Each of those moments can point to a particular season of grace in responding to the possibilities for growing in a life of love and prayer, ways of exercising your heart by opening up to God in three distinct places.
Later I’ll talk about some reasons why seeing God can be hazardous to your health, why God tells Moses, “No one shall see me and live…” but first I’ll show you the place where looking for the place where God has just passed by, cultivating an Advent — even an adventurous —appetite for the places where God might recently planted a promise, a seed, a new sight, can be very helpful for your spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.
So here’s an exercise for you: start preparing to see where God might just have been. This might mean taking a breath and saying a prayer before you answer your telephone – give it one more ring to you allow the possibility that the person who’s calling you might – knowing or unknowingly – be carrying a message from God. Taking a breath to pray at a stop light or stop sign, at any crossroad where you have to make a turn, when you open a door, or say hello to a friend or even see a stranger.
What would happen if, in each or all of these llcircumstances, you allowed the possibility that God had just acted: in that opening, with this person, for a special purpose that you don’t yet understand. Think of yourself as a detective investigating the possibility a world that might recently have changed because God had been there and then gone on. what if you followed that lead?
If you do, expect to be surprised with the residue of holiness, with a slight scent of surprising compassion and caring, with a quick backward glance from something that looks like love as it goes out the other door and around the corner. Watch for that mystery and allow the possibility that the world is alive with a living love that makes everything, meets everyone, and keeps mending the whole mess until it comes round right at the end. I guarantee you that if you give this time you will be amazed; because Advent always turns to Christmas!
The second exercise takes you to the light of Epiphany as well as the shadows, the heartbreak and break-through of Lent and Holy Week, some would say even Eastertide. Join with Paul in giving thanks to God and making prayers for all people – and this can be easy: just say, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry,” let’s say, twenty times each day. Say thank you for a morning stretch, a hot shower, a good cuppa, the voices and faces of friends and family you love, the surprise of bird song, some music on the radio, a smile from a stranger, a flower that just bloomed. Just say thanks for the blessings life bestows from beginning to end right here in the middle. Let your thanks-givings rise up like fireworks on the most beautiful night of the year. Just say thanks.
And say, “I’m sorry” too for all the right reasons. For other people in pain, for your own personal failures and foibles that cause trouble, for the burdens of the heart, mind, and body we all carry that weigh so heavy, pray for those who are doing the best that they can and still suffer, for those who live where there is war and famine, injustice and oppression. Join Paul and Jesus and the church to carry some of the pain in the world in your own heart and let it tear you apart just a little, just enough to let your tears fall for the world God loves, and then give those tears, the torn-apart places in thanksgiving to God as a faithful action for the redemption and renewal of the world.
For carrying both the hope of thanksgiving and an appreciation for human sorrow, human frailty, gives you both the light of Epiphany and leads you into the Lenten journey as well. Taking up this practice of bearing both the good and bad, the joy and sadness links you to the God who stretches out to this contradictory world with compassion in all its crossroad, witnessing in this work just how, as John’s Gospel puts it, “The light shines in darkness.”
There we join Jesus in the long road home, knowing it won’t be easy to carry that hopeful truth, to let love live in our live and the lives of others, but to commit to share that blessing, that way, as long as we can; to let love live.
Surprisingly enough, committing ourselves to these practices can mean letting go of some things: not making up our minds too often or too soon, allowing ourselves to meet those times of trial in the strident demands of evil actors and actions which question our answer and ask for our allegiance.
For, going to the Gospel, if the question for Jesus is, “Do we pay money to the Emperor?,” maybe our question is close: “Do we offer tribute to the Empire?” First century Israel was occupied territory, under the rule and the sword of Roman rulers who demanded that Caesar be acknowledged as the Lord of the world. The question that was posed to Jesus then was a kind of card game with strong and strident powers and principalities holding the trump card, and variations of that game still stand now. Will power win over the hope of peace? Does money dominate mercy? Will avarice and injustice succeed in killing love? How can Christ’s peaceable kingdom come in this bloody world of war? It isn’t easy to open our heart, reach out our arms in times like that. It never was.
In the end, a modern Buddhist writes, there are two kinds of people; those who aren’t afraid to kill, and those who aren’t afraid to die. In todays Gospel Jesus comes back with an answer — give Caesar what is Caesar’s - that lightens the way and lets love live for a while. But the powers won’t let that be for long. So I honestly fear that the only way to know if love will live is to give our lives to love with a hopeful faith, to take the bet that that we live in a love that comes closer and goes farther than our understanding can easily reach. And that points us somewhere beyond Good Friday and Eastertide to the promised road to Pentecost and the spirit of Christ, of God’s word of love, that is, as Augustine says, closer to us than we are to ourselves.
So keep praying, in word and deed, to see where God just was, to see where God might want to be, to where God might call you to follow, to find the hope in the journey to larger life, to the heart of love; here, now and always.
In the name of Christ.