On this Good Friday, faithful Christians are participating in the Triduum and the remembrance of Christ’s passion. Many others, though, despite their religious upbringing or affiliation, are not. Their reasons are many and most have been offered for millennia.
One of the most common questions posed by nonbelievers, as well as those of us who periodically wrestle with our faith is, “Where is God? I can’t see Him, so he must not exist.”
Fair enough. Especially saturated as we are in a culture of materialism and scientism, we are shaped to think anything unproven to the eye is silly at best and downright dangerous at worst. And just to reaffirm that we’re not alone in our uncertainty, it’s helpful to remember that even one of Jesus’s disciples doubted His resurrection until it was proved to him.
Considered from just about every angle, however, this position of refusing to believe unless we see evidence is insufficient. There are lots of things we cannot see but we know exist. Love is one good example. What about faith or goodness? We know they exist even if we can’t see or touch them. How do we know? We witness their imprint and manifestation in beings and actions around us. We actually “see” the effects of these virtues at work in the world.
Seeing the Divine in nature is just the same. Aquinas teaches us it is through reason that we come to have faith—to believe in and see God. For Aquinas, the truth of God’s existence is literally visible everywhere, and he begins with nature—with the world around us. It is here that we repeatedly witness God’s hand and reflection. Nature and everything in it participates in God’s vision. As Richard Rohr explains, we live in a “Christ-soaked universe.”
On this Good Friday, as we wrestle yet again with how suffering leads to redemption; how death leads to rebirth; and how, even during our Dark Nights we may yearn and reach for the light, let us choose to seek God everywhere.
Ultimately, the question, isn’t simply, Where is God? The question is, Are we looking for and truly seeing Him in all things?
Paraphrasing Pope Saint John Paul II, he explained that the reason for suffering is to return us to the foot of the cross. Does this resonate with you?
In other words, when life is good and going our way, it is easy to lose sight of God. We feel self-assured and content with our ability to control our experiences and outcomes. “I don’t need faith,” we might say. “I’m in charge. I’m fine on my own. I trust that I know what is right and wrong.” This might feel true for a time. But will this confidence last? And what happens when life becomes complicated, and we find the distinctions between right and wrong demand greater discernment and clarity?
Suffering has a way of redirecting us. Sometimes we just get tossed around and confused for a while. Sometimes it strips us of all self-confidence. Whatever the case, however, it is meant to remind us that we are not in complete control; that God’s love and plan for our lives are much greater than we could ever imagine; and that if we are willing to go to the foot of the cross, where His mother grieved as she beheld her only Son, so might we also be strengthened.
So today or tomorrow, when disappointment, pain, or suffering call us to discern greater meaning and clarity, may we remember that it’s at the foot of the cross where we will discover our most profound insights. It is in the surrendering to the discomfort of breaking open that we invite God to sit in our hearts. It is here that we allow understanding and growth and flourishing.
When life is easy, we don’t think we need anyone or anything. But when it’s challenging, we are called to more faithfully depend on and trust in God.
“Heavenly Father, grant us a fervent spirit of love for your Son Jesus as we begin these days of Lent. Give to our hearts especially a desire for prayer” (The Magnificat Lenten Companion, 2022, p. 12).
As we begin our Lenten journey, so many obligations and concerns come to mind, such as abstinence, fasting, and repentance. All of these are important, but let’s not forget the significance of prayer.
Quite simply, prayer is our opportunity to talk with God. It is a time, hopefully repeated throughout each day, that we focus our attention on Him and share our concerns, joys, and gratitude.
We acknowledge that the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being. And so when we ask, “Give to our hearts especially a desire for prayer,” we are affirming that it is the very core of who we are, created by God, known to Him before we were born, that when rightly ordered, yearns to speak to Our Creator, Being itself.
By talking with Him, either out loud or silently, we are affirming that which He has already spoken into being: our relationship with and love for the Lord. The words themselves, expressed from the heart, are inspired and enlivened, reflecting the awesome power of the very Logos with whom we are humbly communicating.
May we take the time, everyday in our Lenten journey, to open our hearts and more profoundly experience the wondrous gift of prayer.
If we are asked, “What do you see?” We might answer, “Isn’t it obvious? I see what’s in front of me.”
Maybe we see the traffic around us making us late. Perhaps we see the partner who’s again doing that thing that’s always irritating. Maybe we see our child who is once more struggling in school or sad over a difficult friendship.
But of course not everything we see is sad or challenging. We see lots of beauty, friendship, and joy, too.
The thing is, though, most of us depend on what we see to determine how we feel. We are responsive by nature. We inherently know how, and are socialized, to read our environment and react to it. This is primal. Our ability to understand and then interact with what’s going on around us literally keeps us safe and alive.
Many of us, however, come to realize at some point that simply becoming skillful at responding and reacting is insufficient. This insight doesn’t often arise when things are going well. Rather, it’s when what we see disturbs, frustrates, or upsets us enough, and we begin to develop a pattern of suboptimal vision, so to speak, that we begin to take notice and ask new questions.
Ideally, we move from demanding, “What’s wrong with the world?” to “What could I do differently or better?” To live consciously and openly is to cease relying on what’s outside us for our stability or happiness. To live meaningfully and purposefully is to decide for ourselves how and who we want be in the world. Regardless of what happens to us. Regardless of what we see.
“Well, that’s impossible!” you might say. “Have you watched the news in the last 5 minutes? Are you at all familiar with the state of the world? How can anyone find peace, let alone happiness, when confronted with reality?”
Indeed. Understandable. Excellent points. Reality is tough. What we see is often unpleasant at best and catastrophically, emotionally, or mortally wounding at worst.
So we must reconsider. If it is at all possible to move with joy and openness through the world, as millennia of teachers and religious have wrestled with themselves and taught us to do, we must look at this differently. We must learn to see in a new way.
