Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To be Seen and Heard

Today I was reminded of an elderly gentleman who used to write letters to the pro-life office at which I worked over two decades ago. He may have written three or four times, and he always inclosed with his letters a significant stack of photos. The letters made me raise my eyebrows at the time, and today as I thought about them, they made me sad for him.

I don't remember the exact wording or content of the letters, but in general they revolved around his belief that God was sending him messages through the candles in his church. Specifically he was convinced of these messages because when he looked at the candles, they seemed normal. When he took the photos and had them developed (because, you know, that was how it worked in those days), there was a special "twist" and shape to the flame. This shape consistently showed up in all of his pictures. He was convinced that this was in answer to his prayers.

I recognized the kinds of pictures he sent, because my elderly grandfather who could not hold a camera steady took similar completely blurry pictures.

Today I thought of a spiritually hungry and lonely old man, sending his revelation to the only people he could think of who might listen and be interested -- the state Right to Life office. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

This story reminds me of the adage that we must be "fully human before we can be safely spiritual." In other words, if we don't have certain human needs met, if we are starved for companionship or deeply lonely, or if for whatever reason we have a psychological crisis underway, we need to address these things before it is good for us to go off in solitary retreat and ask God to speak to us. And in the same way, we who do regularly seek God and ask Him to speak to us need to take into account that the basic and primary needs of those around us are not for theology lectures or liturgical precision directives. This is what Mother Teresa had to say about the need in the West:

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
Today as I think about the man, his pictures, and his sending them to our office, my response can't simply be to pity the poor soul. My response needs to be to go into the silence where I learn the way God's mercy sees and hears people's desire to be seen and heard. It is nothing that I see or hear someone. It is everything that God sees and hears them. But how will anyone experience that of God if they never experience it from a person? And if they do not experience God seeing and hearing them, how will they believe that God loves them and calls them to serve Him?

No comments: