Sandwiches, Treasure Hunts—And The Search For God
Published: April 17, 2008
When I was a child, I loved going on treasure hunts. My mother would draw an intricate map for my sister and me, packing us peanut butter sandwiches for the journey.
In truth, we didn’t go far, since she had hidden the treasures somewhere in our yard.
But the thrill of the chase was intense nonetheless. And after trudging around beneath the palm trees on a sweaty Miami morning, we were eager to sink down in some shade and devour the sandwiches.
There we are in the photos, wearing our hopelessly baggy Bermuda shorts with our stomachs protruding gracelessly. Our hair is cut in some weird style created by our older cousin Paulie, an aspiring beautician.
Most kids can relate to treasure hunts in the yard, while adults declare themselves too mature. Still, we have our own versions.
Men run to the hardware store where they pursue tools and lumber, while women stalk bargains in the mall. Single folks may jokingly refer to themselves as “hunting” for a mate when they go to a party.
And there is another mysterious treasure hunt embraced by young and old, male and female, single and married. It is the search for someone who will love us just as we are.
That person, of course, is God.
This quest is different from all others because as we look for God, he is searching for us as well.
Jesus talked about the sheep that left the fold and how the Good Shepherd went out of his way to bring the little fellow back.
He also talked about the prodigal son, who left the family and then returned home, where he was welcomed back so warmly by his father. And we can imagine that the father had looked for that son in vain.
In “The Hound of Heaven,” the poet Francis Thompson wrote about many years when he was pursued by God:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the mist of tears
I hid from him….
There is, unfortunately, someone else who is pursuing us. He is not the hound of heaven, but rather the wolf from hell, and he is always on the prowl.
Oddly, many people who profess a belief in God feel a bit sheepish about believing in the devil. They somehow think the devil is merely a figment of the imagination.
But did a figment of the imagination tempt Jesus in the desert? Did a figment of the imagination slip into Judas’ heart right before he betrayed Jesus?
The demons that Jesus expelled from people were real, and they are still among us today.
In “Beginning to Pray,” Anthony Bloom writes about a man who went into the mountains to take the advice of St. Paul: “Pray without ceasing.”
The man started out saying The Lord’s Prayer over and over. Then, as it grew dark, he heard all kinds of disturbing noises like small animals being killed by larger ones and twigs cracking as hungry beasts drew near.
Terrified, he was awake all night and he prayed constantly: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
When he left the wilderness, he was no longer threatened by animals but by the devil’s temptations and continued crying out to Christ for mercy.
Later, he told friends that the devil had taught him how to take St. Paul’s advice.
The merciful Hound of Heaven is running after us, and we encounter him only when we stop running ourselves.
This means we meet him when we are not dashing to the grocery store, to the soccer game, to the restaurant, to the mall. We meet him when we finally sit down with nothing to do. No knitting, no reading, no TV watching, no talking.
“In the stillness of the heart God speaks,” wrote Mother Teresa.
But God doesn’t utter ordinary words. He makes his presence known through a sense of peace and a feeling of being loved.
He tells us we are cherished even if the world rejects us. Even if we are terrified by temptations in the wilderness. Even if we are fat and have strange haircuts.
And when we experience his peace, we can finally stop running. Because when the Hound of Heaven captures us, we discover the greatest treasure of all.
Artwork featured in the print edition is by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). To contact the Murrays, e-mail email@example.com.