Yesterday, sort of out of nowhere, I was thinking about Patrick’s death and funeral. His casket was kept closed. At the time, it was a huge relief… I didn’t want to see him dead. I am pretty sure I couldn’t have handled it. But looking back, sometimes I wish I had had to face it. Because without facing it, I have been able to still imagine that he’s not dead. I find myself feeling sure sometimes that he will come knock on my door one day, and the last 3 years and 4 months will have been nothing but a dream, a crazy mistake.
I know that’s not the reality of things, and yet it’s hard for me to find any real evidence to latch onto. Now, obviously, I believe in many things I can’t see. Patrick was a real person, with a body that could be seen and touched and heard. And yet what happened to him seems like a bigger mystery to me than God and angels or microwaves or quarks. The last time I saw him, he was sitting next to me in my car, outside Love Field, smiling and giving me a goodbye kiss. And after that… gone? Just gone? No more seeing him? It doesn’t make any sense sometimes!
Seeing things makes them more real to us. Or at least, seeing things makes a greater impression upon us.
Later yesterday, I understood the importance of that as I knelt in prayer near the front of my parish church, my eyes locked upon the Crucifix, the crown of thorns, the nailed hands, the agonized, imploring heavenward gaze of the Savior. Looking at that image, taking it deeply into my mind, embossing it in my heart… Christ’s suffering and death were no mere abstractions, no hazy concept or foggy collective memory or phantasm. When you stare at the Crucifix, there is nothing distant or uncertain about the Savior and what He has done for us. Likewise, when you take in the image of Him glorious and resurrected, there is nothing distant or uncertain. Nor when we see any other good, true, and beautiful image of Him. The image of the invisible God, God’s Word Incarnate.
I thought to myself, “I am so very glad and grateful to be able to see His face!” It is so very important! It is important for understanding that He is not some mental abstraction, no amorphous energy or force–He is a Person! A Person who constantly calls us into relationship with Him, a relationship He has initiated, and a relationship that depends on our response to Him. We generally have no problem understanding ourselves as persons, but when we understand Him as a Person… that changes everything. We come to realize that we cannot be indifferent to Him. We respond to Him either with love and attraction or with loathing and rejection.
When the atheists portray Him as just a flight of fancy or a mental construct… when people of various other faiths speak of Him as an impersonal force, as natural (but not human or fully human) manifestations, or as a master so transcendent He can’t possibly be related to, among other things… when some of our fellow Christians can talk about Him all day long but never look Him in the face or see His hands and feet nailed to the cross… They are all missing a fundamentally important aspect of Him as He really is. Obviously, with varying degrees of consciousness and deliberateness. The atheist is extremely conscious and deliberate in denying that God is a Person and in refusing to be held in any relationship with Him. Christians and people of other faiths, more likely, simply don’t realize what they are missing, or why it is important.
I am grateful to belong to a religious tradition which has ever been extremely rich, prolific, creative, and yet very realistic when it comes to seeing our Lord and portraying our Lord as a Person. A Person who, for a time, and for our benefit became a man who could be seen, touched, heard. A man who was born and who suffered and died. He didn’t have to do it… but He knows how He made us: we need to see. And for that reason, He made Himself visible and tangible, so that we might see Him, and not only believe more deeply, but know Him more deeply, and in knowing Him, that we might love Him more deeply.
I know that much, much more could be said, such as the reality that God is actually three Persons. That doesn’t mean so much if we don’t come to understand God’s Personhood in general, and being in relationship with Him, whatever that relationship may be. Being in relationship with Him, person to Person, is the first step toward delving into deeper mysteries like the Trinity. It is also the first step to learning what love really is and to living a really happy, healthy, full human life.