Katie lay flat on her back on top of a blanket of snow, motionless but for her hands, which she was moving slowly in front of her face, entranced it seems, by the contrast of the white flakes falling lightly on her maroon gloves.
Believe it or not, at nine years old, she’d never before encountered real live, falling and accumulating snow.
After stuffing herself into articles of clothing completely unknown to born-and-bred Florida children like herself – snow pants, boots and gloves – she’d raced outside with the full intention of doing something she’d only read about in storybooks: making a snow angel. But apparently the wonder of it all – perfect white crystals softly falling from the sky – got the best of her, and for that moment at least, all she could do was lie perfectly still and be in it.
Something similar happened to us years ago on our last move, but that time, it was about orange groves in central Florida. We were no dummies. We knew that oranges came from trees, but no such head knowledge prepared us for the startling beauty that is the scent of orange blossoms, not bottled, not bought, but laying heavy in the air, free to breathe as you speed by the groves, on your way from one unimportant place to another.
So yes, we knew about orange blossoms and their scent. Katie knew about snow before she lay down in it, but none of that knowledge prepared any of us for the encounter that went beyond books, with that thing called reality.
So many of us have heard rumors of God, stories of Him from books and from people we know and admire.
We know quite a bit about God, we think. We know that He is the Uncreated, the First Cause, the Prime Mover. We know, although we can never understand it, that He is Trinity. We know that He says He is love, that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Oh yes. We also know that “knowing about” God is not the same as “knowing God.” We know that, sure.
There may have even been times in which, like those moments my daughter was caught in wonder at the snow, something more than our brains and our sense of obligation got involved with God, and the reality which our poor words struggle so valiantly to express surrounded us with startling intimacy like the snowflakes resting on our lips and the scent of orange blossoms flooding our senses.
And when that happens, there’s nothing else we can or even want to do than lie down in the midst of that reality and be.
Perhaps that’s not a bad task for this new year, this year following the Jubilee – to consider how much of our faith is about what we know (or think we know, anyway) and how much of it is about Who we know.
There are any number of ways to set on such a journey, but I can’t help but think that one of the most important things to do is to divest ourselves of the notion, so prevalent today, that faith is fundamentally about our discoveries and our search. That may be the theme of most contemporary spiritual memoirs (just count those that have either “search” or “journey” in the title), but for those of us who are committed Catholic Christians, that’s not exactly the most fruitful beginning point.
For you see, the reality of God may surprise us like the snow and gratify us like the orange blossom scent, but He does happen to be different in an important respect: We really don’t have to go far to look for Him. He’s not just in one place or another, He doesn’t come and go with the seasons. God’s here – or there, right next to you as you read this. God offers Himself to us continually, and He’s not kept His whereabouts a secret, either: If we but listen, and listen through and beyond all the ironic, doubting distance modern catechesis strives to places between us and Revelation, we’ll find God exactly where He says He is: in the Word, in the Sacraments, in the living Christ.
Right here. Waiting for us to stretch out, be surrounded, and wonder at the touch of the gentle, graceful Reality of what we once only knew about, but now “have heard…have seen…have touched with our own hands.” (1 John 1:1)
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