Our God is an unlikely one. I mean this not as an ontological argument (which would be above my pay grade) but as a small observation. To us, the small and the lost, the workings of our God can only rarely seem miraculous, and even when we can perceive them, these miracles of the everyday, it is frequently only possible to do so through that most powerful of lenses, hindsight. In the moment, as they are lived, they instead seem to be merely unlikely.
As a twenty-year-old sophomore at Notre Dame, I thought myself to be an unlikely fit for a program like Notre Dame Vision. I knew only a few people who had worked for the program, and while they were wonderful people, this was, perhaps counterintuitively, at the root of my concerns. These people were wonderful, and I was not. My interests and my future lay outside what I perceived to be the confines of a vocational summer retreat for high school students. But I, the unlikely counselor, applied and was perhaps unexpectedly accepted.
The experience was remarkable, unlikely, miraculous. Unlikely friendships formed amidst unexpected reflections about the journey my life had been up to that point, giving way to unlikely revelations about the nature of vocation and where my life would go. It also does not escape me that while the experience expanded my notions of vocation, it also gave me my vocation in a very traditional sense. I met my eventual wife on staff. And yet a familiar pattern emerges. Our match is an unlikely one. Her presence in my life is miraculous.
At the end of two summers working as Notre Dame Vision Mentors-in-Faith (2007 and 2008), as we were invited up to reflect on the experience, I remember a dawning perception of that transformation, from unlikely to miraculous, beginning to occur. I watched and listened as the reflections of my fellow counselors, my unexpected friends, were woven into the complex tapestry that somehow both formed and was formed by the experience that we shared those weeks on campus. As this cloth was stitched together, piece by piece, as I sat and watched and listened, my world changed, my experience was altered, not by a change in substance, but by a change in perception. A change in vision. A lifelong Catholic with chronic angst about where to find God, where God fit amongst the pain I saw in the world and felt aching to the core of my own being, I was introduced to a new form of social, Catholic imagination, a view of the world where the unlikely could be made miraculous. To be clear, I am speaking not of a potentially lazy ascription of meaning to circumstance, but of an active, dynamic process of negotiating with both suffering and joy, of ourselves and of others, to see the extant tapestry that emerges, that we both compose and comprise simultaneously. This is an act not of solitary imagining, engaging in fantasy but a communal imagining—of a world with meaning beyond that which we can achieve alone, without each other, and without our unlikely, unexpected God.
This is not an uncomplicated process. I think frequently of the Paschal Mystery as I struggle with my own inability to retain clarity on this task of social imagining, when I fall victim to the natural tendency toward error that is central to our common human experience. When I fail to strive to see the greater divine cogency of the universe and instead stay trapped within my own small mind, focused on small, human concerns, I remember the importance of the cycle—from failure comes success; without death, there is no Resurrection. I will fail, more times than I will succeed, to live out my part in this shared project of social imagination, will succumb to human ignorance, but perhaps there is redemptive value hidden there as well: without ignorance, if all is known, then there is no room for the unlikely, the unexpected, the miraculous.
Featured photo courtesy of Notre Dame Vision.