2nd Sunday 2012 B
Two weeks into the New Year, the sacred texts alert us yet again to the fact that we do not create our own lives or futures, regardless of our great planning and organization. We are called into being, called to serve and called into the unknown future by a God who knows and loves us and never departs from us. Our response to God is constituted in what we do with all the divine calls that punctuate our days and nights with possibility.
In the first reading, Samuel, who was still young, was awakened by hearing his name called in the night. He thought that the person calling him was Eli, the old priest whom Samuel served. But Samuel was wrong in thinking this. It was the Lord calling. It took three times of God calling before the experienced old priest Eli realized that it was God who was calling Samuel. It took four times of God calling before Samuel finally answered by saying, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."
Who would believe this story? Wouldn't you suppose that if God called you, you would know something very special had happened? Who would believe that God could call you and you wouldn't recognize that you were having a wild, spooky, religious experience? Who would believe that you could get the voice of God confused with the voice of the old guy in the neighboring room? The answer is 'Eli'. That is, in the story, it is the wise old priest who believes these things. It is Eli who understands that you can be in direct contact with God and still not know that it is God who is talking to you.
But if God's voice can be confused with some ordinary voice, how does Eli know, how does Samuel know, how does anyone know that it is God calling? How am I like Samuel? Am I unsure of something in my life right now but unclear on which way God is telling me to go? Besides God's voice, what other "voices" are competing for my attention as I make decisions--voices that represent the expectations of parish, family, friends? Voices from my past? The voices of guilt, fear, or selfishness?
How does anyone know that it is God calling? The answer is that you can't know until you are willing to listen. God doesn't force monologues on the unwilling. He invites to conversation. When Samuel is ready to tell God that he is willing to listen, then the real connection between God and Samuel begins.
The connection that starts with that willingness of Samuel's grows into a friendship that is rightly described this way: the Lord was with Samuel. At that point, no one at all could miss the fact that it was God who had called Samuel. And so here is one moral of the story. The voice of God can be anywhere, in any guise. It isn't thunder and lightening or extraordinary psychic happenings that connect a person to God. Rather, it is the willingness to listen, to trust and obey, that makes the Lord known.
What are we longing for ultimately? What would satisfy our restless hearts? Classically, Christian spirituality has answered the question with a single image, all of our restlessness and disquiet is ultimately a longing to see the face of God. Most famously, Augustine put it this way: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until the rest in you! In writing that, Augustine drew upon personal experience, but also upon a motif that had long expressed itself within religious men and women.
The idea begins in the Jewish scriptures: Already at the time of Moses, people are asking the question: Who can see the face of God? We see this in Moses himself when he goes up the mountain to meet God. He asks to see God’s face. Longing to see the face of God eventually is understood not so much as the physical curiosity to see what God looks like, but rather as an image, a symbol, an end-point for all human desire. To see the face of God is to have all desire quenched, all restlessness stilled, all aching quieted. To see the face of God is to attain complete peace. This is what Psalm 42 means by the words: As a deer yearns for flowing streams, so I yearn to see the face of God. I thirst for the living God; when shall I see the face of God?
On Friday Night Bradley and I went to the play "Waiting for Godot" at the Cultch. Any who have seen this play over the years have felt a freedom to interpret it at many levels. It raises many issues: Is there purpose to life? Is there a God? Is there truth? Human relationships that bring joy and sorrow, freedom and slavery? Do we have a duty to someone or something? Is the tree a symbol of the Christian Cross as well as the Tree of Life? At the center of the human experience lies an incurable dis-ease, a disquiet, a restlessness, a loneliness, a longing, a yearning, a desire, an ache for something we can never quite name. For what are we longing? What would satisfy our restless energy?
Is "waiting for Godot" really "waiting for God"? The two main actors wait and yearn for answers to life. They want to see the face of Godot; perhaps the face of God. Who can see the face of God? Jesus answers simply: Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see the face of God. (Matthew 5, 3)
Jesus asks, `What do you want?” or in other translations, 'What are you looking for?' There are several layers to this question. The plain meaning is, "Why are you following me? What's up?" But at a deeper level: "What is your hunger? Are you seeking God? Is there something about me that answers the deep desire of your heart?" He is drawing attention to the basic need of the human person that causes her to turn to God.
And the answer that the disciples give is meant on the same theological level. They want to `stay' with him. "Where are you staying". Jesus answers, `Come and see.' Once more we are on a theological level. Seeing for John means faith. They see with the eyes of faith which means that they believe in him.
What about our own search? What are you looking for? We have heard about the call of Samuel and of the first Apostles and we are reminded by
Vocation doesn't come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about ... or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my expectations. --Parker Palmer