Are we still surprised by God?


They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.” Luke 5:26

I do not like surprises. Unless the surprise is desirable or something that I have predetermined to be in my best interest, and the operative words are “I” and my. Formulas, planning, and projections fit neatly into an orderly, static, and unchanging world. Surprises often deviate from a constant desire for clarity and certainty.

Shortly after I moved to Pennsylvania, I was at a meeting, and one of those sudden and violent rainstorms moved through the area. After the storm had passed, I immediately set my GPS for home and thought I was on my way. No chance. While the GPS had calculated the designated route and time, it did not take into account the immediate storm nor the aftermath. I followed the route, and a downed tree was in the middle of the road. I turned around, and it recalculated, I headed in the new direction and then encountered a downed power line. Turned around, followed the new route, and a homeowner had erected a temporary barrier to warn against hazards. The wandering continued for three hours, all the while the drive was filled with hope, roadblocks, frustration, and a few expletives. I finally found my way home, all the while relying on the supposed best technology and planning.  

It seems we find ourselves in a similar place with the pandemic. We had a plan in January; we even had a plan for the first weeks of isolation, and not all of them have turned out as we have planned. Hope, roadblocks, frustration, and probably a few well-placed words. Planning does not fit neatly into our relationship with God.  I am reminded of the old saying, “You want to made God laugh? Make plans.” More often than not, we tell God what we want and where we would like to go. This is why we should allow ourselves to be continuously surprised by God. For the Holy One is the only right path to guide our lives.  

Brother David Steindl-Rast has described surprise as another name for God, and our capacity for surprise is often an unused blessing. Think of all the instances in the Bible where surprises turned into blessings: The surprise at the first moment of creation found in the breath of God. , and the lives of Abraham, Moses, Daniel, and David were filled with surprises. What seemed untenable turned into blessings.  God surprised Mary, Jesus surprised John the Baptist, and the apostles were continually surprised by God walking among them. One could argue the word surprise is entirely inadequate to describe the feelings on that first Easter morning.  

Yet, we are accustomed to a predictable God, unable to surprise and awaken us to a new life. The tendency to go about our days where everything has grown entirely too familiar, and life has lost its ability to impress. Let us never be mistaken that being surprised is different from being entertained. The unexpected and unexplained is evident during this time.  Yet by the willingness to encounter Christ at any moment, our lives are reordered.  Our connection to the divine and one another takes root, and the branches of our lives extend beyond the containers we create. In the shadows and the unexpected, we find Jesus. We must be open to the unexpected encounter, to look at Jesus with open eyes and outstretched arms to accept the gift. Focus on him and not the haze that clouds the truth. 

Let us empty ourselves of our previous lives and allow ourselves to be surprised by the God of the unexpected. During this time of reorientation, our task is to be rooted and patient. There is deep wisdom in becoming empty vessels and willing receptors. The living waters of life will come upon us like a surprising spring shower and fill us to the point where our souls are overflowing with the divine presence. I once read a surprise often announces that a miracle is near.

While I was frustrated with that drive during that first year, it allowed me to travel roads off the beaten path. I noticed a grove of old-growth trees, blooming flowers raising their faces to the rays of the sun, and a small stream rushing with the gifts of the storm. A few deer slowly drank from the same stream. I now take that route when I need to be reminded of the beauty of creation. God in surprises. 

I invite you to make a commitment, to keep your eyes and lives open to the Holy One. God is peeking around the corner. Ask Christ to surprise you, amaze you, and leave you in awe. Miracles are occurring each moment of the day, God is in this moment, and the next and waiting to surprise you. Yes, this storm will pass.

Photograph by Christian Vieler

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