Fire on the open sea
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
From John 8
Jesus said, gYou belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world.h
Exhaustion, loneliness, despair c in todayfs text from Numbers there is a telling phrase: gTheir patience was worn out by the journey.h Surely things are not so bad as this. But then I think of Howard Beale imploring his television listeners to open their windows, stick out their heads and shout together, gIfm mad as hell, and Ifm not going to take it anymore!h
Yes itfs so tempting, to see whatfs wrong and then turn tail and run. Give up. Go back to Egypt. Settle into slavery again. It canft be any worse than this. Surely grass is greener there, on that side of the desert.
To keep them on their freedom path, Moses had some work to do, although God made it easier with his blunt-fisted punishment. Snakes slithered into tents, they bit, they killed. The complaining of the people turned to keening grief, and Moses pleaded for their lives.
* * *
Thousands of years later, Jesus looks straight into my exhausted, lonely eyes and says, gYou belong to this world.h And then he says with all sincerity, gI do NOT belong to this world.h And because he spoke this way, gmany came to believe in him.h
He doesnft offer a God-Trek Beamatron to get me out of here. He didnft have one of those for himself. The snakes killed him too, and he died abjectly on a cross. But Jesus compared himself to Mosesf medallion, the bronze serpent lifted up to heal the rebellious, bitten, dying people. He died so we might live?
What do I do now? How do I respond and move into the world of Jesus? Christian religion suggests so much: prayer, repentance, fasting, simple belief, works of mercy, works of devotion, sacrifice, surrender. Theologian and priest Henri Nouwen wants to simplify all that. He journaled in South America, about his daily time alone keeping silence in the chapel:
My time apart c is full of distractions, inner restlessness, confusion and boredom. It seldom, if ever, pleases my senses. But the simple fact of being for this time in the presence of the Lord and of showing him all that I feel, think, sense, and experience, without trying to hide anything, must please him.
Somehow, somewhere, I know that he loves me, even though I do not feel that love as I can feel a human embrace, even though I do not hear a voice as I hear human words of consolation, even though I do not see a smile as I can see a human face. Still the Lord speaks to me, looks at me, and embraces me there, though I am still unable to notice it. The only way I become aware of his presence is in my remarkable desire to return to that quiet chapel and be there without any real satisfaction.
Yes, I notice, maybe only retrospectively, that my days and weeks are different days and weeks when they are held together by these regular, guselessh times. God is greater than my senses, greater than my thoughts, greater than my heart. I do believe that he touches me in places that are unknown even to myself. I seldom can point directly to these places; but when I feel this inner pull to return again to that hidden hour of prayer, I realize that something is happening which is so deep that it becomes like the riverbed through which the waters can safely flow and find their way to the open sea.
* * *
In fifth century Egypt, deep inside the desert, long after Moses led his people there, men and women lived out lives of prayer. Like me, like us, they sought the world that Jesus spoke of.
One day Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and spoke. gI have fasted, I have prayed, I live in peace, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?h
The old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to Abba Lot, gIf you will, you can become all flame!h
Oh, Lord, shine your face upon us. You love me, and so I can love you. Set my feet upon the rock and turn my eyes always and forever just on you.
Howard Beale broadcasts the news, in the movie Network, 1976
Henri Nouwen, Gracias,from Chapter 3, gA Land of Martyrs,h journal entry from December 11, 1981, p. 69-70, 1983
Benedicta Ward SLG, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, from gJoseph of Panephysis,h p. 103, 1975