“O God we call, O God we call, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn for you.” The first time I sang Linnea Good’s plaintive song, was back in my seminary days back in the late 90’s. It is difficult to believe that I’ve been singing that song in various settings for almost a quarter of a century. A lot has changed since the longing of that tune first matched my own deep longing for God. I have changed, the world has changed, even my own longing has changed. Yes, I still long for God, but the god I long for is so much more than the god of my yesterdays. The intensity of my longing has deepened as the immensity of my own unknowing has been revealed.
The god of my childhood fell away long ago. I stopped longing long ago for the benevolent Father-god. He was replaced with longings for the theological images of a church struggling to survive in the modern world with a more sophisticated and gracious version of a super-hero; a shero if you will. My cravings to see feminine images of the DIVINE have deepened into longings that seem to transcend images altogether as my questions about the nature of the REALITY that lies at the very core of ALL that IS tear at the very fabric of my ability to comprehend the MYSTERY who is the LOVE that for millennia we have called “God.”
O God we call, from deep inside we yearn to capture you in words and images so that we can pin you down, explain you, and contain you in temples we erect to worship you without ever knowing the sheer magnitude of our unknowing. There are days when it feels that all the familiar trappings of what it means to be a person of faith lie in ruins before the onslaught of my questions. Like the communities that generated the writings in the New Testament, I too can see that the Temple lies in ruins. Temples fall, and when they fall the faithful often wander around the ruins longing for better days, when everything seemed so clear.
The community to whom the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote his gospel, knew the despair that comes when what you once held dear fails to explain the reality in which you find yourself. Written some ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the gospel-writers audience found themselves searching for answers. Who was this Jesus that we believed to be the Messiah, the new King David, sent to save us from our oppressors? Why did he die? Are the rumors that he lives on true? What about those who believe he will return? Who was Jesus, what did he teach, why did God let him die? Who will save us from the Romans? Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed? Did Jesus know this would happen? What does it mean? How are we supposed to live our lives now? The Romans are killing hundreds and hundreds of us? What happens to our loved ones when they die? What will happen to us when we die? Where is God in all of this? The Temple, everything we knew and held dear lies in ruins. What are we to do? Come back to us Jesus. Come back and save us from all of this.
They’d built their hopes and dreams around the temple and the image of Jesus as the Messiah, their saviour, themselves as the Chosen ones and God as their liberator, vindicator, the rock upon which they could stand. But the Temple lay in ruins…
What happens when the images and idols we choose to worship fail to capture the full meaning of the One we long for? When our Temples fall. When the Church fails. When theologies are too limiting. When answers seem hollow or absurd. When new realities present themselves. When wisdom opens us up to new possibilities. When our questions go unanswered. Temples fall, idols are smashed, and images, ideas and theologies disappoint.
There are days, when it feels like the questions and the mysteries are just too much to bear and I miss that old gentleman up there in the heavens and I’m tempted to just lean into that old time religion and summon up the far-away-god in the sky and have him solve all our woes. And then I remember Jesus.
It’s Jesus that keeps me in what’s left of the church. In Jesus, I’ve met a human being who knew what it was to wander around in the questions; a Jewish rabbi, a teacher, skilled in the art of answering a question with a question. Jesus who cried out for justice and empowered the marginalized. Jesus who embraced his own humanity and lived fully, loved recklessly and gave himself fully to life, it’s Jesus whose ability to be all that he was created be that keeps me in the faith. Jesus who challenged the status quo of the religious authorities and insisted that we and God are ONE. Jesus who put people ahead of the law. Jesus who called and empowered people to resist injustice and yet refused to take up arms even though hundreds and perhaps thousands would have followed him all the way to Rome to fight if he’d only asked them to. Jesus who loved so fully that he refused to back down even though he knew that in all likelihood it would get him killed. Jesus who insisted that heaven is here on earth. Jesus who declared that the reign of God has begun. Jesus who reduced it all down to love, love of God and love of our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus who insisted that our minds be part of any relationship. Jesus the rule-breaker and party-goer, the one they called a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus who lived so fully and loved so greatly that in him we can still see the face of God the source of ALL that IS and all that ever shall be living not only in Jesus but in with and through all those who love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. Jesus whose life and witness was so powerful that when he died that horrible crushing death, it was as if the very curtain in the Temple was torn in two and the holy of holies was revealed for what it was, not nearly holy enough to contain the Source of our Being.
The Temple was too small, God was not there. Like the smallness of the temple our images, theologies, doctrines and dogmas, are too small, to contain the ONE who IS the very SOURCE of our being. The religious trappings are just that, trappings, they cannot contain the DIVINE ONE who lies at the heart of reality. Our images and idols have been smashed by our questions, and we can wander around in the ruins as they decay, or we can look for the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, and through us in the faces of those around us; the ONE who lies beyond us in universes that stretch beyond our comprehension. We can let the dead bury the dead, or we can seek the DIVINE One in the LOVE that is God embodied in the hearts and minds of those we love and who love us.
Today, nation rises against nation. Earthquakes, fires, floods, famine, poverty, as oceans rise. Superbugs threaten super-plagues, and people are looking to the heavens not for portents or signs but for escape routes from disasters of our own making. Our temples have been destroyed. Our idols and images are scattered amongst the ruins. So, let them rot, let them decay. For in rot and decay, lies the nourishment for new life. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah we hear our God declare: “I AM about to make a new thing!”
Out of the ruins will rise up a new thing. Resurrection is possible. The MYSTERY that lies at the heart of creation is about to do a new thing. I suspect that the MYSTERY that lies at the heart of all creation is always about to do a new thing. LOVE is nothing if it is not fertile, fecund, lush, fruitful, prolific, bountiful, lavish, ever-evolving, dynamic, growing, rich, beautiful, gracious, extravagant… exciting, dangerous, scary, bold, tempting, sustaining, worth living and dying for.
All those centuries ago, when the Temple in Jerusalem lay smoldering in ruins, the followers of Jesus looked around and realized that Jesus was indeed their Messiah, because in his life and death lay their hope for, in Jesus they saw the power of LOVE. In time they began to see that LOVE born again in the faces of one another as they too began to live and love fully and extravagantly seeking the justice that Jesus sought, empowering the powerless, lifting up the lowly, loving, living and trusting that in God who IS LOVE they would find new life.
There are days when I miss the familiar. When I long for the idol’s I once worshipped. When I need the comfort of the man upstairs, or the mother’s arms to enfold me, or the church’s doctrine to save me. I am often tempted to put my questions away, and hunker down in and amongst the ruins, clutching my idols and praying for salvation. And then I remember Jesus, and the life he lived so fully, freely and extravagantly and I remember that life, this life, is pure gift, and like Jesus I want to live it, loving, sacrificing, struggling to make it better, tasting, seeing for myself, questioning and embracing every blessed moment of it.
I can’t wait to see resurrection up close and personal and so I long to see God in all LOVE’s incomprehensible splendor. I want to see this new thing that the Creator of all that is and ever shall be is birthing in our midst. I want to live it all trusting that God who is the SOURCE of my being, the MYSTERY beyond my comprehension, this LOVE that IS God, will nourish, ground and sustain me through every beautiful challenging, incomprehensible, blessed moment of it, come what may. Let it be so. Let it be so! Amen!