Often an experience of critical disorientation occurs in our lives and causes immense renegotiation of our lives. I recall the death of my mother in young adult years had quite a profound effect upon my world view and understanding of life. This major crisis intruded into my relatively naïve experience of life as innately good and comfortable. This invasion was accompanied by a range of feelings and thoughts and a journey through grief and into a renegotiated world view. It also opened me to the experience of pain, deep pain and the awareness of pain in the world and the lives of others.
This enormous experience was also accompanied by a deeper journey into faith and a search for deeper spiritual meaning and purpose. Suddenly I suppose I recognised that life is finite and the reasonably care-free existence is not the full truth. As I took new notice of the world around me and especially the two thirds world where poverty and lack drove people further into hopeless, helpless despair, I recognised there was more to life than me and the relative ease with which I had engaged in my life. There were experiences, then and since, of grace where my eyes were opened to another reality beyond this world and the pain I and others were feeling. I encountered the presence of the Divine in special and ordinary ways and felt embraced by ‘a love that will not let me go.’ This Love I call God and know as an ever-present reality that pervades my living, breathing, thinking and being. Whilst I don’t always recognise this force of Love that holds me, it is there in the mystery, wonder and joy of my life – even when all seems horrible or hopeless.
I don’t really know how life may have evolved without that massive crisis. Faith was there already but would the deeper questions that thrust their way to the surface and threatened faith’s equilibrium have taken on quite their dominant quality without the critical experience of mum’s dying? I don’t know. What I do know is that crises often drive us into a new place where we yearn for something deeper and more profound to help explain or deal with the critical questions and explosive feelings.
Such crises emerge within our lives and disturb the comfortable consumption and distractedness of life. Most of us are lulled into meaningless existence through boredom and cultural conditioning. Our lives are governed by consumerism, materialism and the stresses that abound with consumptive living. We feel tired and aimless. We seek adrenalin arousal. We struggle to gain more and keep up, only tiring ourselves in the process, leaving us wondering what or why or how… Then the crisis invades and comfort is dispelled and despite our pain and discomfort we are drawn into the fight for survival and meaning in the midst of struggle. Quick answers may be thin and we have to delve more deeply through the hollowness of much superficial meaning imposed through the stratosphere of knowledge accumulated through the internet and beyond.
It is here that God often makes a gentle comeback or tentative initial appearance into our conscious lives. God, beyond the dogma, bureaucracy and institution, is a gentle, firm and persistent presence. Beyond the brutal traditions that impose themselves upon God seeking to define, manipulate and control, we might experience the gentle embrace of pure love that holds us in grace through pain and joy. This gentle embrace draws us deep into a place where love can touch our being and massage our soul. It is a forgiving, healing place but one that is contradictory and mysterious. The experience is real and deep but often defies logical negotiation or meticulous proof.
The deep encounters with evil that pervade the world and our experience, such as Adolph Hitler’s evil escapades and reign of terror or the brilliantly evil and horrific destruction of the World Trade Centre, the Bali Bombings… These experiences change something in our imagination and open us to vital questions and desperate searching to make sense, to restore an order that needs new foundations. Here God’s face is the presence of Love and life, meaning and hope – all this despite Richard Dawkins!
This week there are two quite profound ancient readings that will find their way into Christian churches across the world. The first (Isaiah 6:1-8) is the oldest and comes to us from some 2700 years ago. A king becomes disabled and useless and then dies. The death of a king, even an incompetent one causes a certain degree of chaos and confusion – often a great deal of pain and uncertainty. In the time of Isaiah, King Uzziah died and the ensuing crisis, essentially the climax of the crisis emerging in his ordinary reign, provoked a different crisis in the young man’s life. He had a vision of God where he was before God in the Heavenly Realm, with all the angelic and heavenly beings singing, praising and serving God. The vision is couched within the world view of Isaiah and becomes a real and vital turning point. Before the presence of pure love and grace, Isaiah recognises his powerlessness and brokenness. Isaiah understands that he has not lived into the fullness of his being. He knows himself to have failed himself and suddenly the yearning to be more truly and fully alive and deeply human wells up. He cannot stand before this purity and remain the same! An angelic figure touches his lips with a burning coal and proclaims forgiveness and healing. Isaiah responds to a call, an invitation to take the word of God’s restorative and healing love into the world. The word is harsh as it brings discomfort and overthrows unjust living in its bid to restore justice and equality for all people. It is hard to hear for some and a breath of life for others. Perhaps crisis enables the word of God to be heard more deeply and fully, to engage with its wayward and explosive hope and purpose and risk everything for the priceless experience that our spirits and souls yearn after
The second story (John 3:1-17) involves an encounter between Jesus and a religious leader, Nicodemus. He comes in the dark, symbolic of his life, to the Light because of the yearning of his heart. For Nicodemus the crisis isn’t so much a critical point that is thrust upon him but a growing sense of purposelessness, despite him being a religious/spiritual leader of the people. Despair or confusion gnaws at his soul until he can bear it no longer; distraction and busy-ness no longer pacifies his being and his yearning leads him to the one who can enlighten his way. Nicodemus is mystified by the words of Jesus who points him to a new beginning, a new life born of God’s Spirit that reveals a new path and expectant new world view. Nicodemus cannot go back to what was – all is different! What about you? How do you respond to the critical moments or deep yearning where God intrudes gently with promise and hope?