If you’ve spent more than ten minutes at a public pool during summer vacation, there’s a good chance you’ve heard these familiar words being yelled by children enjoying their time off from school. It’s a simple game: one kid closes his eyes, yells “Marco,” and waits for the reply from his friends. “Polo!” he hears, shouted from all directions. He swims in the direction of the shouts, hoping to catch one of his friends. When he fails to find one, he calls “Marco” again, and all his friends shout back “Polo!”—loud enough that he can hear, but quietly enough that they can’t be found too easily. Eventually, Marco is going to find one of his friends, and he gets to open his eyes.
Most of us associate this game with the bygone days of childhood and summer vacation. But if you ask me, we spend all our lives playing this game. Sure, we may not be in a pool, and we may not have a dozen friends yelling “Polo!” back at us. Our journey to God, however, looks an awful lot like a game of Marco Polo.
Oftentimes, when I’m trying to pray, I feel like I’m swimming around with my eyes closed, unsure of which direction to go. I settle into the chapel and call out to God, “Marco!” And then I wait. And wait. And wait some more. Every so often, God will call back, ever so softly, “Polo.” And then I swim in his direction. Before too long, I’ve lost track of where he might be, so I call out again. Eventually, he calls back. And once again, I take off in his direction.
Sometimes we wait so long to hear him, we think he may have stopped playing. Simply got out of the pool and went somewhere else. Many great saints—the recently canonized Mother Teresa and the recently celebrated Thérèse of Lisieux, for example—went years without hearing God’s voice. But they never stopped calling, and that’s part of the reason they’re saints.
We may not know why God keeps us waiting so long. Perhaps he’s letting us try to find him on our own, walking—or swimming, in this case—by faith. He could be calling us into the deep end, to show us that we can swim, so long as we follow where he leads us. After all, didn’t Our Lord ask Peter to “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4), without telling him why? And yet Peter followed, and the Lord rewarded his faithfulness. Christ will do the same for us when we follow him into the deep. So whether we know the reason or not, when we do hear his voice again, we realize that he has never really stopped playing this metaphorical game of Marco Polo, and we continue to swim after him. He’s always there, ready to call out to us, just loudly enough that we know where to go, just loudly enough to bring us ever closer to him. And we need to chase after him.
So we keep on playing. We go to church week after week, sit in the chapel day after day, calling out to God. Sometimes we hear him call back, sometimes we don’t. But when we do, we need to take off swimming in his direction. And when we get tired, which we inevitably will, we call out again. As long as we keep doing this—calling out, swimming in his direction—when it’s finally time for the game to end, we can call out one final time. God will call back, and we can open our eyes, finally seeing the face of the one friend we’ve been searching for all along.
Image: El Greco, St. Dominic in Prayer (detail)