Archives for the month of: February, 2015

People always say, “well, no matter what happens to you, God is there.” And there is his name, Emmanuel — “God With Us.” And that’s what Jesus was supposed to embody — the closeness of God, that He would come to earth and constrain Himself in a human form to be with us in person. But He’s ascended now, and even though He has supposedly left His comforter, the Holy Spirit, with us, I would take Jesus in the flesh any old day instead of having the Holy Spirit indwelling in me (what does that even mean??). (Of course, someone accused me of being weak in the faith when I admitted that.) I don’t understand what it means to have God be present to me in every moment. I don’t palpably sense His presence, and I don’t think that I ever have. Sometimes, I’ve felt at peace, and there have been a very few isolated periods where I’ve had deep joy and inexplicable peace. But I don’t know if these experiences really amount to “experiencing” His presence.

I do have a handful of friends who do really feel His presence some or most of the time, but I just don’t know if I have that capacity. Maybe I’m too left-brained. Perhaps there are just some of us who aren’t born with that capacity, and we will never sense God till we meet Him face to face. Maybe some of us were born in broken homes where we didn’t experience love the way that God had meant, and we carry those wounds which blind us from His loving presence. I don’t know. I say that a lot.

It’s hard to want God’s presence when I don’t even know what it is and I don’t know if I will ever be able to sense it. I’ve long struggled with what evangelicals call “cultivating a relationship with God.” There have been years of healing prayer sessions, prayer conferences, prayer labyrinths, and retreats (silent and otherwise), as well as writing in journals (yes, I refuse to use evangelical jargon “journaling” or “quiet times”) and practicing centering prayer, meditation, spiritual direction, the daily examen, the sabbath , etc. I’m tired just typing out the list.  I’ve been beating myself up because I can’t seem to achieve this goal of sensing His presence. Perhaps there’s grace in not being able to do it. Perhaps I’m not a failed Christian. Perhaps I don’t have to work so darn hard. Perhaps it’s OK that I don’t find the idea of the ever-present God comforting — if I have never sensed His presence myself, why would I yearn for it? It seems mythical to me. Perhaps it’s OK to admit, right now, that God’s presence does not appear to be “enough” to salve my loneliness and brokenness.

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So I recently helped to plan an event on faith and vocation, and we invited a speaker who had a very successful background — he graduated from a prestigious educational institution, he had risen to the topmost ranks of his corporation, he had made a great deal of money, and he also had a happy, thriving family. The insights that he shared with us were well thought out and interesting, and yet I pause now looking back and ask myself why we selected him in particular as our speaker. Why was it that we had assumed that he would have deep spiritual insights to share just because he had secular success? I think it’s the same reason why the event appealed to many of the folks who came. In fact, I find anytime there is a conversation on faith and vocation, the featured speaker tends to have an impressive work history — but does their success at work mean that they have successfully incorporated their faith into their work? And by extension, does this success at work truly qualify them to speak about faith and vocation?

I remember watching a feel-good feature on one of the nightly news TV shows (yup, someone out there still watches those), and there was a feature about this doorman who was known for being incredibly friendly, encouraging, and supportive of everyone who walked through the door. He makes an amazing difference in the lives of everyone whom he meets, and it sounds like, even if we think his station in life is lowly, he is truly a good steward of his work and his sphere of influence. How many other people are there like that around us? Why don’t we seek to learn from them?

I think this is because we don’t want to emulate guys like the doorman. We want to emulate people who have worldly success. We want to have it all — secular success and divine acclaim — but we probably want secular success more. Also, my guess is that some health and wealth gospel has crept into our thinking — we are also assuming that God had divinely blessed someone because they are rich and successful, so then they must have pearls of wisdom for us from a faith perspective as well. I’m not saying that they don’t have anything valuable to share with us; it’s more that we should stop using secular qualifications as criteria for spiritual wisdom.

Sadly in every faith-based institution and community I have ever seen or been a part of, I have always witnessed the favoritism of those with wealth and power — which truly betrays Jesus’ call on our lives, to care for those who have the least. It points to a lack of faith. I too am guilty of this. We gravitate towards power because we think that by associating with power, we will gain more of it. It is true. But perhaps we need to value a different kind of power and gravitate towards that instead and demonstrate where our true allegiance lies.