Quest for the Spirit of God

10 November 2005: Thursday of the 32nd Week
Luke 17, 20-25: Memorial of St. Leo the Great

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is among us, but ‘it cannot be observed’ and ‘we will not be able to see it’. Some translations will substitute the ‘kingdom’ with ‘Spirit’, but both of them are different ways of talking about God who ‘renews everything’ as the First Reading from Wisdom has it. If the Spirit of God is among us and it renews everything, why can’t it be observed? What prevents us from seeing it?

Let me thus embark on a quest to see the Spirit of God. First, observation can mean believing only that which is empirical: what one sees, hears, tastes, touches, and feels. We often say, ‘to see is to believe’. Employing the scientific method, it would indeed be difficult to see God.

Second, we all express our desire to be close to God, but there is a certain reluctance and fear in seeing God. Psalm 27 expresses this deepest desire: “It is your face, Lord, I seek. Do not hide Your face from me.” Psalm 84 distinctively expresses this: “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord.” Richard Otto in his book, The Idea of the Holy, says that the experience of the Holy evokes in us awe (tremendum), but also fascination (fascinans); a mystery which both evokes attraction and fear.

We are afraid when we see God we will see the truth about ourselves: our illusion that we are self-sufficient and immortal, and that we are in control of our lives. It is like meeting a movie actress whom you idolize so much: you want to shake her hands and introduce yourself, but at the same time, fear the meeting--- you do not know what to say or even worse, to sustain the conversation. In her presence, you find yourself of smaller stature. In Filipino we say, kapag kasama ko siya, nanliliit ako. Same thing with God. When we are with God, the truth about ourselves naturally comes out: our sinfulness, our insecurities, and our false self-image.

Moreover, being with God might lead us to an unfamiliar terrain where we might die. Being with Him makes us realize that we are not God, that God alone is God, and that He doesn't need us. When we are with God, we ‘faint’, we die to ourselves and our illusions. Death reminds us that we are not in control of our lives. That is why we fear it: the experience of realizing the lies of our lives is painful; the false self-image which we have built throughout our lives suddenly meets its death.

But the fear we experience is productive and beneficial. On the contrary, when we experience God, we are renewed: the untruths about our lives are revealed, and we begin to see what we truly are. Psalm 111 and Proverbs 1 say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, knowledge and instruction. We can thus say that if we begin to see the Spirit of God, we will be able to see the miracle of renewal in the world—what Gerald Manley Hopkins SJ calls the ‘freshness deep down things.’

The Jesuit Music Ministry produced a song composed by Frs. Johnny Go SJ and Manoling Francisco SJ that illustrates that the Spirit of God is here:

Far Greater Love*

1. Who would have known this would be a history so torn with wars, the sky, seems grayer in our hearts. It’s grayer in our hearts.

2. I could have sworn it would end in misery, but the world is turning still, and we’re also learning, somewhere hidden out there, something’s greater than our hearts.

Refrain.The storms of life might shake our ground, a greater peace still dwells in our hearts. The dreams we build may fall apart, a deeper hope still runs in our hearts. Fear no harm, we are ruled by a far greater love, a far greater love.

3. Who would have known life would be such a mystery? For the world is yearning still and our hearts keep burning. We dare to believe there’s something greater than our hearts. Refrain

Coda: We’re never alone. All else may go wrong, still will there be a love far greater than our hearts.

Thus, the Gospel challenges us to seek the face of God in the thousand and one features in our lives and in the world. It means that employing a different way of seeing, we have to actively search for the different presences of God in history and in the present milieu. St. Ignatius teaches Jesuits to always see what is good in the world, to read the signs of the times, and to see God in all things. To realize that "all else may go wrong, but there is still a love far greater than our hearts."

*Bukas Palad: God of Silence. Available in CDs and Cassettes. call (63 2) 4261023.

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