What is it in you that leaps when you encounter Christ?
Luke’s version of the life of Christ and the early church is full of stories of surprise and unexpected recognition.
First there is the surprising story of Elizabeth and Zechariah who are “getting on in years,” receiving an angelic visitation, and conceiving a son. Then there is Mary, who is “nobody from nowhere,” but becomes the mother of God.
Then there is the surprise of Jesus’ birth. Which takes place in this backwater town, in a barn…and is only revealed to a single group of shepherds outside of Bethlehem. (The Magi only show up in Matthew).
Luke has the surprising story of the evil enemy of the people (the Samaritan) being recognized as the only one showing compassion on the traveler beat up on the side of the road.
And Luke is the one with the Road to Emmaus post-resurrection story. The two people walking the road, meet a man who “opens up scripture” to them, and “sets their hearts on fire,” and then as he breaks bread with them they finally recognize him as the risen Christ.
In Luke, people’s reactions to Jesus are telling. Pharisees are confounded, the crowds are amazed and angered, the disciples are faithful and frustrating. And John the baptizer leaps in the darkness of his mother’s womb as soon as a barely pregnant Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s door.
So what is your reaction to an encounter with Christ?
Now, maybe you don’t know what your reaction is. Or think that you haven’t had any encounter with Christ…but that’s what Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus thought.
That’s what the centurion at the foot of the cross thought, until after the crucifixion when Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have him saying a version of “Truly this man was God’s Son.”
Every week, when we pray the consecratory prayer over the bread and wine…when we say together the great “Amen.” We are proclaiming that Christ is really and fully present among us. So you’ve had an experience with the risen Christ…But I get that it’s different in here…and out there, it’s harder to see Christ…more challenging to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”…
It’s harder to recognize Christ in the clerks, and co-workers, in the students and patients, in the people that you meet each day.
This story of Elizabeth and John leaping in her womb got me thinking…What if there was a tell? A way to know that you were in the presence of something that you really need to pay attention to? What if you had a physical reaction, like Elizabeth?
I believe that we all do have these reactions…we just maybe don’t pay attention to them. But we all have them…they are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we all receive…but we have to work at developing them.
Here’s a common one. Think about the way you feel in nature…looking up at the vast night sky…or gazing at the immensity of the ocean…or the majesty of snow-covered peaks…that feeling of awe. That’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of awe, or what was known traditionally as the “fear of the Lord,” but it doesn’t mean being afraid of God. It means, to quote Pope Francis, “a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur, and a grateful realization that only in God do our hearts find true peace.” You know that feeling if you’ve ever stood in awe of some natural phenomena, or some architectural marvel.
Maybe you’ve had a similar feeling when you’re with people. I can occasionally sense it when I see some great good that someone has done, or see the light that shines out from them…when I learn about the life of some holy woman or man…When I feel that…I know I’m in the presence of the divine…and my heart leaps. Paying attention to awe and wonder deepens our capacity for hope.
Maybe something in you perks up when you learn something…when you make a mental connection…put together the pieces of something that has been troubling you. Maybe it’s something a friend said, or something you’ve read…and you have that “a-ha” moment. That could be the gift of knowledge…or understanding…and that’s worth paying attention to…because cultivating those gifts deepens faith.
Maybe you experience that unbearable lightness of being when a piece of music settles into you…or a line from a hymn or a song latches onto you…something that makes you see and feel and experience the world in a completely different way…that could be alerting you to the gift of experiential wisdom…and expanding your capacity for wisdom strengthens compassion.
Maybe you experience God as a kind of internal fortitude… Confronted with some problem in your life you have that moment when you dig down and find strength to deal with it…or you discover some untapped reservoir of resilience. That’s the gift of fortitude…endurance, and working that muscle develops courage.
Perhaps it happens for you when you’re out working with others…serving at MANNA, or volunteering at B-Ready…or at your kid’s school…wherever and you experience a profound sense of connection…an understanding that we are all connected to one another and to God. That sense of connection is the spiritual gift known in traditional language as piety or reverence. Piety in this case doesn’t mean outward shows of religiosity, again to quote Pope Francis, “it is that genuine religious spirit which makes us turn to the Father as [God’s] children and to grow in our love for others, seeing them as our brothers and sisters.” Paying attention to that feeling, and working it develops our capacity for justice.
We all have each of these to varying degrees…and each of us will have one or two that is primary for us…the gateway…the way in…but if you pay attention, you’ll discover that all of them are present…
As we continue to prepare for Christmas…for what we know is coming (or what we think we know is coming)…Today, let Elizabeth’s surprise be a sign for you to pay attention to your own reactions…to let yourself become aware of how God might be surprising you…Through what or through whom is God reaching out to you?…Calling you?…activating those gifts inside of you? Walk the labyrinth with those questions…make some quiet space for yourself to ponder those questions…journal about them…pray with them. And use them to make room for Christ in you.