Tired of Hearing About God
We have spent enough time, energy and money chasing planes from one hotel to another and we have spent more than enough time talking about God. I am tired of that. My young people, I am sure, are also tired of hearing about God. I believe that the world is also tired of hearing about God. There is a deafening noise in the media about God, yet nobody sees Him. We no longer want to hear about Jesus of Nazareth. We want to meet Him face to face…
Metropolitan Philip Saliba, 1979
Imagine someone who spends his whole life talking about a beautiful destination — let’s say a majestic, untouched mountain range somewhere in the West – but who never actually takes the time to travel there to see it in person. Imagine the romantic, dreamy-eyed look this person gets when his mind drifts to this most beautiful of places that he has read about somewhere. Imagine this person repeating at cocktail parties and at dinner tables all of the second-hand information that he has received about this most extraordinary place, a place that, for all of the knowledge he has acquired about it, he has not yet even begun to understand intimately.
Imagine this person passing on many half-truths mingled with his own peculiar projections, claiming these to be a perfectly educated description of this loveliest of places. Perhaps, in his enthusiasm, this person begins to make public presentations about this place, complete with slide shows of photos he did not himself take, and words that are not his own. We can imagine this person becoming so busy with his research and teaching that he never takes the time to travel to that place in person. An expert on something that he is ultimately a stranger to.
Such a situation is akin to the circumstances that Metropolitan Saliba describes in the quote above. Though the internet is certainly overloaded with noise about God, for and against, some people may not agree that “there is a deafening noise in the media about God”. If there has been a quieting of any such public discussions since Saliba spoke these words in 1979, it likely has to do with the fact that, as Metropolitan Philip intuits, people are simply tired of hearing about God. Like the weary friends of the poor fellow who incessantly speaks of a place he has never visited, the world is tired of hearing second-hand information about a God who is rarely made visible by those who speak about him.
“Come and See”
Making God visible is the chief work of the Church. As Christ’s very body and as partaker of his flesh and blood, the Church’s work is to continue and even to advance the Incarnation, which is the revelation of God in the flesh. Scripture presents to us an account of God in Christ, and an account of Christ in his Church, but it does so as a call to action. Scripture is not an end in itself, but an invitation to “come and see” (John 1:39, 5:39-40). We must remember that the early Christians understood themselves to be a people of a way (Acts 9:2, 22:4, 24:14). This “way” reaches beyond words and descriptions into encounter with God, into intimacy with God, into God’s presence, into the very heart of Christ himself. And though we like to say that “God is everywhere present” (and indeed he is), our current state of sin requires of us this journey.
Like Abraham, we must leave our father Adam’s house, and step out into an unknown country, translated by this leave-taking from the kingdom of sin to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “If they [that is, Abraham and his descendants] had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:15-16).
The Way of Contemplative Prayer
To be a Christian and yet to never undergo this home-leaving, to never enter the Christian spiritual life, is akin to claiming love for a place that one has yet never bothered to travel to, to see. Part and parcel to taking this way is traveling together as the Church, as a pilgrim community. The Church is not merely some abstract society of the elect, which is a mere idea. Rather, she is a particular way – the way of Christ, and particularly the way of his incarnation, his humble self-emptying (Phil. 2:1-13). Indeed, the Church is the very body of the one who says “I am the way” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph. 3:6, 5:23; Col. 1:18, 24; John 14:6). The Church is a particular way for particular people – people like you and me – with a particular shape and with particular teachings and practices. Only as such is the Church real and one.
This one Church is the bearer of a profound spiritual way that includes her liturgical and sacramental life, her textual, teaching and interpretative life, the face-to-face relationships of spiritual parenthood and mentorship, and opportunities for living in consequential communion with one another as we walk the way together. At the heart of all of this is held out to us the very real possibility of catching the vision of God in the flesh (Ps. 27:13) – in our particular flesh – most notably through the depths of prayer into which the Church calls and guides us. This depth of prayer that “comes and sees” is what we call contemplative prayer, the prayer that reaches towards, and gives itself to, the transforming vision of God.
A People of Vision
Such is the way that we invite you to walk, that together we might become a people of vision, contemplating God and making the journey that life in God requires of us. If we do this, and do it in self-surrendering love for one another, the blind world just may catch a ray of light penetrating through our lives; this distracted world just may be captivated by a flicker of inspiration so much brighter than the dull glow of our handheld screens and cherished ideologies. Indeed, some may decide to chase this vision like others chase storms; to courageously walk into an uncertain land but with a sure star to guide their awakened eyes. Who knows?
But even if the world in the end loves its own pallid darkness and empty entertainments more than the beauty of God’s glory, we shall at least not add to its weariness and noise our own hackneyed words about places that we ourselves have not dared to go.