“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”.
This line has been haunting me lately, following me in mysterious ways, and manifesting itself to me over and over again. I’ve been finding it everywhere. It was recited aloud at a gathering of friends this week over dinner. I opened up Andrew Peterson’s cd, “Light for the Lost Boy”, and found it staring back at me from the insert. It even popped up on my facebook wall in a quote from a friend. Eventually, I began to pay more attention to its demands.
The world is charged. With the grandeur of God. Grandeur is a very “grandiose” word. It recalls to mind immediately such things as the glory of the rocky mountains, the depth and power of the ocean, the splendor of the sunrise. And yet, the way this line has struck me this week has been broadening, deepening, throwing wide the doors and expanding my understanding of this term. And slowly, I am seeing that grandeur can also be found in small, subtle, hidden ways: that it can whisper to us, in moments that pierce you to the heart, that leave profound marks on your soul; that take you by surprise, and leave you changed. In short, this line coming back to me now, at a time in my life when the beauty I am surrounded by more readily is that of a quiet, every-day kind, I am being forcibly reminded that “grandeur” doesn’t have to manifest itself in loud, dramatic ways, but can be found anywhere that we are surprised into wonder…
I watch a young mother balancing a baby on her hip, and pulling along a three-year old girl in the middle of a tantrum because she can’t have some precious thing that she desperately wants. My friend and I stand, and smile sympathetically as we watch them go. And he says to me, “I feel like that all the time with God.” Throwing a tantrum, because everything he wants, and had planned, is falling to pieces around him. And just like the child, he can’t understand why God doesn’t just give him the one thing he feels like he can’t live without. And yet, watching them, we know that the mother sees far beyond the toddler, and knows that the piece of candy, or whatever else she so dearly wants, is not now what she needs. And suddenly, such a simple, everyday scene has become an icon into the grand mystery, the drama of our relationship with the Father: a glimpse into the grandeur of God.
Or again, I’m having a really difficult day. I’m worn down, weighed down by the very heavy, painful sufferings of those I love, and I wrestle with myself for the whole drive home from work whether to call a good friend, just to have someone else in it with me, for support and comfort. But I don’t want to burden him as well, even though he’s told me I can. And it would take a huge amount of emotional energy to even talk about this right now. So I fight with myself. And then, just when I raise the half-hearted prayer in my mind, “Wouldn’t it be funny, Lord, if he just called me?” –my phone rings, and it’s him. Such a small, seemingly insignificant circumstance. And yet, in that moment, it is the shining forth of the grandeur of God to me.
At the table next to me in the cafe, a father, seemingly far from home, calls his little daughters on his phone, to Facetime with them from a distance, and I hear him say, “It’s Daddy! I’m here safely. Just wanted to check in and tell you how much I love you!” And my heart smiles. There He is again. Another glimpse of God’s grandeur, in this father’s simple love for his daughters.
When you really start to look for Him, He’s everywhere. Because this world that He made is good, there are endless entry points at which the veil falls away, and we glimpse the ever-greater, ever-deeper, ever-more mystery of the One Who made it. Not only in the physical world, but in the depth and complexities of the persons made in His image. Our lives, our days are charged with this grandeur: the grandeur of a God Who became flesh, to enter our days. Who became human, to have hands, feet, a voice to speak to us, arms to hold us, eyes to look on us. If our eyes are open, we see this. We see the tiny, quiet, whispered ways that He reveals his grandeur to us, the depth and wonder and mystery of Himself, of His love, of His closeness, through little, daily glimpses of grandeur. This is what the Incarnation means. That after creating the grandiose, glorious splendor of the created world, the complex, depth and mystery of the human person, He became flesh, and entered into the simple, messy, heart-breaking details of our everyday life. And when I think of this, suddenly, there is more wonder for me in this simple word, that simple glance, piercing me to the heart, than in the magnificence of the mountains. Because the greatest miracle is not the grandest beauty of His world… it is the constant little reminder that he has entered into and made his own the tiny, insignificant details of my everyday life.
