Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Getting to the bottom of things

Job 38: 1-7, 34-41 
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 21, 2018 

Is there something over which you are powerless, that makes your life difficult or unmanageable?

Is there something over which you are powerless, that is making life difficult or unmanageable for someone you love?

Is there something over which you are powerless, that makes you anxious, worried, scared, angry, raging, vengeful, sad, despairing, hopeless, depressed, numb, callous, or cynical?

Do you believe in a Power greater than yourself? Do you believe there is a Power, a Goodness greater than that over which you are powerless?

Do you believe this Power, this Goodness can restore you to sanity, that is, a better frame of mind than where you are now? Do you believe that this Power can help you overcome your anxiety, worry, fear, anger, rage, vengeance, sadness, despair, hopelessness, depression, numbness, callousness, cynicism?

Can you imagine turning your will and your life over to the care of this Power as you understand it? Do you believe there is a Power, a Goodness that cares about you and your life?

What if I told you that how you understand this Power, this Goodness greater than yourself is up to you? What if I told you that a group of human beings that you trust and love, who trust and love you, can be that Power, that Goodness greater than yourself?

The story of Job is the story of how we struggle with the powerlessness and unmanageability of human pain and suffering: the questions we ask, our need to fix the problem, to find answers, how hard it is to enter into the pain of others, how hard it is to allow others to enter into our pain. Most of all, the story of Job is about the mystery of God, Power, Goodness, in the midst of suffering.

At one of my lowest points in my life—a year after Sandy Hook, after an asteroid exploded over Russia injuring over 1,000 people, during the second year of looking for you—I wrote a poem about the mystery of God in the midst of suffering. I titled it “Good Friday world”.

Ever feel like
the bogeyman is just
around the corner?
All the time?
God can’t stop it.
You know it,
I know it.
As for Psalm 91,
'no evil shall befall you'
residing in the palm of God's hand:
Forget about your foot
being dashed by
a silly stone.
We whiz through space
while meteors hurl their way
through fragile atmosphere, storied glass,
flesh and dirt.
God lives
to disturb
as much as comfort,
provoke as much as heal.
The incarnation
wasn’t just about
sheep-and-goat morality.
Who do you think was
testing Jesus in the desert
but his rabbi-father-adversary?
Makes a whole lot more sense of
that ‘love your enemies’ thing.
The cross, in all its shame and neglect,
wouldn’t have happened
if God hadn’t walked away
like the rest of us. 

(c) Cynthia E. Robinson, 2013

My heart was breaking when I wrote that. Writing that poem helped me get through that moment. We hold up the mystery of God, of Power and Goodness, to a standard higher than our own, and we shake our fists and our heads. We rage at the heavens and at each other on social media or in traffic or around the holiday table or in a seething silence. We weep when we read the news and when we pray and when we don’t know what else to do. We want to know why and who to blame.

Anne Lamott writes that some 12 step friends shared with her that before they could even get to Step One, about being powerless and life becoming unmanageable, that they had to reach “…Step Zero: they woke up one morning, sick and tired, and said to themselves, ‘This sh*t [Super High Intensity Testing, Spiritually Hellish Intelligent Truth] has GOT to stop.’”

Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Our struggle with pain and suffering tells us more about ourselves than it does about the mystery of God. “Past the Seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them he cried, ‘Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?’ God said, ‘I did do something. I made you.’” 

It’s not the mystery of God I have difficulty with but my faith in humanity. Trusting and loving other human beings, seeing their Power and Goodness, and striving to seek wisdom from them is the most difficult spiritual practice I have ever engaged in, especially these days. God is as close or as far away as I am willing to reach out to another human being in pain; God is as close or as far away as another human being is willing to step into my pain, as I am willing to allow them into my pain. Anne Lamott says “we can be Love with skin on”.

But to do that we have to allow our walls to crumble, our need for control to morph into tenderness, and be present to this aching world as well as our own sorrow. For some folks the world is too dangerous a place to let those walls crumble, their hearts already too tender, and so we need to be safety and love and trust for them. And so we need a Power, a Goodness greater than ourselves to do help us do all of this.

For me it is the knowledge that I am loved unconditionally, undeservedly, unlimitedly and that there is nothing that can separate me from that love. For me it is the knowledge that in the scheme of things I am a speck, insignificant, rare and precious, and I know nothing when it comes to how this universe came into being, where I came from, and what will happen to me when I die. For me my Higher Power, my source of Goodness is all of you, your individual and collective wisdom; every church and community of faith I have been blessed to be in relationship with; the wisdom of the Bible and other sources of wisdom for living and wondering; every person I come into contact with; the things I take for granted; everything that reminds me that God is God and I am not.

Whenever pain is shared and entered into, when we participate in the pain of others, God is there. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to take up our cross and follow him, to lose our life for the sake of the gospel, to die to self and rise again. The days are now here, and have been for some time, that we will be asked each and every day to do this. Like Job, this world is demanding that we pull ourselves together, gird our loins, and find our strength in the midst of the whirlwind. Because strangely enough, that’s where we’ll find God.

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