Thursday, February 04, 2010

Column: "God, if I may say it, is very unscrupulous.”

When my mother saw the box move, she turned to my father and inquired, "Gene, there's not a puppy in there, is there?" There wasn't.

I wrote the first draft of this piece while staying the night at the Jesuit Center and while looking in the card catalog (yes, the real thing, with the lovely drawers that slide out!) to see if they had a copy of Surprised by Joy that I could consult (they didn't - something I should remedy), I discovered something I didn't know: C. S. stands for "Clive Staples"!

Photo is of Clive Staples Lewis. This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 4 February 2010.

Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ — which means Master.
— Jn. 20:16

Many years ago, when my brother was in the military, his unit’s leaves were canceled and with them his plans to come home to California for Christmas. My mother was deeply disappointed. At the very last minute, Pat’s commander gave him leave, and he managed to get a flight out. I picked him up at the local airport and extended a last minute invitation to my parents for dinner.

When my parents arrived at my apartment, an enormous gift-wrapped package was sitting in the middle of the living room. Though my mother was reluctant at first to open the gift before Christmas, we pleaded that the gift was perishable. When the top came off the box and my six-foot tall brother unfolded to stand before my mom she literally leapt for joy. We still have the photograph.

I hear that same joyous delight and shock in John’s account of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus in the garden after His resurrection. Her cry of “Rabbuni!” when she realizes that He is not the gardener captures her surprise at seeing someone she did not expect — not in this place, not at this time, not in that guise.

Yesterday morning, at the height of the pre-dawn school rush, I set a cup of tea on the counter to steep. Distracted by a phone call, I forgot all about it. When I finally did remember the over-steeped brew it was far too late to make a replacement. Resigned to tossing it and doing without, I dashed for the door to take Chris to chorus. On the counter, near my keys, I found a perfect cup of tea in its travel mug. My youngest son had rescued my little bit of morning grace — unasked and unannounced. Everything came to a momentary halt while I said thank you.

I wonder how often I miss seeing Christ in this guise, where He appears in my life as the unexpected helper, rather than the one to be helped. It seems easier to accept that I have help to offer than it does to admit I am sometimes the helpless one, to acknowledge my need for the Word of God to be alive and active in tangible ways in my life.

Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, in his poem, “For the one who is exhausted,” reminds us to acknowledge our need of help and in doing so to “open up to all the small miracles you rushed through.” Mary Magdalene stopped in her rush long enough to talk to the gardener and in doing so encountered the living God. Can I stop long enough to feel God’s touch in the small miracles — like cups of tea on the counter — or do I brush past them in haste?

In his autobiography, “Surprised by Joy,” C. S. Lewis, whose conversion to Christianity was prompted in part by the books he read, remarked that “a young man who wishes to remain an atheist cannot be too careful of his reading… God, if I may say it, is very unscrupulous.”

Perhaps I’m over careful, not in my reading, but in my living. I’m so carefully attending to the pressing details of my daily life that I rush past the chance to encounter God in the places, times and people I least expect. How many chances to experience that leaping joy have I passed up?

But like a mother who sneaks pureed broccoli into the spaghetti sauce, God is nothing if not determined and persistent. I expect He, in many different guises, will keep leaving cups of tea on the counter, until I slow down enough to drink in His Presence.

Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ and make yourself our guest. Amid the cares of our daily lives, make us attentive to your voice and alert to your presence, that we may treasure your world above all else. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. God for ever and ever. Amen. — Opening prayer for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.


  1. Marvelous! Thank you. It's hard to imagine what in the world could be more important than finding that boy and saying thank you for the tea!

    And I know that whatever is going on IS important. But to be in the presence of such miracles -- to live with them... that is the stuff of God, isn't it?



  2. This one brought tears to my eyes. I am always finding references in theological literature to our need to find Christ in the poor, but something about my personality has meant I'm the one that's always surprised to find Jesus in the one serving me. And I hardly ever see any references to that.

  3. I'm glad she opened the box... it was pretty cramped in there! The leaves were canceled because we were launching a new satellite... the previous 3 had blown up during launch and we were desperate to get the new bird up and running (the old one had an 18 month life span, but had been up nearly 5 years). We launched successfully and uneventfully on Dec 21 (the launch date was a secret, so I couldn't even tell Mom *why* I couldn't come home) when Capt Pelowitz said I could go if I wanted to.... I found a last minute light out of Omaha that took off in a blizzard. I was on perhaps the last flight out of Denver Stapleton before it was closed for another *bigger* blizzard and snuck into Orange County Airport.... I had to wrap the box myself. I love the pictures that you managed to snap!

  4. Hi Pat...

    I couldn't remember the details of why (maybe I didn't know them?). I'd vaguely remembered the blizzard and that you beat the delays!

  5. Anonymous11:30 PM

    will you think me too obsequious if I comment that YOU and your writings are 'cups of tea' in my life? and what an impressive young man that he would notice and do! I am delighted with the CSLewis quote as my beautiful young son is such a man: one whose wide ranging reading and thirsty mind are leading him further and further away from his purported atheism. Thank God. Exactly. Marie W