Monday, November 24, 2014

The challenge of living in obscurity.

One of the things that many of us struggle with is to live contentedly in a state of being unknown and hidden.  Somehow, the ego that is often weak and insecure strives for that proverbial fifteen seconds of fame and erroneously thinks that once that is achieved, that we can live with more satisfaction, with the knowledge that we are no longer unknown and nobodies. 

Yet, we also do know that scripture is replete with examples of people who were nobodies and lived rather hidden and even obscure lives, and it was precisely because their lives were lived this way, that God was able to use them for the unfolding of his kingdom.  The Israelite people’s 40 year exodus in the wilderness saw them being nobodies for one generation.  The power of the widow’s mite tells of how much hidden power there is in the humble act of one’s total giving, despite the seeming inconsequential amount that was given.  That Jonah was hidden away for three days in the belly of the fish is highly symbolic that goodness does gestate in the state of darkness and an acceptance of a certain unknowing before one gets tossed out to land on unfamiliar shores which provide a new platform for the unfolding of God’s often unfathomable plans.  The genealogy of Christ even includes so many people who weren’t ‘famous’ but were in fact very usable by God to attain his final purposes.  And what about the way that the encounter of two unseen and gestating babies lying silent and hidden from plain view in the wombs of Mary and Elizabeth were able to communicate their joy before they could even see the light of day, making that significant moment of encounter so powerful that it made it into the written word of Scripture and one of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary?  Indeed, there is a silent, and strangely hidden power that lies in obscurity and silence that makes of those hidden so usable in God’s eyes.  This had to be something that St Theresa of Liseux knew innately when she was so joyful in seeing herself as the smallest of flowers in God’s immense garden, and was totally contented in being so, something which gave rise to her much loved name of ‘the little flower’.

Perhaps we need to ponder anew the hidden power of obscurity whenever we feel the need to promote ourselves and to satisfy the false self.  Ronald Rolheiser once wrote about how a truly contented person is one who doesn’t find cause for sadness if he finds himself staying home on a Saturday night.  This simple statement speaks volumes about how the young or even the not-so-young mind tries so hard to not stay home on Saturday nights because doing so seems to conjure up images of being unpopular, uninvited, and thus, unliked and alone.  But the spiritually mature person is one who sees through the vapidity of such thoughts, and dares to enter willingly into the darkness of a deliberate choice to be alone perhaps because in that holy darkness, one allows God to speak to one’s deepest self.

Hopefully, this is something that speaks to my fellow brothers and sisters who are infirm and find themselves surrounded quite often not by crowds of gaiety and cacophony, but perhaps more often by the silence of hospital wards and constantly beeping medicine pumps and the discomfiting breathing sounds of their fellow room mates.  There can be a redemptive value in our seeming obscurity, but only if we are willing to offer this up as a kind of spiritual ‘raw material’ that God can use for the unfolding of his Kingdom. 


  1. Thank you Fr Luke for this inspiring food for thought. May God heal you wholly. Pax!

  2. Thank you Heavenly Father for sending us Fr Luke.
    Fr Luke thank you for todays inspiring food for thought.
    I read it with tears, not of sadness but with knowing that what my husband & myself are going through is God's will.
    Reflecting on St Theresa of Liseux life has enlighten us,than came your inspiring food gave u seven more enlightenment.
    We just want to be true to ourselves & know our own strength.
    We know there are many who are given strength in your sharings
    God bless you Fr.Luke.Take care.

  3. Dear Fr Luke,
    A person can feel 'obscure' even in the midst of 'crowds of gaiety & cacophony'.
    Loneliness can be experienced even if one is not alone. On many occasions, some of my friends & I have experienced 'obscurity' & felt like 'nobodies' in church
    when we were snubbed by fellow parishioners (and even by priests) who choose to be cliquish & exclusive. Thanks to your post, Fr Luke, I shall now try to emulate St Theresa of Liseux to be God's little flower & offer up this redemptive 'obscurity' for 'God to use for the unfolding of His Kingdom'. God bless you, Fr Luke.

  4. The example you gave of the two babies, hidden and gestating in the womb of the Blessed Virgin and of her cousin Elizabeth made me reflect that “......................goodness does gestate in the state of darkness and an acceptance of a certain unknowing............................”

    And that hidden-ness or obscurity may not only be a good thing but a very necessary one (for the created and not the Creator). Many things in life need a time-of-waiting before fruition or completeness and maturity. Mammals and their young ( as you have mentioned about the babies) or seeds planted in the dark earth .................. their root systems formed intricately but silently in the deep moist soil - hidden from sight until the time of obscurity is over and young green shoots sprout up onto the hitherto barren surface and rapidly transforms it into a sea of green. It seems to be an ‘alone’ time, or rather a “God-time”......... .........where in hidden-ness and solitude, the necessary work of fulfilment is attained.

    This perhaps explain why in the spiritual life too, some of the Saints (especially the mystics) chose to hide themselves – not only from the attention of others in the community they belong to, but also from themselves – that is, they want to forget themselves, they chose obscurity..................... for being too pre-occupied with self leads to spiritual egotism.

    Knowing this, is simple enough, but this self-negation is probably the most difficult and well-nigh impossible thing to do knowing how sly one’s ego is. However, I have read that it has been done through a positive “burying in Christ”. For the secret of their success is that whilst they practise the negative exercise of self – it has to be accompanied by a positive activity of fixing their attention on the love of their life which is Christ. Probably, this explains also why the Saints have such rich prayer-life and it is then too, that they enter the fullness of the hidden life.

    God bless you, Fr


  5. It confounds me the way so many of us (by our facebook postings etc), are incessantly screaming, “Look at me!” It seems that not even the most insignificant of daily happenings should be passed over when it comes to, ‘communicating our thoughts and actions to the world.’

    In contrast, consider the little hamlet that our Lord and Saviour grew up in. A town SO obscure that Nathanael would exclaim, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). Indeed not only did something good come out of Nazareth; that was where Beauty, Truth and Goodness itself had been raised.

    Our Lords exhortation to “seek the lower place” should be a constant reminder of the dangers of self-promotion. Why... why the need to elevate the self when Jesus has already done that by calling us His friends? God bless you, Fr. Luke