Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fr Ian Petit OSB ". . . we may have to wrestle with God."

Father Ian Petit OSB (1922-1996), from Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, England, became a teacher in the charismatic renewal. He gave retreats and spoke at churches of all traditions around the world bringing together Catholic spiritual direction, evangelical preaching of the Gospel, and the charismatic experience of the Holy Spirit. The following extract from his 1991 book How Can I Pray? is typical of the simple directness of his teaching. 

God . . . does not always reveal himself in might and dazzling power but . . . he can come in hiddenness and gentleness. It was not in the hurricane or the earthquake or the fire that he came to Elijah, but in a soft breeze. 

Jesus, who told us that to see him was to see the Father, conquered Satan, not in the clashing of swords or with stupendous demonstrations of power, but by allowing himself to be seemingly defeated. He appeared to have downed his weapons and offered no resistance - he was 'like a lamb led to the slaughter house' (Isaiah 53:7). It is the strange story of victory through apparent weakness, summer following winter, death being followed by rising. 

God so loved the world that he sent his Son into it. He was not born into a royal or powerful family; he did not become a Roman. He chose to belong to a poor nation, quite small and occupied by a foreign power. He chose to be a nobody, an unprivileged person, someone who could be done away with without anyone raising a voice in protest. He came to share in our human weakness. 

Who, being in the form of God, 
did not count equality with God something to be grasped. 
But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, 
becoming as human beings are. (Philippians 2:6-7) 

We tend to think of God in terms of glory, power, splendour, and while all that is true it is not the whole picture, there is another side to him. He came among us in weakness. 

It is only through prayer that we can come to know both the power and the weakness of God. He wishes to encourage us when we feel confused, bewildered as to why he, who has all power, does not act in some powerful way to convince this unbelieving world. His ways are not our ways, and he can draw his purposes out of very unlikely situations. Things that seem to us useless, even disasters, he can use and make life giving. I am sure we all know stories in which what seemed totally hopeless, in the end, becomes a source of blessing. 

In prayer, we may have to wrestle with God. We read in Genesis 32 that Jacob wrestled with him and limped for ever afterwards. It is not wrong to ask God questions. We will not get immediate answers. Personally, I find it often takes quite a long time before I see what I am looking for. The answer may come in something someone says, or I may read it in a book, or an idea comes into my mind. God does speak to us but not in voices from heaven, at least I do not hear him that way. 

Prayer is a relationship and if you treat it as such, you will find God does teach you. You will learn about God, gain new insights, find answers to difficult questions, and gradually you will find you are beginning to know something of this God of ours, who can come to us in powerful storms or great winds or in gentle breezes, 'who visits us like the dawn from on high' (from the Benedictus).


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