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Just Like Smoke

Don't be fooled by what you see. Maybe what you can't see is more significant for your spiritual walk.
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source:

      Smoke is a funny thing.  It’s a substance that is real for an instant then disappears like it never existed.  You can be affected by its smell and even suffer the effects of inhaling it, but in the long run it is a material that leaves no visual trace and once you see it, it will never exist again.   Smoke passes away and never returns.  In an odd way, smoke is the perfect metaphor for what it is like to pursue the life of a believer in our material world.  

          As a people of faith we exist in a sort of “limbo” between two worlds; the material world all around us that exists in these communication saturated times and a world that is neither visible nor tangible.   To be sure, this is not an easy task, but coming to an understanding of what we’re up against is perhaps the best defense that we could have.  We actually participate in the eternal dichotomy of:  tangible things that are not permanent against non-tangible things that are eternal!  Raissa Maritain (†1960), wife of the great French Catholic philosopher,  put it this way: “What is passing must be reconciled with what remains forever, we must live at the same time according to the eternal and according to the temporal – the disproportion is infinite.”  This is not a new struggle and we need to take heart that others before us have experienced similar difficulties.  Even the disciples had the same dilemma when Jesus was actually present with them.  A stunning example of this happens as they are crossing the Galilee together in Fourth Chapter of Mark; “Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped.  But he was in the stern, his head on a cushion, asleep.  They woke him and said to him, ‘Master do you not care? We are going down!’  And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them. ‘Why are you so frightened?  How is it that you have no faith?’”  (35-41 Jerusalem Bible)  Even our current Pope, Benedict XVI gives credence to  this challenge of faith: "What's real is what is right there in front of us -- power and bread.  By comparison, the things of God fade into unreality, into a secondary world that no one really needs.  God is the issue:  Is he real, reality itself, or isn't he?"

          It’s hard to imagine, but doesn’t it strike you that in the "storm  incident" Jesus gives the impression of being just a “little” irritated?  He is in the boat, physically present and getting some much needed rest.  Despite the fact that the Savior of the World was actually with them the Disciples totally panicked!  An interesting question to pose right here would be to confront yourself with; “What would I have done if I was there?”  Imagine being in the presence of God himself and being worried about “going down”.  This is such a great illustration or Maritain’s point.  The disciples were overpowered by the appearance of the physical to the point of completely ignoring the fact that the Savior was there and within arm’s reach.  More than that, it should be noted that during the “apparent” disaster, Jesus was sleeping peacefully and not worried at all.   If the disciples really trusted his divinity and leadership, the sight of him present and sleeping should have been all they needed to allay their fears.  So the dilemma of the tug between what we can see and what we can’t see is very old and very human.   Contained in the dilemma is the lesson. 

          God is never not present and no matter how severe we imagine a disaster to be we need to remember that the “appearance” of a problem is temporal as well as temporary!  It is true that bad situations create grief, heartache and sometimes even death.  But contained within the external, which we can see, is the internal which we can’t see.  Amid the disaster, how’s your heart, what’s your attitude, do you let your attention be captured by what is happening or do you turn your head toward what God is doing and how he wants you to think and act?  These are the things which will accompany you all the way through to eternity.  Every crisis is an opportunity to learn the mind of God more completely.  It’s kind of like boot camp for your spirit.  Every time you get caught up in a negative situation and its implications, consequences and appearances you have been robbed of an opportunity to pray, turn fully to God and grow your spiritual life in ways that are simply not possible when times are good.  This is the eternal temptation; to think about, talk about and continuously re-live what has happened.  When you are doing those things, you are not praying or paying any attention to the Lord, who is always present.  Just like the disciples during the storm!   As a matter of fact, when you choose to focus on the temporal outside of you rather than the eternal inside of you, you completely block one more opportunity to allow the Lord to act in your life. “God arranges the events that touch us, which are independent of our will, and which unfold themselves in time.  He acts also upon our will, from within, because he is more intimate with us than we ourselves and because he is the author of our free will.” (Op. Cit. Maritain)   Learn to let the temporal dissipate like the smoke that it is.  Learn to automatically turn your focus to the Lord who loves you even in the smallest of annoyances.   Each time you do that you will be clearing a path for yourself to the eternal.  As you master that skill, you might even be able to clear the smoke for those that you love.  

Copyright ©2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved. 

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