But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. -- Acts 7:55-57
I've been thinking and writing about this verse for the last two days. Thoughts continue to pour in, so I guess I'd better put fingers to keyboard before I become completely swamped.
This verse from Acts shows the very moment when Stephen witnesses to Christ. His extremely long-winded speech beforehand, telling the story of the Jews from the time of Abraham, showed that he knew his Scripture. But it wasn't until he really saw Jesus for himself that he became a true "witness".
A part of me fears that something like what happened to Stephen will happen to me as I share my God "sightings." Not being stoned to death, of course, but rejected, nevertheless. There just aren't enough examples of this kind of thing happening regularly to people that I know in this day and age. No one else in my extended family experiences God's active presence in their lives. A few friends have shared their experiences, but rarely do we talk about them. Perhaps this is one reason why I enjoy reading about Catholic saints. They have experienced God's active presence in their lives. Those that have put their experiences into words are a wonderful witness for me.
One of the books I found at the used bookstore the other day was "Ordinary Grace," by Kathleen A. Brehony. Reading this book these past two days touched me deeply because it describes many examples of ordinary people being moved into compassionate action after hearing what they believe is God speaking to them. Maria bakes bread and makes soup for homeless people in her neighborhood. She "is aware that some people might think she is a little crazy to believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to her or to devote so much of her time and energy to what appears to be such an insurmountable problem." (pg. 57) I can empathize.
More insight came from Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation," about the nearly parallel movements throughout the civilized world of a growing awareness of our spiritual connection to God and to each other, culminating in what is called the Axial Age. Amos and Hosea, who wrote around 700 B.C.E., are described as the first literary prophets who each preached that a more personal connection with God is necessary. Amos felt a passionate empathy with God; he felt the anger of God in his very bones, as he shared God's message. And Hosea felt that "people followed other gods [such as Baal] only because they did not truly know Yahweh. Their understanding of religion was superficial.... The verb yada ("to know") implied an emotional attachment to Yahweh." (pg 105-106) I was reminded of Clarence's comment on my last post: (Jer 29:13 NRSV) "if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord." According to Armstrong, the prophet of the Axial Age who best conveyed this much deeper connection was Jeremiah.
Perhaps the reason it is unusual to see God's presence in someone's life is because many people simply don't look that closely at their own lives, as Hosea said. Even people who would consider themselves to be faithful to God do not do this. I was surprised to read today in an anthology of Christian history that Billy Graham, though raised in a Christian family, baptized as a baby, and involved in his church as a youth leader, discovered at the age of 16 after participating in a revival meeting that he really did not know Jesus for himself. Upon realizing this he opened his heart to God and committed himself to following Christ for the rest of his life (from The One Year Book of Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, May 22). What an amazing impact his connection to God created in his life and the lives of so many other people.
It does happen. God is present, still, in this day and age. We just don't hear that enough to easily believe that we, too, can experience a much deeper life for ourselves. But we all can. Of this I'm sure.
Dear Lord, your message has been very persistent these last few days. You speak to us each in different ways, telling us what we should do for you. May my eyes and ears be always open to what you want me to know. Love always, Pam