6th Tuesday of Easter
Acts 16:22-34; Jn 16:5-11
Most of us have already heard this joke, but it has a wonderful image I would like to use.
Okay, so there was this guy walking along the sea coast and he’s up on top of these really high cliffs. He gets too close to the edge and the portion he’s standing on breaks away and he starts falling. Somehow in the shuffle he manages to grab a root that’s sticking out, but he’s about ten feet from the top of the cliff. There’s no way he can get back up by himself; he needs someone to throw a rope down from above. So he’s dangling there with 60 feet of air between him and the ocean, clinging to that root for dear life. He starts yelling for help and looking desperately up above for a face to appear. After a few minutes of this his arms and hands start to ache. He feels like he might be starting to lose his grip and realizes he won’t be able to keep this up much longer.
Just about this time he hears a voice coming from up on top but he doesn’t see anyone. The voice says he knows just what to do to save him, and the guy feels SO relieved. But then the voice says, “This is what you need to do: Let go.”
“What! Are you nuts?!” the guy shouts back, “Who are you?”
“God,” the voice responds.
“Hmm,” the guy thinks to himself. But after pondering that for a few seconds, and continuing to feel the strength ebb from his arms, he shouts back up, “Anybody else up there?”
In the spiritual life we are quite often caught in this predicament. We’re clinging to some tangible joy or satisfaction, but we need to let go of it in order to receive an even greater spiritual sense of fulfilment. This material joy was okay for a time but it was only meant to be a stepping stone. If we stay there, and are too afraid to let go of it and move on, it will stunt our growth and we will end up feeling unhappy and undernourished. Our hearts were made for Something much greater, and if we try to settle for lesser joys, our gut knows the counterfeit and we start feeling heavy inside.
When Mary Magdalene encountered the risen Lord, she clung to his feet (Mt 28:9). She wanted to make sure she did not lose him again. But he said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Jn 20:17). She wanted to cling to the material Jesus, to the earth-bound Jesus. But by letting go of him she would open herself up to a much more exalted dimension.
In today’s gospel we heard Jesus telling his disciples, “Now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts.” The disciples don’t want to let go of the material Jesus either. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. This physical Jesus they can comprehend with their senses. A spiritual Jesus sounds too risky. So Jesus goes on to instruct them, “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
St. Catherine of Siena in The Dialogue uses the image of God as an ocean, and she speaks of prayer as diving deep into that Sea of Peace. If we continue to cling to roots and things above the surface that give us a deceptive sense of safety, we will avoid the depths we inherently yearn for and our lives will become less and less satisfying and more and more meaningless.
It’s so tempting to settle for lesser, safer joys. In the spiritual journey, God is forever showing himself and then hiding himself. Our Cistercian Fathers wrote eloquently of the alternation of consolation and desolation. Like Mary Magdalene and the disciples we want to cling to the good feelings. We want to somehow have more control and avoid the arid times. We might say to ourselves in our frustration, “You know what? If God is going to play this hard to get, I quit!” And then we try to settle for the satisfaction we get from projects we’re interested in or human relationships. The devil even multiplies them to make sure he keeps leading us in the wrong direction and distracting us from the one thing we were made for. But once we’ve had a taste of the authentic True, Beautiful, and Good, no created thing is capable of filling the void. Our hearts will be restless until we let go of the roots we’re clinging to and rest in the Sea of Peace.