My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, “Where is your God?”— Psalm 42, verse 3
When I was a child, I used to love the Bible stories about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, the tale of Joseph and how he was sold into slavery in Egypt only to rise up to be the Pharaoh’s right-hand man, how 400 years later Moses was saved from the bulrushes, grew up to encounter God in the burning bush and lead the children of Israel to the promise land. I would imagine myself like David, fighting Goliath, and becoming the great King of Israel.
And mostly there were the miracles! The creation of the earth and life itself, the 10 plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, the sun standing still in the sky at Joshua’s command, Jesus making the blind see, walking on the water, raising the dead.
It seemed that in those Biblical times God and humanity had an obvious personal relationship. In His miracles, God was constantly intervening in human affairs to achieve an end…whether to save His people, or to show His majesty. In those ancient times, 2-3 thousand years ago, it was easy to see that God was in the world.
But, things are different in the modern world. I grew up during the Cold War, and remember how frightening the Cuban Missile Crisis was—thinking we all could be blown up any minute. We live in a time when the world has gone through two World Wars…the Holocaust …the Armenian genocide of 1915; Catholics kill Protestants in North Ireland, who then turn around and kill more Catholics in a vicious cycle; Arab suicide bombers kill Jewish children coming home from school in the streets of Jerusalem so Israeli soldiers destroy Palestinian homes and kill Arab children, causing more and more violence in a place men call the “Holy Land”; fanatics claiming to know the will of God call for the murder of innocents in an escalating orgy of violence that seems to want to engulf us all; the images on TV of children too weak from hunger to even cry for bread; 9/11… A wondrous world that seems to verge on the brink of madness. And on and on…
And where is God? Where is His hand today? Why does there seem to be only silence? Where are His miracles now?
And it took a profound shift in my understanding of the relationship between God and humanity to be able to feel, to know that He is still there. It took a little child to teach me.
When my beautiful little boy, I slowly started to learn what it meant to be a father. I learned what it felt like to hold a life in my arms, the sense of responsibility for this little one, who totally trusted me to take care of him, to be there for him. And a type of love flooded through me that I had never experienced, an adoration of this little person, the unconditional love of a parent for a child. I would do anything to protect my son. And when my son stared at me, I knew that I saw God smiling through those eyes. And as the months flew by, that urge to protect became mixed with the knowledge that I had to allow my son to grow into an individual, to make his mistakes. I can tell him that fire will burn, but unless he attempts to touch that fire, he will never truly know it for himself. Wanting what is best for him, I want him to be all that he is capable of, to find out what is right for him even at the cost of painful mistakes. I see him trying to exert his independence, his autonomy as a person. I know at some point there will come the time to let him go, to allow him to be an adult, to make his place in the world.
Here: for a second hold the image of your child letting go of your hand for the first time to climb a stairway.
Now imagine yourself to be that child. And imagine what it means to truly understand the words “Our Father, who art in Heaven”.
Perhaps humanity has grown from the child, and God watches like the loving parent—there to turn to for support—loving us even when we make the wrong turn. When we were children in knowledge and spirit, God gave us His wisdom and held our hand. We needed to know He was there in our presence for us to grow. And, as children often need, God, the Father and Mother of us all, directly intervened at Sinai, at Jericho, in Galilee and Jerusalem…because we couldn’t understand such Love, such Grandeur, and such Goodness in any other way. We needed those miracles, because as children, it was the only way for us to understand Him as God guided us and taught us through His prophets and His Holy Books how to live our lives in a way that brings us joy, happiness and life, and to turn from ways that lead to despair, tragedy, and destruction.
But a time comes when that beloved child is no longer just a child, but a person in his or her own right. Perhaps it is no longer right for the Lord to dazzle us with miracles. Rather, we are ready to make our choices, to live our lives, and to take responsibility for ourselves. We don’t lose the love of our heavenly Father, our heavenly Mother, who is still there, watching us, willing us to do the right, but who knows that you cannot keep a child a child forever. Oh, yes! We make many mistakes. I’ve already reminded you of too many within our own memories. But, then, there is such goodness in Humanity as well:
The heroic self-sacrifice of the firefighters and police who plunged into the World Trade Center on that fateful day; the charitable works of our own parish to feed the hungry and to clothe those less fortunate than ourselves; a social worker volunteers her time and talent to help a lonely elderly woman from out-of-state find care when she can no longer care for herself; doctors volunteering their talents to save the lives of poor children overseas; the work of a Mother Theresa; people participating in walk-a-thons for the March of Dimes or cancer research.
Simple acts of kindness and compassion: A man walks forty minutes in a snowstorm to force-feed medicine to a friend’s sick cat while his friend is out-of-town on a family emergency; two cars collide and strangers offer comfort and food so that a old woman doesn’t go into diabetic shock; in the middle of a major highway, cars stop so that a mother goose can cross the road with her goslings; at a swimming hole near Key West, volunteers tend day and night to five ailing, stranded pilot whales; a child pays for an ice-cream cone, trips and drops it and the vendor gives him another one for free; a man gets up early on Christmas morning and goes to a Children’s Hospital to play Santa Claus … And is not some spark of God in such acts as these?
For God is always there. You do not have to be standing on the Mount of Olives looking down on the walls of Jerusalem to feel the Divine Presence. Hear the mighty roar of the ocean, feel the warmth of the sun, enjoy the simple pleasure of the taste of bread…the sound of a babbling brook, the call of a bird flying overhead, the beauty of a rainbow after a summer storm. You may stand on top of the high mountains looking down on the valley below…and you know the hand of God has laid this before you. Watch two squirrels chasing each other in your yard, a bird alight on your feeder, a butterfly lazily fluttering through your flowerbed. And know that God has not deserted us, but is all around showing His love.
Or merely look into the shining eyes of a child.
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