“In the Midst” (Frederick Buechner)

JESUS IS APT TO COME, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but . . . at supper time, or walking along a road.

This is the element that all the stories about Christ’s return to life have in common: Mary waiting at the empty tomb and suddenly turning around to see somebody standing there—someone she thought at first was the gardener; all the disciples except Thomas hiding out in a locked house, and then his coming and standing in the midst; and later, when Thomas was there, his coming again and standing in the midst; Peter taking his boat back after a night at sea, and there on the shore, near a little fire of coals, a familiar figure asking, “Children, have you any fish?”; the two men at Emmaus who knew him in the breaking of the bread.

[Jesus] never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.

– Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat  

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Two Musings: Doubt is a Gift

 

“Doubt is a gift. It means the way you see God is fraying at the edges, and maybe it needed to.”

– Mike McHargue

Musing One…

I have often felt that one of the paradoxes of God is that in order to experience God we must simultaneously truly let go of every single image of God we have, to drop every ‘box’ we have put God in.

In essence, we must pray the prayer that the 15th century German mystic, Meister Eckhart prayed, “I pray God to rid you of God.”  We must do this because all that we use to define God often comes from flawed and pained sources – mostly childhood ones for me.  You see having an alcoholic father can make trust in God a difficult thing.  I struggle with trusting God, trusting his love, fidelity.  I do not struggle with believing in God’s love or power; I struggle with believing God desires to shed those qualities on me.

In A.A., the 3rd Step states that we must make a decision “to turn our will and the care of our lives over to God, as we understand Him.”  The funny thing is that not only did I have an alcoholic father; I also am one in recovery.  So what is hard is not actually the surrendering over to God all of my will and being and living my life for God; what the struggle is comes in the words “care.”

In order to surrender my life to God’s care, I must first trust that God indeed does care.

And I often doubt that one… that God does care.

I know, I know.  How can I call myself a Jesus follower and doubt God’s care?  How can I doubt that I am loved when all the cross Jesus hung upon says to me is love, love, love.

I see Jesus forgiving all sorts of untouchables and unlovables and yet I doubt with some regularity that God cares for me.

So, I pray often for God to “rid” me of God.  I pray for God to remove from me all the idolatrous and graven images I have set up to be a poor substitute for him.  My father, whom I love very much, is still a poor lens through which to view and experience God.  My addiction is another poor choice; people in power and people with presumed power are also poor lens through which to experience God.

It is why I return again and again to Jesus.  In him, I see all that I need to see of God; in Jesus I see love unfathomable, grace unlimited, and mercy unmitigated.  It is why time and time again I go to Jesus when I am lost, scared, and most of all when I am in doubt.  Jesus is God with flesh on.  When I wonder how God would ‘act’ and what God would do or say to the situations and circumstances of my life (and the world), I return to the words of Jesus, to the life of Jesus to get Truth.

For in Jesus, I find all that I need to learn to be still in my doubt, tender in my fears, and embrace all of me, even as I see the me that needs embracing is dark and wounded.

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Musing Two…

Saying God is not in my doubt is sort of like saying God was not in my past – in my drunken stupors and bleary-eyed cocaine hazes – and it is an insult to God.  It limits God and God’s love and grace.  It is about the same as if I am saying God only exists when I say God exists; as if God does not start being real until I say God is real.  Leaving God out of my doubt, or fearing my doubt, is an ego-based act of attrition.

Saying God does not exist in the doubt is an insult.

And when people are uncomfortable with my doubt, and speak with words like backsliding, or faithless, or heretic or not a true believer, I just tell them their discomfort with my doubt, and my truth does not negate my truth; that no one defines me but God alone, and no one truly knows the faith or lack thereof that dwells in my heart.

For people who say that doubt is the opposite of faith, and the lack thereof, are people who have made God two sizes too small.  For God is everywhere.  There is nowhere (no where) that God is not so that means that there is nowhere that God’s love is not.

My doubt and the crazy cracks in my faith are the very spaces God uses to let his light in to shine my world up.  The same is true for you.  My doubts, and my cracks, are truly gifts from God.  And for them I thank God and sing praises to him.

