Saturday, December 21, 2013

God’s Presence in Our World

I found this Advent meditation by Ron Rolheiser compelling. Take a breath before reading it and allow yourself a chance to reflect on what it means for you and for me.

Daniel Berrigan was once asked to give a conference at a university gathering on “God’s Presence in Today’s World.” I suspect that his talk surprised a number of people in his audience both in brevity and content. He simply told the audience how he spends some time each week sitting by the bed of a boy who is totally incapacitated, physically and mentally.

The young boy cannot speak or express himself to those who come into his room. He lies mute and helpless, by all appearances cut off from any possible communication. Berrigan described how he regularly sits by this young boy’s bed to try to hear what he is saying in his silence and helplessness. He explained that the way this young man lies in our world, silent and helpless, is the way God lies in our world. To hear what God is saying we must learn to hear what this young boy is saying.

This is an extremely useful image in helping us understand how the power of God manifests itself in our world. God’s power is in the world like that young boy. It does not overpower with muscle, or attractiveness, or brilliance, or grace, as does the speed and muscle of an Olympic athlete or the physical beauty of a young film star.

These latter things – swiftness, beauty, and grace – do reflect God’s glory, but they are not the primary way God shows power in this world. God’s power in the world is more muted, more helpless, more shamed, and more marginalized. It lies at a deeper level, at the ultimate base of things, and it will, in the end, gently have the final say.” (Daybreaks: Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas, 26).

Two images fill my mind as I read this and reflect on receiving the Jesus of Christmas.

First, I see the baby Jesus speaking the same message as this incapacitated child. Somehow, this helpless baby (probably not very silent!) is one of God’s clearest displays of power in our world, which overturns everything we know about power and glory. Take time to listen in the stable. What do you hear?

Second, I hear a call to sit alongside my “incapacitations,” the places in my life that are broken and helpless. I usually try to avoid these areas at all costs. I don’t want to look at my “financial future.” I don’t want to consider my “gifting and calling.” It’s just too confusing and painful.

I receive the invitation to sit alongside the incapacitated boy and run the other direction, offering him nothing but rejection. If I sit alongside him though, what would he say? He offers me something that I can’t find anywhere else, something essential I need to be human before God.

When I reject the invitation to sit alongside the paralyzed boy that are my weaknesses, I reject the invitation to sit alongside the manger in Bethlehem. Both invitations are necessary for me to become who I’m meant to be.

This Advent, I will choose to sit, listen and receive what God has for me. May I be willing to sit in the dark broken places where there is not yet any light. Perhaps a few other ragamuffins will join me there and we shall throw a party!

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