A couple months ago a teacher friend of mine told me a story. It’s such a wonderful story I’ve been sharing it every chance I get, and with her permission I will share it now.
Ms. Morris teaches 5th grade. One day during Religion class, one of her students, a 10-year old boy, asked her if it was okay to question God, maybe even question God’s existence. Ms. Morris, being an excellent teacher, responded, “Of course. God loves it when we ask questions, because he loves answering our questions! That’s how we get to know God better.”
She encouraged the boy to pray that night before he went to sleep, to bring whatever questions he had to God, and even to ask God for a sign. She explained that God's response might come in the form of song lyrics, a conversation with a friend, or text in a book he was reading—but most likely not in an audible omniscient voice. God speaks to everyone differently, but personally, she assured him. Ms. Morris, then, did some rather frantic praying of her own that night before she went to bed: “Okay God, I've done my part. I sent him to you; now it's time to do your part. Don't let him down."
"Did you get a sign?" she asked, curious.
"No, but that's okay," he answered, seemingly unphased.
The weekend passed, and the boy returned to school on Monday morning.
"Ms. Morris! I got a sign!" the boy beamed as he entered the classroom.
"What happened?" Ms. Morris wanted to know.
Apparently, there is a wrestler who, whenever he enters the ring shouts, “Yes! Yes! Yes! I am here!” to announce himself. The boy shared that he had attended his cousin's wrestling-themed birthday party that weekend, and when he walked into the party—still carrying his questions about God--one of the first things he noticed was a large banner, proclaiming,
“Yes! Yes! Yes! I am here!” "When I saw it,” he said, “I just knew it was God!"
The Sign. This is a child, a concrete thinker. He asked for a sign, and God quite literally gave him one. I am reminded of how God speaks to all of us in the language we best understand. I am a musician, and I know in my own life God often speaks to me through music. During my discernment process, whenever I was uncertain or anxious, it always seemed a song would come on the radio that would somehow put things into perspective for me. And when I reflect on the world today, how scientifically- and technologically-minded we are, I can’t help but think about how God speaks to us through these modes, as well. When we look into our quantum sensors and telescopes and computers surely we are looking at God: in the mystery and uncertainty of the quantum realm, in the hugeness and incredibly beauty of space, in the connectedness of the Internet, God is there. I truly believe wherever we turn our minds and our hearts, we will find God, whether we know we are seeking Him or not. The signs are everywhere.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Often in our history, it seems religion has been more about “nos” than “yeses,” more about “Thou shalt nots…” than “Thou shalts…” and while parameters are good and necessary they speak very little of God. It strikes me that given the chance to speak God immediately speaks in the affirmative: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” There is something quite joyful about that affirmation, and I am reminded of e.e. Cumming’s poem:
I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
There is joy in creation. While it may not always seem that way on the surface, we are a creation infused with God’s “Yes!” We are called to be people of joy, living life to the fullest, not in a way that’s saccharine or blind to the world’s many troubles, but aware that come-what-may we are rooted in God’s love. I think this is the definition of Christian life, the Good News, and (to get more specific to my life) I think it is the definition of vowed life. The irony is that, on the surface, it is easier to see what religious sisters give up (celibacy, poverty, obedience), but I defy anyone to spend too much time with a group of sisters (at least the sisters I know) and not see all that they’ve gained. It’s not always something one can put their finger on, but it is there, a subtle joy or peace. Like any lifestyle, it has its hardships and sacrifices, but by and large the vowed life is a life of saying, “Yes” to God and one another, a life lived in the affirmative space.
I am here. Something about that phrase just rings true for me! Maybe it’s because that’s the way some of the prophets (on their good days) have answered God, “Here I am.” Maybe it’s because sometimes when I am sitting quietly in prayer that is one of the phrases that calls my wandering mind back to its center. Or maybe it just reminds me of another man in another time who wanted to know more about God, and got the enigmatic response: “I am who am” (Ex. 3:14). It’s a response that leaves us guessing, undoubtedly, because no language can truly capture the essence of God, but as Ms. Morris said, it is important to continue bringing our questions to God. And perhaps if we can have hearts like children that are open and receptive, God’s “signs” (which I believe are always before us) will gradually become less enigmatic. There is something special about that childlike openness. After all, while God’s response to Moses remains mysterious, God’s sign to the questing 5th grader couldn’t be much clearer: “Yes! Yes! Yes! I am here!”