Over the years my intimacy with God has grown by fits and starts. There were periods when I didn’t pray at all. At other times I drifted in and out, engaging with God for several days or weeks at a time, then forgetting. But happily I have become more and more consciously intentional as I have grown older, and my relationship with God has grown richer and deeper as the result. I have learned that praying is like drawing. Only through practice does it become a reliable communication tool.
In all the seasons of my life it was God who kept acting to draw me nearer. Throwing special people or books or events into my path where I would have to trip over them, waiting for me in the darkness of my night sleep and planting seeds in my dreams, speaking to me in the midst of my suffering when my baffled mind was receptive, God chased after me.
I can’t say that it has always seemed that God is accessible, though. Like anybody, I have experienced long bouts of spiritual drought. There have been dark moments when I would have bet my life that God is just a construct of the imagination. But those have usually been the moments just before God got through my armor somehow and awoke in me a new sense of holy presence.
So in the story from Mark’s Gospel today, I imagine that when the rich young man took himself off, rejecting what Jesus had asked of him, it was not the end of the story of their relationship. A seed would have been planted in his heart, and God would have patiently watered it whenever God had the chance. This youngster was, after all, a devout fellow. He was someone who would not have been able to simply forget what Jesus had said to him. He would have wondered . . . doubted . . . questioned. Over time eternal life might have grown more attractive and his riches less so. One way or another God would have claimed him eventually.
For mortals it is impossible to be saved, but not for God. For God all things are possible. That is very good news indeed for someone like me, who lives in the richest country in the world. One way or another God will claim me.
And meanwhile I hope I can sometimes be that person that God puts into the paths of others, so that by tripping over me they find the Beloved. I hope that I can wait in the dark and in suffering with them. I hope I can listen well.
James Tissot: “The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful”(1886-96), watercolor, Brooklyn Museum, New York.