At Morning Prayer at St. Benedict’s yesterday morning, the reading was the passage in Genesis 39 in which the wife of Joseph’s master in Egypt attempt to seduce Joseph.
After repeated efforts to get Joseph to “lie with” her, she accosts him one day and grabs hold of his cloak. Leaving his cloak with her, Joseph runs away. At this, she cries out to the servants accusing Joseph of trying to seduce her, with the result the Joseph is thrown in prison.
Although in this passage we are not told whether Joseph made any protestations of his innocence – all we hear is that as a result of the wife’s accusation he is put in prison – as I listened what came crossed my mind was that any effort to defend himself would have been futile. Joseph was the slave, the lesser. The wife was in the superior position. Nothing Joseph said would have made the slightest difference.
As that thought crossed my mind, I could feel the injusice, but more, the feeling of frustration that Joseph must have felt. As I relfected on it later, I realized that Joseph’s is the frustration anyone in a marginalized, minority, or otherwise subortindate position feels when confronted with someone whose superior position (whatever the source of the superiority) allows them to run roughshod over them. More broadly, it is the frustration anyone feels when, for whatever reason, they are not being heard.
Most of us don’t run around making false accusations against others. But I suspect there are some people we listen to less carefully or less open-mindedly than we do to others. Some people we dismiss because of something about them that makes them other than us. If we can feel something of Joseph’s feeling of injustice and frustration in this incident, perhaps we can be more sensitive to those who, for one reason or another, struggle to be heard – by us and by others.
In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, about which I’ve written before, James Martin quotes Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s statement that
Those who have abandoned themselves to God always lead mysterious lives and receive from God exceptional and miraculous gifts by means of the most ordinary, natural and chance experiences in which there appears to be nothing unusual. The simplest sermon, the most banal conversations, the least erudite books become sources of knowledge and wisdom to these souls by virtue of God’s purpose. This is why they carefully pick up the crumbs which clever minds tread underfoot, for to them everything is precious and a source of enrichment.
I remember reacting to the statement when I read it in Martin’s book, and I came across it again yesterday, when it appeared in my e-mail inbox as that day’s Silent Insight meditation for the day.
I think the reason the statement strikes me so much is that, even though I’ve experienced the truth of it, there are times when I ignore it.
There have been so many times when I’ve learned something from the most unexpected sources. A chance comment in a blog post written by a 12-year old. A single image in an otherwise pedestrian sermon. A word or phrase in an article I was skimming through. If we are open and humble, we can indeed “pick up the crumbs” anywhere.
Nonetheless, I know that there are times when I react with the judgment implicit in “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.” Where I don’t hear something because I’ve pre-judged the source or that I just don’t notice something.
If we truly believe we can find God in all things, we will be open to all of the things and people God will use to bring us to greater love and wisdom. I pray for greater openness and humility so I may pick up all the crumbs that are left there for me.
We’ve all heard the statement, “While we are busy making our plans, God laughs.” I was reminded of the statement by a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem, Little Gidding, that was quoted in an article I just finished reading. Eliot writes, “And what you thought you came for, is only a shell, a husk of meaning.”
How often I experience this! I sit down every month on the morning before I am going to meet with my spiritual director and prepare some notes of the issues I plan for us to focus on during the session. Sometimes we actually talk about one or more of those issues. But quite often I find myself opening my mouth at the beginning of the sessions, saying something that bears no relation to anything on my prepared list of issues, and the session takes off from there.
Or I start my annual directed retreat with an idea of what God and I are going to address during the eight days. And then the retreat gets going and I discover that God had an entirely different plan for how we were going to spend our time together.
There is nothing wrong with our having ideas and plans. I certainly get value out of praying back through my prayer journal for the previous month to identify issues to raise with my spiritual director and from reflecting on where God and I might go together during my annual retreat. But we need to remember that we’re not actually running this show…that we are engaged in a mutual relationship with God, who has God’s own ideas and plans in mind. And we need to be open to the fact that sometimes God’s plans and ideas will lead us to something we did not anticipate…and to have the confidence that God knows what God is doing.