Category: Life

Of Gods and Men

The other night, I finally watched Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) – a French film based on the true story of seven Trappist monks who lived in the Algerian mountains in 1996, when religious violence was overtaking the country.

Merry Christmas

When I was growing up, the “Christmas spirit” meant something very specific to me. Sure, I believed in Santa like most kids, but that part of the holiday was never the source of my enchantment with it; when I learned that St. Nick was really my parents (gasp!), I didn’t feel any real sense of loss.

Enjoy the Silence

I have a bad habit of judging the success of a day on how much I’m able to accomplish in it. Wasting time has always been a deep-seated fear of mine, but lately it’s caused me a lot more grief than usual – I think because I’m much more conscious of the fact that I’m getting older.

The Art of Being

I spent so much time outside this weekend. Spring is peeking its face around the corners of winter. Out where we biked (and fished) the snowcapped mountains stood like testaments, reminding me of all it’s taken to get us here – of all I have, and how unbelievably rich life can be.

We rode by pastures and fields filled with cows, horses, and sheep lazily drinking in the sun. There are few things in the world that calm me more than watching a horse shuffle around in a ranch pasture, pricking its ears at the sounds of cars and trucks going by, but not caring one whit about them. I want to be that way. Aware of the madness of life, but not affected by it. Basking in God’s sunlight and letting my soul rest in contentment with what I have.

I am absurdly, absurdly blessed. When I worry about anything lately, I just feel like an ungrateful wretch. I think I’m beginning to get better about it, finally: I’m beginning to see that anything surrendered to God, whether it be a day at work or a chronic weakness of my own, will see transformation. In that surrender is my freedom. I will never know peace until I make this my first art every morning. Until I learn to do it in my sleep.

Lately, Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes keep returning to me:

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 3:10–14, NIV

I feel that burden of temporal beauty. I feel that frustration of not being able to see and understand everything God has done, and is doing, from the beginning of the world to its end.

And yet, in the midst of this divine restlessness, God tells us: “It’s okay to simplify.” There is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. The doing good part I get, but wait: God wants me to be happy?

Yes. This will never cease to catch me off-guard; proof that my own theology is sometimes twisted, and that my own guilt far too often gets in the way of me seeing and accepting God’s love.

That said, it is not good to cling to happiness and define ourselves by it; it is not good to attempt to duplicate it apart from God. I will never be satisfied with self-created happiness. If God is the author of joy, then the only place to find it in its purest form is in Him.

And this is the secret. This is Solomon’s wisdom: if God is the source and center of my life, then joy and doing good will be born of each other.

I want everything I do to feed this cycle.

God is in the Mundane

The scandal of the Old Testament – Genesis, for instance – is to some modern readers the fact that so many of God’s acts are perfectly ordinary and seemingly trivial: the choice of a wife for Isaac, or the skill with which Jacob becomes rich. These are hardly what we would call “divine” acts in the sense of having a special and marvelous character about them. But they are nevertheless the acts of God. Hence, there is a disconcerting aura of secularity about much of God’s activity as recorded in the Bible, and uneasiness with this has generally led certain types of philosophic religiosity to improve on the concept of God, seeking to make it more spiritual, more impressive to man’s mind, in a word, more “divine.”

Thomas Merton
 
 “Seven Words for Ned O’Gorman” (III – Divine), Love and Living

It’s often disturbingly easy for me – along with other Christians – to fall into this pseudo-Gnostic mindset that divides the spiritual from the physical along a definite line. It’s easy to think that God is much too “divine” to be concerned with the banalities of my day-to-day existence. Other people don’t care; why should God?

But where did we get this idea that God is too big to be conscious of the little things? Being infinite, wouldn’t He have – quite literally – all the time in the universe to be concerned with the little things, whereas we do not?

What if the acts of God aren’t always grand and sweeping, but more often so small and ordinary we can hardly discern them?

God called the physical world “good” when He created it. He calls the human body His temple. Everything I touch and see (and even things I don’t) is made of matter that was brought into being, however long ago, by His spoken Word: His breath. Surely there is no more profound integration of the physical and the spiritual than this. God choosing to express Himself through creation. And then bridging the gap by entering it Himself – becoming incarnate. The Word made flesh.

Why do we insist on dividing what He has brought together?

Was meeting Luke (my husband) God-ordained? I absolutely believe it, but sometimes it sounds so fanciful to say out loud. How about this new job offer that might take us out-of-state? Should I even bother God with my anxiety over it?

The answer seems to be: He wants to be bothered. How else should I interpret the fact that He decided to become a dusty, sweaty carpenter and experience human life for Himself? Isn’t the fact that He used some dirt and spit to make a blind man see again proof enough that He doesn’t mind – even treasures – the ordinary grime of our existence, the ordinary struggles?

This is the God I believe in: the God that loves His creation in all its messiness. Emmanuel, God with us. His plan is to renew and redeem the physical world, not to destroy it. His plan is to mend the broken bonds between body and soul, Earth and heaven, the seen and the unseen. And He might just use a bit of dirt and spit to do it.

Who am I to argue?