(Disciples – Ann Weems)
Hurting they came to him. Healed they followed him.
Grateful they gave to him what they had and what they were.
Blessed they became a blessing and went out into the world in his name.
Those who are hurt and healed, grateful and blessed,
still move among us in his name...
How do we experience God?
How do we experience God in the deep dark moments of our lives? And how is that different from how we experience God in the less deep dark moments of our lives?
Do we experience God differently in those moments, compared and contrasted with the other moments of our lives?
How do we describe God? What words do we use when we think or speak of God? What images do we call to mind when we try to articulate our faith?
Or, do we never put much thought into our faith, and our belief in God until we hit those deep dark moments that leave us reeling … and cause to wonder if there is even a God at all ?
They're tough question … but they are good questions to raise and reflect on periodically, because they help us to comprehend, understand and articulate our faith, not only when we face challenging moments, but when we are just merrily cruising through life and giving little thought to our faith, or to God at all …
A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me is having a faith, and being in a place of leadership within the Church helps you deal with the kinds of happenings that have unfolded in my life recently … “Does it make it easier to face the grief?” she asked.
I thought about the answer and said - “not really ...” then went on to describe the one crucial difference that I think I've lived over the last few weeks … and that is the ability to articulate clearly the swirl of emotions and the ambivilance I really feel towards God at this time … I'm not left in a place where I am struggling to express feelings of outrage and abandonment … I not only get it, I can see throughout the history and heritage of the Church examples of people who had similar moments in their faith journey, and who were able to express those feelings without throwing up their hands and walking away …
I can draw from a well of images and ideas and experiences that move far beyond the idea of God as a bearded old man sitting on a throne somewhere nodding his head in “understanding” as all hell breaks loose in the lives of his followers … I can wrestle with the issues before me and pull the multitude of images and ideas of God that populate our Scriptures ranging from that bearded guy on a throne all the way through to God nestling us as new borns at her breast … being able to appreciate and express the experience of the divine in such broad and diverse images helps to feel God's presence in those deep dark moments when we feel utterly alone.
And, yet if you want to rile up a crowd in the Church start talking about God in images and genders that are not male, old, grey and bearded … people get down right ornery about such things. I've known of people stomping out of church, never to return because I've DARED to speak of God as Mother … as Sister … as something more than that bearded guy on the throne, and even though we have Scriptural references to these fabulous and powerful images of God that are so much more than the traditional notion of God as father, they were offended …
What saddens me most in that moment, is the failure to grasp the breadth and depth and profound power of God's presence in our lives that is conveyed and celebrated in those many images of God … in those deep dark moments, sometimes the 'safe' and 'comfortable' image of God as the bearded old guy on the throne, doesn't work, and we need to experience and articulate the Divine in other ways …
Jesus got this when we spoke of God … Jesus spoke of God in radical ways – not off the wall radical, but returning to the roots radical … the images Jesus used of God were not new, but rather reached back into the Scriptural traditions and reclaimed ideas and images that had been expressed centuries earlier.
When Jesus said to his disciples, “when you pray say ...” he offered them a prayer that began with the words - “Abba, Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name ...” Abba doesn't mean Father in a formal respectful way. It means Daddy … the itimate familiar term we use when we're referring to our father figure … Daddy who is in heaven … this is not some cold formal theological construct seperating us from God, but rather it is a close, intimate, and deeply familiar expression of God as someone inexplicably involved in our day to day lives … DADDY … MUMMY … whatever term we use for the bonds that give us life and meaning …
And, as Jesus spoke those words people were shocked and outraged … he was expressing an image of God that was disconcerting to those who wanted to hold power and protect God from the holy.
“How can you keep order when people are talking so casually about God?”
And that perhaps is the key … it's ALL about order and control. You can't control people and maintain order when everyone is talking about God in their own way, using metaphors and images that are meaningful ONLY to them … we can't bow in pray, or gather to worship if everyone has a different way of expressing their belief and faith in God.
Yet, that is exactly what Jesus was getting at … it's not about order and control, it's about experiencing FULLY the holy. Understanding and expressing our faith in the images and metaphors that speak to us and speak to ur experiences.
