Romania celebrates May Day as their Labor Day, and most will go out to a lake, a park, or the Black Seato celebrate. Usually, we rent a big bus and take the kids from the “Valley” Community Center to a nearby forest. Although the drive only takes about 20 minutes, it’s always interesting to see the excitement of the kids and to hear their comments as we get out of the city.
For some of the children, it is their first time outside of the city. I sat next to a 12 year old boy, who has been coming to the Community Center since last September. He could barely stay seated as he fought with the bus curtain in order to see everything that passed by. He constantly said, “Look!” or asked “What’s that?” He saw his first wind turbine. He saw his first airport, although it is small and only used for crop-dusters. As he looked out over the vast field, he didn’t understand the differences in color and shades. I explained that the bright areas are where the sun is breaking through the clouds, the darker areas the shadows of the clouds, and the bluish area a large lake.
What was interesting for me was not only the sense of awe that this young boy had before a wide panorama of nature but also the fact that he was just noticing these things for the first time. I thought about how this simple and short excursion outside the norm of city life brought a different perspective on the world – one that is difficult to see from within the confines of tall apartment blocks and asphalt streets.
This young boy’s questions reminded me of another place marked by the sun and the clouds: Shadowlands. The movie includes one of C.S. Lewis’ famous statements: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.” Of course, with numerous examples in Scripture of God being moved and changed by human prayer, Lewis’ words are only partially right. Still, his statement carries a particular weight in a culture that so often understands prayer as a means to changing God. Predominantly, we pray that God will answer our wishes, intervene in our circumstances and act on our behalf or the behalf of those we care for. And this is good and right, but not when we forget that when we pray, we are not primarily asking God to do our will but to reveal to us the will of the Father. We are placing ourselves before God and inviting God to change ourselves. When we spend time before God, we are changed – our desires, our values, our perspectives. It is like taking a trip out of the city and getting away from all we know and from all that has become normal, especially the normal that we fail to recognize as sin, dehumanization and all that is less than God’s desire for us.
In the Church, May Day is a celebration of Saint Philip and Saint James. In the midst of a culture, much like ours, that constantly competes to define our perspectives on life and promises to satisfy, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and then we shall be satisfied” (John 14:8). Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (14:9). Philip, like us, is so used to the world’s perspective that he, like my 12 year old friend, cannot differentiate the water and the fields from the shadows of the clouds. Gaining perspective comes from seeing Jesus. Jesus said to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” (14:9). When we see the Father, we have the perspective to identify the lights and shadows and a world that shimmers and sparkles in the springtime sun. As if seeing the world for the first time, we too sit with a sense of awe.