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When my friend and colleague Denis returned from interviewing survivors of the Christchurch earthquake one year on, he noted that a common question was “Where is God in all this?” Denis reflected that perhaps the more pertinent question is “Where am I in all this?”
It neatly swings us to a fresh line of questing, particularly in this season of Epiphany that, according to Christian tradition, almost blinds us to the glory of the revealed presence of God. Such presence draws the magi to Bethlehem, the crowds to the Jordan, and Andrew,Peter, Philip,and Nathanael to the side of Jesus.
Such a question hits us when we are confronted with some transcendent moment of awareness, an instant of the numinous, where the universe seems to call our name towards something bigger and greater than our being. For a while, our routine distractions fade into the background as we ponder the ramifications of this wider awareness. Such moments alter career paths, uproot places of living and set new pathways in life.
They manifest differently according to the layers of life we have experienced. Someone neatly divided the average human course into three stages – roughly exploration and discovery (0-30 years), development and consolidation (30-60 years), and reflection and entropy/ascendancy (60+ years)
It occurred to me that such arbitrary categorisation (if such a thing helps) is illustrated by the various ways that the four disciples in today’s text in John 1 respond to their “call”.
Andrew and Simon (Peter) have been with John the Baptist – they witness Jesus’ baptism and John’s feting of him. Their quest is to find out as much as they can and they go after him. He asks them what they are looking for and they wonder obliquiely where he is staying. He invites them to come and see. Seems a bit like the exploration and discovery stage.
Philip is simply called. “Follow me,” Jesus says. And Philip’s mode of following is to catch on quickly to what it’s all about and set out to expand the territory of Jesus’ influence. Philip is the Great Introducer – just about every time we encounter him from this point he is introducing potential disciples. This is a work of development and consolidation.
I imagine Nathanael in a hammock under the fig tree – it is perhaps a metaphor of contemplation. He’s seen a lot of life – been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Philip invites him to meet someone worth talking to. Nathaniel’s response sounds curmudgeonly, skeptical and world weary, but neverthless he goes. He discovers that he is known and the moment of mutual recognition is enought to move him from entropy to ascendancy.
Reflecting on Nathanael, and the possibility that he is responding to this “call” in the latter stages of life, reminded me of this TED talk by Jane Fonda.
So, “Where am I in all this?” may well be the best question of the year.