Creator? Redeemer? Sustainer?
I do not know what name to lift up to you God. Not in this moment of prayer. Not to get your attention at this time. Will a pleasant name give my plea a greater hearing?
God who is – I AM. God who claims naught but existence… and hearing – for you heard the cries of your people. God who claims naught but existence and hearing and yet also responds through broken vessels like Moses and Paul, in prophets like Elijah and Jesus, in poets and priests and prostitutes and peons and… and whatever you can lay eye on. God who is, hear our prayers – our cries – our lamentations – our bafflement and our despair, and respond. Because we need you.
“In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:1)
Our world knows much of formlessness, void, and darkness. Our world – your world I might remind you – is swirling out of control. (Are there controls on this thing?) Madness seems to have taken over. We are killing each other at obsessive rates. Killing over land, over long held hatred, out of neglect, self-interest… or for no reason at all. God… we are killing. We are killing ourselves.
“Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)
So much hate. I do not know what to do in the face of hate. I feel overwhelmed by it all. I do not know how to look into the eyes of one who sees another human being as unworthy of life. I do not know how to stare deeply into those eyes… with love. I do not know how to love the hate-filled other. To love them in such a way that the only death is the hate and not the other.
“Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 22:34)
We lack the strength Lord to be a gracious people. We are consumed by a need for personal safety. We are consumed by a need to protect our own. We are consumed by our self. We are literally consuming ourselves in the name of our own glory. And the victims of our hunger are legion.
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” (Daniel 1:8)
Our hearts are empty. We care not. Certainly not enough to deprive ourselves. Besides, we cannot get beyond our own hurts, for they are real and true and hardship abounds. We cannot be moved to care for another when we cannot care for ourselves. Where do we go when everyone is a patient and no doctor will come to work? Is there balm for the wounded soul?
“I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)
But our children are scattered and dying. Hungry and homeless and… what future does this world hold when schools are warzones and warzones are shielded in their bodies?
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
Our leaders are as scared as we are – perhaps even more because they can see farther than we can, for all their short-sightedness, from their elevated lofts of luxury. What does a disciple do when then master is aimless, absent, apathetic or amorally removed from the plight?
“I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:10)
Them too – but maybe you are not hearing me, where are you, O God…. How long O Lord… if we die in this wilderness of hate and indifference who shall be left to you of your creations? My God… my GOD… why have you forgotten us… forsaken us…. Whither shall we go – shall we look to the hills? Shall we find you in the shadow of death? The demons have overturned the furniture and made a mess of the homes in our heads… the bleeding will not be stopped… the death-throws of the Beast – if death throws they are – are far too much for our little lives to stand. If you are Alpha and Omega.. we need you in the middle too – where are you, O Lord… my God?
“Be still… know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
I find myself almost out of breath… that is – out of God, out of you. Molded and breathed into and given life, it is death now that I see, that I breathe, that I live. Justice isn’t rolling down, Habakkuk is no more pleased today, does he still stand his watch tower? Do I stand in his place? Do I have it in me? I am out of breath, and our world feels out of time. Oh Ancient of Days – it’s time to appear on scene. At least a little late I might say. Where do we go from here – when just to stand seem more than I am able?
“At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved.” (Daniel 9:23)
I was looking for a little more Revelation.
I am stirred to anger and I am ready for an angry God. We are past the point of words… we need action. Oh God – DON’T YOU SEE IT?!?!
“Hear, O Israel-” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
YOU DON’T GET IT – I’M DONE LISTENING. I NEED YOU TO FIX THIS!
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” (Mark 10:21)
I’m not sure I know what to do with that. Is that an answer? Why won’t you answer me – don’t you know I have your life in my hands…..
“Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:35)
I didn’t mean it, God I didn’t mean it. I’m just frustrated. More than a little lost. More than a little heart-sick for all those whose lives have been thrown to the wind. More than little despairing that we just can’t get this love thing. I’m tired… God knows, you must be too.
“My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8)
God may our hearts be broken… broken open to one another. Broken up by you and for you and with you. May our hearts be kindled and may our anger be healthy. Angry at killing, not killing angry. Angry at systems of homelessness, violence, power and dominance, ignoring the widow and orphan, at imagining there is no room in the inn… But not angry at the homeless, the violated, the least and the lost. May our hearts be kindled. May our compassion grow warm, yes, and tender. May seedlings of hope be scattered in the wilderness and the rocks and roads and the urban slums and the rooftops of palace and stable and may the sprout up. May we protect them for them are a hard won and precious gift. May we honor them for their roots go deep into the marrow of the earth connecting pole to pole – person to person, and their leaves are absorbing the starlight of different worlds and in their veins lies the life blood of heaven and hell.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Just help me see the hope… for all the rest is all too easy to be consumed by.
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)
Make it so. So be it. Amen
This is the second in a series on the “Holy Spirit Section” of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith. If you missed the first entry you can find it here.
“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing,”
I will try not to say too much… and probably fail. I broke down our section of the Brief Statement of Faith into more manageable thought-bites, but some of these selections stayed longer than others. This is a long one and I wish to break it down further:
“In a broken and fear world…”
Confessions in the Reformed Tradition are conditional statements. They speak as the community of the church, as we experience it now, articulated to a world, as we perceive it now, the truth of the gospel, as we hear it now. So while it must articulate what we believe, it is of equal importance to name the conditions of the world to which we speak. The Brief Statement of faith here names that our work is broken. It claims that our world is fearful.
