It seems that I am constantly hunting…
For books in my bookshelf,
Ways to play the piano better,
Improving my singing technique,
Tips about contemplation…
Or something else. Sometimes I am picking up where I left off, starting something new then putting it down again, or seeking ways which will satisfy my longing for connection, love, and peace. Longing, but always restless. Aren’t we all?
Talking and writing about COVID-19 has been exhausting, but as my city moved to stage four restrictions in recent times, one is compelled to look inwards to try and process what has been happening. As we start to reflect on the year and talk of Christmas begins, I am always hoping that we will find this time to be one of transformation for everyone on earth, and not just about survival or ‘returning to normal’. It is a story of death and damage for so many – so how can we find any grace and goodness? And why? Because we must.
The quote above, about finding “grace in the wilderness”, struck me when I read it in Scripture. Not because I have not read it before – or perhaps even sung it in some hymn – but because that is what I am looking for. I believe it is what we all want – the grace to survive, to get on with things, and to live well and meaningful lives because we know it could be over so easily. We need grace so desperately. Grace in the Christian context is a mercy bestowed freely to us; a gift from God. Grace is love. God is full of grace, as is Our Blessed Mother Mary (“Hail Mary, full of grace…”) and the saints.
Grace in Christianity is defined as:
‘the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it”. It is not a created substance of any kind. “Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to people “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved” – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.’
As part of my daily Ignatian prayer preparation, I ask myself and God to give me the grace that I am most seeking and in need of. Many times I struggle with this as I wait in the silence for God to give me a word. Often I seem to get nothing, or become frustrated with myself when the same word keeps coming up for me: patience (wait, isn’t that a virtue? I debate myself…), peace, wisdom (a gift from the Holy Spirit), humility, etc. Inevitably I come up with the grace I know that I most need. Sometimes the grace is in just accepting the silence and whatever happens.
It may also help us to look at the conditions in which we are seeking grace, to better understand the grace we actually need. Taking the above Scripture quote for instance:
“The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness”
The words I highlight in red give us some clues. We then need to take a few steps back. If we read Jeremiah 30 until Jeremiah 31:1-3, we see that times of turmoil, destruction, chastisement, and complete suffering precede the return of the people of Israel and Judah to God. This pattern repeats throughout Scripture from the very beginning when Adam and Eve turned from God in the garden, to all of us today.
Because of their first fall, humanity was weakened and is blinded by sin. We are all sinners. We have since been forgetting God and turning our backs on our Creator (except for the saints, many of whom who were great sinners before their conversion). We idolise our own Gods (or make ourselves like gods) and constantly offend Him. We don’t give God His due and disobey His laws and commandments. Out of love and for our redemption, God sent His only-begotten Son to save us by His death on the Cross. But in His love and justice God still needs to correct His wayward children (as any parent would). He wants us to cry out to Him, repent, and make amends. God hears the cries of his beloved people (including us today) and never hesitates to rescue and embrace them again. Our time is no different.
Everyone who endures times of pain and feels lost in the wilderness will find grace from God if we go looking for it. His mercy, restoration, and everlasting love are there waiting for us. It is us who need to return to Him first. We are constantly living and reliving the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and God never tires of forgiving.
COVID-19, pain, sickness, suffering, disasters, etc. are horrible. But if we can stop and take the time (as we have all had to do) to think about why this is happening and where the grace is in all of this mess, we can find peace in the arms of God again by turning to Him. And if not peace just yet, then at least we can find stillness and surrender in Him and see what happens. Humanity is in the wilderness right now. We have been for a very long time. How do we know this? Look at the state of the world and our souls. Look at environmental destruction, abortion, euthanasia, the treatment of our senior citizens, and so many other circumstances where people are robbed of their dignity, worth, and humanity.
Unfortunately all of us – the good and bad alike – are effectively being kept under detention in various stages of lockdown around the world, but how we deal with it is the difference. Are we, the survivors who are fortunate to still have our health or have recovered from COVID-19, going to find the grace in our wilderness? Can we turn our complaining into compassion and contemplation?
Jesus said to St Faustina: “Get to know God by contemplating His attributes”. (Diary No. 30)
Have confidence in Jesus and get to know who God is. We are forever looking elsewhere – to distractions and activities in the hopes of ‘improving’ ourselves. As wonderful as these things may be, we cannot do it without God first. We need to look to God in all things to find our everything – including all the graces He knows we need. Our wilderness is anywhere without Him. We can start by praying (talking) to Him as a friend, reading His Words in Scripture, and remembering His qualities and promises. Much of the Christian life centres on remembering who God is, and who we are. Seek out these things in Scripture and write them down in two columns: Who is God? Who am I? It will blow your mind. You may like to start with this basic Google search.
If you want the shortened version, know this – you are God’s beloved. You are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Yes, YOU!
As much as I love hunting through my bookshelf, finding a good read, and opening new packages of books delivered to me – amongst my other hobbies – I have benefitted most throughout the last five months from my spiritual development which is ongoing. If you can, try to find a good spiritual director who can help you and find other online resources.
If we have survived the swords of our times we owe it to ourselves, to those who have died during this pandemic, and most of all to the God who created us as His beloved children, to ask for and accept the graces God wants to give us in our wilderness. It is only then that we will not only survive, but thrive on the other side of this darkness.
Image Credit: The MuSinGer