Gary Birdsong is an open-air preacher known on university campuses for decades. At UNC-Chapel Hill, he is the “Pit Preacher”. Birdsong’s style is theatrical and accusatory. He enjoys engaging in heated debates with students. His fundamentalist thoughts clash with the minds of the academically inclined. Witnessing him in action brings mixed reviews. Some find Gary entertaining. Many disagree with his beliefs but feel he has a right to speak in public spaces. Like him or not such a religious character forms the experience of American campus life. True or false he believes in his purpose and leaves listeners to discern for themselves.
How close or far are we be from understanding and embracing God’s purpose for life?
The Ignatian practice of discernment is helpful in directing our way. Through engagement of the spiritual life, it is possible to determine the best steps forward. Seeking maturity, inner quiet, and intentional practices we may join God in discovery. By grace, we can gain awareness of the origin of our impulses and consider where they may lead us.
13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
This passage of Luke follows discourse revealing the way of God through the activity of Jesus’ life. With acts of healing and challenging words, Jesus demonstrated God’s reign. Jesus acted and spoke with the intention of manifesting God’s purpose on earth. This moment shares sincere engagement with people. Jesus’ compelling teaching and acts in service to those in need introduced people to a new way of being and doing. Those receptive to his message adjusted their life to adapt to the way of God. With God-given authority, Jesus challenged circumstances and changed social status. He invited listeners to turn away from their current way of life to join in God’s. Jesus engaged with and invited others to live with obstinate faith.
Tension is obvious in this text. The Pharisees alert Jesus he is in danger of death at the hands of ruling Herod. Jesus presents himself with confidence and alternate authority. The fear the Pharisees hold does not impact Jesus. He retorts with words insulting Herod’s threat. Jesus asserts his God-given power. He upholds his intention to fulfill God’s purpose for his life. The Pharisees present information to persuade him to escape Herod’s ill will. While acting with a benevolent concern they cannot distract Jesus from his purpose. The Pharisee’s report of Herod’s desire gives Jesus the opportunity to remind all who listen. The divine mission of Jesus includes a violent fate associated with a prophet of Israel (Green, 538).
It is only human nature to hope the glory of service to God comes without the pain and suffering.
Those listening were well aware of the fate of a prophet yet Jesus reminded them. People sent by God to profess faith were not welcome. Persecution and violent death awaited those charged to share the news of redemption. Time and again the intention of God to meet people with protective care met rejection. Leaving people to their own devices, Jesus proceeded to engage in the meaningful work of justice. With trust and courage, he cares enough to journey onward.
It takes courage to care about God, self, and others. Trust in God keeps our attention toward the aim of life with less distraction. In her book of reflections, Maria Shriver, a career journalist, shares her principle of care. Shriver connects the importance of caring with a sign of well-being. Healthy families, communities and, countries value care. She frames the idea of care as the opposite of soft. She resolves, “Care is a tough, muscular concept. It takes courage to care. It takes passion to stand up for someone or something you believe in and care about.”*
In the book’s epilogue, Shriver offers three profound, probing questions. Answering the questions illuminates meaning in life. The responses ground us in the present moment as we reply to:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
In contemplation, we may discover ourselves in light of the Divine. It is necessary to wrestle through to the answers. It requires courage to struggle well with God in the journey of our lifetime. A rhythm of asking and waiting for a reply leads to becoming the person enabled to conform to the way of God. Surrender to the process forms a trusting relationship. We may accept what comes our way with the courage to not waiver from the truths we hold close to our hearts. As we discern answers to such questions we become strong in faith. We increase our capacity to endure everything that comes our way. With God and community support, we engage the present and journey along on our way forward.
To discern the way de Caussade asks us to consider each passing moment as a manifestation of the will of God. To find what we search for and desire this Spiritual Director points us to the infinite treasure filling our present moment. Rather than allowing the past or future to distract us, it is possible to trust by faith. We may increase our ability to see an expansive field of God’s intentions. We may enlarge our capacity to know the will of God is before us like “an immense, inexhaustible ocean”. De Caussade poses the possibility of taking the plunge into the present moment.
When speaking of confronting the unknown before us Thomas Merton challenges us. He asks us to consider how easy it is to lose touch with the present. We are often preoccupied with what is ending (past) and what is beginning (future). Merton cautions us to position ourselves in ways that prepare us to face risk. With brilliance, he states, “We do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”*
How close are we in this moment to holding such an authentic stance of purpose?
*Shriver, Maria. I’ve Been Thinking… Penguin Books, NY, NY, 2018.
*de Caussade, Jean-Pierre. The Joy of Full Surrender. Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA. 2011
*Merton, Thomas. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Penguin Books, NY, NY. 1966