Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What are you looking for?

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
-- St. Augustine

I still haven't found what I'm looking for.
-- U2

This goes out to all my fellow seekers. All those wild eyed men (and women) poring over dusty tomes. Sitting at the feet of wise men and teachers. Searching, ever searching, for some hidden truth, some mystical formula, some forgotten knowledge that will finally slake the unquenchable thirst. That will finally answer the questions and the mysteries surrounding our life in Christ.

For some of us it's a desire for holiness, a desire to live the life of Christ. We read the Bible, we hear the sermons, and we realize that we fall short, far short, of what we're "supposed" to be.

For some of us it's a desire for theological consistency. We wrestle with different models of the atonement. We try to wrap our minds around the doctrine of the Trinity. We struggle to make sense of the sovereignty of God.

And for others it's a desire to go beyond head knowledge. To somehow translate those words of truth we have memorized into an actual experience of knowing God. We know ever so much about God, but He seems a million miles away and so incredibly disconnected from the realities of daily life.

And so we search, we seek, we embark on quest after Knightly quest for our particular Holy Grails. Only far too often we are carried forlornly back to La Mancha instead of riding victoriously back to Camelot. The latest book starts with so much promise, but fails to deliver in the end. The newest teacher gathers them in by the thousands, but the words just somehow fail to translate into lasting change or a satisfying peace. Sometimes we think maybe it's our theology. Maybe if we became a Calvinist, or a Quaker, or Eastern Orthodox, maybe that would do the trick.

Well, I for one have had just about enough. Over the last month or two I've put down most of my theological tomes. I've laid aside the latest McSpirituality books. I've resisted the allure of doctrinal sparring matches (mostly). And I've begun to discover something that was right there all along; it wasn't hidden, it wasn't buried in ancient texts, it hadn't been lost through the vagaries of time, it didn't need 10 steps to find or some guru to point it out, I've begun to discover the presence of Jesus.

That's what I've been looking for all along. That's what brought me into this crazy, mixed up thing called Christianity in the first place. The presence of Jesus. And I've found that when I'm in the presence of Jesus I'm not nearly as worried about all those other things that used to cause me so much consternation. It made me realize that I'd been making an idol out of information. Even though I knew at some level that information about someone is not at all the same thing as an intimate relationship with that person. I realized that all my questings were just the religious spirit raising it's ugly head, trying successfully to obscure the true object of my hearts desire.

This morning as I was having a morning drive-time communion with Jesus this all became so clear. I was reminded of a period of time when my daughter was 5 or 6 years of age. She used to have something that I called night-terrors. I don't know if that's what they really were, but it was the best explanation I had for it.

In the middle of the night she would start crying and calling out in severe distress. I would go into her room and she would be sitting up in bed, eyes wide open, and in a complete state of agitation. I would ask her what was wrong and she would say something like: "You know. You know what I need. Where is it? You have to give it to me." She would continue to insist that there was something that she needed and that it was critically important that I get it to her. Only she would never say what it was she needed. It was very frustrating. Nothing I could do would comfort her. All my attempts to soothe her and hug her would be rejected and she would lash out in anger and fear until finally she would tire herself out and go back to sleep.

I knew, because I understood the difficult circumstances at the time, what was going on psychologically. I also knew that what she most needed, and really the only thing that would help, would be for her to accept my soothing. To relax in my arms and feel safe in the fact that I was never going to leave her or forsake her. Even though her world didn't always make sense, there was peace and safety that only I could give her, but I couldn't force it on her. She had to accept it from me.

Isn't this just what we do? We chase after God, demanding that He conform to our systems of thought. Demanding that He make sense out of everything. Taking the Holy Scriptures, that wonderful collection of stories, letters, poems and apocalypse, and turning them into a systematic theology in which we grant degrees and with which we ferret out the faintest inklings of heresy. We see our own failures and think it must be up to us to figure it all out. Paint by numbers holiness. Orthodoxy for Dummies. Surely we can learn enough about it all to finally find some peace, some ease, an end to our ceaseless quest.

Are you tired of it too? Tired of seeking after those elusive answers that somehow always seem just out of reach? Jesus said that if you seek you will find, if you knock it will be opened. What have you been seeking for all this time? If you haven't found it, maybe you're not seeking for the right thing. If the door hasn't been opened, maybe you're not knocking at the right door.

These days when my daughter is sad, hurt or confused, she comes right to me. She asks questions and she listens to the answers. She hugs me and accepts my hugs. She takes comfort from me. She believes that my heart towards her is good. Even though her life is still difficult, even though she still goes through heartache and pain, I no longer see her casting about anxiously for something that isn't there. No longer does she scream in the night while her comforter stands open armed in front of her.

Listen to these words of the one who wants to comfort you. The one who stands there open armed while you scream into the night.

You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want.
--John 5:39-40 (The Message)
Now don't go running straight to the NIV, the RSV or the KJV to remind yourself of how it reads there. You know who you are and you're just like me. Don't do it. Stay here with this. Let the unfamiliarity of the translation be an opportunity for Jesus to actually break through to your heart. Read it, mouth the words, imagine Jesus right there with you saying the words. Hear him. Let him speak.
Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: "Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that's the way you like to work."

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. "The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."--Matthew 11:25-30 (The Message)

Again, stay with these words. Forget about dragging out your other translations or your commentaries. Resist all those familiar urges. Jesus is speaking to you. Right now. Listen to his words. Hear them. Really hear them. Rest your head on his shoulder... accept his hug... hug him back... breathe, relax, repeat.

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