There is a powerful testimony here. There is nothing to be gain by avoiding the elephants in the room. We do not avoid being open about hard realities. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are we must confront the wildness within and around us. We name it and look it straight in the eye in hope that doing so we can learn much about ourselves, and much about God. We speak God’s word to it, in sure and certain hope that such a word will prove transforming.
I resonant with the words the church chose here: broken and fearful. The angels and messengers of God again and again repeat the refrain: Do not be afraid. We are afraid of failing, we are afraid of not being good enough, we are afraid to be known, to be alone, sometimes we are even afraid to succeed. We fear the unknown, and we fear being lost in a crowd. There is much that we fear and this fear leads us to a kind of despair that Soren Kierkegaard likens, “a sickness unto death.” Scripture then reminds us again and again to allow the power of God as love to cast out such fear.
So it is that God comes to those who are broken. …broken shards of pottery… broken identities… broken lives… it is to those who are broken in body, spirit, and emotion that God comes to speak peace and good news. It is through such brokenness that God displays the only kind of power to which God aspires. If you read through scripture again and again you will find God’s vitality being lived out through broken people. Conniving Jacob, stuttering and hiding Moses, bloody David, Peter of little faith, Paul in his affliction, and Thomas in his questioning. The only figure that God ever led God’s people through that wasn’t broken was Jesus… and you know what? In order to fulfill himself he had to become broken. God comes to, and speaks through, our brokenness.
“…the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing.”
Praying is a strangely daunting task. I am amazed how often in a group of passionate and faithful people there will be no-one willing to lead us in prayer. Why? Perhaps we think too much of prayer. Perhaps we think too little. Prayer isn’t a magic spell and there is no way to say the words wrong. Beautiful prayers don’t get better hearing and results. Flat and fumbling prayers are not without meaning. Prayer is simply the process of speaking our thoughts, hurts, hopes, and cares to God. We may speak them in emotive silence, with water color paints, with mindless chores, and with poetic words. We may just say them in short clipped bits of rote prayers recalled from childhood. The form doesn’t matter, and God is quite clear that it isn’t meant to be a public performance.
I think prayer is really about the same task as confessions – speaking ourselves into a new reality. Just as a writer has to write as a creative discipline, practicing getting thoughts out on a page, I think that prayer is rehearsing the Kingdom of God. Not for God’s benefit, and not as petition for some action on the part of God. I think prayer is a thought experiment in reminding ourselves for what we aspire: mutual care, thanksgiving, good news for those in distress, the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams with regards to God’s creative enterprise. Prayer is a litany whereby we remind ourselves of the work we are meant to be about in the world, but also a cathartic expression of dashed hopes. Prayer is a speaking of the promises God has made to us and us to God where we essential rehearse the covenant in which we live together. And this is important work, and so in a world of broken people with much fear – fear even to speak our hopes and name our fears – it is daring work that the Spirit encourages us to pray, and to make our life a prayer – without ceasing.
The NEXT 2014 conference was centered on three words: Lead / Create / Discern. However, the three words I moved through in that time were: Awe / Inadequacy / Humbled.
There are so many great ideas, leaders, conversations that I was awed by the creativity. I could not help but imagine God looking down on creation again, and again, and again and thinking, “It is good.” In a conversation that could have been about all that was wrong, it was instead about all that goodness, the opportunities. The combined generative creativity was awe inspiring. There was not denial here about the death in the life of what it has and does mean to be church. But that wasn’t the word that was made flesh. It was not not-true that the church is dying, but it also was not true. Is not true.
I can’t help it. I feel so very ordinary, uncreative, and yes – inadequate – next to all these innovative leaders and passionate followers. Don’t rush in to console me please. I know I have gifts too – I’m not completely unqualified for the calling to which I have been called. I will be challenged by this, and I will find a way to grab hold of something – or something will grab hold of me – in a way authentic to who I am and who my community is, God knows what God is doing. But I guess what I mean to say is…
I feel humbled when I’m surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, a chorus of dedicated and loving people. I look around and think: the church is in very good hands and to anyone who thinks this tomb is empty… or that it is even a tomb. I say ‘stand back’ because some abundant life is going to trample all over that doom and gloom. I am humbled like the Psalmist who utters, “who am I that you are mindful of me.” And even while we are talking about the church that is next… what struck me was how much this church is right now. Springing up. Something new. Seeking the welfare of the city. Exile? It never looked so good.
And then this happened… in a service of prayer little slips of paper full of all our fears were read out loud. And I realized I’m no more afraid, no more attentive to my own inadequacy, no more paralyzed by the sense of what might happen if I fail big in a place that doesn’t seem like it can handle one more failure than everyone else in this room. We are humbled by each other, united by fears, and led to hope. That was the final word. Hope. I found this most strongly in our weakest moment when I felt united by our fears, and convicted by the sense that all of that fear wasn’t holding the Spirit of God back from leading us. Not. One. Bit. I’m ready for what’s next, are you?