Say the name God and your mind will quickly conjure up any number of images and impressions that were formed over time through the influence of your parents, your church, the media and perhaps your own personal experiences of love, hardships or loss. It’s embarrassing to admit I’m guilty for long envisioning the stereotypical white bearded, fatherly figure, foreboding and mighty with a swift hand but powerful love.
Growing up my mother would often tell my brothers and me “God will punish you” every time one of us did something naughty or mischievous….let’s just say I heard it a lot. Not terribly surprising that I was a bit afraid of Him.
Although I was raised Catholic it was years before I fully accepted or understood the meaning of Jesus’ life and death, falling victim to my earthly, simple mind which couldn’t comprehend how he’s God and was man. So I circumvented him and went directly to the source, worshiping God the Father in the formality of ways that I’d long been taught. I prayed to God but not to Jesus, but yearned for a more intimate and meaningful faith.
When I was in my early 30s I was in full career mode, where working 60+ hours per week was the norm, feeding my ambitions and giving me a sense of purpose and focus. The “corner office” mentality consumed me to such a degree that I disregarded the value of friendships and personal life balance. I had an insatiable need to prove myself.
Just to clear…I was in a 6 x 6 cube at the bottom rung of the ladder looking up toward middle management. But the dream was real.
One Sunday morning I was driving into work for what was shaping up to be a good six hour stint catching up and preparing for the hectic week ahead. The beautiful weather didn’t deter my plans as I always believed there would be time for that another day. However the streets of the city were filled with people who knew to seize the opportunity of perfect New England weather.
The congestion and frustration at the lack of parking grew in me to such a degree that ~ after what felt like an eternity but was probably closer to 15 minutes ~ I actually hit the steering wheel and screamed out loud. Just writing that makes me cringe. Soon after a homeless man appeared near my car window with his hand outstretched for money. At first glimpse I thought “okay universe not so subtle message received” I was acting like a childish prima donna and losing perspective over something so trivial. However when I rolled down the window and placed some bills in his hand he gently took hold until I looked at his face. To this day I can still picture the kindest, most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He was mesmerizing. I know there may be skeptics, eye rolling or judgment but I swear there was a beauty, grace and message in that moment that has never left me.
He looked in me and through me with such peace that I couldn’t help but respond in kind. I knew immediately that it wasn’t a chance encounter but something on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Did I quit my job and become a born-again something? No. I calmly returned to searching for a parking spot and I carried on with my work plans. But I’ll never forget his eyes. I’ve returned to them on many occasions when I’ve lost my focus and need to recalibrate my thinking.
This one experience didn’t redefine my religious beliefs. I didn’t get on some soapbox and preach about heavenly intervention. In fact I’ve never discussed it with anyone, until now, other than my mother. It was my own private message to be more open, receptive and accepting of the presence Jesus in my life. I’ve come to believe that the face of God can take many forms but you have to have faith and mindful presence or you’ll miss the everyday miraculous moments around us.