God in the Mundane
As y’all know, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity this past Sunday. The priest at my parish, Fr. Andy, told an interesting story in his homily that I thought I’d share here. I probably won’t get all of the details right (I’ve slept since then), but you’ll get the gist of it. It goes a little something like this.
You’ve probably all heard of the library of Alexandria, Egypt. (Come on, I know the name rings a bell. Think National Treasure with Nicholas Cage.) When the library burned to the ground, it was thought that all of the texts inside had been lost. In fact, though, one single book had survived — a book which contained the secret that could make any person rich beyond belief. A poor man was given this book because it seemed worthless. On the inside of the back cover, though, a handwritten note was scrawled. The note said that there was a stone, called the keystone, that could turn anything it touched into pure gold. The stone lay on the rocky shore of the Black Sea and looked like an ordinary rock. There was only one way to know which stone was the keystone: the keystone was warm to the touch.
The man was ecstatic, sold everything he had, and set off for the shore of the Black Sea. Once there, he pitched his tent right on the shore. Every morning, the man got up and went to the shore. He picked up the rocks, and upon finding that a rock was cold to the touch, he threw it into the sea to prevent picking up the same useless stone twice. He did this every day until the sun went down and he could no longer see. Day after day…week after week…year after year. He kept searching for this stone. One day as he was searching, he picked up a stone…cold. Another one. Cold. Another one. Cold. Another one. Cold. Another one. Cold. Another one. Warm.
But out of sheer habit, after so many disappointments, the man threw the keystone into the sea without a second thought. When he realized what he had done, he was devastated. Everything he had worked so hard for, all that he had searched and hoped for, was now lost at the bottom of the sea, never to be recovered again.
We can all identify with that man in the story, can’t we? As human beings, we have this deep longing for something outside of ourselves…something that alone can make us truly happy, can fill that void in our beings. We call that something God. But we just can’t ever seem to find God. We keep searching, keep trying to fill that void with material things, with different relationships, with a better job, but none of it works. This is one of the reasons I haven’t written on this blog in so long. For the past few months, I’ve been wondering where in the world God is. I felt like I was trying everything possible and God just wasn’t showing up. This homily, the story that Fr. Andy told, woke me up. You see, part of my problem — and perhaps your problem too — is that I wasn’t paying attention to the everyday things.
That rocky shore is my life. And those rocks symbolize my routine, daily tasks, the tasks that are so normal and mundane that I don’t even pay attention to them anymore. Those rocks are me waking up in the morning, me going to help out at my parish, my family, my friends…everything in my life that I don’t pay much attention to because I’m so used to it all. God isn’t in some space beyond me so that I have to wait for God to break into the mundane and show up. God is right here, right now, in the midst of the everyday and the mundane. I was looking for God “out there” instead of “right here”.
Seeing God in the things and people that are around you everyday isn’t easy, but it’s a fundamental part of Catholic (indeed, all Christian and Jewish) theology. God is both immanent and transcendent — both right here with us, in our lives, and outside of time and space. The One we worship is Emmanuel — “God with us”. God lives in us and with us. And it is right beside us, in the midst of our messy, chaotic, and sometimes downright boring lives that we will find God. It takes time and practice to see God this way, and I’m nowhere near there yet. Let’s all try it together. The next time you wonder where God is, the next time I think that God isn’t going to show up when I’m struggling, let’s commit to open our eyes to the ways God is present to us during every moment of our lives. Sort of like a never-ending game of “Where’s Waldo?”
Remember the man on the shore — if you aren’t paying attention, you might toss God aside like an ordinary rock out of sheer force of habit. God has the power to transform each and every one of us — you and me — into something far more precious than pure gold. It is God alone — the eternal Rock — who can fill that longing in the depths of our being.