I was teaching one of the classes in college on Wednesday. It was a course on spirituality, and I always like to ask the students where they are at in their spiritual lives. This is a class (Theology 106) that they have to take in order to graduate, so there is a wide spectrum in there. I asked them to think about God and how they related to God.
Is he your best friend – someone that you love to be with and talk to all the time? Is he an acquaintance – someone that you kind of know and talk to when you need something or have to figure something out? Is he a stranger – someone that you do not talk to, do not really know, or do not really feel comfortable with? Is he an illusion – someone that does not even exist but just seems to be an illusion? It is fascinating because they all shared and, of course, there was the whole spectrum of responses.
There were a number that said God is an illusion. A number that said God is a stranger. Some said God is a friend, and some said God is an acquaintance. Then, I asked them to think about their life. I told my own stories of when I have experienced God. So, I asked them to think about their life and share a story where they experienced God.
In our faith, we call that a theophany. It is an appearance of God. We hear in the first reading from Moses that God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Moses began to approach the bush not knowing what was going on or even recognizing that was God. God said, “Remove your sandals. Do not come any closer.”
I asked them all to think about if there was a moment in their life when they experienced God. Sure enough, they all had an example – even the kids that said that God is an illusion. They all shared their examples of faith.
What I think this has to do with Lent (the desert and the passion) is that so many of their examples of experiences of God had to do with suffering and death. They would share experiences of profound peace when their grandmother died, when they had a friend that was cured of cancer, or when they were struggling in some way.
It was often in those moments that they experienced God. When Moses was traveling, he was going to the desert. He was going in the wilderness. It was along this way in the wilderness that he noticed this burning bush and then changed course and went towards the burning bush.
I say all this because the season of Lent is a time for us to change our course and to return to wherever God has appeared to us or manifested in our life. In the church, we believe that in the sacrament of the Eucharist, we experience him in his body and blood. But, the season of Lent is often a time to realize how we have turned away from God. How have we been going the wrong way in some areas of our life?
I love that Jesus gives us this profound, pretty harsh passage that says, “If you do not repent, you are going to suffer and die like these other ones.” We know these tragedies happen all around us in our world, even locally in schools. We have shootings, suicides and drug overdoses. It happens all around us.
So, this is our wake up call to repent. To turn from any way that we are going that is off course and to look to God to be our theophany. In this moment, I invite you to think about a time that God has manifested himself to you in your own life and realize that he is real and desires to be your best friend and your most intimate companion.