On a whim…

Chaotic, esoteric, marginally coherent, stuff about life.

The Divine Recluse

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“They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.”
Emily Dickinson

A philosophy of religion professor I greatly admired said to me that “God is either in everything, or in nothing.” I have often thought of this and think I will never let go, entirely, of the sense that this question is very close to the center of our existential dilemma. The declarative testimony of some preachers often clashes with our own, and often profound, sense that God is a very long way off.  Perhaps this is most true of ‘high mileage’ ministers; Ministers who say, week after week, that “God is near” or “God will provide”, or “God is love” while at the same time living lives of personal spiritual desolation.

Saint John of the Cross, a Carmelite monk and famous Spanish mystic of the 16th century, spoke of “The Dark Night of the Soul”. Though I can lay no claim to mysticism due to my own proclivity for skepticism and rational thought I do not believe that the spiritual desolation that many know today can be equated with his experience of exquisite sorrow. For one thing his travail was a stage in a life long journey toward greater awareness of the nearness of God.  Ours, by contrast, is  a contemporary and increasingly empty wasteland. A wasteland that is the consequence of longing or lust for something other than God.

When I retired from public ministry almost fifteen years ago I was met by objections from colleagues and friends. One, I remember in particular, said, “Don’t do this, you will lose your faith.” Really? I suppose the epicenter of this concern depends on what is meant by faith. What often passes for faith is not faith but enthusiasm for it. That is, what many consider ‘faith’ is an emotional rush associated with tantalizing hope for ________ (fill in the blank with health, wealth, power, the winning lottery numbers).  Longing, not faith, is the hallmark emotion of our age. We are obsessed with this sense of longing and the market is eager to exploit the demand. Consider our entertainment, the means by which we create and then fill idle hours. Today the ‘leading brands’ are fueled by longing.  American Idol, Next Super Model, The Bachelor/Bachelorette are testimonies to our ambition for something more.  In contemporary religion we are all too often exhorted to believe so that we too can have __________ (you may borrow from the previously completed blank).

Week after week the disenfranchised, the wealthy, the overwhelmed, and the overlord exhort their personal deities to grant a boon. And, to assure success, they (we) cry all the louder, “Hear Us!” The regular worship of many takes on the trappings of a pep rally and we, the worshippers, are the fans. Fans of Faith.

It is this kind of “faith” that can be easily lost. And when it is lost the heart of our hearts is a desolate, without relief from the scorching winds of self reproach, doubt, and despair. This is no “Dark Night of the Soul” it is a living hell.

When I first began to compose this piece the juxtaposition of statements by poet, professor and parishioner occupied my mind. In 1993 my wife, deeply loved by me and all her family, died. In the seven years prior to her death we struggled, together.  For my own part, I was not so troubled by some sense that God was absent. Instead I was haunted by an  inexplicable sense of pervasive good.  I began to realize more fully that we live in an ugly world where cancer is part of nature.  I saw the compelling evidence that pestilence is an unrelenting condition of life.  Likewise, poverty is the norm for most people in this world and yet… in the midst of such a world I held in my heart something mysteriously beautiful. In the fifteen years since then I continue to question many things but what I question most is how could we all seem to miss the outrageous eruption of good in a world so utterly hostile to it.

Far more than the presence or absence of God I am amazed that any of us ever has a sense of God’s presence. We, in spite of ourselves and our distance from conventional means by which we articulate faith continue to be amazed by God. I suppose this is the real meaning of “amazing” in grace.

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Written by David Wilkerson

23 July 2009 at 1:55 pm

Posted in theology

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