(to be published in Shalom Tidings, 2022)
Deacon Doug McManaman
On one of my pastoral visits to a local elementary school, a young grade 5 girl said to me that she was told by an adult in her life that, with respect to this pandemic, “God is taking a vacation”. Although there is something hopeful in the claim–insofar as vacations come to an end and the vacationer returns and takes care of outstanding business–, I certainly wouldn’t frame it like that. It is a rather dangerous claim to make, for God does not leave us alone even for an instant. In fact, we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence, and children above all need to understand that. It is not possible for a limited human being to give undivided attention to more than one person at the same time, but God can give everyone His undivided attention simultaneously, because God is unlimited.
It is remarkable to consider what it means that we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence; for it means He loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, that is, as if you are the only one for Him to love. It is as if everything in the universe was created ultimately for you alone, that all this exists to sustain and serve you, i.e, the atmosphere of the planet, the law of gravity and all the other laws of physics, the cycles and the order of nature, etc. In fact, if you or I really knew how much God loves us, we would die of joy. And this life is precisely about learning to be loved like that. That means allowing ourselves to be loved like that, for we tend not to allow that for ourselves because we have a very uncompromising and narrow sense of justice for ourselves and thus don’t see ourselves as deserving of that love, so we choose not to open ourselves to it. But His love for us is not a matter of justice; of course, no one deserves to be loved like that; for one cannot earn the right to be brought into being if one does not exist. And so although His love for me is not a matter of justice, it is a matter of pure gift. After all, God’s justice has been revealed, in the Person of Christ, as absolute mercy.
There is a relationship between that divine love and how we understand ourselves. A person only really knows himself to the degree that he knows how much he is loved by God, and so the more we allow ourselves to “be loved like that” (as if there is only one of us), the deeper will be our own self-understanding; for we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. If we don’t see ourselves through His eyes, that is, as He sees us, then we are left to see ourselves as we are seen by others. The problem with this, however, is that others rarely if ever see us as we really are–especially if those in our lives do not look at us through God’s eyes–, and if they don’t see us as we really are, they do not love us as we ought to be loved. When the world looks at you, it does not see an inexhaustible mystery; rather, it sees an object, something to be valued according to its utility. But there is nothing mysterious about tools. On the other hand, when God sees you, He sees a genuine mystery, because each human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and God is the unutterable mystery. Hence, each human person is an inexhaustible mystery whose secret lies hidden within the depths of the inexhaustible mystery of God.
We have two interiors: 1) a physical interior, and a 2) spiritual interior. A surgeon has access to our physical interior, but he does not thereby have access to our spiritual interior. No one has access to that interior except you and God. In fact, God dwells always in the deepest region of that interior. The way to begin to come to an awareness that you are known by God is to enter into that “universe within”. That is what it means to place ourselves in the presence of God. Few words are necessary within that space; it is enough to simply repeat over and over: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. The more time we spend within that space, without distraction, the more we will come to sense that we are being watched, that we have someone’s attention. That is a very positive and enlightening experience; for we begin to see ourselves as someone worthy of attention. We begin to see ourselves as persons, rather than mere individuals. But it begins with entering into the “universe within”, and that experience makes all the difference in the world, because most of us for most of our lives have been reduced to objects, but we know ourselves to be “subjects”–persons of intrinsic worth. This “objectification” is in many ways the source of a great deal of personal anger and feelings of alienation, but as we spend more time within that interior where the Lord awaits us, the less alienated we will begin to feel and the more peaceful our life becomes.