In perpetual motion I can mistake the flow of my adrenaline for the moving of the Holy Spirit; I can live in the illusion that I am ultimately in control of my destiny and my daily affairs.
When I find myself back out East, I try to set aside some time to reconnect with old friends from high school. It’s rather difficult when so many of them have their own jobs and lives and interests. Everyone’s busy. They call that adulting, I suppose. But on the off chance that any number of us were free, and we had enough gas money to get from one place to the other, we often would spend the night at the local bowling alley.
Of course, none of us are remotely good at bowling. Tomek, maybe. One of my friends considered shot put as a more effective means of getting all ten pins down. To us, it didn’t matter. We’d laugh as we shot the breeze, hearing how one another has been doing. We’d burn $50 in the process, but I felt it was always worth it. Except, for some reason, this past December.
Perhaps it had to do with the fact that my family had moved an hour away.
Perhaps it had to do with the chilliness of the New England winter evening.
Perhaps it had to do with the fact that my friend served me a thick slice of humble pie round after round of bowling.
But honestly, I think it had to do with something else.
When many of us were younger, I would wager most spent the day after a long rain making mudpies in the backyard. Like bowling with my friends, mudpie-making was something of a conference for toddlers – it was the thing to do for the outgoing child who desired making connections. In my neighborhood, any little person that disliked dirt was automatically suspect. But just like reflecting about the ultimate meaning of making mudpies, I wonder whether the habits and rituals we have are just as pointless sometimes.
Recently, I was given the passage on the Emmaus Road in Luke to read. It centers around two disciples walking home when suddenly Jesus shows up and decides to join them. Yet, strangely enough, the two cannot see that it is Jesus for one reason or another. Eventually, the three strike up a conversation. Finally, after sharing a meal do the disciples see their Teacher and Lord before them, and they run back to tell the others after he vanishes.
The story, at least for me, seems deceptively straightforward because it highlights something which I have adapted to take as my status quo. I believe that part of its significance rests on the notion that we humans are so caught up in our own circumstances and situations that we are blind to the presence of Christ around us. What I am learning constantly every day is that it is not in the loud and flashy things that Christ comes to us, but in the silence and the humble events of the day-to-day.
When Christ appeared to the disciples, they were kept from recognizing him. Yet, instead of demanding that they know who he is, Christ journeyed with them until the end of the day. I sometimes wonder whether it wasn’t God who prevented their recognition of Christ, but rather their concerns about the unfolding of events in Jerusalem.
In slowing down and stilling our frenetic selves, we might begin to see the Face of God in those around us. We detach ourselves from our agendas and plans, divorcing ourselves from the demand to prove our worth through constant achievement. In so doing, we make space for
In practicing stillness, when we encounter Christ, we are reminded that our value rests in our being created in the image of God rather than contingent on our ability to produce. Humans are not merely items to be used, but rather are made to experience and reflect the love of God toward one another.
When we busy ourselves, we are tempted to think that we are the captains of our own souls. It is our agenda, filled with our tasks, to be done by us, for the sake of one of our goals. It is hard to hear the voice of the Teacher call out to us in these moments to come and sit at his feet when we are caught up in making sure that we are presentable enough to Him in the first place. When our source of value of being made in the Image of God to do good works is shifted to the quality and quantity of what we can produce, we ignore the invitation to the banquet feast in favor of our own mudpies. We may be satisfied in the present when still have room to pretend, but mudpies are a far thing from the bread of life. Our hunger pangs cannot be soothed by our imaginations.
Thomas Merton once stated that when we confuse our sense of self for an image which we manufacture, “…his spiritual double vision splits him into two people. And if he strains his eyes hard enough, he forgets which one is real.” With your identity based upon what you do, you can never be satisfied with who you are. In order to pursue the ideal self, you must do more. The consequence is that when we do more to attain the ideal, we become out of touch with who we are in reality to the point that we are a shade of who we are designed to be.
How can someone love you when they don’t know who or what you are? How can you be loved when you don’t either?
When I found myself at the bowling alley with my friends this past month, I think my friends were more focused on the doing that they neglected simply being with one another and myself. Instead of using bowling as a means to connect, it became an end in and of itself. In so doing, I missed seeing Christ in my friends. I think I missed them. I think we all found ourselves bowling alone together.
All for the sake of a pointless mudpie.
 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. 2002), 119.