The News and the Bible

St. Tim's stained glass window    It is said that Karl Barth advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’

On October 1 I posted about the magnificence of the sunset that evening as I drove home from work. I often have after thoughts about what I have  posted…and this one I immediately thought I should post a proviso. Reading the news with the lens of the Bible, isn’t easy these days. In the face of great tragedy at face value neither one makes sense. But then, the Bible was never meant to make its appeal to reason. Events like this defy reason and assault our sensibilities.

I was not insensitive or oblivious to the shooting in Roseburg, Oregon that day. We saw it most of the day on the lobby TVs and when I arrived home the President was speaking about this tragedy. But I couldn’t watch. I turned off the television and slid open the doors to the deck. Just then a large flock of geese came in for a landing on the pond outside my door. My thoughts, heavy, numb, sad, sick with another shooting, went to nature and to the sunset for solace.

What I wrote came in a flash, as they sometimes do. Looking back I  think too that that vibrant red-orange sunset was the blood orange of those who were making their way home. There was nothing to be said. Nothing could be said in the wake of such tragedy. But perhaps, just perhaps, the skies over the Heartland were reminding us that nothing, no one is lost to us. They remain, like the ever recurring sunrises and sunsets, to send us signs that they are safe at last in the beating heart of the Creator. Perhaps, just perhaps, the recurring seasons, remind us of the eternal round of life, that is never far away or lost to us, although at times it feels that way.

After our father died my sisters and I each got a ‘sign’ – each in a way that spoke to her assuredly that it came from the other side. It was a kind of assurance, a tap on the shoulder to indicate that life goes on, just in another way, that we cannot fully grasp nor see here. But I cannot loose my sense of the sacred; and perhaps that is why my meditation turned to the heavens, to the sky, to the sunset, to an indecipherable message written in colors across God’s palette.

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He comes to us as one unknown…

Paul had more than one revelation of the risen Christ. Whatever those experiences were I get the sense that he gropes and grapples for words to convey what those experiences were. They seem to be experiences that are beyond words. But they are mostly likely the locus of his passion for preaching the risen Christ. He continually prays that we too might enter into the mystery and the revelation, the reality of Christ. Yet, too, as with all mystical experiences, they are first and foremost for the receiver. For reason that only he or she knows. They are impetus. And they are not bound by words.

Paul’s prayer for us in Ephesians, where he prays that our hidden self grown strong and the love of Christ which is beyond all knowing, seem enigmatic, a reality shrouded in mystery. Hidden for us to uncover. Treasure buried in a Self that we are meant to discover.

In the next two letters, Philippians and Colossians, Paul also used similar language:

…now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. Co 3:3

He speaks of the infinite treasure that is Christ. Why the mystery? Why hidden?

In the past few decades, which began with Albert Schweitzer, there has arisen what is called the search or quest for the historical Jesus. It’s not a search so much for what Paul calls the reality of Christ, but to go back to the historical documents and try to uncover the real (historical) Jesus. This is not a search into the mystery or the reality of the Christ of faith.

Perhaps its our all-to-human tendency to set things in stone. To nail down that which refuses to be nailed down. Our tendency to codify, dogmatize and decree what is living, organic, supple and transmutable. The human person and the human spirit in the never-ending process of becoming. Becoming oneself. Becoming God’s. The journey to an identity that is the journey of transformation. From one way of being to another. From a half life to the fullness of life.

Seek and you shall find. It seems to be human nature to be on a discovery mission. To search the mystery. It is the seeking that seems to be part and parcel of the human experience, the way in which we are to go about finding not only ourselves, but the sacred reality that impinges upon our awareness as it both beckons and eludes us. In Philippians Paul likens this process of discovery as a race. Paul too wants to know Christ. To know the power of his resurrection. He says he has not gotten there yet. He is still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured him. In this same context he says we are called to be ‘perfect’  (to be whole and achieve well being in Christ). Then in this passage he advises to keep going on the road…

Like Israel and Jesus before us, the realization of our identities and the simultaneous revelation of God come to us on the road, on the journey of life. We are meant to search out so that we can make these realizations our own. I suspect that  in that way, what is hard won, or ferretted out in life, are those things that stay with us.

 A living process of searching out our own depths and dimensions, how we are meant to achieve and realize the hidden self, yet always sense the mystery just ahead, over the next horizon, the beckoning beyond of something illusive, the Someone who wants to be known, not in formulas or definitions, but in the lived experience of relationship. Known more in the biblical sense (i.e. intimacy) as an encounter with  the sacred Other who is invitation. Our search is our practice and march toward eternity. Toward becoming fully human. A knowing not of the head but of the heart.

