One Sunday morning, I went to visit a community called Shantivanam. The atmosphere was peaceful and as I relaxed, I closed my eyes in prayer.
After a short time, someone began to pray out loud, and I opened my eyes to see before me a man in a white robe; he had snow white hair with a full beard to match. I had to pinch myself because for a few seconds I thought maybe I had died and was sitting at the feet of God, because that was exactly how I pictured Him in my mind. Well, of course I knew in reality that this man was not God, but he was a very wise holy priest named Father Ed.
Later, Father Ed and I were sitting quietly in the sun with his dog. Suddenly a large rabbit ran across in front of us. His dog jumped up, barking loudly, and took off after that big rabbit.
He chased the rabbit over the hills with a passion. Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as a pack of dogs ran barking across the creeks, up stony embankments and through thickets and thorns! Gradually, however, one by one, the dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Only his dog continued to hotly pursue the rabbit.
I asked Father Ed why the other dogs didn't continue on the chase. His answer to that question was: "They did not see the rabbit. Unless you see your prey, the chase is just too difficult. You will lack the passion and determination necessary to perform all the hard work required."
He went on to say, "The same is true for our spiritual journey: you must see the Rabbit!
If we don't have a real experience of God in some form, we will lack the energy necessary to keep up the pursuit for holiness. Like the dogs, we will drop out of the race if we only follow saints and mystics who have seen the rabbit. If we are only caught up in the enthusiasm of others, we will fail to be constant in our own search. Each of us must see the Rabbit!"
Then he added, "If we are to experience God, we must be open to God appearing in our lives. Searching in the ordinary things of life is one way you can begin to see the 'Rabbit.' Ordinary and extraordinary are really the same; it all depends on how we look at what we see."
He explained, "If all creation is a continuous outpouring of God, than all of life is the Rabbit.
True mystics are not necessarily those who have visions, but rather those who have vision. They see the extraordinary, the mystical, in everyday events.
The spiritual journey can test one to the limit. It requires constant self-discipline and watchfulness just to be ready to see the Rabbit. Then once the Rabbit appears, it requires constantly extending the boundaries of one's heart and mind. It means pushing back the known frontiers, climbing over the fences of our fears and moving outward and onward.
It always remains a discipline, but it becomes easier as we proceed. We form more and more graceful patterns of behavior each time we retrace an act of kindness or compassion. In time, the act of loving unselfishly becomes easier, but it will always remain a challenge. The way is always uphill; growing spiritually is an act of growing up. More is always expected: more love, more patience, more compassion, more prayerfulness. More is always expected if we want to grow as we are designed to grow - like God!"
As we struggle to expand the boundaries of our hearts and minds, embracing the hard work of the quest, we should "take heart" because daily we are coming closer and closer to the likeness of God.
It is the same for anyone committed to a difficult task, whether a musician, artist, runner, or pray-er. Each day the work, while remaining work, becomes easier and more joyful.
That day, not only could I see the "Rabbit" in Father Ed; I started seeing the "Rabbit" more than ever in every flower, every sunset, in everything and in every person.
- Shari Petree is youth minister and coordinator for religious education at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tonganoxie.