For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? -Isaiah 43:19-
I think when stories are told or read over and over from childhood into adulthood, the words, the images, the messages derived from them seep down and become part of us. Stories and our understanding of them shape our thoughts, which influence our actions, which impact our lives.
This seems particularly so for me when it comes to biblical study; I have come to realize that I too often rely on my earliest understanding, believing that if I’ve already studied it or read it several times, I know what there is to know. It is easy to think the lessons were fully comprehended, the significance incorporated, and I go through my days, missing the opportunity for deeper meaning.
I’m sure we have all had ‘aha’ moments like this: when someone comments on a loved one’s extraordinary traits, prompting you to see them anew through another’s perspective; or when introducing a visitor to your town you are surprised with all you’ve overlooked before they pointed out significant spots of interest or beauty. We can become blind to that which is familiar to us.
Of course, life experiences can spur new perspective (isn’t this one reward of a long life, to continue to grow and learn?) As I concentrate more on contemplative spiritual practices, I’m learning to trust an approach using fresh inquiry, to be intentional about discovery, to be inquisitive about long-held beliefs and invite God to participate in my discernment. When I succeed in doing this, especially when considering lifelong held ideas, I glean new meaning and sometimes deeply moving insight.
Often, I end up with more questions, and I must learn to live in the mystery.
For a while, I’ve puzzled over an Easter question: When the risen Jesus appeared to Mary and to the disciples, why did they fail to recognize Him? How could Jesus’ closest friends see Him and speak with Him and not immediately know it was Him? Why would God go to the lengths of this particular miracle if even those who knew Jesus the best didn’t see Him?
And more than that…..Why wasn’t every person who came into the presence of the living, resurrected Christ, instantly struck with absolute clarity that it was Jesus? Why did God not bring the whole universe ( or at least all mankind? ) to the clear and obvious knowing that we are so beloved, that God gave life… returned what was lost, restored what was broken, raised what was dead?
A fresh look at the scripture tells us that the disciples encountered a stranger but once they gave close attention and time, listened to His words of peace and felt His grace as he breathed His spirit upon them, once they saw him break the bread with them, they finally recognized it was Jesus. First, they had to let go of their formerly held belief that he was gone.
I can certainly relate to Thomas’ different kind of blindness, stubbornly grasping his sorrow, letting his belief override his faith. Jesus helped Thomas to see again, then extended a blessing, reminding the disciples gathered there, and us, that faith leads us when sight is clouded.
The God of grace and love that I have come to know, God who practices such immense patience with me, doesn’t hit me over the head very often with the obvious, in spite of my frequent and fervent requests that God do just that. Subtle doesn’t work for me, and it distresses me to think that I might fail to recognize Jesus too.
Pondering Jesus’ blessing with Thomas, what if the response to my Easter question is this: Look for Holy Presence in every person I encounter. Seek His peace, His spirit in each breath I share with others; when I cook breakfast or say grace over broken bread or take a walk….all with the intent to see holy presence as part of it, perhaps I will see Jesus.
It just might be, mystery is the blessing.