I have this tendency to get ahead of myself. You know…to get too excited too fast about something and then before I know it I’ve created an entirely new universe in my head. It’s one of those annoyingly human problems that I have. When I started studying for the priesthood I thought that I was supposed to live like that; thinking lofty thoughts and dreaming impressive dreams; somewhat ashamedly, that’s what I thought prayer was. But of course I’ve now come to see that prayer, that contemplation, that union with God does not come primarily from within, but from without; I’ve said it a hundred times (so what’s one more?): prayer is a response to God who seeks man first.
Spending my days lately with my nose stuck inside of theology textbooks and the works of the great Christian spiritual writers, sometimes I forget where and who I am; sometimes I even have to stop and remind myself who I am and what I’m doing. Usually, it goes like this: “I amRyan Adorjan and I am sitting in a room on a campus most people have never heard of in a town that most people have heard of but couldn’t find on a map; and that busy street out there? Those people whizzing by in their cars are doing exactly what you’re doing: living their life. You, friend, are just one among on this great big earth.” And all of a sudden, my complicated reality begins to seem so…..obscure.
I think our culture has taught us to fear obscurity. Every person is a big deal at every moment of the day! The whole world is connected and with the advent of the “selfie” and Instagram and Snapchat we can share our *EXCITING* lives with everyone always. Gone are the days of the mundane. In high school, I remember deciding that I was going to document every moment of my life so that everyone would know how cool and wonderful my life was. In fairness, I think it was about 10% my actually believing my life was so exciting and about 90% my desire for attention.
If that strikes a chord with you (maybe you live a 100% exciting life or seem to be fueled by the attention of others like me), I think we can learn from St. John XXIII and his description of the first 30 years of Jesus’ life, before his public ministry, growing up in Nazareth. There, so says Thomas a Kempis in his spiritual classic Imitation of Christ, Jesus learned a “love to be unknown.” Let that sink in for a sec.
St. John XXIII relates this to the achievement of perfect humility. He says:
I seem to learn only a semblance of humility.; its real spirit, Jesus Christ in Nazareth’s ‘love to be unknown’ is known only to me by name. To think that our blessed Savior spent thirty years of his life in obscurity, and yet he was God, he was the splendor of the substance of the Father, he had come to save the world; …he did all this only to show us how necessary humility is and how it must be practiced.” Journal of a Soul, 132
Another way of understanding this whole concept is explained to us by singer/songwriter Rob Thomas in his song “Little Wonders”. In that song, some of the most helpful lyrics in my life are found:
“Our lives are made in these small hours, these little wonders, these twists and turns of fate. Time falls away, but these small hours, these small hours, still remain…..all of our regret will wash away somehow. But I cannot forget the way I feel right now.”
I have loved this song for a long time. Our lives are not made by the rare moments in the spotlight. But who we are is determined in the crucible, the testing ground, of life; in a word, our lives are made in these small hours.
Because of the transformative power of God’s grace alive within me, I have changed my course; the eyes of my heart have been opened to a new course! This new course is not that so much seeks “to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love” (from the Prayer of St. Francis). And what is it that I seek to love? I seek to “love to be unknown”, not so that I can simply disappear into obscurity, but so that I might join Jesus in the little wonders and small hours of life as he teaches me to grow more deeply into perfect humility and so that I might eventually enter into a perfect intimate and unceasing union with the Lord.
So, friends, if your lives sometimes seem obscure, that’s ok! Jesus lived and learned and “grew in age and wisdom before God and men” (Luke 2:52) in the context of the unknown life of Nazareth…and he’s God!
Let us embrace “the little way” of perfect love and allow God to do the rest; draw near to him and we will be richly blessed. AND let’s pray for one another!