Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Who Are You?

I don’t understand you, Lord. Not really.

You are so great that you created and set into motion an inconceivably large universe. And still, you know the number of hairs on our heads, the comings and goings of sparrows and other creatures, the intricacies of countless atoms in molecules beyond number, moving in rhythms we can barely perceive. You keep it going too, all these things both great and small. On top of that, you know and love your people, millions of us, throughout the times and ages.

How do I conceive of a Being who can do all of this? 

I try to picture what John saw in his vision, that wondrous revelation. There you are, on a lofty throne, a fire and light Being who exists “up there” in heaven, surrounded by jewel-toned rainbows and a crystalline ocean. But where is heaven? It could be a place somewhere far beyond the physical universe. Or maybe you inhabit an alternate realm co-existent with our own, but invisible to human senses and scientific instruments.

Where are you, God?

Sometimes, as I worship together with my spiritual family at church, I sense you moving amongst us. We sing, we clap; we sway to the beat of the music. We remind ourselves how great you are and how much you do for us. You are awesome in this place, in our midst. A picture flashes across my mind’s eye…a shadowy figure on a majestic throne, bending down to smile at us, to strew small gifts of grace to this person, to that one. However briefly, we enjoy you, enjoying us. Then, back out into the world where, though I know you are with me, you seem less real.

Why do I lose sight of you so quickly?

It seems as if I’m getting ready to see something new; am inching a bit deeper into knowing you. It’s a squeezing feeling – like my mind is struggling to break free of some old wineskin that isn’t big enough to hold you. 

I visit a small church in a small prairie town. The men are dressed in suits and ties and the women wear modest skirts, faces makeup-free. I sit in my comfortable slacks and hoodie, lipstick pink and glossy, trying not to care if I’m different, a bit of a renegade. No one makes me feel this way. I just do. When the preacher laments modern tattoos and green-dyed hair, I start to get a little judgemental, working up mini-sermons in my head about straining out gnats. Preach it, sister!

Then…the call to prayer. People fall on their knees and begin to speak to you with earnest, heart-felt cries that stretch out and up, toward you. Children chime in with their own concerns. I feel tears rise up from somewhere deep, beyond emotion, joining with the quiet sobs of people young and old, on the floor before our Lord. Your presence is thick and warm. I sense that you love to be here with them, with me. Clothes and hairstyles don’t matter in this realm. Inside me, my soul leaps like a deer whose thirst is satisfied.

It isn’t long before the world is with me again and that taste of you is a memory that I poke and prod with my intellect until the reality of your presence slips from my grasp.

What am I missing?

I catch another glimpse of you in an Anglican church in a village by the sea. They are using the old version of the service book. “Thee” and “thou” abound and, once again, I judge. “What’s wrong with speaking in today’s vernacular?  How pretentious, these hide-bound traditions; how old-fashioned, how reactionary…”

Eventually, my intellect relaxes and my spirit starts to notice that it seems right to confess our sins and receive forgiveness before communing with Christ’s broken body and spilled blood. I walk up to the altar railing, kneel and receive the elements with clean hands and a pure heart. Lord, you are so tangibly close to us as we kneel together, humbled in your presence. I barely know these people, but in this moment we are deeply united in our need for Jesus - our saviour, our healer, our Lord.

Who do you say that you are, Lord?

The parameters of my intellect cannot contain you. Your Word says that in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body (Colossians 2:9) Emmanuel, God with us. Yes, I can almost see Jesus, hero of the Big Story Of Reality. And yet, is he just another character to me? A wizard or righteous rebel, a wise teacher or saint with haloed head?

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”, proclaimed Peter. (Matt. 16:16) And almost the next minute, he forgot the grand storyline and tried to squeeze Jesus back into that old wineskin. Jesus would not stand for that then and I sense that he won’t countenance it now either. Have I done that...narrowed Jesus down to fit within the boundaries of my intellect, my denominational perspective, my personal worldview? I must be doing so, for I’m consistently surprised by his presence, in unexpected places, among people who aren’t like me. 

Where two or three of us are gathered in Jesus’ name, there you are in our midst. You, the God of distant stars and spinning planets, are here, in the dirt and mess of the earth. You live among a people whose eyes and hearts perceive you dimly; who fall down and need to be picked up, dusted off and redirected, again and again and again.

Can I truly know you?

I can know you because you show yourself to me. Slowly, slowly, you remove the many veils that shroud my heart and cloud my vision. My mind cannot contain all that you are, but my spirit has received your grace-gift and is reborn. It nudges my preconceptions aside so I can perceive you, wherever you choose to dwell. As your Spirit communes with mine, there in the deep, I start to see, to feel, to hear and to understand. You are who you are.

Help me to walk by faith and not by sight - to be a new wineskin for your presence.

Keep surprising me, Lord.

“For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:10)

Photo credit: Creative Common (Bread and wine)
Photo credit: Creative Common  (sky and sea)

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