Feb. 5, 2023
“Faith is still as it was,” says Carlyle Marney, “- dynamic and paradoxical. It can and it cannot. Every day the believer must be born again and resume their journey. Every old answer is forbidden, until some present urgency makes it new [again.] Faith, says Soren Kierkegaard, is a deep and blessed unrest. It urges the believer on. No rest here! Or they cease to be a believer, and they never can sit on a staff they will not use for travel. And over this pilgrim people, if God speaks, God never bellows and God’s peace may seldom descend, for the goal is not peace, but personhood.”[i]
The goal is not peace, but personhood. That’s a line worth thinking about for a while. What is the goal of your faith? That question makes me think of the one we were asking a few weeks ago: “What are you looking for?” asks Jesus. “What are you looking for?” asked the spiritual director to my friend. Do you remember? He said he was looking for peace. And, do you remember what the spiritual directed said back? “What are you a cow?”
I think there was too much complacency to the notion of peace. Not enough moving, or striving, or advancing. Too much of a romanticized hope for some kind of “arrival.”
Marney agrees. “The desire for a peaceful existence is not valid,” he says. “Cessation of the conflict is death in the believer. The advance [our progress] is always by the storm of tension created in the conflict with our own little gods, our own little redemptions, and our own little callings.”[ii] In other words, Christ meets us in these false salvations only to call us into something better. And, as we move one step forward we find ourselves in new places with new little redemptions to be conquered by the one who is our Redeemer. There is constant tension within the life of faith, but without it there is no inbreaking, no newness, no growth, no God.
That’s kind of a tough claim to consider, don’t you think? Even if it rings true and makes sense, so much of faith can feel like striving. In fact, regardless of faith, so much of life can feel like striving. There’s so much striving that what we end up longing for is rest, which is often actually diversion, which is often distraction from unsettlement, which often takes the shape of overspending, which then in turn contributes to our stiving to keep up with our spending, which makes us want to rest, which begins the cycle all over again.
It’s little wonder what we think we want from faith is also what we think we want in life. Add to that the demands of faith – our striving for an ineffable God while hearing the injunctions to be salt that’s actually salty and a light that actually shines in such a way as to make a difference in the lives of people with real needs – it’s enough to make you want to give up or ask from God what God doesn’t really give.
And yet, there is a kind of peace to be had – a kind that isn’t so much rest or diversion, but the peace rather of sharing the mind of Christ. The peace of hearing the beatitudes as we did last week – blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers – hearing these as the song of God’s heart and loving God for it, and joining God in it.
The psalmist’s turn of phrase caught my attention for today. He doesn’t suggest that we obey God’s commandments. Instead, the suggestion is that we delight in them, which is an entirely different thing. We can delight in loving God and loving neighbor as our selves, and when we delight in the task of faith we find that its not so much a task as a relief from the weight of those other tasks that burden us, those lesser redemptions that tempt us.
The psalmist says that it is those who delight in the Lord’s commands who will never be moved, whose impact will endure, who will not fear life’s troubling turns, whose hearts will be steady.
It’s Delores who comes to mind. You may remember that it was May and she was dying in the hospital when I first told you about her. Delores was the first church member in my ministry who ever said she loved me. It happened in the hospital as well, though many years earlier. I had come to visit her the same way I would any member who was at the hospital. It was my job, my duty to care, what I signed on to do, and was happy to do. Her job was to hopefully get better and to receive whatever comfort she might from my visit. And yet, after we prayed she held my hand and told me she loved me. And, it stopped me in my tracks. Her words were a kind of grace that showed me that I could be more than I was. I could be more than a role. I could be a person who simply loved her back. I didn’t need to “strive” so much as to “be.”
Well, in May, just a couple weeks before her death I met her in the hospital and I said, “Delores, when you pray now, what is it you say to God.” And she opened her eyes wide to me and she said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for this life I’ve lived.” It was the most beautiful thing I had seen in a long time, and it reminded me again of the kind of person I want to be.
Then, the day before her death she did it again. She was home this time, on her bed, positioned with a view out the back window. So sorry to be losing her I said, “Delores, how is your soul right now.” Again, she perked up, and she replied with such clarity, “My soul is divine!” We talked and we prayed and when we were done I put my hand upon her head and I said, “God bless you, Delores.” I thought that was it, but then she said, “God bless you too. And, God bless everyone in this room. And, God bless everyone in this world.” And she paused thoughtfully, and she said, “And, God bless you too, Lord.”
I thought of the joy with which Christ must have received that blessing, especially because it is he who promises that he will come to us, that he will bring us to where he is. And yet, in all of my time knowing her it just seemed that she was already very much at home with him. She lived so peacefully and simply because what she most wanted was Christ. She didn’t strive; she delighted. And, in her delighting she was and she remains a light. She was salt that remains salty, even now to me. She is remembered. She endures, just as the psalmist says.
Just one last word about the scriptures for today. When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” the “you” is plural. It is “you all,” it is the community of disciples. And, I think he says it because he knows that the whole world needs it. The whole world needs a people who know, like Delores, that our only true peace is in being God’s, who delight in God’s heart, and who are thereby free to shine God’s light.
[i] Priests to Each Other, page 106. (edited for inclusive language)
[ii] Page 98 (again, edited)