by Laurie Gudim
Feast Day of Timothy, Titus and Silas
In the tradition in which I was raised, Sunday School was grim. We learned about the Almighty and Omniscient God who would punish all those who did not obey His law in the everlasting flames of hell. Though it didn’t seem so at the time, this was a very small, black and white understanding. Follow the commandments or be damned.
Coming to understand that God is infinitely generous, creative, loving and mysterious – so very different from that Zeus-like monarch on the gold throne in heaven – is a gradual conversion that is still going on in me today. Over many years I have been influenced by profound books and by wise people. And always what leads me to open my mind to new understanding is my heart. My heart will burn within me when I hear truth. God will speak directly to me, enticing me through the words I am reading or hearing – or even praying.
God is like that, part of the very fabric of our beings. Love calls out to us, and, with love, with the glue of deep-seated attraction, we respond. We are not whole apart from God. We live and move and have our beings in the Holy One.
Today, looking at the Gospel reading for the feast day of Titus, Timothy and Silas, I am reminded that Jesus talks about this very thing in his imagery of the Good Shepherd. He tells us that his sheep know his voice. They do not follow the thief or the impostor. They follow the true Christ, because that is who they know.
In other words, we can trust ourselves to know Christ when we hear him. He will speak the language of our own hearts. His words will be hope, acceptance, expansive creativity, possibility, paradox and joy. Our hearts recognize him because he is the very stuff of our essence, incarnated in us at the same time as he is the Word that called us into existence. It will not be in what punishes us or limits us that we find him. It will be in that which opens us beyond ourselves, leading us to greater and greater life. Our hearts will burn.
Of course, hearts burn with many emotions – rage, despair, lust and power, to name a few. And we can get side tracked into all sorts of convoluted tangles. The detours in our spiritual formation can take years to figure out, and being fraught with such confusions is part of being human. Underneath all that, though, there is a small music that will always cause a quickening, a faint cry that stirs the blood. “Turn and come home,” it invites us.
The bottom line is that we know how to recognize God incarnate as he speaks to us. When we hear him, our hearts burn. Joy and love, a hopeful creativity, healing – what we are hearing feels right, it fits. Even when it will demand the world of us, we recognize it and know we need to follow. We hear the shepherd’s voice, and our hearts say, “There. Right there is the living God.”
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Good Shepherd from the catacombs