ, they will be released.

In the pain of that situation, the priest prays, “Lord, it is now that you should break the silence.  You must not remain silent.  Prove that you are justice, that you are goodness, that you are love.  You must say something to show the world that you are the august one.”  As his mind remembers others who have died in Japan for their faith, he recalls that then, too, God was silent.  Why, he asks, “Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?”  As question that has been asked at so many times by so many people who suffer or witness suffering.

In fact, the silence goes on.  God’s silence is not broken until the moment when the priest is led to the image of Christ and encouraged to step on it.  At that point, as he looks at the image, “the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: ‘Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot.  Trample!  It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world.  It is to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”  And so the priest placed his foot on the image.

Was his act of apostatsy a sin?  The priest does not believe so, although he knows he will be judged harshly by those that hear of his act.  I suspect Endo himself may not believe so.  Earlier in the book we read, “Sin is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies.  Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.”

Whatever one’s judgment of the protagonist’s actions, the book will offer much to reflect about – with respect to faith, suffering and the effect to spread Christianity to other cultures.

God’s Test of Abraham

Today’s first Mass reading is one I always have difficulty with (and I know I’m not alone in this): the passage in Genesis where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  God says to Abraham “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah.There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

Rabbi Marc Gelman has an interesting interpretation of this passage.  He suggests that one can only understand what happens in this episode by considering what preceded it – not subtly hinted by the fact that Genesis 22:1 says “And so it was that after these things, God tested Abraham.”

“These things” refers to Abraham’s response to Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar when Hagar became pregnant. Abraham allows Sarah to mistreat Hagar, causing Hagar to flee into the desert. Rabbi Gelman observes that “God saw how Abraham was willing to abandon Hagar and his future son just because his favored wife was jealous of her new standing in the family. God saw that Abraham was morally blind.” Although Hagar returns and gives birth to Ishmael, after Sara gives birth to Isaac, Sara demands that Abraham cast Hagar and Ishmael out, a demand Abraham complies with.

Abraham is troubled at what he does, but God tells him, “through Isaac shall your seed be named, and I will also transform the son of the slave woman into a nation, for he is also your seed.”

Rabbi Gelman says this:

So Abraham expels Hagar and Ishmael, but did he do it because he believed that God would protect both his wives and both his sons, or because this was a good way to get rid of an unwanted wife and unwanted child? There was only one way to know for certain. God would have to command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to see if Abraham truly believed in both promises.

If Abraham believed that Ishmael would survive the desert, he would believe that Isaac would survive Mt. Moriah. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael, his least loved son, left God no other choice but to command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his best loved son. The story is not about a morally insensitive God, but about a morally insensitive servant of God.

“After these things,” God had no misgivings about choosing Abraham.

“After these things,” Abraham could be the father of two nations because he had learned at last what it meant to be the father of two sons.

“After these things,” Abraham was free.

You can read Rabbi Gelman’s full comment on the passage here.