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Ps. 46, 11 “Be still, and know that I am God”
Ours is a culture which does not emphasize silence and culture.
T.S. Eliot said it best when he noted that we are “distracted from distraction by distraction.” And as we begin our quest for inner quiet and stillness, I believe that we should look at Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as our model. We read in the first chapter of Luke: “After these days his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and she secluded herself for five months saying, “‘Thus has the Lord dealt with me in the day he deigned to take away my disgrace before men.’”
The Evangelist Luke never quite answers the question as to why Elizabeth secluded herself for five months--surprisingly at the outset of her pregnancy. It would seem that because she was touched by God she was cultivating the inner stillness beneath the gaze of God to appreciate marvels God has accomplished in and through her: “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me ....”(1, 25). And we must never forget that the Lord has done marvels for ourselves--attaching Himself to us at Baptism, making Himself available at the Eucharist, etc.
In our quest for inner stillness we must make an act of confidence and trust--realizing that the God who created and sustains the universe can be entrusted with my cares and concerns for the space of a few moments. Simone Weil synthesizes this idea as we approach prayer: “It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God to think about me.”
The “why” of our quest for inner stillness is contained in the second part of this commandment: “and know that I am God.” So much of our spiritual life revolves around our idea of God. Yet sometimes we seem to make the word almost an abstraction--overlooking the personal and relational. If I do not cultivate an inner stillness, my meetings with God will resemble something more like brushing up against Him in a crowd rather than a deep personal encounter. And we must emphasize that He deserves our entire attention.
In trying to give precision to our concept of God, we might begin with the observation of Saint Catherine of Siena. In her writings, she noted that God has a passionate love for each of us. The operative word is passionate. It connotes the idea of union of hearts and minds. It conveys the idea of God’s intense (and burning) desire for us. Just as in ancient myths, fire was seen as being a key to mankind’s progress; so as we reflect upon the attributes or characteristics of God, we realize that we are called in every age to discover fire again--to set the world aflame with the redemptive fire of God’s love.
It is the passionate love of God which compelled Him to attach Himself to us. He is truly, through baptism, Emmanuel--God with (and in) us. He walks with each one of us in our journey to our heavenly home, ready to support us and guide us.
It is also this passionate love which led God to shed His lifeblood--through His Son’s death on the Cross--for us and through the Eucharist to provide redemptive transfusions into our own beings.
Perhaps because of my own training in speculative theology, I have always been wary of allowing ideas, even an idea about God, to lapse into abstractions. Thus I would like to concretize a few more characteristics about God and His love. Above all, His passionate love for us is individualized and personal:
Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the
child of her womb?
Even should she forget, I will never forget you.
See, upon the palm of my hand I have written your name. (Is. 49, 15-16)
His is also a protective love--if we ask for it:
Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed I am your God.
I will strengthen you and hold you, and uphold you with my right hand.
(Is. 41, 10)
We will in the course of these reflections touch upon many other characteristics of God’s love. But as it is always helpful to have an image before us, we might take the time to sit quietly before the Cross and reflect upon the heart of Christ, pierced with a lance, which remains infinitely open and paradoxically inclusive--holding ourselves within.
Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.