“Step Aside and Just Watch Me Work!”

A Brief Theophany on the Way to the Malta Investiture, 2018

By Roger Fiola, KM

Glancing at the ETA on the screen in my car, I realized I was going to be twenty minutes late.

Although I planned my departure from Carmel carefully, the Northern California traffic systems were uncooperative that Friday morning in June. As a knight of Malta, I was on my way to the annual investiture of new knights and dames at the impressive, beehive-shaped cathedral in Oakland. It is a beautiful ceremony and Mass, filled abundantly with celestially-inspiring music and centuries-old traditions. My medieval robes and eighteenth-century decoration were aboard, and I wanted to be there in plenty of time to put them on and process into the service with my brother knights.

Small thing right? Hardly earth-shattering.

Although perhaps unimportant in the great schema of life, I did not want to travel almost three hours and be late. So, the patented Fiola-Anxiousness set in, accompanied by a healthy dose of Catholic guilt. That small voice inside my head reprimanded me: I should have left earlier, should have planned more carefully, should not have taken that last business call before I left. All the shoulds and shouldn’ts were present and accounted for, rendering the inevitable verdict of self-judgment: Guilty!

This was my first investiture as a full-fledged member of the order, and I blew it! As the minutes ticked by, I looked at the sea of bumpers and brake lights spreading across all lanes of the venerable I-880, which is possibly the most uninspiring expanse of concrete created by humankind, especially when in my state of mind. Admittedly, more than one expletive found its way out of my mouth, and then I settled down, and did what the Serenity Prayer asks.

“To accept the things I cannot change.”

The clock and the brake lights were two things that could not be altered. Small stuff, right? Not a cancer diagnosis, not a heart attack. Small stuff.

Yet, we can find God even in the small stuff, even on the I-880! I was disappointed through and through, deciding to say another prayer of acceptance for What Is. I was going to be late and that was that.

“Oh, yeah?” I heard a small inner voice say. “Step aside for a minute. Step aside and just watch Me work!”

Now, in reading Scriptures, I don’t recall Moses, Isaiah, or any of the prophets indicating that God ever said, “Oh, yeah?,” yet I was certain that this was a theophany of sorts. Okay, I know—a theophany is defined as a visible manifestation of God and, while there was no sighting of the Divine in those brake lights, or certainly not upon the reflector-pimpled concrete ahead, there was a sudden, strong feeling of His Presence and, perhaps, of revelation.

“Just Watch Me Work!” The voice repeated the phrase again and again.

Then, a strange thing happened. I suddenly felt relaxed. This was on Him now. With a shrug of my tense shoulders, I decided to turn on my Itunes 60’s playlist, cranked the volume, and, soon, was rocking to The Doors. God had it covered—as He has all things covered!

What happened after that tiny moment of surrender was amazing to me! Small, yet amazing. It was as if I had been taken to the Oakland cathedral on a magic carpet. I slid into a parking space near the church just as the eleven-minute version of Light My Fire ended. Grabbing my robes, I headed to the entrance where a brother knight quickly took me to a nearby dressing room in the cathedral. Soon I was ready to go, even having time to snap a selfie to send to my wife.

With three minutes to spare, I joined the line of knights and marched in. What followed was a majestic ceremony and I was relaxed, reverencing and enjoying it all. The homily was on the subject of—you guessed it—Theophany. As Father spoke, I kept remembering that small, inner voice.

“Step aside and just watch me work!”

In all things, serious, grave, and not-so-grave circumstances of life, we are called to remember who really is in charge, who really has our back. It isn’t complicated, yet it is deep. We can’t find theophany, in whatever dimension of experience, when we are flustered, distracted, or floating on the surface of life. That is why we receive great revelations when we are ill, vulnerable, or facing challenges we cannot change. We need, it seems, to be in a state of forced or voluntary surrender to see God working through the Holy Spirit for us. However, these challenges, these surrenders are almost always unpleasant or, at least, inconvenient. If we’re feeling that way, we can be assured God is near.

Just watch Me work.  I remember the old saying: “God comes disguised as your life!” How many coincidences of meeting certain people have we experienced, people who turned out to be consequential in our lives? These small theophanies are plentiful, however we don’t usually notice them until well after they occur. Regardless of when we become aware of them, God is there, ever reminding us that He is with us. Emmanuel. God-with-Us. The name the angels gave His Son. When we let go, let God be with us—as I have more mindfully been doing since that day—all we have to do is do what needs to be done next, keep our spiritual eyes wide open, hold the distractions at bay, and then… step aside, and—

Just Watch God Work!