During a quiet moment of reflection, I came to realize that seeking God is kind of like panning for gold. Panning for gold is a slow, attentive process of separating out unwanted material so as to collect the sought-after precious metal. The process starts with removing larger chunks and progressively sifting out finer grains until all that is left are shimmering flakes of gold. Similarly, seeking God is a process of sifting and sorting the stuff of our daily lives so as to extract what is of utmost value—true communion with God.
In the text of 1 Kings 19:9-13, the prophet Elijah waits for God in a cave at Mt. Horeb. A strong wind comes, but God is not in the wind. Then an earthquake happens, but God is not in the earthquake either. Then there is a fire, but God is not in the fire. Rather, it is a tiny whispering sound that signals the presence of God. Hearing this subtle sound, Elijah meets with God at the cave’s entrance. This reading often challenges me at multiple levels to reflect on how my own “God seeking” process is going.
First, I consider the bigger impediments that seem to be getting in the way of my life with God. How am I spending my time? What activities and thoughts consume most of my energy and attention? What is the level of importance of these things in my life? What is obviously less important and can be set aside? Some of these things might not be bad. Perhaps they are even enjoyable. But, if they are not assisting me with my life’s goal of seeking God, then I should consider giving them less priority and attention. Examples might be watching TV, surfing on the Internet or social media, playing games on the cellphone, excessively accumulating things I do not need, etc.
Second, I consider my relationships with others—family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even strangers whose lives might be affected by my words, actions, and attitudes. Do I see the image of God in others? Do I love others enough to let them be as God has created them rather than desiring to impose my will upon them? Am I holding onto grudges or nursing past hurts that interfere with cultivating healthy relationships? Do I speak respectfully of others? Do I participate in gossip or excessively focus on the weaknesses of others? Am I practicing the ministry of listening to others, even when I may disagree with their ideas or opinions?
Third, I consider my own beliefs, thoughts, dreams, memories, attitudes and feelings. Often times I am the one who gets in my own way, holding myself back from becoming my best self, the true self that God created me to be. I can put up “walls” that help me to feel safe and secure or that prevent me from getting hurt by others. However, these same “walls” can become a trap wherein little growth or self-development can happen. God is always calling us to move out of our self-made prisons, encouraging us with the message, “Do not be afraid. I am with you.”
This intentional and reflective approach to life is the “panning for gold” that is the spiritual journey. And, the more we practice this kind of reflection the more proficient we become in noticing patterns and nuances that were once imperceptible. We gradually become more attuned to soft whispering sounds that announce the presence of the Holy One. Yes, it is a process that requires patience, discipline and a healthy dose of self-honesty; however, the treasure we discover is more precious than silver or gold.
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB