Looking for God in 2015

By Jim Keat 12-21-2015
Image via  / Shutterstock.com

You’ll always find what you’re looking for. Unless, of course, you’re Mary and Joseph, looking for your preteen son on your road trip home from the Passover festival in Jerusalem.

This is the scene found in Luke 2:41-52, the Gospel reading for the final Sunday of 2015. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus joined other travelers on their annual pilgrimage. At the end of the festival they begin their trek home. Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is behaving like a typical preteen, avoiding his parents and traveling with other friends and relatives. But after three days of searching for their twelve-year-old son, Mary and Joseph find him back in Jerusalem, talking with the teachers at the temple.

This is a story about searching for Jesus. This is a story about finding what you’re looking for.

One of my first jobs after college was at a church where I led a ministry for preteens. I created environments and resources for these nine-, ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds, inviting them to discover themselves as a part of God’s unfolding story and to find God in whatever they do. One year at our annual summer camp we challenged everyone to pay attention to all the places they find God. We had hundreds of blank cards, a bucket of thumb tacks, and a blank wall waiting to be filled.

At first these preteens wrote the more stereotypical responses: “I found God when we were praying” or “I found God during our morning Bible study.” But by the second day I began to see different responses popping up on the wall: “I found God on the zipline because I was afraid but my cabin kept cheering me on.”

“I found God in a blade of grass because a ladybug was crawling on it and it was awesome.”

“I found God in my camp counselor because she helped me fall asleep last night.”

This was our own pre-adolescent exploration of Ignatian spirituality’s charge to find God in all things. This was our own age appropriate experience of Frank Laubach’s question and answer: “Can I bring the Lord back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.”

By the end of the week the wall was overflowing with cards, each offering a glimpse at the diversity of places this group of preteens found God. Once you start looking for God everywhere, you will find God everywhere. Because you’ll always find what you’re looking for.

Take this psychological experiment, for example. Stand outside with your eyes closed. Pick a color and silently repeat it for thirty seconds. Open your eyes and look around. Chances are you will see that color everywhere, objects standing out that you would normally ignore or overlook. When your mind is primed for a specific color, your eyes will start seeing it everywhere. Similarly, once my preteen students were primed to look for God everywhere, they began to see God everywhere.

We stand at the end of one year and the threshold of another. This is a season of year-in-review videos and mashups from the best of 2015. At times we find ourselves like Mary and Joseph on their trip home, desperately looking for a Jesus who seems to be missing. Where is God in the midst of the headlines and our heartache? And at other times we find ourselves like the preteens at my summer camp, finding God in every rock and tree and sky and sea. We see God in the raised hands of protesters, in the radical welcome of the stranger, and in the global solidarity after an international tragedy.

Wherever you find yourself, look for Jesus, because you will always find what you’re looking for.

Mary and Joseph were searching for Jesus and eventually found their preteen son in the temple. We don’t require the same pilgrimage to find God, for as the Psalmist reminds us, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Simply open your eyes to discover God always and already around you. As you look back on the year behind, where do you see Jesus? And as you go forward into the year to come, keep looking for Jesus, because you will find what you’re looking for.

This article originally appeared at ON Scripture.

Rev. Jim Keat is the Associate Minister of Digital Strategy & Online Engagement at The Riverside Church in New York City and the Director of Online Learning at the Center for Progressive Renewal.

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