Seek the parts of God that you’ve never met before!
Woah, now that’s a challenge to take into a retreat. It’s really easy for us seminarians, as we come back from our Christmas break, and enter right into our annual retreat here this week, to think we’ve got God figured out. There’s nothing like being a theology student to be tricked into thinking we’ve got God all figured out. But our retreat director has us figured out, I think. So he came out swinging right away. Stop trying to put God into a box, stop thinking that we can control God with what we do, with what we offer him, with trying to impress him by how holy we are or how much theology we know about him. Just spend these next five days giving God permission to surprise us.
And that’s what I need most right now.
I let myself be way under-prayed these last couple weeks away from the Seminary, and it’s not really anyone else’s fault but my own. Sure, I was away with my family in North Carolina for ten days, not really close to any Church that had a daily Mass, and no Seminary schedule to fall in line with. I could even be tempted to think that I was distracted by spending time with my family so that I didn’t feel like I had time to pray (not true, there is no wasted time when I get to see my whole family together!). But in the end, it came down to not seeking out God where I had not met him before.
This seeking him out where we may not first think to find him has kind of opened up some reflection on my time away from the Seminary. I keep thinking especially of last Sunday. I ended up at a lovely Protestant community. My family was really sweet, knowing how much I wanted to go to Mass at a Catholic Church, and so offering to split up if we had to. That was the last thing I wanted to do; how sad it would be to let the Mass split us up! Any how, the worst way I could have approached the experience was to just write it off because it wasn’t what I was used to on Sundays. I mean, I’ll admit it really felt to me like there was something missing. Certainly, Jesus was not absent from that community; the Holy Spirit brought us together that day; the Father’s gift to us of being able to pray to him was very real. But, and I can’t not say this, even if it means being politically incorrect or whatever, without the Eucharist, without that very tangible communion with our God who has made himself so vulnerable to us as to place himself in our hands and in our mouths, there was something missing.
Still, the whole ten days was a challenge to me, and I didn’t know why at the time. But it’s becoming clearer to me that it was because I let my prayer life get lazy and I didn’t try to seek God in those places I didn’t expect him to be. Yeah, God can make himself pretty obvious when studying theology, or when the prayer schedule is set for us here at the Seminary. I’m always still learning what it’s going to take for me to find God when everything else seems to “get in the way.” I think that’s something we’ve all got to keep in mind as Christians. Are we tempted to think our families are getting in the way of our faith, or are we aware that God has placed those people in our lives to love them in a very special way that we couldn’t do otherwise? Are we taking a vacation from our prayer life when we’re on vacation from school, or do we let our prayer life feed us even when we’re away from where we are most comfortable?
So that’s my prayer for all of you as we wrap up this Christmas season and begin this new year. Be challenged by God. Give him permission to challenge you, so that he might draw you closer to himself. And please keep praying for us here at the Seminary. There are plenty of challenges here, and the temptations to think that our school gets in the way of our experience of God. Let’s all pray for each other, that we find God where we least expect him.
Maybe that’s where we should expect God the most.