There’s a famous story about Mahatma Gandhi in which, Gandhi has just finished expressing his admiration for the teachings of Jesus and is asked, “Mahatma, if you love Jesus so much, why don’t you become a Christian?” Gandhi is reported to have replied, “My friend, when I meet a Christian, I shall become a Christian.” This story has always caused me to insist that,“I am not a Christian!” When the shock of hearing a Christian pastor say, “I am not a Christian!” begins to settle, I declare that, “I aspire to be a Christian.”
Part of my refusal to claim that I am already a “Christian” comes from the enormous task of being a Christian, which I believe comes down to following Jesus’ mandate to LOVE; to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. I believe that following Jesus’ takes us on a pathway which can open us to the reality life itself is all about learning how to be LOVE in the world.
Over the years, I have encountered may followers of Jesus, as well as followers of other faiths, and indeed followers of no faith at all, who have embodied this LOVE which many of us call, “God.” I pray that from time to time, I too have been able to be LOVE in the world. But neither I, nor any of those holy ones, for it is by embodying LOVE that we are “holy,” none of us have arrived as the LOVERs we are created to be, for life is a journey of endless becomings.
In the arrogance of my youth, I thought that it was all so very simple as I reduced Christianity to simply following Jesus commandment to “love God”, I trusted that loving God was motivation enough to love the very things which God loved, namely, my neighbours and myself. Indeed, my simple conviction that my love for God was the foundation from which my Christianly would mold me into a “good Christian” when it came to caring for my neighbours eventually drove me into my vocation as a pastor. My own Christianity was all wrapped up in my love for my God. And therein lies the rub. You see, my confidence in my christian identity revolved around my love for my god. The identity of my god was based on my understanding of all that I had been taught, together with my own hopes and expectations, mixed with a dash of childish anxieties, and some not so subtle ingrained biases. My god, was very much a bearded, wise, domineering, old, white, man, who was prone to fits of anger, insisted upon getting his own way, confessed to be jealous, kept a list and checked it more than twice, and knew me in ways that I didn’t know myself.
It is not surprising then, that the Psalm prescribed for this particular Sunday in the Church year, Psalm 139, was my favourite of all the Psalms. Listen to the words of Psalm 139 as they are prescribed in the Revised Common Lectionary. I should note that the powers that be have decreed that several verses are to be left out of todays reading. So, I shall read the only the verses of the psalm that the powers of the church have decided should be read. The verses which are to be left out are indicated with an ellipsis: dot dot dot – three dots which if you google them you will discover actually indicate: something which has been deliberately hidden.
I am reading from the inclusive Bible, Psalm 139:
YHWH, you’ve searched me,
and you know me.
You know if I am standing or sitting,
you read my thoughts from far away.
Whether I walk or lie down, you are watching;
you are intimate with all of my ways.
A word is not even on my tongue, YHWH,
before you know what it is:
you hem me in, before and behind,
shielding me with your hand.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
a height my mind cannot reach!
Where Could I run from your Spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you’re there;
if I make my bed in Death, you’re already there.
I could fly away with wings made of dawn,
or my home on the far side of the sea,
but even there your hand will guide me,
your mighty hand holding me fast.
If I say, “The darkness will hide me,
and night will be my only light,”
even the darkness won’t be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day—
darkness and light are the same to you.
You created my inmost being
and stitched me together in my mother’s womb.
For all these mysteries I thank you—
for the wonder of myself,
for the wonder of your works—
my soul knows it well.
My frame was not hidden from you
while I was being made in that secret place,
knitted together in the depths of the earth;
your eyes saw my body even there.
All of my days
were written in your book,
all of them planned
before even the first of them came to be.
How precious your thoughts are to me, O God!
How impossible to number them!
I could no more count them
Than I could count the sand.
But suppose I could?
You would still be with me!
Examine me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts—
see if there is misdeed within me,
and guide me in the way that is eternal.
Looking back at the young woman I was, I can understand how this became my favorite Psalm. Hearing this psalm for the first time in church, confirmed all my fondest desires about the god of my understanding. Hearing this psalm spoken or chanted as part of the church’s liturgy, I encountered the kindly old gentleman of my fondest hopes; a gentle grandfather who knew me better than I knew myself and still loved me, a love so immense that I, little old me, I was assured of only the gentlest of corrections as I journeyed toward eternity. I loved this psalm right up until the moment I actually read this psalm. dot dot dot – indicates that something is deliberately hidden Once read the hidden verses can never be forgotten:
O God, if only you would destroy those degenerates!
If only these reprobates would leave me alone!
They talk blasphemously about you;
Your enemies treat you as if you were nothing.
Don’t I hate those who hate you, YHWH?
Don’t I loathe those who defy you?
I hate them with a total hatred,
And regard them as my own enemies!
