During my career in corporate America, in meetings when someone would say, you need to look at the big picture, my former boss would often retort: “from 50,000 feet, the whole world looks flat”. His point was that if you get too removed from anything, you miss a lot of stuff; everything looks fine from a distance. It seems that this might not be a bad metaphor for often how we relate to God.
In our prayer lives, even when it’s something as simple as “Thanks be to God” - when something goes well, most of us are quite comfortable casting our eyes upwards, as if God was hovering somewhere, maybe just out of range of the Hubble Telescope. A fairly natural way for us as humans to think of the God that created “all things visible and invisible”. However, keeping this “distance” between us and our Father can also enable us to gloss over many important aspects (obligations?) of our role as Christians, which of course in turn impedes deepening our relationship with God.
So how does this work? If we use the analogy of sunshine, such as when the sun streams through our windows in spring, it often shows up things that need doing: walls that need painting, tables that need dusting, things we’ve become used to can look quite shabby in the bright light. Likewise, in our relationship with God, the closer we get to God, the more we become aware of our own shortcomings, how we should be living versus what we’re actually doing: those sneaky sins of omission as well as those of commission.
Many of us, including quite often yours truly, are much more comfortable with our own self-image. Even though we might not want to admit it, we can be a little like the Pharisee in Luke’s gospel, giving thanks that we’re not sinners, unlike the tax collector at the back of the church. (You can pick your own stand-in for the tax collector: perhaps those in prison, refugees, minorities…….?) If we’re not careful we can drift into a half-baked spiritual life, perhaps captured by the blues singer David Clayton Thomas, when he sang: “I can swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell”.
While on the surface, the prospect of coming face-to-face with our weaknesses is not particularly enticing, we do need to remember that God knows we are sinners, and that Jesus constantly welcomed the sinner and affirmed that heaven would rejoice when a sinner repents. Our challenge comes in accepting ourselves as God accepts us, and not allowing our control oriented culture, to sell us on the idea that it’s all about us. St. Paul says, I am strong when I am weak. One of my favorites comes from Fr. Richard Rohr who says: “don’t let your weaknesses make you weak”. Meaning we have to accept ourselves as God accepts us, complete with flaws, and move forward.
So how do we make our relationship with God less vague and more real?
Certainly we must try to deepen our faith through prayer, good works and personal discipline. But we also must also realize that faith is a gift; and that we must ask for and accept God’s grace to strengthen our faith, so that we might live with a deeper sense of comfort and greater awareness, of the divine presence in our lives.