As Jordan Peterson tells us, “What you aim at determines what you see.” In other words, it is insufficient to simply see—to look at the reality in front of us. That will only keep us tethered to the present conditions, which may be less than satisfactory at best.
Instead, we must reach beyond the limiting and constricting boundaries of the present and decide to aim at something greater and above where we are. Something that will serve to call us forward into the future and towards our future selves. Only when we discern and define this aim will we begin to see differently.
If our aim is too low, it hardly qualifies as an aim at all. This asks far too little of us to result in any meaningful movement forward. Of course if we have no aim, if we accept that life is no more than a relentless and losing game of wack-a-mole, then we are doomed to a life of repeated frustration, anxiety, and hopelessness, which usually leads to physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion and paralysis. This is stagnation. And stagnation not only results in lack of movement, it also leads to the dissolution of creativity and curiosity and ultimately in an inability to thrive.
But, what if, instead, this aim is elevated and encouraging? What if it gives us meaning and purpose? Then, if it, even in a small way, represents the essence of being itself in its goodness, truth, and beauty, then what we see will not only reflect these transcendentals, but it will also invite us to integrate them into our own being. We will, in fact, begin to “level up”—to move closer to our optimal selves.
So again, if we are asked what we see, are we prepared to look forward and upward to our greater aim first before answering?
When Sean positioned his eyes in the telescope, he tilted it up. He pointed the lens to the sky as dusk was falling to look for the moon and the stars that began to take shape.
What did he see? The glory of the universe laid out before him.
How do any of us improve at anything? What are the strategies for reaching our goals? How do we contend with the voices in our heads that bemoan, “I want that, but…?” “I could do that, if only….” “Things will never change for me. I’m not lucky like her.”
What if, instead of flooding our systems with thoughts of resistance and disability, we just decided to aim at something and move toward it? What if we pointed at what we want, or more importantly how we want to feel and who we want to be, and go from there?
Do you want to be more organized? Fold your clothes and put them away. Do you want to be more learned in a subject? Watch an educational video or start a course. Do you want to inhabit a leaner, faster body? Pick one healthy food to incorporate into your menu today and take a short walk or do an exercise—a short one. Whatever it takes. The action doesn’t have to be grand, it just has to be.
The changes we seek will likely require more than one meal or exercise or book for us to actually realize them. But the point is, we just have to point and start and then commit to consistent practice.
It is in the practicing that we both reinforce our aim and desired goal as well as move physically, energetically, and spiritually in the direction of our future selves. With hearts and minds raised to what is to come, we actually experience the future in our present. We are at once living in the isness of the now and witnessing the life spark of pure potential.
Just as the budding flower stretches toward the sun in order to generate the life force and inspire its opening as a full bloom, so do we benefit from such an aspiring posture. For us, our vision, our dream, our goal, our aim, these are our sun, our star.
All wisdom traditions teach us to gaze upward, look ahead, in effect, to aim high and start moving.
Just imagine what we could become, individually and collectively, if more of us decided what elevated versions of ourselves we wanted to become and then practiced them?
Erasing history, willfully forgetting our past, and denying Truth—these are not benign actions. We cannot, out of self-interest, ego, fear, or even misplaced compassion, destroy and reject what has come before. We are all–individuals, states, and nations–imperfect. None of us ever attains the ideal, because that is not only impossible, but it is also in the very striving towards the highest good and in the failing and trying and failing and trying that we actually come close to it.
But if we think we are growing closer to the ideal by denigrating everything that has come before now and all of our failings, we are not only misguided, but also contributing to the worsening of culture. Curiosity, perspective, and even wisdom can only emerge when we are able to admit our shortcomings, declare that we have fallen short and learned, and then evolve into greater clarity and understanding. Without a sense of history, whether in the form of words, statues, songs, beliefs, laws, etc., we are rendered ignorant. We are destined to walk into the future with a naive view of the world, our place in it, and our responsibility to it.
Shockingly, many would have us deny the very logos that the likes of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. espoused. In a twisted attempt to uphold unity, they are actually advocating a type of neo-segregation–one that demands we judge on color, race, sex, and class before all else. Throw in judgement on the basis of our health status and political views and we have a culture that can only be driven by depression, fear, anger, suspicion, and adherence to group-think. There is no room for the individual in this society. Only the group you represent matters.
Without historical perspective, young people especially have no idea where this leads. But we know. We have seen it before.
What is the answer? We must never lose sight of the profound significance of the individual–her curiosity, desire to thrive, be free, and aspire to the greatest good. We must not allow fear and suspicion to infect our ability to think clearly, act freely, and work for the betterment of all men and women by committing to our own integrity.
The ancients and mystics recognized that Being is defined by these essential qualities: truth, goodness, and beauty. If this is true, then color, race, sex, class, and all such capricious categories are fundamentally toxic and only cause greater separation. As we do in the natural world, we celebrate our uniquenesses and differences. We admire the beauty that variety displays. But we do so while acknowledging and being grateful for the belonging and connection that come not from our differences, but rather from the unity that comes from something far greater. While shapes, colors, behavior, and habitats differ, it is the spirit, the Divine essence in every living thing that joins us. And it is this spirit that gives rise to character and the fundamental nature of who we are.
Those wise men and women who have come before us have affirmed it is by our character that we are known and even judged. Will we attend to these prophets? Will we listen to and study our history? Or will we insist on rejecting it and refusing to teach it out of an allegiance to an agenda? Let us be mindful that doing so is not benign. For by refusing to mind the enlightened wisdom of the past, we are ensuring that the present and future are steeped in darkness.
As for myself, I choose to remember and strive for the light, no matter how imperfect it may be.