Monthly Archives: April 2012

Wait for it

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.  God will get around to it.  Seriously, chill out.  – Psalm 27:14 (21st Century Gen X paraphrase edition)

It’s said that the trip to Hell includes a layover in Atlanta.  I’m not sure what the Austin equivalent is, but I’m pretty sureI l lived it this week.  I won’t bore you with details about what actually happened, but here’s the gist: in what wound up being a 35-hour round trip, I spent 4 hours in the air and 12 hours in two airports. 

Getting out of Denver was bad enough.  My flight left four hours late and the airline shuffled us between three different gates.  The way back had the hallmarks of being even worse – mainly because I had a connecting flight through Houston and even on schedule, it wasn’t due in Denver until 10:40 p.m.  When they pushed back the departure time, it looked like I wouldn’t get home until midnight.

Figuring I had nothing to lose at that point, I threw myself on the mercy of an airline rep who secured for me – at no extra charge – the last seat on a non-stop commuter flight to Denver leaving an hour later than my original flight…and arriving home 90 minutes earlier. 

The whole thing got me to thinking about the Israelites, delayed outcomes, and unexpected blessings.  My airport experience was simply the Exodus in small.  You know, assuming the Israelites had been trying to get to Canaan via United Airlines.

It must have seemed like they’d never get to the Promised Land.  I mean, it was one damn thing after another.  Hunger and thirst and the wrath of God showing up as snakes and plague and I can’t remember what else.  These were Bronze Age equivalents of what airlines refer to as “mechanical difficulties” and “operational delays.”

But there was also water in the deserts of Denver International and Bergstrom.  It was no honey from the rock, of course, but a nice Dewar’s on the rocks isn’t a bad facsimile.  There were quail and manna that looked and tasted just like a hamburger and fries.  There were other people in the same boat and the camaraderie that comes from tribulation.  (Okay, okay, that’s a stretch.  Mostly it was a lot of annoyed travelers standing around bitching.  But that resembles some of the moments of the Exodus, too.)  And there was always the promise of God’s deliverance, which for me came in the form of a genuinely pleasant airline agent who got me home well before bedtime.

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion (and in Denver) and in Jerusalem (and in Austin) there will be deliverance (from spending eternity in the airport), as the LORD has said, even among the survivors (of a GoJet puddle jumper) whom the LORD calls.  – Joel 2:32 (21st Century Get X Paraphrase Edition)

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012

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Bonk if you love Jesus

Once upon a time, my friend who we’ll call Julian after Julian of Norwich…who totally rocked, by the way, just like my friend who’s name isn’t Julian…except that my friend hasn’t had herself bricked-and-mortared into an unheated cell where she plans to spend the rest of her days entertaining pilgrims from all over the country…was driving down the road minding her own business.  A beat up old pickup changed lanes in front of her and she noticed a bumper sticker on its tailgate reading, “Born Broken.  Watch for Finger.”

We’ve just come to the end of an intense Lenten season, so Jules had brokenness on the brain despite a truly rousing resurrection rendition of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday, replete with trumpets and timpani and choir and about six hundred people we haven’t seen in the sanctuary since Christmas.  So when Jules saw that bumper sticker, she thought, “Wow.  That’s so true.  We are all born broken.”

The bit about the finger puzzled her, though.  By the time she and the pickup driver came to a red light, she had something like this in mind:

From Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Rome: "God Gives Adam the Finger"

When she got close enough to really look at the bumper sticker, however, she realized that it actually said, “HORN Broken.  Watch for Finger.”

I won’t illustrate that one for you. 

Suffice to say, Jules got a good laugh out of it and I got the idea for this week’s blog.  Thank you, Jules – you know who you are!

In matters of faith, as in other parts of our lives, we often get out of it what we put into it.  This is probably why last Easter when I was wallowing in paroxysms of work despair, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” annoyed the hell out of me, but this year it reduced me to tears.  (Of course, that could also be attributable to the three term papers that were due shortly after Easter weekend.) 

And while I don’t mean to suggest that we’re redeemed by works and not by divine grace, I do think a certain attitudinal orientation helps as we navigate the rocky shoals of faith and religious practice.  I can’t think of a better way to describe this attitude than “Watch for Finger.”

God’s signature is all around us.  I won’t bore you with a litany of where you can read it – although if you’re having trouble, I advise you to park your butt somewhere with trees and grass, turn off your iPhone, and listen to the birds for twenty minutes.  What I will say is that God’s hands are all over the natural world, and within the weather, and in inspired works of art and music and literature, and upon marvels of science and medicine.  For me, these are the “no duhs” of God’s presence.  But, if we really want to appreciate the omnipresence of God, we need to learn to see where God leaves fingerprints.

I’m not even talking about life’s happy little surprises, like finding a quarter in the parking lot or having just enough fumes in your gas tank to lurch up to the pump.  No, what I’m thinking of are things that are so much a part of our everyday lives, we don’t pay them any attention at all, let alone consider them “blessings.”  Lunch time.  Hot water on demand.  Funny messages on Facebook.  High-speed Internet access.  Wrinkle-free fabrics.  Climate-controlled office buildings. 

