It’s funny when you can learn a lesson and catch a glimpse of the divine. Recently, in a grocery store, I witnessed the following incident. A young girl, probably around 16 years of age, along with two other girls her own age, came into the store. She picked up a grocery basket and began to walk down the aisle, not knowing that a second basket was stuck onto the one she was carrying. At a point the inevitable happened: the basket that was stuck to hers released and crashed to the floor with a loud bang, startling her and all of us around her.

What was her reaction? She burst into laughter, exuding a joy-filled delight at being so startled. For her the surprise of the falling basket was not an irritation but a gift, an unexpected humour happily fracturing a dull routine.

If that had happened to me, given how I’m habitually in a hurry and easily irritated by anything that disrupts my agenda, I would probably have responded with a silent expletive rather than with laughter. Which made me think: here’s a young girl who probably isn’t going to church and probably isn’t much concerned about matters of faith, but who, in this moment, is wonderfully radiating the energy of God; while I, a vowed religious, over-serious priest, church minister and spiritual writer, in such a moment, too often radiate the antithesis of God’s energy: irritation.

But is this true? Does God really burst into laughter at falling grocery baskets? Doesn’t God ever get irritated? What’s God’s real nature? God is the unconditional love and forgiveness that Jesus reveals, but God is also the energy that lies at the base of everything that is. And that energy, as is evident in both creation and Scripture, is, at its root, creative, prodigal, robust, joy-filled, playful and exuberant.

If you want to know what God is like, look at the natural exuberance of children, look at the exuberance of a young puppy, look at the robust, playful energy of young people, and look at the spontaneous laughter of a 16-year-old when she is startled by a falling basket. And to see God’s prodigal character, we might look at the billions and billions of planets that surround us. The energy of God is prodigal and exuberant.

Then what about the Cross? Doesn’t it, more than anything else, reveal God’s nature? Isn’t it what shows us God? Isn’t suffering the innate and necessary route to maturity and sanctity? So isn’t there a contradiction between what Jesus reveals about the nature of God in his crucifixion and what Scripture and nature reveal about God’s exuberance?

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection