September 6, 2015

Hidden Glory: beautiful birthplace of prayer

The glory of God shines though hidden in both the fleeting joys and the difficult exigencies of this life.  Divine immensity disguises itself in what seems small and inconsequential: the haunting glance of a despised and marginalized neighbor -- whether threatened by danger or death, whether in the public square or in the womb. Hidden here is God's self-disclosure in my neighbor.

In a single moment this mysterious glory can shake the heart from slumbering indifference.  In an instant, we are moved away from the temptation to simply pass by and into the overwhelming need to be implicated and inconvenienced by the plight before us - whether a young person aching to find some reason for their existence or someone disenchanted by the unrelenting cycle of this world's misery.

To know the warmth and radiance of heaven manifest in such heart breaking encounters is to discover a secret power breaking into our world. To be touched by the unfamiliar, subtle and delicate uncreated dynamism at work in these hidden moments tastes of the very purpose of life itself. Before this irrevocable dawning of Divine Glory onto our personal affairs, we see every other wonder, no matter how impressive or overwhelming, a passing shadow.

Even the slightest glimpse of this mystery fills the heart with such limitless fullness, nothing circumscribed by the merely visible and tangible can hold it.  Where we see and feel any lack of love, the light of this glory shines even now, in this very moment, with unperceived radiance, an aching paradox, a clashing of opposites. In the very face of fury and hostility, splendor concealed in mercy cries out always with love, to love, by love and for love. And this light shines unconquered everywhere and on everyone and in our own hearts, even as we attempt in vain to shut our eyes against it or with rage, to snuff it out.

If you want to put love where there is no love, unaided human industry is of no avail.  Whatever outcomes you attempt to control, the Living God cannot fit in these.   No method (no matter how difficult to master), no technique (regardless of how well practiced), and no program (how ever cleverly concocted) even begins to sound the depths of the inexhaustibly deep dug well of overflowing divine life and love.  No titanic exploit of human industry, whatever the dynamic psychic state or powerful social awareness it produces, even remotely attains the height of this divine humility. No purely natural evolution in human enlightenment will ever glimpse more than a vestige of the least shadow of this Uncreated Splendor.  We may rightly exhaust ourselves in our efforts to welcome Him in the distressing disguise of the poor, but the divine call to love is never exhausted and to ignore its unique claim over our hearts is to live nothing other than a diminished life.

To see this glory from above is to acknowledge at once that we are all beggars here below.  The glory of God is from above, completely beyond our power to grasp or manage. Before His overflowing torrents of life, the only proper response is surrendered vulnerability, humble obedience and selfless adoration.  From above, this eternal fire is sovereign over every matter, no matter how urgent, of this world and in our hearts. Nothing can force or prevent or impede this unquenchable river: it is over all and in all, sustaining everything and everyone in existence out of pure love, and all this inexhaustibly and unfathomably, for no other reason than for His own sake.  Even when ridiculed, rejected, despised and crucified - this glory rises again and abides forever, unconquered.

This is why, with the suddenness of lighting, this glory breaks forth in deepest darkness. When all seems most lost, an astonishing flash of divine gratuity discloses the limits of evil to eyes aching for truth. This is the fresh glory of an unanticipated new relation, of unexpected harmony in the heart and between hearts, of an unimagined joyed shared with God and with others, with expressions so tender and wonderful, this world's time and space are too small for them. Yet every moment of this life is pregnant with this uncreated splendor, which is always beginning and still in progress.

Not dis-incarnate, but an enfleshed, this beautiful presence of the Living God can only be shared face to face and heart to heart. This inexhaustible divine self-disclosure can be found in the secrecy of one's own home or in an anonymous encounter on the street, in a cup of water offered to a weary pilgrim or an ear that listens into the heart-ache of the distressed, in a kind smile of welcome for the stranger or a loving word of truth to a displaced soul searching for home.  This glory can even be the gentle glance at one's very enemy - the one whose wounds of betrayal and hatred you still bear - that dares to echo with that primordial divine judgment, a judgment renewed in those eyes that conquered death: "yes, it is very good that you exist."

This is the the hidden glory in which Christian prayer is born and by which such prayer reaches the very heart of God. For His part, God is always pleased to welcome this cry of the heart because He delights in how much this effort to embrace both sorrow and joy welcomes His glory -- in all its exquisite hiddenness and distressing disguises.  The Almighty carefully implicates His glory in these simple movements hidden in depths too secret for anyone to understand about themselves. In His tender compassion, He has chosen the limitations, the inadequacy, and the voids in which this prayer resounds to be raised in an eternal chorus of unvanquished love.

As for me, in my efforts to be a loving father, or a good husband, or a half decent teacher - my sin is before me always.  When I am tired of raging against the One who alone can heal and free me, I realize it is time again to humbly acknowledge my sin and to begin my journey home into His merciful embrace. When I want to open my eyes to see His face, I must humble myself and ask for the gift to praise Him again. He is Lord even over the hostility of my own heart, and only He can quiet those raging waters -- they cannot drown Him, for He has vanquished death itself.   Whenever I approach as His unworthy servant, His voice with unearthly jubilance echoes 'my son.' Here, I begin to learn to praise His glory.