Making God Visible

women on parapet

“It was good to turn our backs on the long French streets and plunge down among the crowds, first through a street thronged with Jews, then a little bit up again through the native quarter, and then down the flight of steps that led to our door. . .  It was lovely in the afternoon to run out and find oneself in two minutes in the thick of the people. I could only sing ‘hallelujah!’ in my heart all the way”            Diary 1893

Philip Yancey writes of meeting a South African woman named Joanna who, after experiencing personally the liberating change in the peaceful dismantling of apartheid, felt called to tackle the most violent prison in the country with the message of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Daily she entered the very bowels of prison with that message, organizing small groups, teaching trust games, encouraging prisoners to open up about their horrific childhoods.  There were 279 recorded acts of violence the year before her visits.  The year after there were two.  So impressive were the results that BBC sent a camera crew who produced two documentaries on her story.

When Yancey pressed her to provide details of what happened to transform that prison, her answer was immediate,  “Well, of course, Philip, God was already present in the prison.  I just had to make him visible.”  Later, Yancey reflected,  “I have often thought of that line from Joanna, which would make a fine mission statement for all of us seeking to know and follow God.  God is already present, in the most unexpected places.  We just need to make God visible.”

Making God visible.  This desire fueled Lilias’ determination, upon arrival in Algeria, to find a home where she could live amongst the Arab people. Her dream was realized five years later when they purchased and moved into their own home, Number Two Rue Du Croissant, in the Casbah – the ancient Arab city.  Lilias was thrilled to wake up in the morning and find herself in the Arab town, to go out in the afternoon and in two minutes be in the thick of the Arab people.  From her window she could literally reach out across the narrow street and touch the hands of the women who crept along a rooftop parapet to a projection opposite where they would sit and talk to their remarkable new neighbor.

The desire to come alongside the Arab people continued to inform her ever-expanding reach into the villages and desert oases of North Africa.  How she loved to equip, for her workers, a house in the style native to a given people, “where they could wander in and out promiscuously,” a part of their daily life.  “I feel that the desire, that only grows the stronger. . . to get down and down alongside the people and live a life on more apostolic lines must be ‘born of God.”   Visiting the isolated people of the Oued Souf she rhapsodized, “If I had the choice where to end my days it would be one of these beehive houses.” 

Both women, Joanna and Lilias, provide dramatic examples of what it is to live an “incarnational” life:  making God visible.  They are compelling models of what, in essence, Christ did – fully, perfectly – when He came to earth becoming “the visible expression of an invisible God.”

But what does it mean to the rest of us – at least the most of us – who live more ordinary lives defined largely by demands of our family, our work, our society?  What does it mean to make God visible?

Quite simply – and profoundly – it means to take the life of Jesus into our daily lives and to incorporate it into all we are and all we do.  It is living out the love of Jesus in our homes, places of work, our neighborhoods, our playgrounds – and all the places in between.  It is played out, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said of Christ, “in 10,000 places.”  It is demonstrated to our family members, to our friends, to our co-workers, to our neighbors, to even, dare I say it, our enemies – and in all the chance encounters and interruptions along our paths of purpose. It infuses our most tedious duties and sublime creations.

Richard Foster writes, in Streams of Living Water,  “. . . we see that in Jesus Christ, God has truly ‘tabernacled’ among us. And, as if that were not enough, we are to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, making the reality of God visible and manifest everywhere we go and in everything we do.”

We cannot to this on our own strength or with the measure of our limited love.  It is God’s doing. Mother Teresa, in her inimitable way, spoke for all of us, “I am a pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”   Making God visible.

Pleasant Hurst, a short service worker, who shared Lilias’ special love for the Sufis quoted two lines of pure poetry from a Mystic of long ago, “I am that sweet-smiling Jesus and the World is alive through Me.”  She goes on to write, in memoriam:  “Lalla Lili was like her teaching. To see her was to catch a glimpse of ‘that sweet-smiling Jesus.’ It is wonderful to think of the many poor souls who saw her smile, and had their first breath of heaven through her words.”  God made visible.

We don’t really know, do we, what will be our legacy on earth?  What we treasure most – our greatest accomplishment(s) – may, in time, be inconsequential.  But this we do know:  it is within the scope of our choice to leave the most important legacy of all.  Love.  God made visible.

Painting:  Journal 1893

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