What to do when I don't know...?

Where to begin...?  In North Adams - a long, broken and wounded community is wrestling with the closing of their hospital. They are grieving economically and spiritually and their deep pain obscures authentic visions for the future. Meanwhile the unions and politicians are searching for a scapegoat when the word on the street for the past two+ years has been that this hospital is going down the tubes. It is farcical and demoralizing the way none of the key players - including the town's mayor - talk about what doctors and medical people all over the county have known for a long, long time. This is a sad and ugly time in North County...

Tonight at Fort Hood yet another traumatized veteran has taken our nation's preferred approach to fear, confusion and mental illness by opening fire on his innocent colleagues with a concealed weapon.  Already four are dead and 16 are wounded with the death count expected to rise. Grief-stricken military
leaders are scratching their heads - soul-searching in the wake of two wars that have rendered thousands of their beloved unstable and volatile while still armed - as they wonder how to keep other soldiers on bases throughout the world safe. Families are weeping and retching, the President is sick unto death with yet another shoot-out at Ft. Hood and still the madness continues because the NRA controls both Republicans and Democrats alike.

This evening our small church group gathered to watch Kieslowsksi's "Decalogue" Part One - a haunting film made for Polish TV in the late 80s - that tells the story of a man and his son who have tried to deal with all the ambiguities of life by giving themselves over to technology.  With enough facts and good computers they believe they can overcome the uncertainties of real life. But there are question marks all over the place:  where is the child's mother? Dead? Absent? Deserted? Why is the the boy's father so certain that technology is the best defense against the pain of life? Has his heart been broken by death? Divorce? Ideology? Where can you find hope in a post-modern world that mistrusts both science and religion? The crushing conclusion of this film makes it clear that NOTHING can keep us from the 
irregularities of life:  ice breaks, ink spills, hearts wither, love fades, children die, governments fail, evil thrives.

Our conversation afterwards was rich as we all wrestled with both the angst of the film and the presence of anguish in our own lives. My take is that one of the alternatives to the idolatry of technology is faith - not a simple-minded faith - but a childlike one that seeks the best for all people while embracing the mystery and paradox of the one we call God. One of the religious paths of the modern era is to question God's presence and power: Is God absent? Why would a loving God do X. Y or Z but not A, B or C?  Warren Lee, then dean of the doctoral program at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo used to tell us that unless we had an adequate response to these questions we better not continue in pastoral ministry.

Two solutions of the past seem cruel and wrong.  One suggests that human suffering is an action intended by God to reward or punish another; God did this so that you will learn or repent. How ugly and mean-spirited is that?  The other is more benign but equally repugnant: we don't know why this tragedy was done by the Lord but it was clearly God's will. You will know more after this earthly race is over. Well, I trust that is true - now we see as through a glass darkly and all that - but too often this is just more bullshit wrapped in pious tissue paper.

But I find the modern liberal antidote to questioning and doubting God's presence in all things equally troubling. This position suggests that we can actually know and comprehend the heart of the All Mighty. I appreciate and understand the quest for knowledge and certainty - since the time of Job people of faith have been trying to understand why tragedy happens - but I cannot see how raising myself to the level of the Divine makes anything any better. Sometimes, I have had to accept that I have to simply fall to my knees, lift my heart to God and say: help me, Lord. I believe but help my disbelief. Like the sweet saints of AA teach:  there are things we must simply accept even if we don't like or understand them. Reality is the will of God - it can always become better - but we must start with what is real.

So I have chosen to trust a God who is God. That is what the Sabbath is all about; I did not create Creation. I don't have a better response to the Whirlwind than Job. In humility, I just open my heart and trust that God knows better than me. I ache and grieve and curse and doubt like everyone else. And then I choose to say like Ezekiel when asked can these bones live: only Thou knowest Lord? I certainly don't.  But I know that you created heaven and earth. I know that you raised Jesus from the dead. I know that you changed Paul's heart from hatred to love so I'm going to trust you in the gap of what I don't know... because you are Lord and I am not.

Tonight, as friends and loved ones all over creation grieve and lament, I entrust them to the Lord's mercy knowing that God's love endures forever.  Fr. Richard Rohr put it like this:

Sooner or later, if you are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point, you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it (Isaiah 8:14). You will and you must “lose” at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

We must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say. We must be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan, and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find the real source, the deep well, or the constantly flowing stream. Alcoholics Anonymous calls it the Higher Power. Jesus calls this Ultimate Source the “living water” at the bottom of the well (John 4:10-14).

The Gospel was able to accept that life is tragic, but then graciously added that we can survive and will even grow from this tragedy. This is the great turnaround! It all depends on whether we are willing to see down as up; or as Jung put it, that “where you stumble and fall, there you find pure gold.” Lady Julian of Norwich said it even more poetically: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”


Peter said…
I put nothing past God.

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