From the Basement

May 25, 2010

Choosing Faith

Over the last few days, I’ve asked God, “What do you want from me?” (you know, sort of like the Adam Lambert song). The response every time has been, Faith.

When I was dipping my feet in the pool of abjection, faith seemed like a ludicrous and trite answer to such an enormous question. But really, in reflection, it’s the only answer that makes sense. It’s the only answer that can give hope.

I worship a God who does not deal in specifics when it comes to answering my prayers. That is, I never get a direct telephone line, “Just wanted to let you know that x, y, and z will be happening today. In case you’re wondering, spend the most time on x!” I trust that, even though I can’t see what’s coming, he knows the specifics; “For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). And from the same Psalm:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me,

You know my sitting down and my rising up;

You understand my thought afar off.

You comprehend my path and my lying down,

And are acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word on my tongue,

But behold, O Lord, You now it altogether.

You have hedged me behind and before,

And laid your hand upon me. Psalm 139:1-5, italics mine

My favorite Psalm. Verse five is my favorite: “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” A hedge is a form of protection. “Behind and before” implies both foresight and hindsight; he knows the scope and span of a life, of my life, of your life. He knows us intimately, sees the darkness, and protects us anyway.

It’s funny how in the mist of despair, in the midst of temper tantrums, in the midst of anger toward God, we can lose sight of his goodness and faithfulness to us. In my experience, anger and sadness are pretty much inevitable in any relationship, and since we’re human, it stands to reason that at some point, we will be angry or sad with something we perceive God has done/is doing. The danger is that when we lose sight of his goodness, of his glory, we cannot see the light, and if we cannot see the light, then we are in darkness.

I’ve been angry with God and still praised him (“Blessed Be Your Name” is a good song for those times). But this last week was a time when I felt angry, betrayed, rejected, a good for nothing … and there was no light. There was no glory. There was no praise.

A conversation with my mother reminded me that the quickest way out of darkness is praise, because darkness cannot remain in a room where the name of Jesus is being lifted high. She also exhorted me with that verse about the mustard seed and the mountain (Matthew 17:20) and challenged me: can you summon the faith of a mustard seed? Because even a small faith can move mountains in your situation.

In the gospels, we have numerous examples of situations where, by faith, people were healed and – this is crucial – the nature of Jesus was understood. By having faith in who he was and by acting in that knowledge, people were healed. The woman who bled for twelve years and reached out to touch the hem of his garment. The Roman centurion. And various others. They reached out to Jesus, having faith that he was the only one who could bring light and healing into their situation. They opened the door and invited his presence in.

Conversely, fear (among many other things) can cripple the power of an action taken in faith. When Jesus called to Peter to walk across the water to come to him, Peter was afraid and, taking steps in fear, began to sink. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 15:31). Peter doubted, so he sank, thus preventing the awesome experience that Jesus had called him to. But – and remember this! – immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him. Immediately, Peter was caught by his loving Lord. Immediately, Jesus acted and came to the rescue, catching his friend and pulling him back into the boat to recover. Immediately. Even when we doubt him, even when we’re fearful, even when we don’t believe him, Jesus catches us.

He knows us intimately. His love for us is vast and unfathomable. Even in our failure, he catches us, hedges us – protects us.

And still, faith is a choice. The fact that we choose to believe him or not – the fact that he gives us the option – continues to astound me. Even after salvation, everything is a choice. Prayer. Worship. Digging deeper. Having faith that he will come through in a difficult situation. Having faith that he will heal what has been broken. Having faith for x, y, or z. Opening your bible to read. Choice. At every step, we have the option of choosing him or not choosing him.

When we continuously choose to walk in light, the fruits of the spirit (Galations 5:22-23) are evidenced. While I often remember that patience, gentleness, and self-control are fruits of the spirit (a.k.a., things I have trouble with!), I so often forget that faithfulness is also a fruit. Faithfulness is one of those things that grows every time you choose it. It’s like a muscle; it grows when it is exercised. When we choose faith (or love, or joy, or peace, etc.), it grows. God is faithful to us even we are not faithful to him, but when we are faithful, the reward is great. More peace. More joy. More faith. And hope. Above all, hope.

Jeremiah 29:11-13: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

May 24, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

So it was called by St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic and Catholic monk; that state when a person perceives their soul to be so unworthy and unclean that even God has turned his back. Julia Kristeva, a literary theorist pontificating during the theory heyday of the 1960s-80s, called it abjection, or the state of being cast off. Either phrase works for me.

It’s where I’ve been for the last few days. I’ve been struggling with feelings of abjection for the last few months; last night and today were wretched. I’m starting to come out a bit, but I want to post the lyrics to a song by Loreena McKennitt entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul”; lyrics are taken directly from the poem of the same title composed St. John of the Cross hundreds of years ago.

Upon a darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
And by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead

Oh night thou was my guide
of night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart
That fire t’was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where he waited still
it was a place where no one else could come

Oh night thou was my guide
of night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other
Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
From o’er the fortress walls
the wind would brush his hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow

Oh night thou was my guide
of night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

I lost myself to him
and laid my face upon my lover’s breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the morning’s mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
there they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
there they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

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