Speaking Of God From The Heart

Sean Coghlan S.J.

About thirty years ago a well known English priest and theologian, Charles Davis, left the Church. It was a shock to many people. He wrote an article explaining why he left. It was a humble and moving piece of writing. Another writer summed up what he wrote in this way:

"After Vatican II I was enthusiastic about the prospects there were for Church renewal, for updating and changing structures. I would offer to packed audiences the wonderful new theology of Vatican II that contained such rich potential for aggiornamento and reform. But gradually, it dawned upon me that all those faces turned up towards me were not seeking a new theology; they were seeking God. They were not looking up to me as a theologian with a message, but as a priest, who might be able to offer them God. They were obviously hungry for God. Then I would look into myself and realize, with a sinking heart that I could not offer them God; I barely had him myself! There was a great void in my heart -- and the busier I was with things like Church reform and updating structure, even with the liturgical renewal and scripture studies and pastoral methods, the easier it was for me to escape from God, to escape from the void in my heart."

Charles Davis was not saying a new theology and updating were not necessary. What he was saying was that if we lack personal experience of God, then nobody will take our God-talk, our talk about theology and updating seriously.

I would like to share with you some very deep, warm and influential memories I have of Christmas. If the world doesn't take my God-talk seriously, it is my fault not His. When I was young He shared Himself very generously with me at Christmas. Any absence of God in my heart is due to my lack of attention to Him.

Every year when I was a child we had a Christmas crib at home. My father made a cave out of a wooden box covered with black paper crumpled to look like rocks. The roof and sides were covered with imitation frost. There was straw on the floor and a small red electric bulb in the roof. On the back wall of the cave was a picture of a Palestinian village street scene. In the cave were Jesus, Mary and Joseph with shepherds, wise men, sheep and a cow. There were even two robins perched on the rocks looking in.

A few days before Christmas my father and I went out to the country, sometimes in real frost, to collect ivy and moss to decorate the cave. I looked forward to that expedition for months.

The crib was in our living room, by the fire. I remember looking for hours in wonder at the cave, fascinated and deeply happy. I knew, of course, I was looking at something of religious significance. I was looking too, though, at a scene that was inextricably connected with the warmest human events -- Christmas cards and presents, holidays in crisp, biting frosty weather, and Christmas food, visits to and from friends and relatives.

I have never doubted the reality of Christ becoming a human person and entering my life. He entered my Christmases in a very real way, suited to a child. He was the essential feature of a happy Christmas holidays.

However, as I grew older, I realised Christ became a human person in an even more complete and thorough way. He didn't come just to make me happy at Christmas! He became a man and experienced a selection of all the experiences we have. He was born away from home and became a refugee. He learned a job. He lived a very ordinary life for many years. He met with success and even popularity. He also experienced fierce opposition and rejection. He had friends and enjoyed life. He spoke out the truth and suffered grievously for it. In His human experiences, recorded in the Gospels, we can experience God and fill the void in our hearts.

But even that might not be enough. The danger still might remain that we would experience Him as a great man, an influential leader an inspiration, fine and wonderful but, now, dead like so many heroes of the past. We can experience Him as alive and acting because he is alive and acting. Christ rose from the dead and is now sitting at the right hand of His Father, deeply interested in us and praying for us. He is alive and active in the Church, His "body" living in this enormous would of men and women. He is alive and influencing us in the sacraments. He is in each person we meet. He told us He would be. He is "built into" God's very plan for the developing, emerging world and universe in which we live.

If we are to have something of value to say to the world about God we must have something of Him in us to offer. We must in some way have come to know Him as He knows us, experience Him as He has experienced us.

There are many places we can choose as starting points to meet Him. For me, I think, that place was the Christmas crib. Where is your chosen meeting place with God?