My disappointment was palpable. The god of my dreams reverted to type; a type of god who inspired hatred. But never mind. “Have faith!” I told myself. For surely God who is infinitely wiser than you, surely God of Heaven and Earth, like all wise, old, holy, white, men, surely our god has reasons beyond our understanding for all his objectional characteristics. So, I put away, or at least tried to put away my doubts, and followed the wisdom of church elders and put away the objectional verses so that I could rest secure in the care of my great, grand, Father-in-the-Sky.
There’s been a great deal of water under the bridge since stopped claiming that, “I am a Christian!” and began insisting that, “I aspire to be Christian” … dot dot dot In addition to meaning, “something deliberately hidden” can also mean: “therefore”. I no longer envision the MYSTERY which some of us call “GOD” as a person. As the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes wisely understood, if horses could draw their gods, they would draw god as a horse. So, after giving up the vision of God drawn for me by men, I tried images of God as female, only to discover that I was simply projecting visions of my deepest desire for a god who is merely a better version of me onto the SOURCE of ALL.
dot dot dot Only by including the words of Psalm 139 which are deliberately hidden can we begin to understand that the author of this beloved psalm in his full humanity. Like the imaginary horses of Xenophanes, who would draw horse-like gods, the psalmist draws a god who is just like himself. This psalm is attributed to King David; a deeply flawed man if ever there was one. Guilty of adultery, murder and possibly a genocide or two this warrior king projects his own hatred upon the god of his own desires just as surely as I projected the attributes, which I hold dear onto the god of my own desires.
dot dot dot . . . Therefore, what are we to do with this much beloved psalm? Well, I hope that we can continue to love this psalm for its brutal honesty. For like all great literature, this psalm reveals wisdom about who we are. Taken in its entirety this psalm, can teach us to search our very selves, deeply and intimately so that we may come to know who we are. Journeying into the very darkness which reveals magnitude and the apparent insignificance of our being; stitched together in our mother’s womb by a CREATOR who is the purveyor of mysteries beyond our comprehension; a SOURCE beyond, mere knowing, capable of intimacy beyond our imaginings a MYSTERY BEYOND all mysteries, is a journey into which the teachings of Jesus invite us.
Yes, it may have all been simpler back then, when we were but children and drew upon images drawn by those who had gone before us, of a god-like-them. Such a god is capable of inspiring faith in children, who long for their stockings to be filled to overflowing by a santa-like-sky-god. But when and if we have the courage, or dare I say, the faith to search ourselves, all ourselves, what is revealed is a REALITY beyond our images, beyond our hopes, beyond our dreams, a MYSTERY which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. Yes, I know that it is easier to love a person than it is to love a mystery; especially a MYSTERY beyond our comprehension. Why else would we settle for personifications of the DIVINE? Hear me when I say this, there is absolutely nothing, I repeat NOTHING wrong with personifying the DIVINE MYSTERY which some of us call “God.” Humans personify all sorts of things! It is perfectly fine to refer to the DIVINE as a person just as long as we remember what it is that we are doing. We can personify the DIVINE as long as we remember that the DIVINE MYSTERY is not a person. For to worship the personification is to worship something less than the DIVINE itself. Our ancestors had a word for worshipping something other than the DIVINE and that word is idolatry. If we set the DIVINE up as a Father or a Mother, or even a horse, believing that God is a Father, a Mother, or a horse, than we have created our own version of the Golden Calf and the object of our worship is not the DIVINE MYSTERY but an idol.
A wise Hindu friend of mine, once reminded me that the notions of god as a person whether it be: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit , are but an educational toys, designed to help learn to love the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of all that IS. She reminded me that Christians often wrongly insist that Hindus have many gods.She went on to explain that these gods are merely educational toys, all of which point toward the ONE who is beyond all. Later her brother, explained to me that the ONE which we Christians call “God” is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.
It may be easier to love a mere personification, or educational toy, or even an idol, but for those of us who strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, we are called upon to LOVE God with all our heart, soul, and mind. How do we wrap our arms around the MYSTERY, which is BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also? I don’t know. That’s my point.We don’t know. dot dot dot . . .
We don’t know; therefore, we get to set out upon a journey into the unknown.For those of us who aspire to Christianity, we begin with our desire to follow Jesus call to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbours as ourselves. We begin with love, the LOVE which is DIVINE, for God IS LOVE. Some of you know that my favorite way of describing the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY, dates all the way back to the fourth century when St. Augustine expressed the Trinity as the LOVER, BELOVED and LOVE ITSELF.
As the Apostle Paul writes our God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. dot dot dot – therefore we live and move and have our being in our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. How do we love a MYSTERY which IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also? We begin by loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. For if we have our being in LOVE then LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. dot dot dot – therefore . . .Let us aspire to be LOVE in the world.
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