There’s a woman I know who uses a play on words to describe moments of great unexpected blessing. Instead of calling them coincidences, she calls them “God-incidences.” One of those happened this past week. As you know it’s getting to be that time of year where the start of school is coming. This affects three people in our house- high school, college and seminary all start on the same day this year. As the date gets closer we start looking for signs that confirm what’s on the horizon- ads for supplies, calendars of events. We check what we have and decide what we need to be prepared. And we don’t wonder IF school will start, we anticipate it. But while we anticipate the resumption of classes, we find ourselves less sure about what comes next- the challenges, the people, how it will all turn out are somewhat unclear. This can make us a little nervous. Which leads me to the “God-incidence” of the week. A couple days ago our older daughter, Catherine turned 18. She heads to college in a matter of days. A card came in the mail and the return address showed it was from her kindergarten teacher. Cat’s first year in public school was this teacher’s last as she had retired after a long career, so we have not seen her for 13 yrs. The card contained a personal note acknowledging Cat’s birthday and her graduation and offered encouragement to have faith as she continues her journey toward new places. Enclosed was a series of photographs of Cat and her kindergarten classmates, each one with handwritten documentation of what the picture was and who was in it, lovingly and painstakingly prepared. When kids start school, they and their parents have both hopes and fears. Over the years in between the beginning and the fulfillment, there are times when it seems like the future really is unsure. For us identifying, coming to terms with and addressing Cat’s learning disabilities were such a time. It was and sometimes is hard to live in the “already but not yet” time when sometimes you wonder if “not yet” means “not ever.”
This is where we discover the fine line between wondering if something will happen and anticipating it; between anxiety and expectancy. This is true in our faith lives as well. We often speak of the difference between fear and faith as though it is a switch we turn on or off. It is perhaps better seen as a journey from one to the other, with some trips back and forth along the way, places where we need to be reminded of what it all means. What helps us are those moments that break in, and people who live in expectancy with us. I’m overwhelmed by the teacher, who carefully kept track of these kids for 13 years, tending their memories, and waiting for this moment. Ready, prepared and eager. Always looking for the signs on their behalf. To finally offer the moment of “look at what is already true, how far you’ve come” in the dream becoming reality- now have faith as you move on to the next people and places. There is no dollar value on such moments- they are priceless.
We usually hear the “keep alert, get ready” message of today’s gospel during the weeks leading up to Christmas, when we expect to be anticipating “baby Jesus” and it feels real. To hear these words now in the heat of summer, in the endless season of what some call “Ordinary Time” in the church year catches us off-guard. Maybe we sometimes even take a break from looking. We hear that it is in the wee hours of pre-dawn that the master returns, just about when everyone has hit REM sleep. I wonder when we don’t see the realization of it all, can we really be always vigilant for an event that has been foretold for thousands of years? And as our culture moves beyond Christianity doesn’t it sometimes feel hard to keep up that level of enthusiasm? This is what leads some to say that what really matters is the eternal reward and not the here and now. It leads others to wonder if maybe this really is all there is. In our lives when things feel unsure or seem unresolved, we may even ask if there really is a promise after all.
It is into these places throughout Scripture God has spoken, “Let go of your fear” and it is in these times that we then see something revealed about God’s will and saving activity for us. Moments of the kingdom underway. We see this in the angel visiting Mary; in the calming of the storm where the disciples are sure they are doomed but where Jesus revealing something of divine power. We see it this day in Jesus reassuring the disciples that they really can shift from worrying about a worldly focus to a godly one and we see it at the empty tomb. Each time a word that speaks of the certainty not only of what has been but what will be. Moments where God’s gracious presence breaks in and we get a glimpse, a foretaste of the feast to come even as we also wonder how it is we can really get out of our comfort zone like God asks. SO where can we see this kingdom?
If we really want to see these moments, we need to be looking in where God shows up- in the unexpected times, people and places. Preparing our hearts and minds to be open to the times when we may receive or may be used through “God-incidences.” Those revelations we are given of God’s kingdom underway. One way to embrace this is at the end of each day to spend time reviewing the day, asking where we have seen God at work- in both the joys and the challenges. Reminding ourselves of those snapshots of what has been. This is one way of remembering that we expect to see God at work. But there is another component to being alert. This past spring at the Jesuit Center on retreat, my spiritual director encouraged me to not only look backwards, to also anticipate the coming day, and the things, people and places I expected to be a part of my journey. And to then spend time in prayer asking for God to be at work and revealed there as well. Not because God won’t show up unless I do something or pray, but for me to begin expecting God, looking for God, listening for God. Being on the alert and ready to respond. We hear that where our treasure is so is our heart. I think the opposite is also true. Where our heart is touched, we are inspired to give our whole selves.
By expecting God we begin to see people and situations in deeper ways; become more aware of their needs but also see God brought into our midst through them. These God-incidences happen everywhere. Phone calls that happen at the right time. Generosity that springs out of nowhere. A comforting word when it’s needed most. It begins to change how we approach our days in terms of time. To inspire us to think creatively and compel us to consider new things we never thought of to share with others. As we share these moments, and ask others where they have seen God, we are preparing each other, keeping each other alert. We find ourselves encouraging each other- have no fear. All ways God uses to bless us, strengthen our faith together and move us beyond our fears into kingdom living. This week I encourage you to look for the God-incidences in your world, they just might surprise you.