Messy Life…Merciful God

“I have had to accept the fact that my life is almost totally paradoxical. I have also had to learn gradually to get along without apologizing for the fact, even to myself…  I have become convinced that the very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me: if only because someone so complicated and so prone to confusion and self-defeat could hardly survive for long without special mercy.”

Thomas Merton

Truth…after all these years, I am still afraid of the dark.

Oh, I talk a good game, stating proudly that I love the dark that I am okay with it, with not knowing, with the unknown.  But that’s a load of crap.  I hate the dark.  Specifically, I loathe the reality of “not knowing.”  I find no comfort in that sacred place.

I have found that the words of Dorothy Day ring true, reminding us that it is best to travel light through the darkness.  I say it is good to do so because I need my hands in the darkness, groping for security, feeling my way through it the way a newly blind person fumbles through Braille. Slowly, methodically, with intention.

The darkness of my heart – the anger, the fear, the lack of trust in God despite evidence to the contrary – makes my life ‘feel’ messy.  I want my life, and my faith, to be neat and tidy.  But that it would seem is as improbable as it is impossible.

When my life feels messy, there is this thought that rattles around my head with jarring significance and it goes like this – sometimes I feel that God is this All-pervasive Reality I have yet to actually experience, much less “know.”

I mean, I “know” Jesus.  I love Him.  I follow Him, however feebly.  But I do so like a child in a mud puddle – messy, splashing about, mud and earth and water colliding all about me.

But then that noise subsides, and above the din I hear the repetitive whisper, “mercy, mercy, mercy, all is enveloped in Mercy…”

One thing is certain, the messier my life gets the more merciful God seems.  I sense the reason that is due to this truth: the messier and more mistake prone I get, the more I am in dire need of God’s Mercy that is available always and forever.  The more I am ‘human’ the more I need and therefore am open to Divine Love.  When I am at my lowest, it is ‘easier’ to look up and ask for mercy.

It’s easier to surrender when I run out of bullets.

It’s a shame that it takes my increased messiness and mistakes to be the catalyst provoking my need of God’s divine mercy, but I am human.  I am trying daily to put myself in a position living conscious of and present to God’s infinite mercy rather than waiting for fox holes and disasters.

Spiritual crisis prevention is far better than crisis management.  In prevention mode, I am more aware of God in all my dealings rather than my usual state of forgetfulness.  And as I grow in a deeper daily awareness of God, the self made messiness seems to give way to a mercy filled life; still messy, but steeped in the ever-present reality called the mercy of God.

 

 

The Necessity of Emptiness

The all-important central emptiness
which is filled
with the presence of God alone.”

Jean Danielou

I am learning more deeply in these days that emptiness is necessary; it is also quite scary for most of us. I could lie and say that emptiness no longer scares me the way it did as a child, but I would be lying. As I grow older, and death becomes more a part of my intentional consciousness, emptiness brings some level of fear, for far too often I confuse emptiness with loneliness.

Like many, I fear growing old alone.  I fear the dark emptiness that this could bring.  But there is an emptiness which has nothing to do with a partner, for I have been with others and simultaneously felt alone.

Emptiness is not only necessary it is also good. Emptiness is the only space that can truly ‘contain’ God; emptiness is the space for God and God alone. In emptiness there are no leaks or cracks, just pure and endless space. I fill the emptiness far too often with things that are not meant for it. For years, to the point of addiction, I filled emptiness with drugs, alcohol, sex, excitement, drama, darkness. You name it…and I could try and use it to fill the void known as emptiness.

Everywhere I look I see this same symptom of addiction: fill the void, fill the emptiness. Marketers, admen, corporations, news programs, and pharmaceutical companies will tell me – without actually telling me – that the hole in the center of my being was created for their specific products. And if I listen to them I have no shortage of deluge of things to fill this emptiness – antidepressants, sleep aids, pain meds, meds to keep me paying attention, to keep me skinny, to keep me young or hard as a rock.  Then throw in the 24 hour a day channels that spew endless upon endless means for consumption be it news, sports, or shopping networks.

