Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On pursuing and being pursued

We are all created by a God who is in pursuit of us. He is the Hound of Heaven, he is the great Lover in Song of Songs, he is the triumphant Commander setting the captives free, he is the good Physician healing our deep wounds… he is seeking us. Ironically, we often feel like we are the ones doing the seeking and He is staying out of sight. There is, of course, a veil between us and the Heavenly Eternal and we can only catch glimpses of His face when He pulls it back for us. Upon entering the Beatific Vision we will be confronted by all of God, all at once – his gentleness and his ferocity; his simplicity and his complexity; his mercy and his justice; his Fatherhood and his Sonship; his greatness and his littleness. For now there is a veil placed between us and the All that he is. But even the veil itself reveals to us more then we realize.

This veil is composed of many things. Many of the things, in fact, that make us who we are. We are all created with such uniqueness. Different temperaments, different childhoods, different gifts, different charisms, different vocations, different educations, different careers, and on and on. And while these things can make it impossible to pull back the veil and see God in his wholeness we are all created to reveal and to explore different aspects of who the Trinity is. God encompasses all of these differences in his person but he is not limited by any of them as we are.

I’m going to take two of the above categories to illustrate a point. The first is the classic four temperaments (which Nature provides us with) and the second is our career/job (which we hopefully have more of a say in).

The Four Temperaments, as defined by the Greek thinker, Galen (drawing from Aristotelian and Platonic insights) are Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholic and Phlegmatic. And, although all of these names initially evoke nasty medical images to one’s mind they are an excellent tool for understanding what God is looking for in you and what you will find when you look at Him.

For example, the Sanguine (I have it on good authority from Sanguine friends of mine) will likely have a vision of God that is welcoming, arms wide open and running towards them. The Choleric may resonate more with a vision of God as a great military leader come to defend glorious Truth. Another instance where we see this truth is that the more introverted temperaments will likely experience God through the pursuit of prayer that looks something like this: “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). While the more extroverted temperaments might see God more clearly through the relationships that God has placed in his life.

Conversely, it is the same people who are able to see particular aspects of God clearly who also reveal to the world these different aspects of God. The Melancholic homemaker reveals God’s love of order and thoroughness through her ordered lifestyle. The Phlegmatic friend reveals God’s infinite ability to accept us where we are and not pass judgment.

We could explain this as a sort of psychological projection of our own strengths and weaknesses onto God and so dismiss our uniqueness as tool of pursuing God in this way, but I do not believe that we are meant to. I do not think that the fact that a Choleric sees the Christ as “leader” is merely a by-product of the Choleric projecting their own temperament onto Christ in the way that we anthropomorphize dogs and cats by projecting our own thoughts and feelings onto them (i.e. imagining that they are lonely, happy or sad in the same way a human being is). I believe that God created us like this. That he has placed a veil between us and Him. One aspect of this veil is our particular temperament and that while in some ways the veil hides his fullness from us it also 1.) reveals Him to us in a particular way and that 2.) we are meant to reflect that aspect of Him out into the world that so desperately needs every aspect of Him.

None of us reveal Christ in his entirety. I’m pretty sure that the only part that I reflect must be the dry skin of His elbow or some other non-glorious part. But we are all part of one body and we all reflect something of Christ to the world. The examples of our last three popes are a wonderful testament to the diversity of Christ and how he meets our every need.

The danger of such an insight obviously is that we will tend to excuse the weaknesses of our temperament while thinking that we are playing into our strengths. So a Choleric may glory in the truth of the Christ while not opening himself up to the compassion of Christ. The Sanguine may gloss over wounds inflicted on or by relationships in favor of keeping a “peace” that is separated from the truth and therefore a false peace. A Melancholic may prefer routine and insulation over vulnerability and relationships. A Phlegmatic may take the path of least resistance in the face of mistreatment of themselves or others.

Thankfully God has given us an antidote in the very work, people, and events that he has placed in our path. The work, people and events with which we fill our day should be used as a corrective against this error because Christ also reveals himself and his will for us through these things. If we are doing work then it IS the work that God wants from us right now – that much is clear. Second-guessing our work while we are in the middle of it is not useful…if we have put our hand to the plow then we shouldn’t be looking back.

I may not be a “baby person”, temperamentally or otherwise but if He has given me babies to care for then I best start lovin’ on babies because THAT is what He has for me right now. Our work, or labor, is another part of the veil that he places between us but even that will actually reveal another aspect of him to us if we look at it. Probably an aspect of him that we would not find if we and our temperaments were left to our own devises.

This whole topic came to mind because one of my husbands students tried to claim that he “saw God revealed in Goodness but not so much in Truth,” therefore the study of doctrine and theology was a mere hoop he had to jump through before he could get ordained and encounter God in the work of the priest (manifestations of his goodness, as opposed to his truth…hmmm). He was probably right about his natural, God-given bent - it will probably always be easier for him to see God through examples of goodness and he will probably mostly reveal God to the world through examples of goodness in his own life. Lovely, wonderful. BUT. God is also in Truth. He is Truth just as He is Goodness and just as He is Beauty. And if He has put your hand to the plow of study then you best try to find Him through that work, in spite of it being less natural for you. If he pursues us through our temperaments then he also pursues us through our work. All the things that make up our life are ways that he is trying to get at us.

How many of us are just biding our time until we can get the right job, get married, go on mission, leave the young baby stage of life, etc. We are jumping through hoops until we can get into the phase of life where we can pursue God in manifestations that we naturally lean towards instead of looking at the veil he has placed between us in the here and now and look hard to find him in it.   He is pursuing us through study or babies or difficult relationships that are “distracting” us or whatever else he is asking of us but we don’t really see him because we are gritting our teeth while waiting for this season to pass.

To deny his revelations of himself in either temperament, work, background, or talents,or situations is to send back the roses that the Divine Suitor sent because they aren’t our favorite color. We need to learn to love the other colors to. Love is a many-splendoured rose - and He is pursuing us – through all of the uniqueness that He’s built into each of us and has laid upon us. We must see him in ALL of the aspects of our lives and our persons because He’s after us. Sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully but always relentlessly.

“Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” Matthew 22:37


  1. This was a wonderful reminder- to be where I am, and to seek a closer relationship with God exactly where I am in life...and to try to do His will! Thanks Alexis.

  2. i am so happy to see that you made a blog post but I am not going to lie this is just way above my accounting brain. I love the verse at the end. I know this is something that I need to work on. I put so much energy into loving our kids and I hope that this counts as loving God also.