When I was young I was attracted to power, and to powerful people: pro football stars, wealthy superheroes, politicians, business owners, and world leaders. Real or fictional, I loved the idea of people who could make things happen, who could get what they wanted out of life and affect change, people who could “leave their mark.”
I’m not that young anymore. I’m not that old, either, but I can recognize that although the luster of power and of wealth still occasionally shines, I’ve changed. There’s an existential emptiness beneath all that grasping, and all that disappointment when another material thing fails to satisfy.
What attracts me now is what I would describe as a quiet luminosity. People who have let life give them a gentle shine, a loving heart, and a generous, open-souled countenance. I’ve seen this light shining in a myriad of different people of all backgrounds and cultures. I’ve also seen its opposite.
That doesn’t mean I don’t still long for effectiveness, or to fulfill the mission God has given me. It just means the parameters of the mission have changed. They are less external, less material, and less “effective.” They are more internal and spiritual, and a bit more sublime. I know now that those who have transformed me most are those who’ve lived their lives huddled next to the fire of God’s love, and who share with me the warmth and brightness of that experience, especially during difficult times.
I remain rooted in the sacramental life of the church, but I find that it is a font overflowing: into Sunday dinners and bedtime stories , and into a myriad of moments when I find myself staring out the window at the tall sycamore trees, two red-tailed hawks spiraling above, their breasts alight with the wild sun.
If there were ever anything like a mission statement for my writing, I think it would be that. Incarnation is everywhere because God reveals who God is in the twists and turns and surprises of our lives, in the extraordinary and in the mundane. Through the eyes of charity and the eyes of faith, we can see Christ all around us, the Christ who promised to be with us until the end of the age: in the poor, in the stranger, in the ones we love, in the true, the good, the beautiful. We are inheritors of an immense wealth, an enchanted worldview, a sacramental imagination capable of seeing God in the deepest deprivations life has to offer: suffering, sickness, and death. That is the pearl of great price: Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Kingdom always inbreaking.
There is a flip side, and it’s that God is rarely found where we expect our ultimate happiness will be, in the places where we worship other idols: wealth, success, power, efficiency, career, influence. Here we find only an insatiable hunger, a longing that will never be reached. We build skyscrapers and watch helplessly as they rot from within.
There is, then, in the spiritual life, a dance of disenchantment and enchantment taking place. A gradual, sometimes sudden, often messy disenchantment with those idols in which we have placed our trust, and a growingly luminous love affair with the infinite God, mediated to us through the quiet, simple moments of our day: a liminal in-breaking of the Life to Come, in the right here and the right now.
The steps of this dance involve our own initiatives, our own humble prayers and personalities intermingled with God’s grace, often two steps forward and one step back, with slips and falls and sometimes with whole movements of infused, transformative luminosity.
Maybe this is a clearer way of putting it: God doesn’t want your job title. God doesn’t want your 401k. God doesn’t want your wellness routine. God doesn’t want your long list of achievements, or even your long list of failures. God wants YOU. Period. All of you. In all that you are and in all that you one day will be.
And through prayer and worship and service you can experience this. You can know your inherent dignity and value, right at the place where your longing and God’s longing meet, at the center of who you are and who God is. And this dignity will surprise you, because you’ve been looking for it all your life in the wrong places.
The path is long and varied, with hills and valleys and rocky ground, but you don’t have to walk it alone.
You just have to take that single step, to knowing God more deeply, knowing yourself more realistically, and finding your place, the one created just for you, in the never-ending mystery of God-With-Us.