In this Lenten darkness there are cracks of light, splinters that break through now and again, like unexpected Northern Lights in the sky – beckoning us onward – those who have given up, those who are coasting through, those who mean it all and make it seem to meaningful, so insurmountable and perfect and holy.
As Advent and Christmastide crept up and swept by like a giant wave so has Lent separated around me, cold water flowing through my open fingers, shocking me as it hits the small of my back – but almost gone, nonetheless, before I even knew it was there.
I am working my own way through I think, doing what I am supposed to be doing (or so I tell myself), listening, discerning, taking this opportunity, this time, to build my own theology, to decide what I believe and then go forth and live that out. Going forth and living out are very serious charges, they are big and shining ideals – and so we must, I feel, be certain of the way we are traveling. Though I have a feeling that I will always need to keep the map close, that it will be at times difficult to stay the course.
We talked a lot about Theodicy this weekend, about why bad things happen and where God is in that. We talked about God either not caring, turning up the TV louder over there in that heavenly campground to drown out our pleas, or not all powerful. And I am not sure that these are the only options just as I am not sure what I believe yet.
We talked about the shadow side of God, just as one of my very astute students brought up today in an off track discussion in Confirmation class about inclusive language, he said, well God necessarily means that the flip side is goddess — so aren’t we still leaving someone out? Aren’t we still doing it wrong?
Crazy making as it is that shadow side is there, I think. There is a different side to everything that we think we know and can assume about God, about everything that we bring to the table for discussions about God, there are so many lenses, so many possible ways of coming at God. I wonder if we dare to know, I wonder if we can stand to know, that seems like rather liminal space, like a place where we might take one step too far and just sort of fall of the edge of the world, at the very least fall off the edge of all we think we know.
We were encouraged to be still and to ask God for an experience of God. And there I sat, clenched and ready to bolt, ready to shout, NO! Ready to open my mouth and warn these good church folk, these called to be leaders that when you ask God to show you himself you are wading into very dangerous territory. This is more than burning off your eyebrows, more than an old man behind a curtain – asking God for an experience lands you sometimes in a places that are not very comfortable and where you feel most of the time like you are massively unprepared.
This weekend I had the chance to work with some beloved friends. We were sitting in a lounge that had the heat set permanently at like 80 degrees and outside the snow swirled down into the dark sky. I asked one friend to show me to how to set the table, this practice altar that we have that has linens and a chalice, we used a lid for a paten and she showed me how to do this holy work. And then another joined, adding his opinions, and another showed me by doing. And I stood there in the semi dark, in this too hot room with unseasonable snow outside and felt the tears stand in my eyes as I looked intently at each of them as they discussed the best way, the way they learned, and finally, what to teach me.
They will leave our little school soon, traveling out into the world and charged with ministering the word and sacraments in what will probably be many different settings and occasions – many ways of doing church. They are all called to be priests and they showed me, the deacon, how to do the work that I am called to do. They’ve shown me over and over again though, shown me through humor, through quiet and through just ridiculous, loud laughter. They’ve shown me that I belong to them, and that they understand this strange journey that we have been called to undertake, the odd magic that takes place when we step closer to knowing God.
They are God’s language, down here, they are the only way that God can be expressed in real time – and I realize as I write this that we all are called to that language, to that ministry of caring for each other. And I realize that God isn’t someone I can know, that as much as I want to turn him upside down, go through his pockets and sniff his clothing – I cannot know him.
I find it interesting that the same lenses we bring to our view of an unknowable God are also brought to our unknowable tribe – interesting how our history bubbles and steeps within us, how it seems to be carried down in our DNA like the color of our eyes or the shape of our fingernails.
Spring is coming, the cracks are growing larger around the rock that seals this tomb and more light is coming in.
The unknowable God is working his strange alchemy, he is making dust and dust come together to live, to rise up and to go out – bearing his own holy language.
There has been a lot of Lenten grace – and maybe the realization of God’s language is just one more flicker of light, maybe all is not lost after all – or at least maybe I am not. Today there was a small chance to practice listening, to ask questions that encouraged a deeper answer. I held the eyes of a new friend and both our gazes were blurred with tears. I think she was afraid I would be angry with her, and I was anxious to tell her I am not. I think I understand that God is doing weird things to her heart, and I know how much that hurts, how it rips you open and leaves you bleeding and vulnerable.
And I think that becoming ordained is a lot like leaving home, that we will always be different, we will never be lay people again – we will have extra promises to keep. And I think that nights like the one I had, learning to set a table with a chalice and the lid of a jar — I think those are places on the map that is written inside of me, the map that shows me where home is.
I meant for this to be concise and full of meaning and sense and I find that it is not and not. It is bright pinpoints of light, places for me to make notes and add strange asides. A document that I will come back to over and again to remind myself of who I am. I see a strange jumble of thoughts and ideas, of theology that is not done baking and a person who is away from home and sending strange postcards back.
I am coming back for you. I will find the way.
I’ve written to you several times and I think you know by now what I am about, I think you know that you can believe me. I think you know that I love you still.
I’d like to know, how difficult is it, to recreate established laws of physics? To dwell inside the confines of a minute, where everything just drones, null and void? And in that instant you are just white noise.