Paul writes – As I was reading from Maggi’s book earlier in the week (p.77. She was talking about Jesus not being recognised. She did this by way of drawing on an Elijah story) my mind drifted away to think about the (all-to-easy) human tendency to not seeing the quiet activity of God around us – the nearness of the Kingdom (cf. Lk 10:1-12). It’s too easy to miss it, to not notice it in either our/my haste (in part our/my need to be “productive”); or as the result of my/our own large dreams and plans for church, God, and mission.
Maggi talks about the “messianic expectation” (woven, for example, into John 1:6-8: 19-28). She writes: “what are you hoping for, waiting for, expecting, anticipating – it’s already here. But you can’t see it.” She says that the “already-but-not-yet of the kingdom is perfectly summed up” in the Johanine passage above. “The person they were hoping for was on their doorstep [think here of Luke 10: 8-9 and the way Eugene Peterson says something very similar]. Christ himself was living right there among them, yet they didn’t recognise him.”
Maggi helpfully wonders if, “Perhaps… the hope we invest in Jesus [or, for example, in “mission” revitalizing our church(s) and re-engaging us in the gospel and culture conversation] can take a shape in our minds that stops us from noticing” what’s right in front of our eyes; what’s already present.
The challenges are thus around seeing, listening, being touched by, tasting and smelling the activity of God-in-Christ Jesus in the present moment. It seems to me, as with (genuine)listening (not just hearing), that we’re asked “let go” of our own agenda’s and plans. To let go of the need to insert our /my own voice and story; to have on the ‘tip of our tongues’ the next thing we want to say – all of which hinders our ability to really listen and to really see.
And so we are invited to “listen with [our] heart[s]” "God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart but in the voice of the stranger ... God must be allowed the right to speak unpredictably." (Thomas Merton). Listening for the kingdom with the “ear of our hearts”, it seems to me, requires us to travel the hard way, the costly way of dropping our plans and obediently accepting the Father’s way – a struggle for me, I must say. It doesn’t come naturally.
So why is it a costly way? I think, in part, it is so because it is a path that requires us to confront (with the help of grace) and face our fears. I often meditate on what it must have been like for Jesus as he began his journey toward Jerusalem (and his death). Had he discerned the Spirit correctly? What lay ahead on the path…etc? I wonder if we can see the presence of the Kingdom apart from actually immersing ourselves in particular contexts (cf. Luke 10:1-12 / the road to Emmaus, hospitality and the breaking of bread etc); from actually practicing the kind of obedience that St. Benedict (in his rule) articulates for those (monks) who will journey toward God via his rule.
And this, I think, is the biggest fear, as I reflect on my own life. It is the fear of obedience.
(in addition to Maggi's fine book, my other Advent reading (of late) has been to dip into M. Basil Pennington's posthumously published Listen with your heart: Spiritual Living with the rule of Saint Benedict ). It’s a fear (of simple obedience) that we/I mask and evade in so many ways. I think obedience and the ability to see, name and experience God's kingdom are closely related - "Let it be done to me according to your will" - what a profound statement of obedience from Mary to the angelic news of her pending pregnancy.
May the divine assistance remain with me, and us, always as we seek for the Kingdom.