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The Personal Face of God

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so: little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong.”

We began singing this song during a Pride parade. Someone unsuccessfully tried to get us to sing a “corrected” version, one that edited out our “littleness” and “weakness” and, I suppose, our dependence on Jesus, giving us a more positive self-image.

But it is a children’s song, who need someone bigger and stronger and wiser to see them through the vicissitudes of childhood. And now, as I anticipate growing much older and a bit weaker, I may need someone younger and stronger like Jesus to steady my gait, lift my perspective, and remind me who I am.

When she was 79 years of age, my mother phoned me while I was working on my daily devotional The Word Is Out to ask me to include this scripture in my meditations: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (KJV). I realized Christ served as her beacon throughout the troubles and griefs and challenges of her life.

I remember her praying with me as a child. She prayed to Jesus, not God, and I wish now I had asked her in later life if that’s how she always prayed. Maybe she was just praying that way because I was a child, or because she taught first grade in a Christian school all of her life. Maybe not.

As Advent begins, we are reminded of the story of Jesus’ birth narrative, grand and glorious and dramatic as it most certainly was not. The Gospels which report it tell it the way it should have been in a world awaiting a personal representative from God to deliver it from Roman colonization and from a vain and abusive Caesar as well as those like the Herodians willing to surrender their principles to remain a friend of Caesar and Rome.

The Gospels tell of Immanuel, God-with-us, coming to poor shepherds in a field and fishermen on the shore and hungry multitudes on a hillside and a thirsty individual at a well, reminding the poor that they too are blessed, that the humble should inherit the earth, that peacemakers belong in the commonwealth of God.

You who follow this blog know of my reservations about ever “knowing” God with certainty. The Bible uses many metaphors to help us wrap our minds and hearts around something we cannot know. Jesus, of course, is more than mere metaphor, but one who wanted, like any good messenger, to point us toward the God beyond our grasp yet within our reach.

Saints (both official and unofficial) and icons (in art and music as well as in nature) and charismatic preachers and prophets have helped us, in a sense, touch the face of God through their witness and beauty and spirit and teachings.

But strangers and the suffering, the vulnerable and the excluded, have also awakened us to the spirit of God, both in them and in us. That spirit is compassion, making us one, for “God is love.” “Love in fact is the spiritual life,” is my favorite Thomas Merton quote, as you probably have guessed by now.

God is not a “thing” to be grasped or known or understood absolutely; yet the entire witness of scripture and saints and Jesus is that God is within our reach.

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