Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Deep Confession and the Sacred Messiness of Life

Gone from mystery into mystery
Gone from daylight into night
Another step deeper into the darkness
Closer to the light
Bruce Cockburn

I serve a God who hides. There are times when regardless of my rituals or disciplines, the Father will not reveal himself. During these times of seeming darkness, I cry out for clarity and certainty ironically calling out for instant faith. Sitting in my yearnings and longings are so revealing that I am anxious and distracted by anything that will offer some relief from the unveiling.

In the messiness of life comes a sacred imperfection that is not packaged and planned according to my schedules. We usually do not question our direction in life during vacations. We do not mourn the poor decisions we made regarding purchases and opulence in times of abundance. We are full of hubris and confidence when our dreams are seemingly running the universe and surrounded by potential franchisees. Countless times in my short life I have reached the boundaries and imitations of my own abilities. I have reached the confines of anything I could attain. Most of the time I initially seek everything and everyone else other than God and the truth. Why?

This is paradox. Part of me aggressively strives for position, power, and a legacy that can be pointed directly back to me and my talents while God is simultaneously doing the exact opposite in my deeper parts. This tension is so powerful at times that I can feel my body being torn between the two worlds-His kingdom and mine. I love and hate simultaneously. I pray and curse in the same sentence. I cry out for justice and rob the widow. This overwhelming sense of my duplcicty can often cause a high degree of ennui and tristitia. I have evolved my broken estate into a postmodern malady of the soul. I equally loathe and love my reflected self.

There is, however, a shattered part of me that knows where in my healing resides. There is a deeper knowing that is asking for truth rather than quick fixes and spiritual band aids. This desiring for the felt presence of God does have a price tag. So much of my relationship with God has been defined and run through the grist mill of religion and community. In one sense, I am communally formed and need this family to make myself actually be a self. On the other hand, I can easily rely upon this constructed family to be a God replacement. I can assume that my attendance at religious meetings, my collections of icons or relics, be they actual icons or books or tapes or DVD’s from “well known” teachers, will take the place of God. In fact I often mistake them for Him.

My imagination is often agnostic. I desperately hold on to the dusty relics through which I frame the Father. I know Him to be a certain way or so I am told. To experience Him directly myself is to allow a degree of the self to fall away. Richard Rohlheiser, in his book The Shattered Lantern, comments on this agnosticism when he says, “We live in an age of unbelief. What sets us apart from past generations is that, today, this is as true within religious circles as outside them. The problem of faith is especially one of unbelief among believers….Belief in God, for many of us, is little more that a hangover. We feel the effects of the religious activity of the past, but our own consciousness borders on agnosticism and active disbelief. Rarely is there a vital sense of God within the bread and butter of life. We still make a space for God in our churches. He is given a very restricted place everywhere else.” Page 18-19 The Shattered Lantern

When my agnosticism is revealed to my own heart I see that I am still directing where I want the Spirit of God to move in my heart. I still want to direct His ways. I want to keep my life. I am not prepared to offer it up as sacrifice. I want to dictate the restoration in my time and on my terms. Because of His very nature, spirituality even in its imperfection is pervasive. I cannot compartmentalize His presence and movement. The Trinitarian nature of God is also reflected in my own nature. I have a body, a mind and a soul (or spirit). These parts of me desire to be in unity. These parts of me desire a kingdom order that allows for real shalom to not only visit my yearning heart but take up a habitation.

For this habitation to take place, a space must be readied for the Sprit to come in. This space is a posture and it is one in which I am uncomfortable. I think of the scripture in I Corinthians 3:18 that says..”Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age you should become fools so that you may become wise.” This divine inversion is what it is that I am so discomforted by. Must I be emptied to be filled? Must I be so weak to see His strength? Must I know so little to be made aware of His mind and knowing? Must I lose my way to find it? The answer of course is yes, yes and yes. The hidden way of the mysterious Spirit is not because He purposely desires to keep me in the dark. Quite the contrary. For me to see I must grow accustomed to seeing my own powers and abilities meet their end. This is what we call darkness. In actuality it is merely the limits of “my” seeing. It is the space outside of my strengths and giftings.

Why is it that many of us in the West tend to view the dying of our flesh and the struggles that come with being a vessel of the Lord as an optional encumbrance? Could it be that we have been taught an Americanized Gospel? Could it be that we actually think God is there merely to answer our prayers and merely to make our lives easier?

The book of Job is one of the earliest books written. Is it not ironic that Job’s friends as far back in biblically antiquity as this book refers, still were much like friends today that tell us…”if you are suffering it is due to some sin or some principle you have overlooked.” But is this truth the very road we must travel to take on the life of Christ? Could some of our sufferings come with the restoration of the cosmos and the purposes of God in this world? Could our death be a blessing as we begin to see who He is in light of who we are not?

I recently ranted to a friend that I could not have one more theological discussion about anything but God’s response to suffering. This of course is an exaggeration on some level but my soul is weary of the life energy that flows from my heart during and after discussions that seem to offer up more of my presumption and confident assertions about God than a practical real life conversation about my neighbor who is without a house payment this month, or a friend who has just found she cannot pay her bills on the Wal-Mart salary as they have cut back her hours.

These discussions are too dangerously painful to have and they tell us how little power we have over much of life. It is easier to have a dialogue about things that don’t really matter or if they do, not in a immediate survival sense. I wonder if God is interested in these conversations? Jesus seemed to shy away from dialogue that attempted to set Him up and led to the reproof of those engaging in the diatribe. He knew the hearts of those who ask Him questions to which they already thought they knew the answers. Something happens to my heart and my ears when I think I know. I speak out of turn and seldom listen. Why would I? I already know the answer for I have consciously directed the conversation in the direction that allows me to trump my opponent. So many conversations start out benign and harmless and end up filled with confusion and hurt. We are told to stay away from these kinds of engagements but there is something about how we have learned and been informed on how to articulate our faith that by its very nature seems to lean towards this kind of pontification. I want to believe that my diatribes set the world in order and allow my conjectures and assertions to have a weight that all will acknowledge and honor. This is why so often following one of these kinds of exchanges my own heart seems oddly emptied and feeling less of God’s presence. Am I so unaware of Him when I am so full of myself and so confident life is at my finger tips?

There is a divine messiness to life. We must grow accustomed to seeing a portion of our lives unravel. If things are always going well in the sense of order and freedom from pain, we are probably barbituating ourselves with some pleasure, some diversion or merely ignoring the truth of our lives in hopes it will all go away. Of course life never goes away. This fallen world is the one in which we live and with that inhabitance comes much joy and sorrow, much pain and pleasure
, much fame and dishonor.

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