And at the end of the day, that is the true enemy of emptiness, not evil or addiction, but consumption; the never ending obsession with “more”.

But that pining emptiness within me tells me there is another way, a way of divine love, a way that says my emptiness is the portal for God as much as it is a reminder that I am fallible and finite.

Emptiness reminds me of my place in the grand scheme of things. I was created before I was anything else; I am created before I am anything else.  Emptiness teaches me that I am an image of God and not God. Emptiness reminds me that I am finite yet a dwelling place for the Infinite. Emptiness is necessary if I am to encounter God on a daily basis for in my emptiness God in his fullness comes near, reminding me I am both child and beloved.

So, today I will try and face my fear of emptiness and in the mere confronting of it I know I will experience the One who is the Fullness of unconditional Love.

 

“Denominations” – Reflections from Frederick Buechner

I love Frederick Buechner; his faith is earthy and alive – he loves Jesus, the world, the arts, and all that is Life.  He writes like a man who has touched and been touched by doubt, faith, pain, sadness, joy and hope, and most definitely by God.  Rev. Buechner has tasted deeply of this life and found it full of God and God’s glory.

Frederick Buechner has been a rich and somewhat hidden part of my story and the Story of God in my life.  I like his writings on “Denominations” thoughtful and in this time of much separation and “differences”, I wanted to post his wisdom to the Earthy Monk.  Enjoy.

THERE ARE BAPTISTS, Methodists, Episcopalians. There are Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists. There are Disciples of Christ. There are Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are Moravians. There are Quakers. And that’s only for starters. New denominations spring up. Old denominations split up and form new branches. The question is not, Are you a Baptist? but, What kind of a Baptist? It is not, Are you a member of the Presbyterian church? but Which Presbyterian church? A town with a population of less than five hundred may have churches of three or four denominations and none of them more than a quarter full on a good Sunday.

There are some genuine differences between them, of course. The methods of church government differ. They tend to worship in different forms all the way from chanting, incense, and saints’ days to a service that is virtually indistinguishable from a New England town meeting with musical interludes. Some read the Bible more literally than others. If you examine the fine print, you may even come across some relatively minor theological differences among them, some stressing one aspect of the faith, some stressing others. But if you were to ask the average member of any congregation to explain those differences, you would be apt to be met with a long, unpregnant silence. By and large they all believe pretty much the same things and are confused about the same things and keep their fingers crossed during the same parts of the Nicene Creed.

However, it is not so much differences like these that keep the denominations apart as it is something more nearly approaching team spirit. Somebody from a long line of Congregationalists would no more consider crossing over to the Methodists than a Red Sox fan would consider rooting for the Mets. And even bricks and mortar have a lot to do with it. Your mother was married in this church building and so were you, and so was your oldest son. Your grandparents are buried in the cemetery just beyond the Sunday School wing. What on earth would ever persuade you to leave all that and join forces with the Lutherans in their building down the street? So what if neither of you can pay the minister more than a pittance and both of you have as hard a time getting more than thirty to fill the sanctuary built for two hundred as you do raising money to cover the annual heating bill.

All the duplication of effort and waste of human resources. All the confusion about what the Church is, both within the ranks and without. All the counterproductive competition. All the unnecessarily empty pews and unnecessary expense. Then add to that picture the Roman Catholic Church, still more divided from the Protestant denominations than they are from each other, and by the time you’re through, you don’t know whether to burst into laughter or into tears.

When Jesus took the bread and said, “This is my body which is broken for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24), it’s hard to believe that even in his wildest dreams he foresaw the tragic and ludicrous brokenness of the Church as his body. There’s no reason why everyone should be Christian in the same way and every reason to leave room for differences, but if all the competing factions of Christendom were to give as much of themselves to the high calling and holy hope that unites them as they do now to the relative inconsequentialities that divide them, the Church would look more like the Kingdom of God for a change and less like an ungodly mess.

– Written by Frederick Buechner, originally published in Whistling in the Dark