Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Spirituality: Who’s in the driver’s seat?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the April 11, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
In our culture one of the significant rites of passage for young people occurs the day they receive a driver’s license! The reception of that little piece of plastic from the Department of Licensing is a day of great jubilation. Freedom at last to take the wheels out of the garage and go!
This precious moment is a type of public recognition of maturity, of having come-of-age. Now the embarrassment of having to be a passenger in life (literally) is gone. A driver is in charge and can go wherever he or she may wish. Driving is now on their terms.
Even our phrase “back-seat driver” reflects this new-found freedom. Which of us who has graduated to the status of driver enjoys a passenger, especially one out of reach in the back seat, who seems to know how to drive better than we do? The barrage of commentary is maddening: “Watch out for that red car! Aren’t you going a little too fast? Now, quit tailgating that truck. Don’t forget to use your blinker. You’d better turn on your lights.” Help!!!
We drivers thoroughly enjoy being in the front left seat. It gives us a sense of freedom and mobility. Even the higher gas prices won’t keep us back on the ranch. We want to be on the road, going places, doing things.
Driving is but one example from our culture which displays our desire to be on top of things – to be in control. Similar lessons could be drawn from the laws which regulate the appropriate age for drinking alcohol and voting.
The matter of needing to be in the driver’s seat strikes me as a good point of departure for reflecting on the significance of the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection. Not the news itself so much as our way of relating to it. While hearing the Resurrection stories narrated in the Gospels it is spiritually enriching to take note to see who is in the driver’s seat. And to spot who wants to be a back-seat driver.
The saving God of Israel is driving this car! Jesus, the Word incarnate, dies with a total handing over of his spirit. He trusts with every fiber of his being that the significance and fruitfulness of his life is totally in the hands of the One whom he has come to call “Abba, Father.” It is not his will that is important but the will of the One who sent him.
In the Resurrection Jesus doesn’t just pop out of the grave - like a divine magician who wants to display his trickery even over the clutches of death. It would be theologically correct to say that the saving God of Israel raises Jesus to life. God does not just return Jesus to life (as Jesus did for his friend, Lazarus) but takes him from the dead and gives him a lordship and life unknown in human history. The Resurrection is God’s answer to the selfishness and sin of those who choose alienation and separation from God – that is, all of us.
The Resurrection of Jesus is more than a grandiose miracle. It truly is a God-event. “This is the Day the Lord has made” leaps from our lips with good reason during this and every Easter season. God is in charge of human history and the destiny of his faithful people.
The profound happiness of Easter is not born of springtime sunshine, dancing flowers or the shallow glee gained from hunting colored eggs. Rather, our happiness is born of a stunning recognition of what God has done for us in raising Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. What has happened to Jesus is now a possibility for believers - for those who follow in his way.
And there’s the catch. Our union with Jesus the Christ. Even centuries after this stupendous event in human history, we struggle to get the point. Living in union with Jesus, the Risen Lord, entails more than attending Church on Sundays or following a code of so-called Christian ethics. It entails more than tagging along with a community of church-goers without making any type of personal commitment. Union with Jesus entails a personal relationship with a real person, one who is not dead, but alive.
The back-seat driver in us wants to tell God how that relationship should happen, and when, and where. Treating the Christian journey like a family field trip, we can plan our own path and schedule our own points of interest. Like doubting Thomas we often want to encounter Jesus, the Risen Lord, on our own terms.
But the God of Israel is the source of all life and holiness. Jesus is not met by force or coercion but by a freely-chosen act of self-emptying which sets aside the self in order to let God act. That’s what lies at the essence of being a believer. A believer is not someone who drives though life doing as much as they think is possible and then at some last minute hands the wheel over to God. Rather, the believer is one who acknowledges that the life itself is (and always has been) in the hands of a loving and saving God. Ironically, believers are those who give their hearts to God and let God be God – let God do the driving.
If our hearts pine during this Easter season to meet the Risen Lord Jesus in new and fresh ways we will have to do less of the driving and take a back seat. For us the revelation of Jesus as Lord and Savior is a passive grace. It is not a reality we conjure up or force into our hearts by cosmic humming, incantations or any other spiritual machination. The Risen Lord is God’s amazing gift to humankind. The believer gives his or her heart to God – their very self, just as Jesus did – and humbly asks the God of Israel to reveal Jesus to them as Lord and Messiah.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane. Harcourt Religion Publishers has issued his book Catholics Believe.) (Download order form in pdf format)
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