We have all been here, this parched land. It is in the wilderness of our faith life. We described this experience as being spiritually dry, a sort of disconnect from God. We do not intentionally come here, but we gradually drift, almost unknowingly, and find ourselves away from our faith life.
The reality of life is that we exist in two worlds – the external persuasive worldly ways and the internal restraint of a spiritual life. They co-exist, we cannot live one without the other. We are blessed with the freedom of choice, and sometimes our choices gradually take us away from God.
Perhaps the evolving church experience of the pandemic highlights the perils of this gradual movement. When the virus first forced churches to close doors, masses went online. Online masses were greeted with both relief and enthusiasm. Relieved because we could stay in touch, and we enthusiastically participated in this new, novel way. Gradually, very gradually, we wandered away from our screens, losing focus and discipline. Now, maybe, we are weak-willed to go back to physical church, to go for mass. We have slipped, cut adrift, drifted.
“The Lord says this: ‘A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord. He is like dry scrub in the wastelands: if good comes, he has no eyes for it, he settles in the parched places of the wilderness, a salt land, uninhabited”. (First Reading)
The blessing of this gift of the freedom of choice is not poisoned. When we find ourselves dry in a spiritual desert, we must know that we are not condemned, not even judged by God. In this blessing, God accompanies us in all our choices, even if these choices do distance us from him. The presence of God in our daily life is seen is no better light than God’s loving and compassionate presence in the consequences of our choices. He is always there, waiting, cajoling us to return.
We learn more about our two worlds through these relative experiences, in the intermingle, and the coming and going from one to the other. When we were once like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream with no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit, we appreciate better when we are dried up on a parched land in our spiritual wilderness. The blessing of every desert experience is that when we come back from it, we will always come back stronger. But like the choices we made that took us there, we must make the choices to bring ourselves back. Many people returning to faith will testify this.
“‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God. Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied. Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh… ‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.’” (Gospel)
In this world of relative experiences, people returning to faith relate very well to this. These Beatitudes become for us our spiritual compass out of the deserts. To be ‘happy’, to be ‘blessed’ grows gradually in us as we appreciate ‘God with us’ on our earthly journey. Happy for you the wanderer from faith, for you shall experience God’s faithful accompaniment in all your choices.
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time