“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.” – C.S. Lewis

Life can be quite overwhelming. So much so that days blur into one another, memories become hazy, and everything barely makes a connection. I, for one, can fully attest to the fact that I often get caught up in the whirlwind. While studying for finals, I literally forgot what day of the week it was and missed an appointment I had to make. So lost was I in the task at hand that nothing else seemed to matter. If that’s how bad I got with the days of the week, you can then make the conjecture as to how I’d gotten with everything else including my spiritual welfare.

Things consume us and we get sidetracked from the path we must tread to reach Him. We all stray for one reason or another. I know I do. And because I do, I take great comfort in the following verse from Psalm 119: “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.” It is a short admission–I have strayed like a lost sheep coupled with a prayer–Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. It seems like such a counter-intuitive thing to ask of God. “I have strayed so come find me” as opposed to “I have strayed and shall return.” But God makes it easy for us… as long as we do not forget His commands, when we stray He will seek us out and encircle us in His loving arms. All we have to do is ask and remember. We must remember His commands and inscribe them on our hearts so that way when the world begins to spin at a pace that knocks us off the path, when we cry out “Seek your servant” He will come speedily. We all get sidetracked sometimes, but God is ever-faithful and hears the cries of His children.

“Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23)

Joshua was speaking to the Israelites in this short verse, telling them to cease the worship of the idols brought in among them by the foreign people they were coming into contact with and to cleave to the Lord. The instruction was simple, “put away… the strange gods which are among you…” Unfortunately, the Israelites did not do this and suffered as a result.

Now perhaps we live in a time where not many of us will be enticed into the worship of a golden calf, but we all hold onto our strange gods fervently. The term “strange god” has a mutable meaning, which allows it to take on the sign of the times. Worship of the golden calf turns into worship of the dollar bill, the human body and its desires (or lack thereof), our friends, our families, our significant others… the list can go interminably. Anything  placed ahead of Christ in the heart or the mind is a strange god.

What makes our strange gods far worse than those of the Israelites and their golden calf is the fact that our strange gods can be kept hidden deep within us so that no one has to know. If only it were as simple as bowing down to a golden calf. How many of us would be brave enough to parade our strange god so publicly? But we don’t. We keep our strange god locked deep within our hearts and souls and actively running through our minds and as the love of it increases, the love of Christ decreases. And as Christ diminishes in our lives, everything begins to deteriorate. The Israelites turned from God and were overcome by their enemies and so the same thing happens to us.

“…incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.” He does not ask for much, only for your heart. The question that we all must answer becomes: will I give it? If there is any hesitation within you, look to the cross and there you will find your answer. He who created you was born and died in the most painful way for you. How can you not give Him your heart? It seems as if it is too little to ask of us.

 The LORD is my shepherd;
         I shall not want.
 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
         He leads me beside the still waters.
 He restores my soul;
         He leads me in the paths of righteousness
         For His name’s sake.
 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I will fear no evil;
         For You are with me;
         Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
         You anoint my head with oil;
         My cup runs over.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
         All the days of my life;
         And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
         Forever.

- Psalm 23

*******

We are mistaken when we think that the actions or words of men will bring us peace of mind and spirit. The “if he would only…” and the “if she would just answer…” then “I’ll be at peace” are tempting paths to take. Our stormy insides can then be pegged on the actions of another person. That’s the easy way out and a complete dead-end. The harder path, the path to true inner peace, lies in an absolute trust in God… pure faith, nothing less and nothing more. Absolute faith that He will do and does what is best for us. No one else has the very hairs on our heads numbered and not a single one of those hairs falls without His permission. He who cares about the very hairs on on our heads will guard and protect our hearts and provide all good things for us. We must not fear; He is right here standing beside us.

How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

– Psalm 13

My baby cousin Peter is someone we can all take a few lessons from. At a little over two years old, he’s got his priorities and values straight. Let me explain by giving you an example of a typical Peter-action.

This past Sunday he was at church with his parents and sister. After the liturgy was over, people mill around and greet each other outside the church. His father is carrying him, when a family friend approaches them. My uncle greets his friend and tells Peter to say hi to “amo”–one of the Arabic words for “uncle.” In Egyptian culture, every male adult that you know is referred to as “uncle” and every adult female is referred to as “aunt.” It’s a part of the respectful and familial nature of the culture.

Peter, being the ever quick little child, looks at the man and very promptly shouts, “Not Amo!!” and smacks the man across the cheek.

It was simple really, the truth as Peter understands it is that his actual uncle, my father, is the person that is referred to as “amo,” not the stranger his father presented to him. Too young to understand cultural connotations, he repelled what to his innocent and simple understanding was a complete lie and guarded the truth he knew with fervor.

I had to stop and wonder how things would be if we all defended the truth that we know within our hearts and spirits with such passion and conviction–if any challenge to our faith and beliefs was met with a metaphorical smack across the cheek. Then perhaps we could sing out with David the prophet and the king when he says: “I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.”

