Isn’t it strange? In a world where instant communication is possible for virtually (pun intended) anyone with a device, we are becoming less certain that anything we see is true. If we ask a question will we get a straight answer? Seeing is no longer believing, it seems, for if you believe everything you see you will not be learning the whole truth! What has happened?

Virtual reality is not reality. At least not all, perhaps not most of it. Take Zoom calls, for example. One can manipulate not only images and sounds on both sides of the screen, but also project an appearance of presence while being more engaged in other tasks — texting, reading or even playing tic-tac-toe. In-person conversations offer (potentially) so much more information through eye contact, body language and, in group settings, the benefit of learning through the reactions of others. Tom Brokaw, it is said, typically wore his jeans or sweats, donning a jacket and tie during airtime, only for appearances. So much for virtual “reality.”

When Marshall McLuhan concluded that “the medium is the message,” many thought him to be a bit off the wall. Now, we see, he was prophetic. The “spin” — the part of the story that the communicator intends for you to believe – often takes precedent over the rest of the story that you are meant not to know or see.

Then again, there may be things we do not need to know or are better off not knowing. Back in the ’60’s a popular expression, “let it all hang out,” was used to encourage honesty and genuineness, the kind that people joining hippie communes felt they would experience by “going back to nature,” dropping all their inhibitions and telling one another everything they ever did or that happened to them. It was thought to be cool and courageous to be completely “open.” These experiments did not generally work out so well. Disclosing every secret in a person’s past to another often proved to be traumatic, triggering more fear and mistrust than healing and solidarity. Discretion may, after all, be the better part of valor.

In our own time, in the purported interests of promoting transparency and full disclosure, we have witnessed efforts to “out” certain people of various facets of their character or personal histories, particularly public figures. When we are dealing with criminal or unethical behavior, this may well be justified and necessary. Often the motives, however, are of a mercenary, vengeful or simply prurient nature.

The key to what may or may not be disclosed ethically and legally depends much on the right of the information seeker to know. Certainly, truth in advertising is as universally desired as it is only selectively delivered. “Caveat emptor” is as apropos a warning in buying a house or a washing machine, as it is in entering a new personal relationship, particularly one as important as marriage. A certain mutuality is expected, a give-and-take in proportion to the expectations of what is being exchanged. That is why contracts are drawn up, so that parties may express their intent in clear language that each agrees to be bound by — whether it be for a three-year lease or “until death do us part.”

No one likes being lied to. The natural — in the sense of common — human desire to be told the truth seems routed in our nature and is essential to healthy relationships, both in the commercial and personal world. It is not something we experience as much as we feel we should in mass communications, journalism and politics these days. What about our spiritual lives? When we pray, when we ask things of God, is God obliged to respond? Is he bound to tell us and give us what we ask for when and how we want it?

Every Sunday, a small group of priests meets online for Evening Prayer. I often join them, preceded and followed at times by conversation about our ministry and faith journey. We were talking recently about the uncertainties and anxiety so many of us share with our people in the midst of the pandemic and the social upheaval that is perhaps even more serious than the virus itself. One priest shared some inspiring thoughts he had reflecting on some “God questions” a spiritual director had given him to pray on.

“Will you walk with insecurity for a while?” one question proposed. In asking such a question, God is not abandoning us. He was not going away. He is going to continue to walk with us. But he may be asking us to accept some insecurity for a while. Is that unreasonable? Is God being secretive or evasive? “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now,” Jesus told his disciples — and, I think, us (Jn 16:12). He is not saying he wants us to walk on water or the like yet. That may come (there are precedents), but God may be stoking our trust and patience, as we continue to walk with him, relying only on him for our security, and not the hints or clues that we would like to eke out of him. “Are you okay with that for now,” he asks. “I need you not to know.”

I must admit that this sounded like something that would come from God. Unlike so many human interactions, the ask is gentle, not threatening or demanding. Of course, God is not bound to do anything we ask him. This is not a refusal, however, but a request, almost a plea that contains a not-so-veiled promise that, in time, all will be revealed. Where have we experienced this before?

Another God question my friend shared is, “Will you say ‘yes’ to the growth I offer you?” Change! How often prayer can become for us a means of trying to get God to be reasonable and to see things our way. In order for God to answer our prayer for clarity or direction, is it possible that God needs us to allow our minds and attitudes to be changed, our hearts to be stretched, in order to accommodate the size of the order we are putting in for God’s grace?

Some more questions … “Will you listen closely as the story of My suffering is proclaimed?” “Will you stand close to Calvary to learn from Me?” Is it possible that some of the anxieties and feelings of frustration that we feel for the work we like to accomplish and the plans we would like to make are a taste of the Lord’s own thirst for souls, for the love God seeks from our hearts? After years of spiritual dryness, St. Teresa of Calcutta came to accept that her feelings of God’s absence were a gift to share in the passion of Christ’s own unfulfilled thirst for our hearts and souls. The longing of God! Hard to imagine, but our own desires for truth, fulfillment and love may well be a reflection in us of what God seeks from the world in which we are living, in the relationships and encounters we have through which the heart of Christ longs to reach the hearts of others through our own! Maybe it is a blessing for us not to know the pain of this divine longing for us. It might be too much for us to bear now!

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