If the image of God as a mother holding her new born to breast and giving food and sustainence is meaningful to you – GREAT … if the idea of God being like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing speaks to you – awesome … if the notion that God is experienced in our lives like the hands of a potter gentling pulling the clay as it spins on the potter's wheel is what helps you move forward in life – that's wonderful … because not one of these images is the only representation or experience of God, but together we begin to understand, comprehend and experience God in more full and expressive ways.
This is the experience and understanding of God Jesus spoke of when he offered those words from today's Gospel reading … God cares about us as individuals … God cares about us as people … God cares about us as God's own children.
And if we're limited in our understanding of God to a bearded old man sitting on a throne far above our heads, how can we truly experience the fullness of God's love and care for us?
If we've limited ourselves to understanding God only in narrow and concise ways, how can we express and experience God when our encounters with the holy are outside and beyond those narrow definitions?
These past few weeks have not so much tested my faith, as tested my ability to express my faith and articulate my experience of the Holy in the events unfolding around me … I've wept … I've raged at God … I've found myself unable to say anything to God … and there have been moments when I've even doubted that God exists at all … yet, undergirding it all is an understanding, that God is those very things Jesus speaks of in our reading today.
God is about experiencing the holy, not arguing about how we express that experience.
God is about feeling loved and cared for no matter what is happening around us, not splitting hairs over which images and words we use.
God is about standing in a place where we can affirm and feel our role as a beloved child of God, rather than bickering over what concept of God we use to articulate and celebrate our relationship with God.
It's ultimately, not about the words or concepts at all … it's about HOW we experience and live the relationship we have with God in our day to day lives … it doesn't matter what words we use, or what concepts we call to mind. At the end of the day, the important thing is that we have God in our lives to begin with, and that we are able to convey and share that experience with others.
In the midst of the temptest that has enveloped me over the last few weeks, I had one of my friends comment at my ability to face all that was before me … “you are obviously much stronger than we realized” he quipped … as he reflected back on my childhood when I was regarded as the cry baby, and the suck, and the mommy's boy, and how that contrasts to what I've been embodying today, I realized that my ability to face what is before me right now – that perceived strength - rests entirely in my faith …
There have been many days in the last few weeks when I've gotten out of bed and put my feet on the floor, and simply put one foot in front of the other until my day ends and I crawl back into bed … For two decades I've been counselling people that sometimes ALL we can do is put one foot in front of the other, take one breath, live one moment, and keep moving forward … it's good advice … but it is hard advice to live when you're in the middle of those deep dark moments.
My strength over the last couple of months has come from two sources … the circle of friends and family who have been there through it all … and from my faith – my believe that no matter what is unfolding around me, no matter what storm is breaking over me, no matter how dark the night may be … we are not alone.
A few days before mom died, I mused on a quotation that has been very much part of my journey over the last few years – the quotation: “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time ...- Andre Gide” has guided me through the events and happenings over the last six years. I ended my reflection by writing the words:
“Life is too short to take it too seriously ... sometimes we need to just let go and trust in God to see us through. The affirmation to that came this morning in my early morning devotional as I read a passage by Standish, who said it is vital for Churches to find themselves in a place where they simply trust in God, and live their faith as a VERB not a noun ... he cites an example of a Chruch stressed by budget concerns, and rather than calling a special meeting, or making a special appeal for funds, they opted instead to trust in God through prayer to see them through ... it worked.
Life is like that sometimes ... what we want, may not be what God wants for us, nor is what we need ... sometimes we need to simply let go and be present to the moment and leave the rest in the hands of God, our higher power, the cosmos, fate (whatever term you wish to use), and see what unfold ...”
A colleague cited these words as a prophetic vision of what I would need to face the long dark days that were ahead for me …
That may be true, but in this moment, where I stand the simple reality that aroses from this morning's readings is the realization that the words we use don't matter as much as the experience we seek to share with others …
In our faith journey, experiencing God, and being able to share that with others is more important than getting hung up on the dogmatic words and concepts that serve only to divide us from one another … Today we are called to live our faith, and to experience the verb God, rather than the noun!!
May it be so, thanks be to God … let us pray …