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.

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“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.

The Lord’s prayer is probably one of the most well-known and most frequently recited prayers world over, which makes it the prayer most likely to fall into the trap of vain and empty repetition. I will be the first to admit that after a long and tiring day when all I want to do is just crawl into bed I cave in to the ache and fatigue and simply rattle it off in order to have done my “prayer duty” for the day. But my laziness and the sham concept of “prayer duty” (prayer is a privilege, not a duty) will have to wait for another day because I am quite taken by something else within the Lord’s prayer at the moment.

“Thy will be done” is probably the most comforting yet terrifying phrase in the Lord’s prayer, perhaps the entire Bible. There is comfort beyond measure when you pause to think of what you are truly saying to the Lord when you pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I imagine in heaven God doesn’t even have to command or ask for something to be done, He just thinks it or says the word and it happens (but then again this is an image limited by my human mind that needs to conceptualize things within the boundaries of thoughts and words.) And so when we pray for His will to be done on earth just as it is done in heaven we really are asking for what we would see as one miraculous happening after the other, things happening with ease, doors opening without any resistance, pure harmony of being and existence.

“Thy will be done” terrifies precisely because it is Thy will and not my will. God gave us free will to do as we please and that free will led to the fall of man. But we still like to be in control. We want things to go our way because we know best. But the truth stands to the contrary. We don’t know best. If we did then Eve would not listened to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. She had a choice and with her free will she made the wrong one. Yet, we are not lost. Where man’s will goes wrong, God’s will is there to make things right. It was His will that we be saved, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

And it is from the Son that we learn to submit our will to His. As Christ prayed on the mountain just before he was arrested and tried and then crucified, He prayed that the cup before Him may be taken away but also prayed and said “Thy will be done.” He knew of the oncoming suffering yet still submitted His will to His Father’s will. God does not ask of us anything remotely close to the most ultimate sacrifice given on the cross, so why be scared to submit? All that will be done will be good just as He is good. If His will entailed sacrificing His own Son for us, there is no limit to the goodness He will bestow on us. All we have to do is mean four simple little words from the very bottom of our hearts.

“Parable of Faith”

Now, in twilight, on the palace steps
the king asks forgiveness of his lady.

He is not
duplicitous; he has tried to be
true to the moment; is there another way of being
true to the self?

The lady
hides her face, somewhat
assisted by shadows. She weeps
for her past; when one has a secret life,
one’s tears are never explained.

Yet gladly would the king bear
the grief of his lady: his
is the generous heart,
in pain as in joy.

Do you know
what forgiveness means? It means
the whole world has sinned, the world
must be pardoned—

- Louise Glück 

We all hurt. We all feel pain. We all experience sorrow and loss. Even those who seem to have been born with a golden spoon in their mouths, whose every wish and whim is fulfilled, experience the ache. Even those who seem to have permanent smiles on their faces and endless cheer and joy have tear-soaked moments. (Ironically, the ever-happy seem to experience the most pain.)

I’d like you to pause for a moment and quickly recollect what you’ve labeled as the most painful experience of your life thus far, emotional or physical or perhaps the emotional pain so great that your very body physically ached. Once you have it in your mind’s eye, answer a question: What does the world around you look like? Who’s around you?

Chances are you can’t recall the world. You can’t recall much of anything. It just hurt and that’s all there is to the moment. The world with its day to day hustle and bustle, your clothes, your food, the news, your car, your job, your classes, your studies, the time, the day, the dishes, the dog, dinner, laundry, everything just simply disappears. In that moment, you have broken free of the world so to speak.

In her book, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry articulates this notion quite eloquently and succinctly when she writes the following: “The absence of pain is the presence of world; the presence of pain is the absence of world.” The first time I read that quote I remember my mind reeling with thoughts. I had often thought about the issue of pain. Why we felt it, why it was so awful, why it seemed to be what stood out in our memories over the joy and the laughter. The thoughts stretch back in time as far back as I can remember actively thinking about my faith in Christ in order to deepen and expand it. In their most simplistic form, my thoughts went a little like this:

God = Love, happiness, joy, hope, and all the good stuff out there.

pain = all the crappy stuff out there, no joy, no love, no hope.

It seemed that God and pain could not coexist. So you stick close to God and you shouldn’t ever feel any of the bad stuff, right? No, not so much. It’s not flawed reasoning to think so because God is our shield and our protector. He gave His only begotten Son for us that we may have eternal life and not perish. So it is true, pain and God do not coexist. But this is an incomplete picture, and an incomplete picture leads to incomplete reasoning.

The Book of Revelation helps complete the picture. In it St. John writes of Christ’s second coming: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The notion that God’s presence wipes away pain is reaffirmed but here it is qualified–all the former things have passed away. The world with its 1,001 worries, distractions, temptations is gone, and only God in all His glory is there. How can there be pain and suffering? It’s not possible.

But we live in the world. We cannot escape it. In effect, there is no way out till we breathe our last. The worries, distractions, and temptations are simply a fixture of our corporeal existence. And as long as we are trapped in this world and simply focused on our corporeal experience and only concerned with the body and what will satisfy it, then we will never come to experience the joy of God’s presence for all of eternity. So now Scarry’s theory comes in to clarify things. She writes that the only thing that can shatter the hold of the world on us and break us out of its grasp and, in a way, out of ourselves is pain.

In order to look above and beyond to Him, we must experience pain and sorrow. The world is no more when we hurt. And when we see beyond the world we can see God and all of His comfort and mercy. Although we remain planted here physically, as the world melts away in the face of our struggles and only God remains, we are comforted by Him. In his most painful moments, David the prophet and the king writes “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning…Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness…” (Psalm 30:5, 11).

We feel pain so that we may see Him. When we see Him we are engulfed in His warmth and we are comforted. And we have the His promise of second coming when all the former things have passed and the pain itself no longer exists.

An answer for our darkest times…

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).