One day in heaven, God and St. Peter went to play golf. God teed off first. He gave an almighty swipe and sliced the ball off into the rough.
Just as the ball was about to hit the ground, a rabbit darted out from behind a bush, picked the ball up in its mouth and ran with it down the fairway. Suddenly an eagle swooped down, picked the rabbit up in its claws and flew with it right over the green. Right at that moment another bloke who was hunting in the bush beside the golf course, saw the eagle with the rabbit in its claws, and shot the eagle in mid-air. The eagle let go of the rabbit and it fell onto the green, knocked itself out and let the ball roll out of its mouth and into the hole.
Well, St. Peter just stood there with his hands on his hips watching all this. And when it was finally all over he turned around angrily and said to God, ‘Come on! Do you want to play golf or do you want to just fool around?’
[Adapted from Anthony de Mello. 1988. The Prayer of the Frog. Vol. 1. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand. India. p.142.]
A lot of people actually think of God like this. They see God as an almighty being who can do whatever he likes and every now and again God decides to dabble in the world and make something happen that’s impossible or at least unusual. This God is basically outside the world, up-in-the-sky or somewhere, but away, remote.
If you think of God in this way then you probably think of praying as talking to this remote God and trying to get God to do something in the world, to butt in and interfere with things a bit.
But there’s another way of picturing and thinking about God.
Let me explain it this way. Suppose I’m having a conversation with someone, a serious conversation about something that matters, that we feel strongly about. We discuss this with great passion, we may even argue about it and end up a bit hot under the collar before we go our separate ways.
And then what happens over the next few hours or days or weeks. I replay the conversation in my mind. I mull over what my friend has said. And as my blood pressure returns to normal and as my heart-rate slows down, I find myself rethinking what my friend has said. As I mull things over I find myself thinking that maybe my friend wasn’t completely wrong after all. Maybe there was something in what my friend said. And the way I think begins to change. The way I feel starts to shift. I start to see things a bit differently.
Anyone looking on wouldn’t notice anything happening. But inside me things are changing. I am changed in my heart and mind. I’m a different person as a result of that conversation.
You see, the things that happen in relationships change us. If you forgive me, I am changed. If you respect me, I am changed. If you love me, I am changed.
Something goes on inside me and inside you which is invisible to the outside world. It’s not an external pushing and poking and pulling of things to cause change but a kind of change from the inside, from within.
Now what if God relates to the world in this inner kind of way rather than from the outside? How does it change our view of God?
Maybe God doesn’t so much push and pull and poke things in the world to achieve special effects. Maybe the best way to think of God isn’t as the cosmic billiard player who occasionally chalks up his cue and plays a trick shot which we see as a miracle.
Maybe God relates to us from the inside and not from the outside. Maybe the way God acts in the world is by influencing and shaping our thinking and feeling and seeing. What if God is the cosmic forgiver, respecter and lover of us all? Maybe God is a passionate and intimate friend who is constantly wanting to engage us in a conversation which will transform us, if only we will take part.
Each morning when I say morning prayer I spend some time mulling over the things I have to do that day – the people I will meet, the jobs I have to get done, the things I have to face. Sometimes there are things I’m not looking forward to, I might even be a bit anxious about something, a bit fearful. I imagine how it will be and try to be honest with myself about my thoughts and feelings and be honest about my fears and anxieties and then I sit in silence for a little while.
Very often, in the silence, I will see something that hasn’t occurred to me before. It’s not unusual for me to think of a different way of approaching a conversation or different way to go about a task. In the silence new perceptions come to me, new thoughts occur to me, new possibilities surface that I hadn’t seen before.
I think we can understand those experiences as God speaking to us.
When we think of God in this way, as God present within us, the language we use is the language of the Spirit.
God is present in the world and within us as Spirit.
When we feel the power of compassion welling up within us compelling us to care, that’s the Spirit.
When we feel the urge name and face the truth, that’s the Spirit.
It’s the spirit who moves us to bear the cost of sacrifices so that someone else might benefit.
It’s the Spirit of God is acting in those moments when we find the courage to overcome fear and act with integrity.
It’s the Spirit at work in those moments when our eyes are opened to possibilities we’ve never seen before, when we wake up, when our hearts and minds grasp what can be, and what we can be.
God is present within us as Spirit. Gently leading us, patiently teaching us, graciously shaping us until we open our hearts and minds to God and to each other.
This is the God who is revealed to us in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is! Or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17.20b-21).
In this confirmation service we pray that those being confirmed might open themselves to this spirit, that they might be strengthened in the Spirit of God:
to become more gracious people
to be wise and understanding
to have true discernment
to be people with inner strength
to know the truth
and to be filled with wonder and awe that God is present in them and others in this way.
Most people, and perhaps most of the time we too, are looking in the wrong place for God.
God doesn’t usually intervene in the world from the outside to solve all our problems.
But God is present everywhere, within us, between us and among us.
God is present in the spark which ignites our hearts and minds, and leaps from one person to another. The Spirit is the spark of graciousness and generosity, the spark of wisdom and understanding and discernment. It’s the Spirit who gives us courage and inner strength and helps us face the truth.
It’s truly awe-inspiring to think that God is present within us in this way and is working away within us to gently lead the world towards the kingdom of God.
May those being confirmed today become more and more alive to this Spirit. And may we all be strengthened in the same way. Amen.