In one of today’s Gospel readings, “Why were you searching for me?” the twelve-year-old Jesus asks his parents when they come bursting into the area where he is sitting at the feet of the teachers in Jerusalem, listening and asking questions. He figures they should have known where he would be.
On one level I can relate to this Jesus as a self-focused pre-teen. My kids sure went through a phase where, when they were doing something right, they didn’t think they had to check in with us parents because surely we must know where they were. Or, at the very least, we should trust them to be making wise decisions.
The difference is that Jesus, at twelve in his culture, would have been a year at most away from actually coming of age. At thirteen he would have been considered an adult, responsible for his own decisions and choices. He would have been expected to study the Torah and to know the Law. He would already have studied various Jewish teachings for many years.
In sitting with the teachers in the Temple, Jesus had made the decision to grow into who he truly was — Messiah. He had chosen to listen and learn from a cadre of top quality scholars who spent their days studying Talmud and midrash and discussing the meaning of scripture. He believed his parents should have known that, of all the things to do and see in the big city of Jerusalem, this is what he would choose. They should have realized that he would stay with these top-quality teachers as long as he could. Why had they been searching for him, when they knew what he yearned for and where he belonged?
“Why were you searching for me?” is a question Jesus has asked me more than once in my life. After my dark nights of the soul, my anxious-about-the-world sleepless nights, or my artistic dry periods, when, with great anxiety, I have been looking for him everywhere, he will ask this. Then he will say, “Didn’t you know that I must be (fill in the blank)?
Sometimes I realize that I did, at some level, know where I could find him. Or I will realize that there were other people who could have steered me to him, had I but told them I was looking. Often, though, the lesson is to be willing to hang out in the unknowing. I don’t know where he is, and I don’t know how to find him. But I know that, like my children, he knows where he is and that everything is all right. So waiting with an open heart and praying is a very good way to spend my time, if I trust that he will find me.
Anxiety is a very natural part of being human. But it always comes as a bit of a surprise to God. “How did you manage to separate yourself from me?” might be the question of the divine. In the world of the small self we are all, always isolated in identities that are unique and cut off from others. In the reality of the Self we are joined, inseparable. We may be unique, but we are also a part of the Body of Christ, the mystical union of all.
And this gives us a clue as to where to find Jesus when we are most anxious and most cut off. We can go to church and take communion. In one of Jesus’ Father’s many “houses” we’re sure to find a sniff of him amid the candle wax and old hymnal smells. The connection may not be dramatic or even recognizable as such. But in taking communion we are bringing our bodies into the gesture of belonging to God and to one another. We honor that big Self awareness even if we don’t feel it. We come to the place where our hearts can open more deeply to an awareness of what is already always there.
The image is by William Holman Hunt
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer, writer and spiritual director living in Ft. Collins, CO. For more about her, go here.