Seeking Signs

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This generation is an evil generation. It seeks a sign  No sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.

Luke 11:29

What makes the generation to whom Jesus is speaking evil? It seems that it is the fact that they keep looking for signs while refusing to recognize the signs that are all around them. The signs they are looking for are, in large part, signs of self-justification. They want the world about them to confirm their own prejudices and biases, their own self-construction. On the other hand, they refuse to recognize the signs, especially the signs in Jesus and John the Baptist, that are calling them to repentance and conversion.

There are some things that never change. Every day our life in the world affords us all the signs and feedback we should require in order to reform our lives and to open them to the grace of transformation by God’s Spirit. The members of our families, our colleagues at work, the physical and psychic strains and sufferings we undergo, the crying needs of our neighbors and our world are all signs to us.

In an interview conducted with Huston Smith when he was 93 years old, he was asked if there was anything that he’d do differently were he to live his life over. With childlike simplicity he responded, “I’d try to be a little kinder.” How many signs we’ll receive in the course of our lives today that we could be “a little kinder.” When my plan or agenda is briefly interrupted by another, I can feel in my body the pull to cut the person short and to move away. When I see the approach of a person I fear or dislike, I experience the compulsion to avoidance. When the possibility of some moments of stillness and silence present themselves, I move to fill those moments with information or entertainment. When the call of my work and the necessary task takes me to the edge of the experience of struggle or impasse, I find a way to distract myself and avoid deeper engagement. Each of these moments, and countless others, are signs like those ignored by the “evil generation” of Jesus’ time.

Perhaps one of the greatest signs we are given is manifested in the deeper currents of our own inner experience. So often we choose to ignore the deeper calls of our own heart. Our externally oriented culture has made sadness a pathology. Yet, it is our sadness that may have the greatest power to signal to us the dissonance in our lives. We may, for example, experience the sadness of a lack of intimacy in our lives that reflects our failure to love as we should and are able those who are closest to us. Or, our sadness may be trying to teach us to re-orient or deepen our work for the sake of fidelity to our life call. On the other hand, we may refuse the deep joy that comes to us in moments of silence and solitude or simple shared presence with others for the sake of the “more important things” that need to be done or for social convention.

Far too often, like the crowds gathering around Jesus, we are busy looking for and demanding signs, when the signs of God’s love and call are all around us.

The living spring of the Holy Spirit is where we become united with God, and it has a welling vein of water, namely, God’s touch, which is so strong and powerful that we cannot break through it to the abyss of God’s fathomless love. We therefore always remain standing above reason in our very selfhood—imageless, gazing, and striving in incomprehensible richness. These are the three properties of the soul’s nature, life, and activity; through them the soul is like God it its highest nobility. When it corresponds to God’s eternal Trinity, the nature of the soul is imageless and empty—the dwelling place of the Father, his temple and kingdom. He begets his Son, that is, his resplendence, in the eye which is open in its gazing and he has his Spirit, that is, his love, flow forth in the fervent striving of our spirit as the latter continues its eternal striving.

In our our works we always remain like God in the purity of our spirit, for we feel that we are seeing and striving after someone who is different from ourselves. It is through this that we are like God. In God’s works, on the other hand, we undergo the action of his Spirit and the transformation wrought by his resplendence and love. There we are above likeness, being children of God by grace. Whenever we feel that we are working and striving in him and that we are passively undergoing his action, we recognize all of this through his light, just as we savor and experience his love through his Spirit.

Jan van Ruusbroec, A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, III, C

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