I’m certainly not saying we should all go around hollering “Praise you Jesus!” every time the lights come on when we hit the switch or when we score a two-for-one on Red Bull at 7-11.  What I am talking about cultivating a mindful approach to the daily, the ordinary, the boring blessings that, cumulatively, could be the spiritual equivalent of the Butterfly Effect. 

Good ol’ Julian of Norwich, the late medieval English mystic and eternal optimist, gets the last word this week:

“See that I am God.  See that I am in everything.  See that I do everything.  See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally.  See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it.  How can anything be amiss?”

Don’t worry about being born broken.  Get out of life what you put in.  Wear your seatbelt and signal when you turn.   Watch for the finger.  All will be well.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


The other Easter miracle

Tomorrow’s Easter.  And this year, like every year, I find myself completely overwhelmed by the single most spectacular miracle the world has ever seen:

The ability of millions to suspend disbelief.

Let’s face it.  The Christian faith has its fair share of fish stories.  There’s that great one about the biggest catch ever (Luke 5:1-11).  And the one about feeding-the-several-thousand was so outstanding, all four Gospel writers relayed it (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-15) and Matthew even gave it an encore (Matthew 15:29-39).  My personal fave is Jonah.

But nothing trumps the story of Christ’s resurrection.  And therein lies the rub.  The resurrection is pretty much the one thing you need to believe (according to some) to qualify, theologically at least, as a Christian.  But, honestly, folks.  God raises a carpenter from the dead and all humanity’s sins are forgiven?  Gimme a break.  At best, it’s a fairy tale along the lines of frickin’ Snow White.  At worst, it’s delusional.

I’m going to let all of you in on a dirty little secret of the Christian faith.  A lot of us struggle with the resurrection.  Any Christian who says he or she has never entertained any doubts whatsoever about the resurrection is:

a) lying, or

b) confused about what the word “doubt” means, or

c) not giving the resurrection adequate consideration.

Fortunately, skeptical Christians have a patron saint – Thomas, one of the original twelve disciples whom history has rather ungraciously dubbed “Doubting.”  Here’s what happened with him when the reports of the resurrection starting pouring in:

Now Thomas, who was also called the Twin (even though we have no idea if that’s because he was a twin or he’d played for the Twins or just looked like somebody famous), was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

And Thomas said, “Is that supposed to be funny?  You jerks are sick.”

And the disciples said, “No, seriously man, we’ve totally seen him.”

And Thomas said, “Okay, I’m not stupid and you guys are full of s**t.”

And the disciples said, “Geez, Thomas, can’t you generate a little faith here?”

And Thomas said to them, “Look.  Unless he’s standing right in front of me and I see the nail marks in his hands and stick my finger in the nail holes and stick my hand in his stab wound, I will not believe.  And you guys are a bunch of pathetic dumbasses, by the way.”

I suspect that Thomas was a practical man in matters of faith.  So, the miracles of Jesus were pretty impressive and Thomas could probably get on board with those.  But now Jesus is dead.  Dead and buried.  Game over.  Get over it and figure out how to get on with life.

But that’s not the end of Thomas’s story:

A week later the disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God.”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

So what about those of us who haven’t seen and struggle to believe?  Thomas’s story tells us a couple of things about how the divine meets our doubt right at eye level. 

We’re told that Thomas was the last disciple to encounter the risen Christ, so he spent a fair amount of time “in the dark,” surrounded by people who had an insight he lacked.  In the absence of certainty, Thomas promptly made a deal – I’ll believe it when I see it.  He announced the deal publically, for the benefit of those poor misled souls obviously suffering from vivid hallucinations.  And, I suspect, he also brokered the deal with God. 

I dare you to perform one more miracle.  Go ahead, cut through my grief and doubt and alienation.  Let’s see you just try and make me believe the unbelievable.

Those of us who “have not seen” are in the dark, too.  And that darkness is darker than it needs to be, I think, because so few of us are willing to publically declare, like Thomas did – I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS.  Making that acknowledgment potentially estranges us from other Christians.  It also calls into question everything about our discipleship.  If I can’t believe this with all my heart and all my mind and all my soul and all my strength, maybe I don’t have what it takes to walk this path.  Maybe none of it is real.   Maybe God isn’t real. 

Whereupon we feel estranged from God.

Take comfort, mere mortals.  Jesus didn’t say we have to believe everything (returning to the fishing analogy) hook, line, and sinker.  He did say we have to love one another.  Furthermore, doubt does not disqualify us from participating in the mystery and miracle of Easter.  Doubts about incredible things are to be expected of creatures with oversized frontal lobes.  And regardless of how unsettling our doubts can be, they cannot diminish the power of our desire to believe.  That desire is an expression of passion, of longing, of love.  And our highly relational God responds very well to those things.

Much of my personal understanding of my own faith has incubated in conversations with friends of other faiths and no faith.  In a recent email exchange with an atheist friend, I realized that deeply experienced faith is not rooted in the ability to believe.  It’s rooted in the willingness to suspend disbelief.  That angle might make Jesus’ last words to Thomas a bit more accessible:

Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have suspended disbelief.

So, tomorrow morning, I’ll join the faithful around the world to celebrate the resurrection.  The real miracle, for me, is that on Easter it’s easier to believe.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


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