“Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” – 2 Tim 1:8-10
“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart. If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face. If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence, and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.” – St. Anthony of Padua
(Part 4 in a series, “Made Known”)
These last two weeks I keep tripping across the word manifest in readings and scripture. It seems to be popping up everywhere. That’s usually a clear nudge of the Holy Spirit that he wants me to spend some time with that word and ponder it a bit.
At the beginning of 2020, when I was contemplating this series and brainstorming a list of words that I thought would guide my reflections, manifest was one of those words at the top of the list. At the time, I thought to myself, well, maybe there’s a practical reason for that. My husband is a private pilot, and a manifest is a listing of the cargo on board an aircraft (or another vessel, like a boat). When filing a flight plan, I sometimes hear my hubby asked by Flight Planning, “how many souls on board?” – that always gives me goosebumps! It’s such a vivid reminder that we may be made of flesh and bones, but as we travel through this world on our earthly journey, we are bearing souls of great importance, cargo that is precious in the eyes of the Lord.
That’s good, I thought. There, see, Holy Spirit. We’re done.
But no, the word kept recurring over and over again, so I started looking deeper.
As an adjective, manifest means “clear or obvious to the mind,” or, as another dictionary entry noted, “something theoretical made real” if used in a spiritual sense.
Those are good descriptions of the word, and the Word, too. And suddenly, in meditating on those meanings, this verse came to me:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” (Phil 2:5-6)
There’s not much in this verse that is clear or obvious to me when I think about “things to be grasped.” I’ve spent time off and on pondering that verse in the last two years and never had any revelation. Is it that Christ empties himself because he knows that man cannot comprehend the idea of the Incarnation, that He might desire to be born and walk beside them for awhile as their brother? Or is it that sort of desperate grab that we are sometimes all guilty of, when we see something good slipping through our fingers, beyond our reach, and can’t quite comprehend why it’s eluding us? When we turn and say to God, “I want that – why won’t you give it to me?”
So much of the life of Christ is hidden. We know of his public ministry, we get a glimpse of the last three years of his life, yes. But we don’t know much about his childhood or young adult life. Even at the Resurrection, we have an incredulous Mary Magdalene at the tomb who mistakes him for the gardener, a doubting Thomas who is determined not to believe unless he places his hand in the wound of His side, and two men traveling on the road to Emmaus who can’t seem to recognize it’s Jesus until they sit down for the breaking of bread at the evening meal. All flesh and bones, like me. All fumbling around a bit when things seem to be dark and unresolved. All unable to grasp that Christ had emptied himself out as a babe in a manger, so that he could grow and experience our humanity beside us. Walking, talking, praying, eating a meal together.
So I prayed with that last week, asking the Lord to show himself to me – to be made manifest and reveal what that pesky word meant for me at this point in my life. Asking why he seemed to be so hidden these days. No response to that question.
I tried again with a different tactic:
“I’m writing a series about You,” I told Him in prayer this week, almost with an edge of indignant righteousness, “I’m eager to have your name Made Known. Help me out here.”
Flattering the Lord gets you nowhere, I discovered. He doesn’t really need my flattery. I imagine if ever the Lord could do an eye-roll, that little tirade got one.
That brought me back around to the last definition this weekend and “something theoretical, made real” as I sat in Mass today, for the first time in over two months – face covering donned, hair pinned back (to hide the gray that’s been seeping in, absent a trip to the salon during COVID-19) and found myself grumbling, “I am frustrated, Lord. I want my old ways and old life, back. Lord, why won’t you give that to me…?” Although I was grateful to be there in Mass, I was struggling to reconcile “what was” with “what is” – at least for now.
I was…grasping. And I knew it. He wasn’t the one who had gone into hiding.
And then, at the very end of the services, after the final blessing, after being told by the Deacon to go forth and proclaim the Gospel, we were allowed one by one to walk down to the front of the church to receive the holy Eucharist, and then asked to turn and walk out of the church.
And I totally understood that last definition of manifest as I approached the altar. My heart started pounding and my feet were moving faster than I wanted them to go in my anticipation. After weeks of being deprived of this precious gift, to receive it today – no longer did the circumstances and setting matter. No sight for the bungee-corded off, socially distanced pews with hymnals removed and eyes-only faces peering out of bandanas and masks from the congregation; I only had eyes for Him. No more cares for the sad Sundays of on-line Mass being said on You Tube in front of my T.V. set; Christ was right here in front of me, and suddenly, He was VERY REAL. Arms open wide, speaking nothing but love straight into my heart:
“No more hiding,” He said to me, “I’m giving myself to you, and that’s all you really need.”
I wept as I received, and then turned and walked away down that aisle. That overwhelming sensation of His words and sincere offering began to slowly ebb away. I had to remind myself to breathe for a minute or two. But I was fortified and fed. Ready to bear my share of hardship for the Gospel. Not afraid to travel back into unknown, uncertain, faith-is-not-what-is-seen-but-what-is-unseen moments once I stepped outside those church doors again.
Thanks be to God. He always shows up.
No longer thrashing about in those murky turbulent waters looking in vain for my own reflection, I could see Christ clearly today. I hope, if you’ve been grasping to find him in your own little corner of the world, you’ll look past this time of COVID-19 turbulent waters and see him, too. Turn off the news. Find solitude. Make way for him to manifest himself deep down to the very core of your soul. Pray.
He’ll come and find you.