“God With Us” Isn’t the Last Word

Many disciples of Jesus throughout history (including more than a few canonized saints!) have written about periods of spiritual dryness–where prayer seems unusually tough, God seems distant, or in some hard-to-express way, things just aren’t right in one’s life. For me dryness comes in sudden, short bursts. Often, it’s at the most unexpected times–the times when (for all objective reasons) I should be on a spiritual high. It can be a miserable feeling and only gets worse when I give into self-pity of any sort!

What do I do when dryness comes? For me, I’ve found that an Ignatian examen prayer is especially fruitful for renewing my spirit. There’s something about looking back at a day that cultivates gratitude and closeness to God sprung from my own revitalized awareness of the concrete ways God is with us.

God with us. This is a focus of the Christmas season we now joyfully celebrate. As we hear from Matthew the Evangelist, Jesus was indeed given the prophetic name, Emmanuel, which literally means “God is with us” (Mt 1:23).

When we face dry spells in the spiritual life, disappointments in our daily lives, and any sort of earthly challenges, God with us must be concrete. God “with us” in the abstract, is a God not involved in our daily lives at all. Sometimes our emotions and the real trials of human life can make it hard for us to experience God with us, but we must seek it out–so that we know the concrete truth and can then share that joy with the world.

But the uniqueness highlighted in our Christmas season does not end with God’s loving embrace of humanity in Jesus the truly human Son of God. Jesus becomes like us–but does not leave “us” like “us.”

As one of our Eucharistic Prefaces for this season proclaims in prayer:

when our frailty is assumed by your Word
not only does human mortality receive unending honor
but by this wondrous union we, too, are made eternal.

Jesus is God with Us. But that’s not the last word. When God reaches into our dryness and darkness, our sin and disappointment, our struggles and sheer humaness–it’s not just to make us concretely “aware” of it (though that’s a good start!). No, God reaches into our humanity to “assume” our “frailty”–to rescue us and change us through “wondrous union” so that we are made eternal, true divinization. How our hearts are made to truly leap for joy in this realization!
Lord Jesus Christ, we pray this Christmas season that we would have our hearts and eyes opened to concretely experience You with us each day, ready to conform us to your divine life.

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