Making space for God

By Nicholas Soellner


“After the nation of Israel crosses the Jordan River, the Lord commands Joshua to conquer the Land of Canaan, beginning with the city of Jericho. Joshua sends two spies to survey the city, where they find a predictably cold reception awaiting them. However, one unexpected character, the harlot Rahab, not only welcomes Israel’s men but protects them from the King of Jericho” (Jos. 2). “In exchange, Rahab is not only spared when the walls around her come crumbling down but is given a new life; not only for her but her family as well, who are all adopted into the people of Israel” (Jos. 6:22-25).

The Church has a long tradition of inviting God into our space. He doesn’t need our permission, but also gives us the freedom to close ourselves off. And we do, quite often, keep spaces where we aren’t comfortable letting God into our lives. It could be a trauma that leaves us feeling unworthy. It might be our relationship with our significant other. Perhaps, because our job doesn’t feel like a sacred space, it never even occurs to us that we should invite God to come with us to work. A few months ago, I started trying to keep my front passenger seat uncluttered as a real thing I could try to practice every time I get into my car. Not because God needs a clean seat to join me, but because I need a real reminder to make space for him.

As is the case for just about all aspects of our faith, there is the vertical element (our direct relationship with God) and the horizontal (our connection to our neighbor). Jesus illustrates this to us through the parable of The Sheep and The Goats: “That which you do for these least brothers of mine, you do for me” (Mt. 25:40). This is more often the difficult part. Mother Angelica’s famous quote captures this well: “If it wasn’t for other people, we could all be saints.”

The Jordan River is arguably the greatest recurring symbol of baptism throughout the Bible. Israel is given new life when the nation crosses over. Jesus himself is baptized in these same waters. Rahab receives the newly baptized Israel and cares for them with hospitality. In exchange, she and all her loved ones are adopted into this new family. The Church still baptizes each and every member into the Body of Christ. But how do we see this spirit of hospitality today? Sure, we welcome baptisms with applause; but what of our everyday encounters at Mass or parish life? Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s work in the 1960s famously concluded that 70-93% of our communication happens non-verbally, or through body language. What does the body language of the body of Christ at each parish say? Are the ends of pews guarded with empty space in the middle? Are new volunteers relegated to less-desirable tasks at parish functions? Are families with small children directed toward the cry room upon their arrival, even when the kids are silent? A few easy observations offer a good pulse check of the situation.

The temptation to withhold ourselves from hospitality is real and often fueled by well-intentioned concerns. We worry we’ll waste our time; or worse, mess something up and scare someone away. We may even fear being successful, and the possible commitments and pressures that might follow. Many of these same fears act as stones in the walls we build to keep God at arm’s length. Fears we might have to give something up. Fears that we are too broken to be useful to God. The good news is, God not only uses our brokenness but has a habit of healing it. Despite her brokenness, Rahab’s hospitality didn’t just earn her a place in God’s family. God grafted Rahab straight onto Jesus’ family tree, where she became the great-great-grandmother of David and ancestor to Christ (Matt. 1:5)! When we make an effort to invite God and his people into these spaces in charity and hospitality, God’s word has the chance to work on those walls within us. And who knows?  One day, they may even end up falling down.

Nicholas Soellner serves as Program Manager for the Diocese of Evansville Office of Catechesis.