In this path the eye must cease to see,
And the ear to hear.
Save unto Him, and about Him.
Be as dust on His path.
Even the kings of this earth
Make the dust of His feet
The balm of their eyes. 

- Ansari

Ever find yourself in a situation where all you can think is if you could somehow tell how things were going to turn out, then somehow everything would be ok? (Even though you know that finding out would only cause more worry and stress.) We all wish to secretly peek around the corner; the endless curiosity about what’s coming around the corner can’t be helped.

Then at one point or another we come across the verse, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things; sufficient for the day is its own trouble” and we realize this worrying and speculating and wondering thing won’t do. So life goes on. There are liturgies and Bible studies and prayers and there’s lots of asking God to lead us and show us His will.

But there’s also little patience. If the answer doesn’t come soon then we start taping on the metaphorical prayer microphone and bellowing into it, “Hello!? Is this thing working? Can you hear me, God?”

Revelation # 2 comes: Of course God’s listening and He’s answering.. I’m just missing the signs… I have to pay attention.

And so the search for the signs and symbols begins and more “revelations” and “conclusions” follow. This search can best be illustrated in none other than a Simpsons episode. In this one particular episode, Mr. Burns, under pressure from government officials for running a power plant with no female workers, hires a woman named Mindy. Mindy and Homer hit it off, get sent on a business trip together, and win a dinner at a Chinese restaurant. This whole time Homer thinks that he’s doomed to cheat on his beloved wife Marge with Mindy, and his fear is confirmed at dinner when his fortune cookie tells him that he will find happiness with a new love. Homer takes this to be the biggest sign that he’s meant to be with Mindy. Then we pan to the kitchen of the restaurant where two workers are standing over barrels of fortune cookies. One tells the other that they’re out of the “You’ll find happiness with a new love” cookies to which the other replies, “Eh, open up the ‘Stick with your wife” barrel.” Homer’s biggest sign was also his most arbitrary (in the end he doesn’t cheat on Marge and all is well.)

Whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all a lot like Homer in this case. Our search for answers often leads us down convuluted path. We’re quick to fill in the blanks, make presumptions, draw conclusions and attribute it all to “signs from God” when we’re too busy making noise to actually hear His voice.

It has often been said that He speaks to us in a whisper and we hear Him best in silence.

“Small Wire”

My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider 
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels 
dance on the head of a pin.

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.

- Anne Sexton

*******
And here lies the beauty and awe-inspiring nature of faith—we only need small bit
of it and God takes it and multiplies it to unimaginable proportions. Christ
spoke to His disciples concerning faith: “And Jesus said unto them, Because of
your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,
ye shall say unto this mountain, Removehence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and
nothing shall be impossibleunto you” (Matthew 17:20). He does not ask much of us.
Only that we let Him in and He will hold us up.

School is boring, so to spice things up every once in a while I walk up and down the ramps in the building instead of taking the elevator. If you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about, let me explain. The brilliant architect who designed my law school decided it would be a good idea to construct the levels of the building around these winding ramps. Needless to say, by the time you’ve made your way from the top floor to the ground floor, you’ve probably walked a mile. The only people who ever use the ramps are the first years. Second and third years are too lazy to walk so they opt for the elevator and the active ones use the hidden staircases (I only found out they existed at the very end of my first semester here.)

On my way down the ramps today, one of the students in front of me was telling his friends about his broken television. As it turns out, when he moved into the area for school he also purchased a new television that broke down. So, he called the store and asked for them to come repair it. After playing phone tag with customer service for a while he was finally able to get repairmen to come. They arrived at his house one day, assessed the television, and told him it had to be taken in for repairs. Four months later, and he still has no TV. The repairmen were actually not repairmen at all, but very crafty conmen. When he called the store to inquire about his television, customer service replied with “Um, sir… we don’t subcontract to a company by that name…” Basically, thieves walked into his home dressed as repairmen, took his television with his approval, and walked off never to be seen again.

(People also walk very slowly up and down the ramps so you end up learning strangers’ life stories if you’re walking behind them.)

His run-in with fake repairmen quickly brought these verses to mind: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits…” (Matthew 7:15-16). The repairmen came in sheep’s clothing. Who doesn’t trust a repairman? Something broke and you called him to fix it, of course you’ll trust him. But when the thief puts on the repairman’s clothing, how can you tell the difference? Only with extreme caution, a discerning eye, and a mind filled with knowledge and wisdom can we pierce through the veil to the truth.

And so it is the case with everyone we meet. There are those who seem to bring goodness and edification when they are truly tearing us down from the inside outward. Today’s false prophets come in glamorized exteriors–the job with the salary that breeds greed, the wonderful education that instills doubts of faith, the good friend who encourages defiance of what is right and good.

We must be ever watchful, or else our souls will also be stolen from right under our noses.