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This weekend 15 young adults are taking part in a retreat at St. John’s, which has become a bit of a tradition over the past few years for BYA. We typically go to St. John’s in the fall for a weekend to get away from our regular routine and enjoy some space for collective and individual prayer time, community and the beauty of the St. John’s campus. Last year we went to a local retreat center and did not have the entire weekend, so getting back for a safe weekend away has been a great blessing for us.
We always have a speaker for part of the weekend, and this year Sr. Michelle Lallier from the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls returned and spoke on the topic of “Seeking Peace in an Age of Rupture: Wisdom from Saint Francis.” Our hope was to gather some insights for our young adult community in particular from the Franciscan Tradition in this tumultuous time in our country and world.
As far as I can tell, these are some of the major questions surrounding young adults (and not just young adults) as we gather this weekend for retreat:
- What do we make of the “Great Resignation,” those who are looking for new work, those who have lost jobs and are wondering what their next career path is, how much “going to work” has changed in the last year and a half, and where is God in all of this change? How is God calling each of us to use our God-given gifts and talents in this particular time of economic upheaval?
- What would Francis and Clare say to the ongoing political divides in our families, communities and country? How are we called to live the “Prayer of St. Francis” in the midst of such discord, and how do we continue to work for the common good in what often looks like insurmountable gridlock, even sometimes in our daily conversations? Connected to this political division, what would they say to the ongoing social justice issues that we face around race and diversity, care for God’s creation, and the ongoing plight of immigrants and refugees?
- What would Francis and Clare say to the ongoing anxiety surrounding COVID-19 and the ups and downs associated with the Delta variant? How would they speak to the ongoing questions surrounding vaccines, booster shots, and now children’s vaccinations, along with the wealth of information (and disinformation) that surrounds all of these?
Perhaps the best thing we can do this weekend is simply rest and let go of these concerns, if only for a short while. God is faithful and promised to be with us through all of this, especially in our anxieties, fears and suffering. Or maybe the best we can do is what we did this weekend “up north”: take time out for intentional daily prayer, enjoy God’s creation with each other and support each other in community. We can do that on retreat and we can do that daily as a Basilica faith community.
A while back I ran across a quote from Tomas Halik, a Roman Catholic priest, philosopher and theologian. He teaches at Charles University in Prague, and advocates for religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. The quote is: “An atheist is simply another term for someone who doesn’t have enough patience with God.” I’m not sure where I came across this quote, but I have kept it near my desk for the past couple of years, and have used it in several conversations.
Being patient with God is not an easy thing. I struggle with it, and I suspect, at times, we all do. We pray about something—whether we are looking for guidance or clarity, or praying for someone in a difficult situation—and we expect God to respond promptly and obviously to our prayers. I have come to realize, though, that God doesn’t operate on our timeline, or according to our schedule. Unfortunately when God doesn’t respond as we want, when we want, it is easy for some people to lose patience with God, and even to stop believing in God.
I think the above happens because we often view prayer as a transaction. When we approach prayer as a transaction, we think that if we put in the time and make the effort to pray, God is obliged to respond to our prayer. I think, though, that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of prayer. We don’t pray to get God to do things for us. Rather we pray in order to grow in and develop our relationship with God, and to understand how God is working in our lives.
When we understand prayer as relationship with God, and not a transaction, we don’t see it as putting in the prerequisite time so that God will do what we want. Rather it becomes a way for us to come to understand what it is that God wants for us, what God’s vision is for us, and where God is offering us the grace to become the person God is inviting us to be. Spending time in prayer with God is akin to our human relationships. Spending time with others is a way for us to develop and deepen our relationship with them. In a similar way, spending time with God in prayer helps us to grow in our relationship with God.
It is not always easy to be patient with God. And frankly I suspect many people have given up on God because they weren’t patient enough. I do believe, though, that if we can trust in the slow work of God, not only will we not become atheists, but we will become friends with God, and co-workers with God in bringing about God’s kingdom.