In some senses, however, it’s easier to find the grandeur of God in the mountains, in the sea, in the sunrise. It’s harder to find it in ourselves. This is a constant mystery to me, and yet I continually find it true. Sometimes, it’s even easier to see in other’s lives. It’s hard to find it in mine.
In the Church year, we are still within the season of Easter. We have forty days in which to contemplate the joyous mysteries of the Resurrection. This year, more than ever before, I am finding this to be a beautiful mercy for my life. Because regardless of how hard I find it to see the grandeur of God in my life, the Church insists that it’s there, and insists that I look for it. In causing us every year to re-live the mysteries of our salvation through Holy Week, the Church, like any good mother, refuses to let us stay on the level of “easy”. We are challenged to look for and recognize the grandeur of God precisely where we don’t want to look: in darkness, in pain, in suffering, in my own, frail, sinful, failing weakness… in the painful, bloody sacrifice of God’s own life for me. And only by having to live through these events, again and again, are we led into the living of the resurrection.
The other mercy of belonging to the family of God in the church is that we are in good company: we are not the first to have a hard time looking at this version of grandeur found in humility, suffering and death. The apostles had a hard time with this too. And during the seasons of Lent and Easter, we are given countless companions on this challenging way. It was incomprehensible to the disciples that the glory of God be manifest in the lacerated, bleeding flesh of Christ upon the Cross. So most of them fled. And which disciple, in the end, is able to describe to us most eloquently what love really means? John: the one who remained at the foot of that Cross long enough to recognize the grandeur of Love hanging there. Another one of the lines haunting me lately is a quote from a letter by the French nun, Elizabeth of the Trinity:
“God has plans that we do not always understand, but that we must adore.”
In the face of this holiest, and most spiritually intense season of the church year, when we relive on a deep level the darkest days of suffering and death that the world has ever known, the days in which God Himself took on every drop of sin and suffering the world would ever see, concentrated upon one Man, on one monumental day… in the face of the paradoxes we are presented with during this Paschal mystery—and mystery it will ever be—I’m beginning to wonder if all God’s plans are of this nature: things we can never fully understand, and yet must adore. It seems to me to be increasingly true of at least THE plan: the plan of salvation carried out during Holy Week. This finding God, this coming of God in the most difficult, unclear, and painful ways is nothing new. It seems to be the way He’s always come: from the moment He took flesh in the womb of a Virgin, to the moment he came into the world on the hard, cold floor of a stable. We have a God Who remains entirely surprising, unpredictable; and who is therefore always challenging our categories of what “glory”, what “love”, what “God” really look like. He comes to us now in the most mundane circumstances of our everyday life, and it is there that we can recognize and adore Him. Even the circumstances we do not understand. And it is particularly in the ones that we do not understand that I feel God has more room to show Himself to us: because we have to look harder. Because we have to ask the question, “Lord, where are you?” Because it requires more of an effort for us to pay attention, in the face of difficult, painful things. We wake up.
The first disciples could only understand in the unfolding of time, because they chose to adore without understanding. Because, when they could do nothing else, they remained with Him. Without understanding, Mary sat outside the tomb, for the first long, cold, night, and another cold night… until the sunrise. And because she did nothing but stay with Him, she is the first one to see the grandeur that was hidden in that tomb. She is the first to hear her name, spoken from the resurrected body of Christ.
This Easter season has challenged me as never before, to become a true disciple of the disciples, to follow them on this journey; to stay, with John, with Magdalene, with His Mother: to stay with them through the darkness, and the not-understanding, into the glimpses of resurrection. Until it becomes every day a little easier, by seeing his glorious wounds in the upper room, to recognize the same grandeur in the still open and bleeding ones of my life. Hand in hand with Peter, with John, with Mary, I find the strength again to walk this road, in the wisdom of the Church’s year, and to let my own individual life be illumined by the universal journey of this family that I belong to, in the footsteps of Christ, and to be educated to recognize His grandeur in all of the places I least expect to find it. Led by the hand, I am learning: both the recognition of His grandeur in unexpected places, and the faith in the grandeur yet to come. Because even during the times and seasons when my life remains seemingly stuck on that Good Friday, I know, as the Church’s yearly living reminds me, that we are always moving into the glory of Easter morning.