Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ask Anything

--this reflection was originally written for yHope, the Catholic young adult group that welcomed my wandering soul during my year living in Boston, for their meeting on 7/23/11.--

First reading of the seventeenth Sunday of ordinary time
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12

The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. 
God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” 
Solomon answered:
“O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king
to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. 
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. 
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. 
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”
The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request. 
So God said to him:
“Because you have asked for this—
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches, 
nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right—
I do as you requested. 
I give you a heart so wise and understanding
that there has never been anyone like you up to now, 
and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

In this reading, Solomon is basically given one wish, one prayer to be granted by God.  “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”, says the Almighty. Without hesitating, Solomon nails it – he asks not for superfluous, selfish treasures but the ability to serve God and God’s people as they deserve.  As so often asked of us in the Gospels, he humbles himself in order to be exalted. 

I’m sure many of us would welcome this opportunity from God as well – to choose one thing over which God would wave a magic wand.  It sounds far-fetched, but if we believe that prayer actually ‘works’ (and I don’t know if or how it does), then we best be thinking about what it is we would ask for.

I am reminded of a framework for discernment that was suggested to me when I was struggling trying to decide what program I would volunteer with after graduation. Having exhausted many discernment techniques from ignatian imaginative prayer to doodling pictures of what each program “feels like”, a campus minister finally sat down with me and stripped the question down to its bare bones – he asked me “what do you want, what do you really want, and what do you truly desire?”

Exhausted and frustrated, the weight of that question’s simplicity brought me to tears.  I decided I’d had enough – I didn’t know what I truly desired, but I knew what I simply wanted at that moment was a chicken wrap.  Off I went, and juggling these questions en route to the dining hall, lightning struck—what I truly desired was what Rostro de Cristo offered in Ecuador.

I’ve carried this three-question framework for discernment with me since then.  It served me well this time a year ago, when my job in Boston was about to expire and I had to make a move toward my next step – I had tentative opportunities in Ecuador and in Peru, but had no idea what I would do if I stayed in the States. I sat down on the bank of the Charles with these three questions – what do I want, what do I really want, and what do I truly desire – and spent hours journaling out my responses.  At first I let arise the things I wanted – to paint, to be at my friend’s wedding, to walk barefoot on green grass – and slowly followed these things until they led to what I truly desired – to live joyfully as my complete self, to give my life over to others, to be united with God. This exercise again helped me to sort through the heaps of emotions – from the seemingly superfluous to the nearly profoundly unspeakable – in order to find the direction that God had laid in my heart.

Once we are aware of our heart’s deepest desires comes the lifelong challenge of trusting enough in God’s offer of fulfillment.  “Seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened; ask, and it will be given to you…”.   Too often I question the efficacy of prayer; my inquisitive mind wonders how intercessory prayer even works. It’s not magic, so what is it?  Having no answers to the inner mysteries of the Diving Life, I shrug my shoulders and leave the asking and knocking until I can make more sense of these things.

Again, I am reminded of a recent experience of the call to have faith in prayer itself.  Two weeks ago I was in Mexico City with a close friend and we spent several hours at the site of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe – affectionately known simply as la virgen to the Mexicans.  Now, if I’m confused about the powers of intercessory prayer to God, even more so than those invoking Mary’s aid and protection.  I just don’t know what to make of her.  Thus, my internal posture at this extraordinary location was perhaps one of highly reverent curiousity rather than one of devotion.

Responding to my mild skepticism was a plaque outside the basilica with the words that Mary spoke to Juan Diego.  What caught my attention was the following: “I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother…Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? …What else do you wish?…

Ask. Seek. Knock. 

So, surrounded by thousands of devoted Mexicans gazing at the original cloak of Juan Diego for the first time in recent memory, I took the risk of asking, digging deep and pouring my heart out to this Mary figure who seems really insistent upon helping us out.  And so far, it seems to be ‘working’…

And so we return to Solomon.  What if God were to come to us in a dream, tonight, and make the same offer? – “ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  To respond to God’s generosity, we, like Solomon, must reckon with these two challenges.  First, are we in touch with the most profound, intimate desires of our hearts—what we want, what we really want, and what we truly desire?  And then, do we trust enough to dare to ask for it?