12.20.2006

Struck dumb

(Trying to get back on track with the Advent pray-as-you-go podcasts...)

I have been resonating with Zechariah of late. Faced with last week's reading of Isaiah 40:21-31, with its promise of renewed strength and hope -- a promise offered by a God so powerful that not a single star can resist his command -- I've struggled with how much I can trust that promise. Intellectually I know I can and must, but in the midst of confusion and facing the unknown, it's hard to really live in that place. So like Zechariah, I have asked "How can I be sure of this?" Zechariah knew that he and his wife were not long for bearing children, so the promise of a son sounds too good to be true. I, too, have looked at seemingly impossible situations and said, what can even God bring out of this?

Like Zechariah, I lost my voice (at least my reflective voice). Silence has been necessary because these Advent themes have hit very close to home for me and required a lot of offline processing. Waiting is hard... Not having control is hard... Expecting God to act is hard... There are times in life when it seems like God is not acting, has turned his face.

In the midst of this time I was blessed to find this great quote from St. John Cassian at the Radical Congruency blog:
But for God’s permission and allowance [for occasional spiritual depression] there is a twofold reason. First, that being for a short time forsaken by the Lord, and observing with all humility the weakness of our own heart, we may not be puffed up on account of the previous purity of heart granted to us by His visitation; and that by proving that when we are forsaken by Him we cannot possibly recover our former state of purity and delight by any groanings and efforts of our own, we may also learn that our previous gladness of heart resulted not from our own earnestness but from His gift, and that for the present time it must be sought once more from His grace and enlightenment.
I don't know why it is so hard not to take "gladness of heart" for granted. It is a gift, and one our heavenly Father wishes to bestow on us often. But when I'm puffed up and assume it I'm vulnerable to doubt when gladness gives way to ordinariness or times of fear and hopelessness. And it takes time to remember that God's presence -- and even the awareness that I am distant from him -- is a blessing, a sign of relationship. And though I can warm or cool that relationship through my state of mind, I can't turn it off, because
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
When I heard the 12/14 reading... "I am holding you by the right hand" ... I couldn't help but feeling like an old man, being helped across the street. I both loved and hated that feeling. I don't want to admit how little my faculties and powers are, how dependent I really am. (And aging images don't play so well with mid-life questions, either.) Yet when the poor and the weak cry out, "I, the Lord, will answer them." That is, really, so much more than I can ever dream of doing for myself. When I try to fix things myself, my "solutions" are so puny, so unimaginative, so ineffective that "understanding no one can fathom" becomes a really good thing!

"How can I be sure of this?" It's a real question. It hits hard when the paths we take seem to be dead-ends, when the questions overwhelm the answers, when seeming certainties betray us. And ask we must. Sometimes answers will take God's time in coming. So we stand, struck dumb like Zechariah, until the One who calls every star by name reveals his power, and gives us back our voice.

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