From the beginning of time, chaos has not been feared by God, but is rather the element from which the Spirit created… and still does. As never before, we are in the midst of a pandemic of uncertainty, a shared fear of global chaos.
We need to be anchored.
I need to be anchored.
I need to be anchored to the One who will hold me firm, lest the chaos of current events sweep away my peace and goodwill toward humankind.
Perhaps you feel the same?
In ancient times, when the creation accounts were written, the deep (i.e. waters, sea) over which the Spirit hovered represented chaos to the ancient mind. This is why Revelation states that the renewed earth will have no sea—it was their way of saying chaos and danger would be no longer. We have that desire for safety and certainty now. In fact, most of us prefer certainty over faith.
This is not a new issue for humanity: It was embodied in the tempting fruit of the Garden of Eden (the need to KNOW good and evil). I embodied it this very morning when I woke up and grabbed my cell phone to see how many more cases of COVID-19 are in my nation, my province, and most importantly, my neighborhood. As I write this, we are approaching a twenty-one day “stay-in-your-home” lockdown to be enforced by the army. All I want to know is that those I love will be okay, myself included. I long for certainty of outcome. Much like the ancients, who threw Jonah out of the boat to quell the storm, I find myself wanting a god who guarantees a favorable result if I take the right action… if my nation prays enough… if I don’t hoard toilet paper. I desire to be anchored to a rosy result. But, is that the same as being anchored to God?
Two years ago, a tragic death shattered my false notion that I could avoid being swept up by the waves of chaotic uncertainty of this life. Near the 2nd anniversary of this death, a friend texted with an encouraging word: “Jesus is affected by our suffering.” Theologically, I knew this to be true. After all, Jesus wept over Lazarus. However, I had a visceral reaction against the words. I was tempted to ignore the text, but at that moment I happened to be in a small group study, sitting with my journal, instructed to write a lament to God about my suffering. To quote Alanis Morrissette: “Isn’t it ironic?” So, I invited God to explore my embodied reaction and realized the darndest thing: ‘I don’t trust a God who is affected by human suffering. I want a God who is above all that messy emotion and doubt. I want a God who guaranties a certain outcome… in this life. I want a problem-solving God rather than a God who enters the problem with me.’ Holy Spirit showed me, I’d anchored myself to a false god…the god of certain outcomes.
Where is your faith?
I once did a Lectio Divina (an imaginative way of reading scripture) on Luke 8:22-25. It’s the story of a napping Jesus being woken by his disciples, swamped by a squall on the sea of Galilee. As I read, I pictured myself on that leaking boat when Jesus woke to rebuke the raging waters. In my imagination, He took my hand, looked me in the eye and asked: “Where is your faith?” (The same question he asked his terrified disciples.) As I envisioned the scene, it dawned on me that the Jesus of my imagination looked like a movie star, tall and strong with chiseled cheek bones and flowing brown hair. I struggled to picture a Palestinian/Israeli Jew from the first century, whom I knew was most likely shorter than I, probably five feet tall. His wooly hair would be wet with rain and His robes salty and clinging. The truth was, I felt safer with a broad-shouldered, well-kept movie star Jesus… even though I knew that image of Jesus was fake. I saw my dilemma. It’s only the real flesh and blood, rain-soaked God/human Jesus that can be the calm of the storm for me and with me. My movie star Jesus can offer false promises but never true peace.
The crazy thing is that Jesus didn’t come to give us certainty, nor security; He came to give us Himself. And, in assimilating Him, imbibing Him, abiding in Him, knowing Him… faith, peace, hope, joy and all those other fruits of the Spirit take root within us. In this life, there is no knowing what the future will hold, but there is knowing. Theologian Dallas Willard described the apostle Paul’s word for knowing Christ as beyond conceptual; it was deeply intimate:
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.” Philippians 3: 8,9
The 13th century author of The Cloud Unknowing describes God-knowing it this way:
“By love can He be caught and held, but by thinking, never.”
Modern day author Greg Boyd describes it this way:
“This is goal of everything. It is the reason why anything other than God even exists…the goal of every individual, and of humanity in general, is to dance the eternal dance of the Trinity, to participate in… this unsurpassable loving fellowship. A more beautiful vision of creation is not imaginable.”
It’s a counterintuitive shift, but by turning my gaze away from movie star Jesus and embracing the God of uncertain earthly outcomes (but certain love), I come to know more intimately the One who holds my being and the world within His love. I become more deeply anchored. This is a relational knowing which is the only true knowing that is possible in this life… or is needed. I’ve often heard, from those who’ve walked this faith journey longer than me, that over the years they become less certain but more grounded in God.
“In Christian tradition, truth is not a concept that “works” but an incarnation that lives.” Parker Palmer
Let it Be So
In Genesis, the Spirit hovered over the deep, dark chaos. From that primordial soup, God spoke all of creation into existence with a few simple words: “Let it be so.” A time of chaos is a counter-intuitive invitation to new life in the face of illness and death. It’s an invitation to more intimately encounter God… not through words, nor doctrines, nor worship songs, nor memory verses. (Although these are good and necessary.) It’s an invitation to a knowing that is deeper than all those things… a knowing which anchors our very being in Him. It’s a time to consider the Spirit hovering over the chaos of our lives and, with tentative faith, to pray for new life to emerge from our own swirling uncertainties… even if we cannot fathom how God could possibly make that happen. “Let it be so,” we pray and echo our Father’s words, our Father’s ways.
During my nation’s twenty-one-day lockdown, I will be anchoring more intentionally to God and to this knowing that knows me. I invite you to join me. A few practices you might try are:
- Establish a morning routine that grounds you in the presence of God upon waking. For example:
• The Welcoming Prayer is a powerful prayer written by Father Thomas Keating. Here is a beautiful video by The Work of The People that will help you pray it: https://www.theworkofthepeople.com/the-welcoming-prayer
- Establish a routine which reminds you of God’s presence with you throughout the day.
• Breath Prayer is an ancient prayer tradition from the 6th century, where you pray a phrase upon the inhale and exhale of your breath. Under these circumstances, I would recommend that you use your anxiety as a church bell, of sorts, calling you back to prayer, back to awareness of God with you. You don’t have to reason away your fear, you only need regain a sense of being anchored in Christ. My breath prayer during this time is: (Inhale.) I am beloved. (Exhale) We are beloved. It’s a prayer for myself and the world to be held by the Beloved, God. Learn about Breath Prayer here.
• Set a prayer timer, calling you back to the awareness of God with you a few times during the day. You can download the App: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals and set it to alert you to pray in the morning, midday, and evening. It provides powerful scriptures and prayers. And, as it’s based on the lectionary, you can be assured, even if you’re self-isolating, tens of thousands across the world are praying these same scriptures along with you.
- Establish a nighttime routine, training yourself to become more alert to God’s anchoring presence, such as a gratitude journal or The Prayer of Examen. Many say the Examen grounds them in God’s love as they fall asleep.
• The Prayer of Examen is a reflective, peaceful method of prayer created by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Get instructions on how to do it here.
• Or, if you prefer to be guided through it, download the Pray As You Go App. There are a few different options for The Examen under their Prayer Tools.