The following excerpt is from Leslie Keener, CDP, who graciously let me share it with all of you in the WPC blog posts. I think being astonished in these challenging times is a good thing upon which to reflect. I hope you enjoy pondering it as much as I did.
“When I read a story about Jesus, my attention is usually on him – what he’s doing, how he’s responding to people and circumstances. This Sunday’s Gospel, though, directs my attention to the people around Jesus and how they react to him. Entering the story from this perspective helps me to catch a little glimpse of what Jesus the person may have been like and invites me to examine my own reactions to him.
In this story, the people are astonished. Then they are amazed. Their astonishment doesn’t come from some grand thing, like a miracle or a healing; it comes from listening to him preach. They’re astonished by the way he speaks with authority. I imagine that he’s very earnest in his preaching, and he knows what he’s talking about. When he drives out the unclean spirit, people are amazed, but it’s not because he drives out the spirit; it’s because, again, he speaks with such authority that even unclean spirits obey him. It’s not the miracle itself, but how Jesus does it that captivates people.
It’s good to watch people watching Jesus and being amazed by him. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I was astonished by something Jesus said or did – in Scripture or in my life. I read stories about Jesus, moving through the liturgical seasons and meeting him in the manger, at the pulpit, at a sickbed, on a cross, and standing risen in a garden. These are not humdrum events, and yet, their familiarity has made them seem ordinary. But I want to feel amazed again! And Christ acts in my own life every day. How do I open myself to astonishment?
In light of the intense reaction of the people in the story and my own lack of response, I spent some time in prayer this week reflecting on what Christ is like for me. When Christ speaks in my life, it’s not so much his authority that moves me. What affects me is simply Christ’s presence with me. I don’t have dramatic events like driving out unclean spirits – thank God – but Christ speaks to me through the small but good things that happen. My ministry is mostly about encounter, and so I regularly connect with the presence of God in people. When I pause to reflect on my interactions, I recognize the profound goodness of each person, and I see Christ very clearly. That is astonishing! People do some crazy stuff sometimes, and when we get really honest, we can admit that we’re all a little misguided. And yet, God is present in us anyway. There is such beauty and gift in each person. It’s amazing.
I also thought a bit about this world we live in, which can be kind of a mess but also intensely beautiful. This week we had some winter weather here in Greater Cincinnati. It doesn’t snow a lot here, but when it does, we panic as if the world is ending. (If you’re from a place where snow is a part of life, you’d be astonished to know that we’re still talking about a blizzard that happened in 1978.) I too worry about driving on icy roads. However, I learned during this pandemic that it’s okay to stay home, so I can stop being preoccupied with getting somewhere and simply be here. I can go for a walk and be delighted by how the snow transforms my neighborhood. I can recollect my first snow day, after 1978, when I had the joy of a surprise day off from school, and my dad, who was a teacher, was off too. My family went for a walk in the woods behind our house, and I was captivated by the sparkling trees and snow blanketing the hills. As a child I often searched the back of my closet for a way into Narnia, and that day I felt like we were wandering blissfully into it. This week, as I walked in the snow, I allowed myself to be astonished again by the magic God makes with a snowy day.
As I mull all of this over, I see that I still have a large capacity for joy and astonishment. However, I often allow myself to get bogged down and distracted. When I’m overwhelmed by the mundane, I don’t notice God, who is always trying to surprise and delight me. And when all I see in Scripture are commonplace occurrences instead of people’s transformational encounters with the Holy One, I miss its power to transform me too. The invitation I hear this week is to not just let life hum along without stopping to look up, but to be intentional about seeing God. Christ is deeply present, and the Spirit is moving all the time. When I pause and notice, I am amazed.”
When was the last time you were astonished by Christ – by a story about Jesus or by a spiritual experience in your own life, or by something else?
What helps you to pay attention to what God is doing in your life?
Providence people are attuned to looking for God in the ordinary events of our lives. This reflection is just another invitation to do so.
Barbara McMullen, CDP