September 23, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Pay attention, because God knows your name

If we live long enough, we come to understand that change is the name of our game here on earth. Over time, almost every relationship, activity or product will change because of death, illness, natural disaster or human invention. Only God remains constant.

Often, people need to rethink what they believe God expects of them. Jesus scandalized religious Jews because he preached following the spirit, rather than the letter, of their ancient law. If that meant helping someone out of a ditch or feeding a hungry person on the Sabbath, so be it.

It seems people change their minds about what they expect from God as well. The Jews prayed for rain or food, relief from physical deprivations or mental anguish. With Christ’s coming, they learned to pray that they understand God’s will and be given the grace to carry it out, regardless of some man-made prohibition.

This fact can be hard to take in the wake of a terrible disaster such as the recent hurricane in the Gulf states. Innocent folks wonder, Why me? What did we do to deserve this? Where do we go from here?

Despair, anger and denial of God’s goodness are natural reactions to their plight.

Mulling this over the other day, I remembered a meditation on Psalm 147 that I’d read in the August 2005 issue of St. Anthony Messenger magazine. Author Sandy Howison wrote that this psalm is “a hymn which praises God for God’s twofold activity: the creation and care of the universe as a whole, and the salvation and care of a special people, Israel.”

“The power that ‘numbers all the stars’ (verse 4) is the same one that ‘heals the brokenhearted’ (verse 5) and ‘sustains the poor’ (verse 6),” she wrote. “The dynamic word which natural phenomena obey (verses 15-18) is the same word that gives Israel its covenant law and expects Israel likewise to obey (verses 11, 19-20).”

We are the chosen people, the “Israel” to whom God speaks, and Howison reminds us that, “Just as God knows the names of all the stars, he knows my name also.” When God calls our name, for whatever reason, we must be ready to obey, just as nature responds to God’s direction in ways often mysterious to us.

While we’re not often called to answer a challenge like Hurricane Katrina’s damage, we are called daily to follow God’s will. Young mothers are often called to balance caring for their families with earning needed money outside the home. Employees follow the call to perform the best work they can, and employers to direct their workers fairly and respectfully.

Married folks are called to fidelity to their spouses and single people, whether  lay, clergy, religious, homosexual or heterosexual, are called to chastity. Children are called to obedience and respect for parents and teachers, and Church leaders are called to prayerful performance of their duties.

All of us are called to feel and demonstrate concern for others, not only our relatives and friends, but also people we’ll never meet. And all of us are called to pray constantly to do God’s will. We can’t escape God’s calls because, as Howison wrote, God knows us by name.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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