Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God. (Henri J. M. Nouwen / In The Name of Jesus)
I am here at my 30th day of Lent.
Thirty out of 40.
Or 47, depending how long you make your Lenten disciplines.
Plunging around in my imagination to find blessings from people I’ve only always associated with a grunt and a shrug is like having to go to the dentist every day and having a root canal.
Being scraped and scraped and scraped. Down to the nerve. And then scraping the nerve.
And, then, every day after the procedure, having to walk five miles home. To try and recover and find the strength to walk all the way back and face it all over again.
If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself and pick up his cross.
But what does this mean to people these days?
When I read through the continual stream of Lenten reflections, what I find mostly is not something that promotes a path that is arduous. Not assuming something that is a burden.
Not something that is real.
A lot of it resembles a Disneyland for God.
Like the above statement by Henri Nouwen.
If you are afraid, if you feel alone, if you despair, then you are not with God.
God is not there in terror, loneliness, or anguish.
If you in that spot, then you are truly alone. If you aren’t happy, if you aren’t a frolicking lamb in a lush field, then you are a loser who is not with God.
So where exactly was Jesus during his Passion?
Not With God?
God was not with him in the garden? On the way? On the cross?
Jesus was accurate when he thought that God had deserted him?
This is what the church really wants to teach us?
I will admit to being someone who cringes at Easter.
To my mind, we Christians should spend the day on our knees thanking Jesus for what he did.
Instead, we compare hats.
And yell, Alleluia!
Jesus has just died a horrific death, done whatever he had to do to resurrect himself, and all we seem to be able to do in response is to put it all behind us as fast as we can and eat chocolate.
Why do we not sit in vigil and wait for him to come to us? To appear to us?
Because we are waiting for him.
Open to meeting him.
Why isn’t that on our minds, and heart, and souls?
I think one thing that we get wrong about forgiveness, about Lent, is that we want it to be all about resolution.
There was a problem, I put some effort into it, and, there we go, the mess is all cleaned up.
But is that really what we are supposed to be learning about Jesus’s fast in the desert?
There was Jesus faced with evil incarnate.
Did his experience with evil resolve evil?
Or was it meant as an experience of growth?
This black-and-white dichotomy that we tend to place on Jesus and God and all things Christian distorts everything.
And it is no wonder that we don’t understand the process of forgiveness.
If we look for perfect resolution in a relationship that was marred by wrongful behavior then we may very well miss that forgiveness is really for us. For our benefit. Not just to “let go” of past resentments. But also to give us those elements we need to have a deeper understanding of God.
If we agree with Father Nouwen and say, Ah, yes, fear is not from God, then how do we come to terms with our own past?
Just by dividing up our lives into piles of “good” and “bad”?
This really is a tempting silliness.
After all, I don’t have to be alone (or lonely) to do something evil. I don’t even have to feel afraid while I am doing it. And I’ve known of people who don’t feel any despair after their act.
Look at World War II.
There were religious people who thought the actions of the Nazi party were unjust and should be stopped.
And then there some who supported Hitler’s leadership, and found support for his actions in the Bible.
Being “not of God” has really little to do with emotions and circumstances.
Desert Fathers and Mothers felt fear, felt despair, and felt alone. All that, though, didn’t take them away from God.
Forgiveness, I am finding more and more, is about letting yourself taste the blood of the wound that you are working on.
And still seeing that God is there.
Still feeling your strength and integrity.
I think that most wounding is a damage to the soul. And because we really don’t think of the soul as something “real,” we don’t think of the soul as something to be healed.
And our souls are built out of our fearful experiences as well as our secure ones.
We grow from when we feel alone and lost, and when we are joyful and fulfilled.
If we cannot find our way to God when we are full of despair, then our souls will be truly scarred.
There was rarely a time when the path before Jesus was smooth and secure.
A lot of things he did frightened, confused, and angered the people around him.
Ultimately, they wanted him gone.
But it was his path.
He must have felt fear as the people tried to kill him.
He clearly felt anguish when he went to sit on the mountain to reconnect with his father.
And he was a man who allowed us to witness his sense of isolation.
And while you could argue that these things weren’t from God, that’s only because Jesus is God.
His fear is God’s fear.
His loneliness is God’s loneliness.
His despair is God’s despair.
So if we don’t pick up these emotions, and so much more, we will never truly understand God.
And if we don’t truly understand God, then we can never truly understand our place in the world.
Including those that wait to be forgiven.
Both by ourselves.
And by God.
We cannot claim that Jesus is both God and man and then make the man-aspect of Jesus that of a doll: never changing; never responding; never creating.
In order to forgive, we must insert the living God into our efforts.
And allow ourselves to taste the blood of life.