I’ve mentioned previously that these days, I tend not to buy very many religious books, as my shelves are full and I already have all I need. The only real exceptions to this unwritten rule is if there happens to be a particular translation of the Bible I am looking for, and the odd little prayer book. And that rule was broken very recently.
In town the other day, I visited the St Paul Media store and within, I found a new little book of Rosary meditations, called ‘Praying The Rosary – A Journey Through Scripture And Art’, by Denis McBride CSsR. I always like to have a few different books of Rosary meditations – from Fr Peyton to Bishop David Konstant, whose little pocket book entitled ‘The Mysteries of the Rosary – Mysteries of Joy, Sorrow, Glory and Light’, I recommend very heartily indeed.
The reason I like these little books is that they offer insights I have not already thought of – and those insights provide a wealth of good material for meditation when praying the Rosary, so that it deepens the prayer and we find ourselves uncovering little gems within that prayer which we have not discovered beforehand. This has the added bonus of keeping the prayer of the Rosary fresh and vibrant even if we pray it every day; it never becomes either routine or boring, but is constantly new.
Anyway, the Fr McBride book did indeed offer me reflections and inspirations and one or two of these really gave me pause for thought.
The first evening I was using this lovely little book, I was praying the Mysteries of Light. For the first Mystery, the Baptism of Jesus, the author offered a reflection based on the account of this event in the Gospel of St Mark. Fr McBride described it in this way –
“Mark opens his Gospel with a stage of conflict; all the people are leaving sacred space, the holy city of Jerusalem, and going out into ordinary space, the wilderness of Judea, to listen to John the Baptist. Usually, pilgrimages go from ordinary space to sacred space; the reverse is now happening..”
I had simply never considered this aspect of what was happening in that moment – but the author was right. The people were indeed going from the holy to the ordinary – and this was where they were encountering the Lord in His imminence. Truly, ‘God among us’.
As I was reading these words, it struck me that the description applied not only in the moment of the original event two thousand years ago – but also right now, in our own moment.
Here, now, people are leaving the sacred space to go out into the ordinary space – and there, they are looking for (and often finding) God.
Over the last couple of years, I have read a number of accounts from individuals commenting on this phenomenon. Often, the writers note – accurately – that such people are not leaving God, they are leaving their churches. And they are generally doing so precisely in order to find God, whom they have not found (or have not found authentically) within the structures of their own churches, of whichever denomination these may have been.
I suppose the reasons for this are as numerous as the persons themselves who undertake such a search; but I suppose, too, that there may well be common threads running through all their stories. Some threads will say something about those persons – while others might offer a comment about the church they are leaving.
This aside, there is another message for us in the words of this meditation from Fr McBride, and it is this – all too often, we will truly encounter the Lord in the places where we least expect to do so. This may be in the ‘place’ or the ‘moment’ of personal loss or suffering of some kind, whether our own or that of another; and indeed, other people are the single place where we are not only most likely to meet Christ, but we are specifically called to look for Him in order that we might see Him there within those others.
And perhaps most astonishingly for us, those ‘others’ include not only only those we might love, like or admire – but in the faces and humanity of those we disregard for whatever reason; the homeless person we walk past, the alcoholic we look down on, the migrant seeking a safe life, the despondent woman serving us in the shop, the man at work who is recently bereaved.
So I wonder if the real lesson is this – if we are unable to look for and find the Lord in the ordinary, we have little real chance of encountering Him in the sacred.