Nighttime is precious – for dreams as well as for restorative sleep. Yet so many other things happen at night. Children experience things that go bump in the night. Adults find that some thoughts come to us with clarity in the night. We wake up at two o’clock and the problem is solved or the insight is given. Still others of us prowl around at night.
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (John 3). He needed the darkness, lest he be seen – lest he be wrong about Jesus. But in those profound conversations with Jesus, Nicodemus began to understand Jesus as the one sent by God as the way to eternal life. A whole new world opened up for Nicodemus – a world he would never have anticipated. Jesus was the unexpected one for Nicodemus.
Is He the unexpected one for us?
In a sense, we expect Jesus to be our savior. After more than 2000 years of Christian history, it’s in our hearts and souls. We expect Him in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in prayer.
It’s the unexpected Jesus who is harder to recognize, and there are impediments to recognizing Him.
Thomas Merton, the unconventional Trappist spiritual writer, offers us an intriguing insight as to why Jesus is hard to recognize in the world today. It’s especially appropriate to consider his words during Lent.
“The most pervasive form of contemporary violence that we experience is nothing less than overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form of violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to so many demands, to commit oneself to many projects, to want to help everyone in everything destroys our inner peace. The frenzy of life kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful…”
Overwork neutralizes our ability to recognize our God, the unexpected one, who comes to us not in the security of traditional prayer, but out there – in the midst of life’s experience. We can enter into this time of engaging Jesus only if we slow our pace and open ourselves to God’s tenderness. Let it seep into our minds and hearts.
Let’s model ourselves on Nicodemus who was invited through his nighttime conversation with Jesus to readjust his thinking about who the Messiah might be. Lent is the time for our own conversation with Jesus under the cover of night. How will this happen for any of us?
I don’t know, but you will recognize it when it happens. We don’t control God, but God awaits our openness in unexpected moments, in unforeseen encounters. Befriend the darkness where you can meet the Holy One.
~Sister Joan Sobala