Once upon two millennia in the town of Nazareth lived a restless teenager named Jesus. His mother, Mary, took him to a monastery, to a monk who had a reputation as a good counselor. “Why are you so restless?” the monk asked. “God is troubling me,” Jesus answered. "I wonder about many things, about what I need to do. I don't yet know why, but I feel I will."
The monk suggested that Mary allow Jesus to stay for a while at the monastery where he eventually convinced Jesus that this was not the voice of God, that God would not trouble a young man with wild, though apparently holy, thoughts. The monk prevailed and returned Jesus to Mary. Jesus returned with Mary to Nazareth where he lived a relatively successful life as a carpenter -- and died of old age. End of story.
I heard the story some 30 years ago from an old friend, a perceptive journalist who heard a version of the story from the activist peacemaking Jesuit Daniel Berrigan.
Among my old files is a column, Mysterious Freedoms and a Wild Holy. My friend –– let’s call him Tom –– wrote it in 1978 for a Lehigh Valley newspaper. He admired Berrigan as a person whose social activism was grounded in a discipline of prayer and meditation.
Berrigan's boiled down position, Tom wrote, is that "Christian communities should stand as signs of contradiction in any age. If they don't, then either the kingdom promised is here in all its fulfillment or we're doing something wrong … We live at the intersection of very mysterious freedoms, God's and our own."
"Never did those freedoms brush against each other more intimately," Tom concluded, "than with the life of that wild holy that began 2,000 years ago in another Bethlehem.”
Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another disciplined activist, has said that spirituality is not about defining God or about self-improvement. Rather, it is about understanding the corporate life of Christianity in which all that we are given is for the sake of others.
We don't care about some things that are removed from our experience. We don't recognize other things that are close to us. We look them dead in the eye without seeing them. In both instances, something stands in the way: an idea, an ideology a learned prejudice, perhaps a belief, perhaps some stubbornness.
It's a matter of perspective and perception. If we push a few words together, GODISNOWHERE, some of us will first read "God is nowhere" while others will read "God is now here." Don't take it to heart. It's more fun than significant. Few of us see both realities at once.
We use filters to interpret both the near and far. We wear blinders to which we are blind. We put ourselves in the most secure prisons, those of our own
making that we don’t now we’re in. We need to see things differently, beyond the filters, beyond our horizons, with the assion and peace born of integrity.
May we wonder, about things, about people, about how all we have been given – energy, talent, time, money – has been given for the sake of God's remedy, the kingdom. May we wonder about how God's remedy begins in our hearts, often with a troubling call. May we not tame God's call simply to live relatively successful lives before we die.
All the while, be sure that the God made flesh in the wild holy made us, like him, to wonder.
[Canon Bill Lewellis, a retired Episcopal priest, had been communication minister for the Diocese of Bethlehem, the 14-county Episcopal Church in northeastern Pennsylvania, for the past 24 years.]