‘What are you looking for?’ ‘What are you seeking?’ This is the first question in John’s gospel. It is God’s question addressed by Jesus to his first would-be disciples and now, in this present moment, this Divine question Jesus addresses to each one of us.
As important as our questions are, what about God’s questions to us? The interior dynamic shifts, does it not? Can you sense or feel the difference? God, addressing us personally, in the form of a question and if we let it in, God’s question speaks to the heart. ‘What are you looking for?’ Or, as another translation has it, ‘What are you seeking?’ As we let God’s question circulate around our heart and listen, how will we respond, how will we engage this eternal question? If we truly feel into this question of God, I think we will discover that contained in the question are at least these two things: first, God desires relationship with us, and second, God is searching out the essence of who we are.
This whole idea of God’s questions came to me from Sr. Jeremy Hall’s book Silence, Solitude, Simplicity. She has several chapters on this theme and points out that there are over 350 questions of God in the Bible. She was a scripture scholar and still it is evident from her writing that she has prayed with God’s questions in her own life. Listen to what she says: “If we hear God’s questions in the depth of our hearts, hearing personally as they are personally addressed, they will call us; they will challenge us; they will sometimes unsettle us. But they can bring us, by God’s grace in the power of those words themselves and in us, to freedom, to more life, to deeper love” (p.126). So, dear sisters, can we hear Jesus asking us right now: ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘What are you seeking?’
I mentioned at the beginning that this question to us is inviting two things from the side of God: God is seeking relationship with us and God is searching out the essence of who we are, of who we are becoming. ‘What are you looking for?’ Am I looking to be right? Am I looking for this job, this title? Am I looking to have my way? Sr. Jeremy says that this question is a momentous one because “what or whom we desire is who we really are” (p.131). She will go on to place this question in the context of Merton’s distinction of false and true self. What is striking to me is that each question of God is pregnant with life in its challenge, in the utter truth it is breathing forth. In the question, God is reaching out to help us find more of our essence, of our truest self…. As we receive God’s question, we will recognize those inner movements of where our pushy or hurt ego extinguishes any hope of the Spirit speaking its wisdom, or where this clamoring ego loses any sense of purity of heart and intention. The Divine question helps reveal the false movements that come up in our hearts and that come up with a lot of emotional intensity and self-righteousness…Allowing the question of Jesus to be our anchor in the moment can lead us back to our center, to that self which is true and knows to whom and to what it longs to serve.
At the beginning of John’s gospel we have Jesus asking: ‘What are you looking for?’ Near the end of the gospel Sr. Jeremy points out that when Jesus meets Mary Magdalene at the tomb he asks her ‘Whom are you looking for?’ Is this not a profound movement of the journey, like the stroke of an artist’s paint brush, a stroke that completes the painting. These two questions of God to us are inextricably linked. And they can invariably lead us home to our true self and to the God whom we are devoting our lives to and ready to give all at any moment. ‘What’ are you seeking, and the movement to ‘whom’ are you seeking: intimacy deepens…the relationship to God becomes stronger, more real, more embodied. Our true self in Christ grows as we allow God to encounter us in these questions, questions that are so full of potential life and love.