The 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart used to say: ‘Whoever seeks God in a special way gets the way and misses God.’ This saying puzzled me. Surely there are ways to pray, ways to grow spiritually?
And surely there are paths to God that have been hewn out by others which we can learn from and follow ourselves? Yes, of course. But Eckhart is pointing us to a simple truth that we often forgot: God is everywhere. If I believe that I have the perfect path to God then the danger is that I have made God in my own image. To find God is to let ourselves be found by God. Sometimes we set out with preconceptions of God and have to let these go as part of coming to know God.
When the child Samuel was in the temple at Shiloh some 3000 years ago, it might have been expected that any revelation would come to the priest Eli. But it is to Samuel that God reveals himself. What we hear today is the first stage towards Samuel becoming a prophet when he is older, one who will challenge even the king in the name of God. Yet it begins with this act of listening. Poor Eli was a troubled man. His sons were dissolute and dishonoring the temple. But Eli has the humility to recognize that God is choosing a new channel of communication, and he urges Samuel to listen. ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’ It will lead to mighty deeds, but it begins with an act of listening – and with the honesty of Eli who encourages the lad who will replace him.
This difficult act of listening, of attending to God, of waiting, is the key. We are restless. We prefer techniques, we want programmes of spirituality. We have to listen. Often we have to allow God to find us before the way to God will open up in front of us.
This is a God of the present moment. Not only a God of Sunday worship, or even of our daily quiet time, important though these are.
This is God who is as much with us in the car, at the kitchen sink or laptop, as anywhere else. Take today’s gospel reading. You can almost see John the Baptist signaling to his followers with his eyes, as much as with his words. He points to the passing figure of Jesus.
‘Look – here – now – the Messiah.’ The disciples could have hesitated, they might have questioned the incredible declaration, the moment would have passed. Instead they follow Jesus and there is that wonderful moment of domesticity. When he asks what they want, they ask, quite simply, where he lives.
Everybody has to have a home. Although later he will not have a place to lay his lead, for now, Christ has a place, and it provides a haven where these new followers can ply him with questions. They are literally at home with Jesus from late afternoon through the evening hours. They seized the moment. And not only they, but also Peter. Andrew is one of those who turns to Jesus at the words of John the Baptist, and goes to find his brother Simon Peter. ‘We have found the Messiah’ he tells him. Again, we have the moment when everything could have been different. Andrew might have kept the knowledge to himself. Peter might have scoffed and gone fishing. But both have hearts open to God in the present moment, they seize the moment and make it their own. God asks us not only to listen, but to have the courage to commit ourselves to the openings that he makes possible.
Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest at St Mary's in Finchley East, north London. Fr Terry's latest book: Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing and is available on Amazon.