I think the Old Testament set me up for expecting God in big, flashy moments—the pillar of fire, the parting of water, the dramatic rescue from lions—all of it showing God’s presence writ large across the pages of human history. When I look for God to intervene in my life, there is part of me that hopes it will be just as dramatic; that I will see evidence of miraculous healings or water turned to wine or even a blinding light on a road.
But in the New Testament many of the interventions were quieter and (on the surface) very ordinary. There were people who talked together, walked from place to place, people who touched each other, people who asked questions and ate together, people who sometimes misunderstood each other and failed to see what was most needed at the time.
I wonder sometimes how I can wake up in a despairing mood, wondering why I can’t sense God’s presence when everywhere around me in the tiny, quiet moments, my life is screaming with evidence of his love: sunrise, sunset every single day again, and a bright blue sky overhead; friends to laugh with, chocolate to eat, hot tea to drink; dogs to pet and socks to put on. In a thousand tiny moments of predictable routine God undergirds my doubt with the quiet persistence of his promise.
Where was God today? Not in a booming voice from the sky or a dramatic conversion. God was in the shoes that protected my feet, in the faucet that gave me clean water, in the softness of late-evening light, and in a thousand seemingly little things that I easily could have missed.
Friday, November 21, 2008
When the days grow short and the dark is long, there is something in our spirits that yearns to hibernate. Give up all pretense of moving on, getting through the day, and just wrap up with warm drinks and big blankets at home and go into a state of quiet rest. Lower the expectations, embrace the melancholy and the weariness, and just do the minimum to continue to exist.
What if the spiritual life necessitates this time in the dark, this time of quiet stasis, and we are killing ourselves by refusing to Sabbath, refusing to stop, refusing to be still? Are we too busy to embrace the gifts of hibernation?
The kingdom of heaven is like waking up after long sleep, like light after long dark, like activity after long rest. The kingdom of heaven is like an animal that comes out of the comfortable sameness of its winter den and finds stiff muscles grown strong again, finds the earth generous in new life, finds (after a time of nothing) the joy of every tiny something. What if the kingdom of heaven is waiting for us on the other side of the dark and we never get still enough to find it?
Monday, November 10, 2008
Faith was then a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that proficiency in believing is not acquired either in days or in weeks.
—Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
If I had more courage or discipline, perhaps it would be easier to feel I was becoming proficient in faith. For me it is as much of a struggle today as it ever was. My belief in progress and hard work tell me that it should be just like proficiency with a musical instrument or some other art form: the more you work at it, the better you get. But it’s not that way at all.
It may be that proficiency in believing comes not in working harder, but in working less; not in mastering something but being mastered by it. Because the more I think I’ve mastered belief, the more it slips through my fingers into the outstretched hands of children; children who have not worked at it but receive it easily because they know they need it and are certain they deserve it. Perhaps I should stop trying so hard and remember what it means to be like a child, remember that of all the things I was made for the most blessed one is surely learning to receive.