Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Struggle, The Passion & Our Purpose

I had so many good intentions of what I was going to write today as we enter Good Friday and celebrate Easter.  About how God and is right and true and just and how I fit into it all.  But the truth is I struggle with all of that…a lot.

Like just about everyone I know, I feel inadequate and misunderstood, I feel lonely and worried, I feel sad and afraid.  And many times these feelings come at me all at once.  When I’m happy I have forgotten to thank God, when I am struggling, I go to God.  When I am irritated, I have ignored God.  (As I write this I am eating chocolate covered raisins—and I’m not sure I even like them.)  I am not the one who has anything figured out. I think it has been difficult for me to place my mind on God when I feel this way, when my worry becomes large, when I see what is happening beyond my own world, when I hold conversations with him that seem entirely one-sided.  

There is so much incentive to turn away from God: friends who seem to ignore your wish to be seen, political grandstanding that seems bent on entertainment, issues with your children that are larger than what you can possibly solve, parents who have captured and held you close who are being lost to you, bombs as a reminder that understanding has yet to be reached.  And even as those big hurts batter my heart and challenge my head to understand them, the smaller hurts bore deep, because those are usually the ones I do not take to God.  I keep them quiet and there they fester until it seems that there is no point at all to take any of it anywhere.  I follow this circle of denial and rage and regret and humility far too often.

I have written about forgiveness, about faith, about love, and I understand that all of these work together to keep me centered.  But the truth is there are moments I do not want to forgive, when I am too angry to find my faith and where I just cannot love.  I work hard against this.  And I think to myself that it should be easier.  But it isn’t.  My frail humanity makes me work to be better.  To try harder.  To see more clearly.  Understanding that
though, does not make it any easier.

In order to make the effort to understand, to work through, and to stay the course, I have started a Bible study on the Nicene Creed.  I chose it primarily because of its interdenominational nature.  I am exhausted by divisions.  Feeling left out or being pushed out because of some reason or another.  The first line of the Creed is “We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.”


“Why do you believe God exists?” came the first question, the first day.  It struck me to my core.  Why indeed?  I certainly have many friends that do not.  I have others who believe differently.  Still others who say they do and then seem to go opposite to any of Christ’s teachings in every dealing I see of them. 

At the dead center of Believe is Lie. 

The word is a challenge in and of itself.  Because in order to make it work, and in order to push through the first line of that Creed, in order to have everything God intends, you need to move aside the lie and find Live.

Every day, this is the dilemma that God presents to us: to consider the lie or push through to find life.

Believe.  Lie.  Live.  Doubt. Christ.

So I sit or stand or kneel or pace through all the hurts big and small, trying to find my way, every day back to God.  Because as I place those hurts big to small in the arms of God, and—here’s the hard part—leave them there, I am left with room to feel love and peace and understanding and calm.  Not that these are easy, and not that they come quickly or magically.  And into all of this realization and consideration for me this year comes Lent. 

Lent is about the wait for Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven.  Our celebration of Easter is crossing the moments of Calvary.  It is the biggest day of the liturgical year.  It is when we think about and consider the cost of God’s sacrifice; Christ’s passion (passion comes from the Greek word paschein, which means, “to suffer”) is so horrible, we have four separate accounts of the same to verify it, to stand in mute testimony to its occurrence. 

Christ’s wounds were not just physical, though we know that they must have been extraordinary in their pain—but the emotional pain, the small hurts, the mockery, the challenges, the betrayals, even at the end on Golgotha, even being challenged then, these must have hurt even more (Luke 22:63-23:12). 

So while I begin with our family traditions of Easter: the dyeing of eggs in every myriad hue, plan which dishes to serve, consider the clothes to be worn, think about what to place in baskets that the boys
Easter 2015
never seem to see Peter Cottontail drop off, through all of this we try to reflect on the journey we are taking with Christ.  “I love coming to Mass at Easter,” Jake said to me.  “Why?”  “Well we have so many people there, and we all say the story together and we all pray together.” “It doesn’t make you sad, hearing about Jesus?”  “No, it does, it’s just that it was what Jesus had to do, right?  That was his job, and now it’s mine.”

Yes, it’s a reminder of my job too.  Through the recitation of the Easter liturgy, we are forcefully reminded of our place in judgment and mercy.  Asking questions of ourselves if we would intervene when we see injustice, would our silence be our sin?  The story is brutal: Christ is mocked, he falls; he is in physical agony.   His passion is intense and unrelenting.    His suffering is acute and horrible.  Every lash, every painful step, every burning breath—there is no moment he stops, lays down the cross and says, “I am not guilty.  I am free from sin.”  His perseverance in my name is so shocking that there are times I feel I cannot accept it.  Christ begs God for forgiveness of those who have persecuted him and then he dies (Luke 23:34).  It would be terrible if the story ended there.  If our story ended there But it doesn't.  Because we know that that was just the
Three Letter Birds Print
end of one story and the beginning of a greater one, an empty tomb and a risen Christ offers new life—
and with that comes our job, our passion.

Our modern definition of passion is different.  The primary definition being about having a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something, or a strong feeling that causes you to act in a dangerous way, or a strong feeling for someone.  

Suffering, it seems, has been rendered obsolete as a meaning.

So how does suffering then become love?  How does the old meaning for passion become all consuming ardor for something or someone in the modern context?  I have really considered this during Lent and found an answer. 

The transformation of a life to the life everlasting.  That’s what did it.   

Suffering to love.  Jesus takes all the pain and shame, insecurity and loathing and allows it to be marked on his skin.  He breathes it in, all the mocking and the indignation, he sees it through the blood in his vision, the uncertainty and the fear.  He falls under the weight of the burden of sin that has been locked so tightly and added to with years of regret.  And it propels him forward, the opportunity to free me of it is so great, and so close he cannot stop.  “Forgive them Father.” 

So this is what I know, and it has opened my eyes to why I need to be reminded of this year after year.  Because Christ has done his job, he has freed me to do mine. A new life—a chance to reflect on the price paid for me to claim it—has come once more. It isn’t comfortable, the new skin I am in.  And the challenges don’t go away, as Christine Caine says, “The greater the assignment, the greater the attack.”  It won’t be easy to pursue this, my passion—there will be falls and false starts.  There may even be mockery and indignation, uncertainty and fear.  But I can do it—and so can you. 

Christ’s passion has paid for you to find yours.  And now, at the beginning of all things, as we come to see the resurrection and celebrate the ascension into Heaven of our God, as we know the deep swelling love that is there to catch us, to hold us, to lift us, and who does not move from us, the baton has been handed to you to continue.

Suffer no more; Christ has done it.  Find your passion, locate it in his grace, and show the world the incomprehensible power that love can do as it is
embodied in you.

May the grace and peace of God be with you now and always.  Happy Easter.  

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