"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer 29:11-13)
Where do you find God? Seriously, think about it. Church? Nature? The Bible? Other people? Yourself? In suffering and sorrow, togetherness and tradition? Sacramental life, ministry, sacrifice, and celebration? How about music and movement, stillness and silence? Around the dinner table, in the faces of those we love and those we serve? In activism, gardening, private prayer?
Interesting question, right?
I was at Adoration today, and a Hispanic woman slipped out from a pew behind me and very slowly walked on her knees to the front of the church, her eyes on the Blessed Sacrament, her lips moving in silent prayer.
Finally, she bowed low, and looked up with tender reverence to perform the Sign of the Cross. As she rose and silently exited the church, I watched with tears in my eyes. Like me, I figured, she had come to Adoration looking for an intimate encounter with God. Like me, she had found it.
Loyola Press is running a video contest asking children in Catholic parishes and schools to answer the question, "Where do you find God?" through their own short, original videos.
There are already a few early entries at this site, where you can help vote for a winner. Fortunately, most of the videos evidence the involvement of thoughtful adults and show a genuine enthusiasm for the teachings of the Church.
My dear friend, William O'Leary, a wonderful DRE in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, blogged about the contest last week, and I'd like to share an excerpt:
When we ask our students questions like Where do you find God? or Where do you experience Jesus in your daily life? may we always remember that we want to link them back to what God has revealed. We always want to connect them to some aspect of Christian doctrine which is not stale and static but life giving and spirit filled. God's revelation and truth set us free (cf. Jn. 8:32) and give us life (cf. Jn. 10:10).
Linking back to what God has revealed? Right on! We need to help children discover what God has already said about Himself; how we are to approach Him, where we can find Him. We'd be cheating them if we didn't pass that knowledge on.
And while an incredible multitude of varied and distinctive relationships to God are expressed in the lives of our many saints, they have, nevertheless, certain commonalities; humility, trust in the authority of the Church, devotion to the sacraments and Sacred Scripture, tender service to Christ in His people.
But can we find Him in nature! Yes, certainly! In the laughter of our infants? Of course. Didn't Mother Teresa say that a baby is the glory of God on earth?
He is there, all around us in music, literature, art, a starry sky, a stormy sea, the first appearances of spring crocuses, the caress of a mother, the strengthening embrace of a father, the confidence of a friend. All of these in their colors, fragrances, sounds, and textures, as parts of the vast creation born from the infinite love of God, are places wherein He dwells and can be found.
And knowing that God is expressed with such variety and beauty should encourage parents and catechists to bring the Church's wisdom to children in a more personal way, and with more enthusiasm.
I love this, from The Quotable Fulton Sheen, which I use in my catechist's workshop to support the notion that God uses "learning styles" (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) in His lesson plans, and so should we:
"Love has three and only three intimacies: speech, vision, and touch. These three intimacies God has chosen to make His love intelligible to our poor hearts. God has spoken: He told us that He loves us: that is Revelation. God has been seen: that is the Incarnation. God has touched us by His grace: that is Redemption."
Traditionally, the Church has mirrored the Almighty's creative lesson planning by treating us to experiences that elevate our thoughts to Him through the delight of our senses. Think words, artwork, incense, candles, bells, music, physical worship, and of course, the bread and wine that become Our Lord at the consecration. It is right that we speak our loving response to God via the full range of our sensory powers of expression.
Loyola Press has done something else that I think is pretty special, and which embraces this same robust tradition of praying on all cylinders, with its 3 Minute Retreats, an online program that engages the senses with colorful images, meditative music, and engaging scriptures to draw the visitor into a deeper contemplation of Lent. I was very happy to have been asked to write reflections for this program, and have benefited from a regularly scheduled visit to the site for my own prayerful meditation. I hope you'll check it out!
The video contest submission deadline is April 20, 2012, and winners will be notified by email. The top prize winner will receive Loyola's new edition of Finding God: Our Response to God's Gifts, a religious education curriculum that covers grades 1 through 6, for an entire parish or school. Runners up get hefty gift certificates for Loyola products.
Good luck, everyone! And don't forget to vote.
"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever." (Isaiah 55:10-13)