Faith, God, and Relationships

There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.
Eucharistic Prayer

Surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life.
Psalm 23

Why do you call me good? There is none good, except God alone.
Mark 10:18

With my hand in the hand of your goodness, I have walked my life.
The sweet strength of your blessing has filled my cup.
Paul Landsberg

When miracle seekers would approach Venerable Solanus Casey for prayer, he would say, “Let’s see what the good God says.“

I am increasingly aware of the blessings God has given me. This is the primary effect of prayer in my life as well through my relationships.

I was inspired several years ago of a poetic call to a more noble and generous spirit. This was a poem by Delmore Schwartz called “At a Solemn Musick.” (Milton wrote one of the same title.) You can hear Schwartz read it, beautifully and powerfully, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXZOc8-ahJo

It concludes with strongly off message of the angels praising God:

And then, once again, the entire choir shall cry, in passionate unity,
Singing and celebrating love and love’s victory,
Ascending and descending the heights of assent, climbing and chanting triumphantly:
Before the morning was, you were:
Before the snow shone,
And the light sang, and the stone,
Abiding, rode the fullness or endured the emptiness,
You were: you were alone.

God was never alone. He was Love before the creation of Mankind. To love is to have a relational existence which exists within the Trinity.

I was drawn to Swartz’s poem which gave a light on supernatural workings such as God’s existence before creation. I feel that faith leads us to think about God and then how He speaks to use through our lives. This can even happen through the people we meet or the things we experience.

Rublev's Trinity Icon

Rublev’s Trinity Icon

There is an icon which shows an idea of what God’s life was like before creation. It is Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity which shows this beautifully:

I love how the heads of each person incline gently toward the others and also the viewer. The peaceful faces are welcoming and the figures open a place at the table to us. We find confirmation of this offer in scripture. Jesus said, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” John 14:23.

We’re invited to this relationship with the good God. I think back on my family and how I was cared for by my parents. I think of my family today and how we look after one another. I think of the many relationships I have with friends, co-workers, relatives. These relationships test us and help us learn the value of the great relationship we always had with God. They also have a beautiful inherent value all their own.

But for all their beauty, those human relationships are limited. People cannot meet our every need and expectation. That ability is God’s alone. St. John of the Cross, in The Precautions, put the point in his characteristically stark terms:

“Regard all as strangers and you will fulfill your duty toward them better than by giving them the affection you owe God. Do not love one person more than another, for you will err; the person who loves God more is the one more worthy of love, and you do not know who this is.”

Jesus tells us whoever puts personal relationships—even those of family—above him cannot be his disciple. Luke 14:26. Of course, this is not to discount those relationships. We understand and express our relationship with God through them. But, ultimately, the guiding object of our love is God because only He satisfies the deepest needs of the heart.

In his poem The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson uses this shocking metaphor to describe God:

Ah! is Thy love indeed
a weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?

Thompson writes of how God pursued him throughout his life, and how he fled him out of fear that the love of God would crowd out all other loves. The other loves we have are given to us as help to understand and reach God. The fleeing figure in Thompson’s poem had to pass through his attachment to created things, seeing their limitations, in order to reach a state of surrender.

God is so determined to reach us that he uses not only those attachments but also our isolation. He speaks to us in our loneliness. St. Teresa of Avila said she would bring to mind Jesus at those times when he was most alone—as at Gethsemane—and then approach him in prayer, confident he would be most attentive to her.

Isolation provides an opening to a relationship with God. In his book, Markings, Dag Hammarskjold wrote:

Did’st Thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give Thee all?

We see then that God reaches out to us through relationships and through our solitude. Another beautiful illustration of that connection appears in a poem by Jessica Powers. In “The Garment of God,” she writes of sitting like a child at the feet of God, in the deep dark of her soul. She is clutching His voluminous garments”:

not velvet or silk or affable to the touch, but fabric strong for a frantic hand to clutch.
and I hold to it fast with the fingers of my will.

This tactile image is enduring and resonates with us because it makes God so real. I feel that in our spiritual life we are walking in darkness towards an unseen God. God, who is our ultimate destination in a relationship for which we were created, one of peace and security and happiness.

God gives us our interpersonal relationships, and also our isolation, to draw us closer to Him in faith. Because our culture does not see this, we have deep divisions with others, and lose hope of seeing them as God does—as his creatures created in love.

We have a responsibility to change that, and I hope to encourage the effort. St. Teresa wrote that she would never speak badly about anyone behind his back, and that her insistence on this became known. Other saints shared this practice. Above his dining table, St. Augustine had a sign:

“No one speaks ill of his brother at this table.”

Look again at the table in Rublev’s icon. Jesus said, “If anyone should hear my voice and open the door, then I will come into him and will dine with him, and he with me.” Rev. 3:20. Our faith is a way to open the door, share the table with God, and bring the same peace and security to our family.

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