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How do you encounter God?

How do you encounter God?

Reflection: How do you encounter God?

On Easter Sunday afternoon, I visited my elder daughter, her partner and her two little rescue-dogs (what I call, my grand-dogs).  While I receive a welcoming “hi” from my daughter and her partner, the dogs have a far more expressive way of welcoming me. Every time I visit, their whole beings are involved in welcome – they voice it with excited yelps and moving whimperings, hardly able to control themselves! They run up and down the stairs, sometimes losing their balance, twisting, tumbling and summersaulting downwards before leaping back up. The tiny one – with tail wagging her whole body, races to fetch her squeeky dumpling toy, to add to the cacophony, while the slightly larger dog, attempts to cover my face with kisses, jumping, whimpering and smiling all at the same time! As they begin to settle down, more sedate human conversation can begin, while the grand-dogs strategically place themselves for continued sensate interactions – eye contact, verbal exchanges, occasional licks and constant stroking. If I ever doubted that I was loved, those two little dogs would immediately convey that I was someone special in their lives!

We are created as sensate beings. Our personal experiences – of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch – feed and shape us. They inform us about our world, and our relationships.

That is why Jesus spent three years with his disciples – rather than simply writing an instruction manual!  We are created as sensate beings. Our personal experiences feed and shape us. Perhaps that’s why Thomas’s response to the excited disciples’ words “We have seen the Lord” was so sensate:

‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

Thomas wasn’t present, he didn’t feel the presence of Jesus, he didn’t catch the collective gasp of the fearing disciples, he didn’t hear the familiar voice and words of Jesus: “Peace be with you”;  He didn’t see the wounds on Jesus’ hands and side – as the other disciples had.

But what else might have been going on for Thomas? Sometimes Love isn’t easy to accept. When we’ve been betrayed, had our trust shattered, when the vulnerability of opening ourselves one more time is just too risky. Resurrection is not easy to accept.

When it was evening, Jesus came through the locked door, stood among his friends and said: “Peace be with you.” Both the appearance and words are consoling, encouraging and graced gifts. My peace, my wholeness, my shalom is yours. Fear, grief and denial don’t matter. I love you. Peace. But more was needed!

‘After he said this, Jesus showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.’ Jesus showed his wounds. By these wounds, seeing and touching these wounds, we are healed. (And when we allow trusted others to see and touch our wounds, healing can begin, resurrection can happen.)

But Thomas didn’t see the wounds. Thomas wasn’t there. Where was he, I wonder? Separated, excluded, entombed in his own grief? How would he have felt on hearing the others’ seemingly incredulous claim – “We have seen the Lord!”   Oh, what aching, longing to believe…oh, what fear in disbelieving!  Hearing second-hand just wasn’t enough. He needed an experience of the risen Christ in person, in flesh – to see, to touch. But not just that. Thomas also needed to be seen, to be named, to be met, even in his disbelief and utter vulnerability.

Jesus knows and understands the power of experience. He understood this, as he encountered the grieving, struggling Thomas on his return visit to the house behind locked doors. “Peace be with you” he said.  “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” “Do not doubt, but believe.”

This reminds me of the extraordinary Good Friday encounter I experienced five years ago when I visited al Noor mosque, six weeks after the horrific massacre of forty-four worshippers had taken place. Yet there were no locked doors, nor locked hearts on the day of my visit. The young Somali woman whose three-year-old brother had been shot on March 15th, welcomed me and showed me through the mosque – where her brother had died, where others had tried in vain to escape, she showed me the bullet-wounded walls and makeshift floor coverings still awaiting new carpet. And my grieving Somali sister physically touched my heart as we shared – and she named me as a soul-sister. There were no locked doors (or hearts), the wounds were there to be seen and touched, and the words spoken were “Peace” “Salaam alaikum sister.” Is this not resurrection?

Jesus met Thomas just where he was – in his hunger for personal encounter, his hunger for relationship. Jesus returned to gather Thomas to himself. And Thomas’s response was immediate and powerful: “My Lord and my God!”  Through Thomas’s personal, authentic and sensate encounter with the risen Jesus, he was able to truly know, experience and proclaim God. 

In our faith journey, our unique, personal encounters with the risen Christ (through others) enliven and enrich us. How else would we – like Thomas – know and feel the healing love & forgiveness, grace & compassion of God.

When Jesus encountered the disciples in the upper room, he in turn, gave a real, sensate experience of his presence and power, as he breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit” 

The disciples – having been paralysed with fear and grief – are now, through encounter with their risen Lord, given the power and authority to do what God alone did – forgive the sins of others.  I wonder how they felt – feeling the life-breath of God – being bathed in divine love and holy peace, empowered to continue Christ’s work in the world.

Whether – like the women, the disciples or Thomas – we feel disabled and wounded by grief, or anger, doubt or despair, God, through Christ Jesus, is ready to meet us and to invite each of us to reach deeply into his woundedness, and there, find healing for our woundedness.

And in the breath of the Spirit, peace and power to forgive is gifted to us – not only for ourselves, but so as to invite others into healing relationship – to carry God’s forgiveness, peace and love into the depth of our being, breathing it in with every breathe – and to breathe it out, into all our relationships.

The peace, forgiveness and healing love of the risen Christ is the gift we proclaim, live and share with one another at Easter. 

Let us pray:

Jesus, Risen Lord

wounded love of God,

reach out and touch us.

Breathe your healing power afresh

Into our lives.

Draw our hands to your side,

Breathe your peace into our doubts,

Your forgiveness into our hearts, our minds and relationships

That we might truly be your body

–              broken, healing, and forgiving

as we live your risen life in your world.

In your name and risen power we pray. Amen.

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