Thursday, June 26, 2008

lord, I believe. help thou my unbelief

warning: slight grossness

A friend of mine once commented, "If you want to understand me, start with Emilio Sandoz." That's a horrifying comment since, in the novel The Sparrow Emilio has the flesh forcibly removed from his hands, sees all his friends die horrifically, and then is raped by an alien race.

Yet, in thinking about it, Emilio is something of a kindred spirit. He is a Jesuit priest and has been for most of his life. He is a brilliant linguist and a devoted priest, yet he admits that he has never really had the feeling of the presence of God. He knows in an intellectual way that God is present and watching and participating, but has never felt God's action or love. It's all theoretical until he journeys to the planet Rakhat where the divine lamp is turned on and he is suffused with joy and peace. I have had moments in my life where the presence of God was evident, where I felt warm and full and right, but they are few and far between. It sometimes feels like I'm forcing something to be a God-moment because I want it to be.

And lately, I have noticed a great fear of being useless, of not being able to work, to do, to earn my way. Emilio's useless hands struck me powerfully throughout the book as I wondered what that might be like practically and spiritually. One day, I will grow old and be "useless" in the conventional sense. Right now, I have absorbed the world's ideas of success and beat myself up when I don't achieve them. I, alone, am responsible for the spiritual growth of the youth in my care, I think. I, alone, can change their lives concretely. And when something comes by (illness, normal human imperfection, whatever) that challenges those assumptions, I am crushed. My ego is so firm that I don't really know what to do with failure.

Failure is not only normal but expected. And we don't really believe it. The prophet Isaiah was called to a failing ministry, all the prophets lived in disgrace, Jesus died. Living with faithfulness and righteousness means suffering and failure. I want to be okay with "enough" and with imperfection but it is really difficult to let go of a culture's assumptions.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters would say that perfection is not about being right but being righteous. Christian mystics have said that our journeys are not about success but about being faithful. I believe that. I really do. Lord, help my unbelief.

Monday, June 23, 2008

how have you been changed?

There is a moment when things change. A moment that makes all the difference between one thing and another. Back in the day, when I was little, they sold these postage stamps that had been in space. NASA sent stamps up in the shuttle for a mission and then sold them as mementos. The stamp itself was no different than any other stamp you could buy around the corner—BUT IT HAD BEEN IN SPACE—it was the moment that gave it significance. Something happened to change them.

Our lives are like this: we are constantly on the move, constantly changing, constantly jumping from moment to moment. God, too, is not static—God creates but then strolls in the garden at the time of the evening breeze; God wanders with the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years; God incarnates—God becomes human and grows and learns and travels. God, in Jesus, does a surprising amount of wandering. He’s always on the road to somewhere or meeting people as they’re on the way. He couldn’t even stay put in death but left an empty tomb and questions behind him, only to meet a couple of his disciples on the road to Emmaus.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this traveling God in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You remember, the characters saying that Aslan—the lion who was king and also God—“Aslan is on the move.” God is on the move. This is not a God who is content in one place. This life is not going to stay put and neither is our relationship with God. We are complicated people, you and I. We love God one minute, but the next are so angry we could spit. We worship in ecstasy and doubt with passion. We are apathetic. We sin, we repent, we give up on the whole business. And that’s ok. Hear, O Israel—where you are on your Exodus road, where you are on your road to Emmaus, where you are on your spiritual journey is ok. Notice it. Embrace it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

i'm just saying...

There is a place in heaven for every single person regardless of what we've made of our lives. That said, to club a baby seal, you really have to hate all that is good and true and beautiful.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

mind over matter

I heard on one of the news programs on NPR the other day that economists say the economy is doing fine and that consumers say it's not. Maybe this is nothing new but it got me thinking about perception. I remember talking in my high school economics class about why things happen the way they do; the consensus among the old white guys we read was that the perception of the people is the primary factor. That is, if people in general thing things are going well, they'll spend and invest more and thus things will be going well. And if they start to panic and think things are going sour, they'll spend and invest less and thus things will indeed go sour. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, there are outside factors including wars and natural disasters, but the state of the economy seems to be largely based on how we feel about it. Makes one wonder if the Depression could have been avoided if folk either hadn't known about the Stock Market numbers or hadn't assumed the worst and taken all their money out of the banks. It also makes one wonder how much we buy into the collective consciousness--just because we hear things aren't good doesn't mean we should panic. Unless of course you're one of the unlucky who are let go from a job because your employers have gotten concerned about the downturn.

Because in that moment, the theoretical, collective consciousness, vague theory of economics becomes hard and sharp and real. What do you say to someone who's lost their job or had hours cut in the face of rising gas and medical costs? Just think happy thoughts?