Sunday, February 22, 2009

Human

Lately I've been feeling, somehow more poignantly than usual, so human. The mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual exhaustion brought about by daily life reminds me just how limited I am. And yet - the shape of branches against sky, the colour of the hills, the smell of damp earth - these little things fill me with such delight that their superposition against the ordinary greys of life in February only serves to increase my wonder at their beauty. As I try to make decisions, The decision-making required of me makes the unknown future loom large while simultaneously I feel deeply how insignificant each choice, even my life, really is.


More than all these things, however, it is people that make me feel human. The heartfelt conversation, the shared experiences, those flashes of time when self becomes less important than that person you are with. It is people, who live and who die around me, who show me the complexity of life and who shape who I am. It is also people that allow me to see how self-absorbed I really am; I see both how I don't love them as I am loved and as I expect them to love me. Or, even more, my low expectations for others and myself, standing in relief against longings of what should be, reveal that we humans are not living in the best way. And I am just as human as everyone else.

Last night I was guided once again by the wisdom of the writer of the Litany of Penitence, which includes the prayer: "My anger at my own frustration ... I confess to you, Lord" It is so easy to become frustrated with our humanity. I think this frustration is one of the painful parts of growing, but let us not stop there. Another prayer from the daily liturgy I use resonated with me this week:

O Almighty God, who pours out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and supplication: Deliver me, when I draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer acknowledges that very human ability to be distracted and distant without being overcome by it. This is tremendously encouraging. It brings me back once again to the fact that our Savior was incarnate, and he too experienced the intense joys and frustrations of being human. I will press to know this Lord deeper, for in Him, I believe, lies the ability to live joyfully in our humanity.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Learning to Lament

I've been pondering again about time and found something I read this week in the book of Jeremiah particularly intriguing. As Jeremiah proclaims God's judgment on his people's rebellion, he exhorts them:
Now, O women, hear the word of the LORD...
Teach your daughters how to wail;
teach one another a lament. (9:20)

In their sorrow over their sin and in their grief at the disaster coming on them, the people are to take the time to teach one another how to mourn. Isn't this so contrary to what we value in our culture? First, we want to think that we will live forever. Perhaps by ignoring death and our human frailty we will not be bound by fear of it. Secondly, the verse implies that lamenting takes time. As we move busily from one thing to the next, how are we supposed to have the time to teach each other how to lament, let alone find the time to mourn properly ourselves?

It's not a question of whether we should mourn or not: as Christians we should be genuinely sorrowful when we consider our sins. Also, there is so much pain and suffering in the world that even if we do not directly experience ourselves it we should learn how to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15). It seems to me that we in the church should be actively involved in both types of lamenting. I am grateful for the liturgies of repentance that have been used for centuries, and for so many of the Psalms that give us words of lament to pray. However, I think we in the North American church especially should devote more thought and time to mourning our sins and to mourning with others in their pain.

Beautifully, all this lamenting can be balanced by rejoicing. The poetry in Jeremiah 9 ends with this declaration:

but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,"
declares the LORD. (23)

Not only is he a God of judgment, but he is a god who delights in exercising kindness, justice and righteousness in the midst of our fallen world. He is the one who has freed us to mourn loss at death but not fear it, for

"he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Hebrews 2:14)

It is my hope that I will grow into this business of taking time - time to lament, and time to rejoice.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mystery and Hope

Deep in conversation with a dear friend, pondering unanswered theological questions, this statement of Jesus' came to mind:
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mat 24:36)

Although the exact theological understanding of this verse is, I suspect, quite complex (anything to do with the theology of the trinity seems to beg some degree of complexity), it did get me thinking. Perhaps not knowing some things is a good thing, even a gift. As Paul writes,
"But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?" (Romans 8:24)

If God had revealed all to us, would we really be able to hope? All creation, even the angels, longs and hopes. I think this also applies to other mysteries of our faith. As rational beings, we tend to want all the answers, and I do believe that some day the rational part of us will be satisfied. However, isn't there also something delightful about mystery? Doesn't it often make God more glorious, while at the same time serving as a check to our pride? Perhaps, after all, the mysteries, which allow us to wonder and hope, are something of which we can be glad. They give us freedom to question; They allow us to hope.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Depth

Swimming in the icy waters of the Georgian bay this summer, I once again found that my breath was taken away not by the coldness, but by the incredible depth and clarity of the water. I was suspended over a deep canyon, its rocky bottom only slightly obscured by the tens of feet of water between it and me.

Water is often the thing we turn to whenever we try to understand depth, in any sense of the word. Strangely enough, it is often the cloudy or dark water that seems the deepest; it is doubly unfathomable (there's another water reference!), for we cannot reach nor see the bottom.

Depth, I believe, is something we all long for. No one wants to be shallow. But what kind of depth is it? Is it that kind of deepness of personality that is born of suffering, or the ability to think about things far enough to have them change you? Or that perception that is able to understand the essential things about someone? There is a clear depth like the waters of the Georgian bay, coming from a continued fight for authenticity and integrity. Then there is the kind that I think we are all more familiar with: that borne of such complexity within ourselves that we don't even understand our own ways. But it's not just in ourselves that we seek depth.

This week as I've been reflecting on this topic, I've been rejoicing in that ultimate source of all depth: our God. The hymn from Romans 11 comes to mind:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Some days I am exhausted by the struggle that is daily spiritual life and lament my limited understanding of God. Yet isn't this one of the most wonderful things about him? He certainly deserves praise without end, for we will never run out of things for which to praise him!