|Finding the path. Photo by Eric Minbiole/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0|
"I have always said that a pious Christian can be essentially atheist in ultimate commitment. The decisive factor is whether I live the consequences of my faith. Is God my authority? Which God?"
-- "Martin Niemoeller: A Confessional Courage," Cloud of Witnesses, Joyce Hollyday and Jim Wallis
Jesus took 30 years to prepare for three years of public ministry. I'm beginning to see why.
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, I transcribed from my heart a desperate plea for compassion. What I did not share at the time was that much of my thinking was being shaped by a course I had recently begun at my church -- JustFaith, an intensive (and intense) small-group program that dives into Christian social justice teaching with prayer, study, dialogue, and immersion to connect participants spiritually, intellectually, and physically with the poorest among us.
Or, to put it more bluntly, it rips your heart out every week and leaves it bleeding on the table. Because that's what waking to the world does to you: it shatters your protective privilege, snatches your blinders, and shakes you so hard that your vision scrambles and refocuses the millisecond of existence we call our lives.on what truly matters.
Clearly, the experience moved me. But not quite as I predicted.
The bigger the issues we tackled, the thornier the realities we dissected, the more I moved toward a truth I often resist -- that professing a sincere belief in the redemptive, all-encompassing, unconditional love of God requires three things of me:
- Cultivate and nurture a relationship with God.
- Live out our relationship through my actions.
- Cede my illusory control over those actions' processes and outcomes.
In the face of the world's suffering, I am finally acknowledging how powerless I am because I can do nothing without God. The good news is, God is already with me -- always has been, in fact -- and practically tumbling in circles to love all over me. So maybe it's more that I am powerless but love is powerful, so let's tap into the stronger force.
"It is not enough to sow the seeds of wisdom; we are called to action if we are to reap a bountiful harvest." -- Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate
Remember, though, when I said I was starting to understand Jesus' three-decade preparation for his blink of public ministry? Building one's relationship with God is a life's work. It takes time, space, effort. Saying you'll live your faith and actually living it are leagues apart. I'm only now loosening my grip on my self-imposed mandate to save the world. I'm only now releasing myself from dictating outcomes. I'm only now recognizing that all of us already have the answer and the tools at hand. I merely need to do one thing -- show up -- and it. is scaring. the SHIT out of me.
Here's the deal: I, a lifelong practicing Catholic, am being called to a personal conversion to see God and the world as one. Now that I've heard the call, I can't unhear it ... despite my retinue of cotton balls, pillows, and ear muffs.
So the question becomes, how will heeding the call change me, my actions, my choices, my life? And can I follow this call to its inevitable conclusion -- the same one that put Jesus on a cross?
I don't know.
I don't need to know.
I want to know.
Most likely, I'll never know.
The only step I need to take right now is to show up at the edge of the dark forest. Then I'll pause and look around. See if I can spot the flickers of torches winding along the path ahead.
I'll follow one. Meet the torchbearer. Listen to her story. Share my trail mix. Walk with her.
And we'll see what happens next.
Prayer #312: At the Edge of the Forest
God of the unblazed trail, take me where I need to go. Your signals are clear: walk, pause, listen. Repeat as necessary.
I can feel your heavy breathing on my neck, your salivation over a salvation already achieved but not realized on earth. So I am giving in to giving in, acknowledging your unending wish for us to heed your friendly shoulder tap and follow your confident wave.
As we go, please surround me with new faces and different stories. Introduce me to fellow hikers on the path to conversion. Balance the night sky of my faith with the morning dew of works.
The world has unsettled me with its suffering, but I have not run here, to the edge of the woods, to escape. Rather, I come to be unsettled even more, to face the as-yet-invisible trail, to rejoice at finding your hand in the dark.