Same say that public speaking is an art of keeping a distance from one’s listeners. A good orator, like a trained fencer, is able to close the distance or widen it, according to the need.
Sometimes we enjoy keeping others at distance. It gives us some sense of security. It provides us with personal space: a cotton wool shell that may help protecting our identity but which may also serve as a weapon.
Some say that distance is also at the heart of religions. The unknown gods, unreachable and far removed from the triviality of our life, communicate their demands through the mouth of the chosen shaman or priest, the few who are able to bridge the gap and receive their word.
But our faith is different.
From the moment we are created, God constantly offers himself to be with us. In the mythological accounts of the Book of Genesis he makes us dwell together with him in the garden of Paradise, not to keep us at bay but to be close to us. But it was we who tried to hide our faces from him, not responding when he was calling. Then – as we read at the end of the story of the fall – ‘God placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, o guard the way to the tree of life’.
It was necessary for us that God should become one of us so that we may regain access to that tree of life. It is only when the Son of Man came on earth that we realised that it was not God who forbade our access to the tree of life, but our own stubbornness and disobedience.
It was necessary for us that the Word of God should start anew his conversation with us, to breach the distance, to restore God’s presence to us. The desire of God to share his life with us is expressed again in Christ who says: ‘I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’.
Christ reveals that our God is not interested in being far removed from his creation. In Christ, God himself gives us a sign of his love and friendship, a sign that he is Emmanuel: God-with-us. There is no end to his great love and even if we are faithless, ‘He remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.’
But what is the basis of this friendship with God? Is friendship possible among those who are not equal? Doesn’t friendship require giving not just receiving? Doesn’t it require mutuality and sharing? But what have we that God doesn’t already have? He is in no need of anything and to him ‘belongs the earth and all that fills it’.
In his generosity God provides us with his Holy Spirit; we share the Gift from above. And we are made heirs of the Kingdom by being made one with Christ, who emptied himself to become one of us, to become our equal. Now he prays that our joy may be made full; that is, that it may achieve its perfection in the vision of God himself. It is in that blessed vision that our love find its delectation, its fulfilment and rest.