The Hour of the Unexpected

The Hour of the Unexpected

John Shea writes in The hour of the unexpected…

Many other things that happen to us in this life are unexpected… First something happens.

A friend dies; a child smiles us into wonder; an old lady refuses to be old; an adolescent finds a way out; a secret weakness is painfully exposed; we are unexpectedly kissed.

First something happens.

A short fall is suddenly without bottom; an expectation is reversed; a comforting self-image is shaken.

First something happens.

At the center of our best effort we discover our worst motive. Our perfect plot fails and their sloppiest plan succeeds. In single-minded pursuit of one goal we blithely achieve the opposite. When all retreat at the sight of the dead, we stay and stare and do not know why. First something happens.

In these moments, and many more, we are thrown back on ourselves. More precisely, we are thrown back into the Mystery we share with one another. These moments trigger an awareness of a More, a Presence, an Encompassing, a Whole within which we come and go. This awareness of an inescapable relatedness to Mystery does not wait for a polite introduction. It bursts unbidden upon our ordinary routine, demands total attention, and insists we dialogue. At these times we may scream or laugh or dance or cry or sing or fall silent. But whatever our response, it is raw prayer, the returning human impulse to the touch of God.

This is how it was for Jesus. The Kingdom of God which he preached came as a gift, suddenly overtaking the weariness of the soul.

  • In farming a barren field, a treasure is stumbled upon; a corner is turned and the perfect pearl is for sale;
  • out of nowhere an invitation to the King’s party arrives.
  • The advent of God, even when we are looking for it, is always surprise and any encounter with Jesus always holds the unexpected.
  • To the lawyer who wished justification Jesus gave challenge. The rich young man wanted advice and received an unwanted suggestion.
  • Zacchaeus merely hoped for a glimpse of a prophet yet dined with his saviour. The woman at the well came for casual conversation and went away with self-revelation. With Jesus people seldom got what they asked for. They always got more. 

We pray out of more, when our emptiness is suddenly brimming, when our ravaged lives are called to greatness, when we crash into limits and recoil.

We pray out of our experiences and the Christian Scriptures.

We place our personal stories within the Spirit-created story of Jesus.

In this placing, in the interaction of the two stories, the deepest meanings of our lives unfold. We discover ourselves in dialogue with the events generated by Jesus, with the personalities who preceded him in faith (Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah) and those who drew faith directly from him (Peter, Mary, Paul). Like all who encounter the Christian story we are spun around. Old worlds are subverted: new worlds rise from the ruins. We are touched by Love beyond love, aware of life within Life. We are timid people suddenly filled with daring.

Every word is prayer.

And we remember… remember the courage of Mary, the betrayal of Peter, the abandonment of Magdalene, the fidelity of God, and the compassion of Christ. At times these prayers directly address God; at other times they do not. Yet all are witnesses to grace, stuttering accounts of the God whose ways are not our ways…