At the end of his search for the ‘real Jesus’ Schweitzer had this to say:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of hold, by the lakeside. He came to those (persons) who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow me’ and sets us to the task which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.

 

The Writing Life, The Prayer Life

IMG_0231  As I read Paul talking about prayer I know I have often struggled with how to talk about the reality of the practice of prayer, more so, the experience of prayer. As a writer, and reading letters written by Paul, who reached his audience by writing, it occurred to me that prayer and writing are a lot alike.

The writer’s life is much like prayer life: one is always in the throes of doubt. Out of the depths I cry to you, God hear my prayer. One lunges ahead, in the dark, no voice answers, we can’t see the next word. Both require unstinting faith. In life itself, to be in-spired given over to the process, alive only in that moment to which all other life moves toward and away from. Both require a certain amount, no a fierce amount, of fearlessness and faith. Faith that if you show up, you will be able to write. Prayer, like life, becomes your life where it’s all about showing up. Mindful in the presence of mystery. If you show up you trust the impulse, the invitation and know all you really have to do is show up. Surrender to the process. Both invite the one to be open, observant, mindful, self-forgetting, courageous with/both/each having its own daemon and its own angel. Both change your life. Both are your life. Both stand on the threshold of the unknown. Perhaps the unknowable. But that is what invites, impels and that is what drives us. Perhaps this time I will discover the secret of life. Meaning will reveal itself. The world will open again and out will fall all those hidden wonders we intuit must certainly be there, just as surely as sunrise and sunset.

And neither one is wholly describable. Each is more experience. Neither has found exactly the right words to describe its magnificence. For one there may come that time call ‘writer’s block’. For the other it is called the dark night of the soul. But if you have been doing it a while, keep at it regardless, because you must, you know neither of these terms convey the core of it: that each of these states is gift. It is the time when things are bubbling below the surface. But our tinkering egos don’t and shouldn’t know it. If you have been at both a while you know that this too shall pass. And you can attend classes on prayer but it is like any other relationship. It is unique to the parties and no one can teach you how to pray. And truth be told, no one can really teach you how to write. You learn how to write from writing. Fill up the page. Storm heaven. Put it all out there. Eventually it will all get sorted through.

We persist. The longer we persist the more assuredly we know that the false labels of success and failure, good or bad, recede like mischievous children around the corner when caught stealing our confidence. These are no longer criteria for a prayer life or a writer’s life. We learn as we go. For they live beyond categorization and critic. The reward is in the process, the always present moment whose exhilaration, wonder and stubborn insistence on itself, keeps us going back to the place we write, the place we pray. We can do no other.

Words lie somewhere waiting to take flesh and we surrender language in order to hear the language of being.

We reach for gods, for ourselves, endlessly becoming, always ever self-creating, dissipative structures winnowed, sorted and sifted, burnt in the fire of each new day leaven for each new day’s manna. We merely receive at the appointed hour we do not know.

In both we are ever close to the abyss and to bliss. Flow and folly. In both we keep the life alive, we believe. I write, therefor I am. I pray therefore I am – forever. We fend off death as we breathe into beingness the experience beyond thrall. And in both we are taken up, we know not how, but that we are.

The dark night of the soul is the writer’s block. We feel nothing. No words come. Nothing is happening. But it is just then that everything is happening. But if we persist, look elsewhere, busy ourselves somewhere else, we will get lift off. Beyond the seeming emptiness something is at work beyond our tinkering egos. Inspiration has sidled away with the earthworms making holes in the earth. But if Spring and Easter are our teachers, we know that the buds will sprout, what was dead will come back to us, the leaves will lengthen, the flowering of each season giving way to the next. The season of fire, the season of color and diminishment. The season of waiting where the barren trees write their calligraphy against the sky and the new fallen snow is a palette for spring and our dreams.

We wish to be forgetful so the truest thing can be born. We approach each with reverence. Each asks us to attend, show up, not measure. Each brings those grace given moments when we are caught up, captured, in-spired, and we go to the pen or pew and write/right ourselves when called, this is a holy pact we make with each knee bend, with each mark upon the page. We are writing in order to catch up to eternity. We pray so as to enter eternity and perhaps find something familiar there.

Each asks us to be open. Let life be unpredictable. Flexible. Fluid. The encounter with our depths, our soul’s depth where god is waiting for our return.