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Putting my foot down

by davesandel on April 21st, 2021

Wednesday, April 21, 2021                (today’s lectionary)

Putting my foot down

On our afternoon trek we carried water, kolaches, and two golf clubs, along with six plastic golf balls. We crossed over the grass onto the dry dusty path around the corner into a shady grove, set down our packs and practiced hitting balls. We ate the kolaches. We drank the water. We were happy.

After a while we began walking on rocky ground. The rocks were big and uneven, inviting us to fall and cry out in pain. Why would we walk on those big rocks, except to lose ourselves in them? I could not think about anything except where to put my foot down next.

Writing of his friend Brad Karelius’ book The Spirit in the Desert, Walter Brueggemann calls this experiencing “the geography of grace.” Brad asks, where do YOU go when anxiety makes your heart race, and fear seizes you?

Where I go must be a place that requires every bit of my concentration, so that I am UNABLE to think about my own self, about my problems, about my sin, about my health, about my marriage or my kids, about anything at all except where to put my foot down next.

Devout men buried Stephen and lamented loudly over him, while Saul was trying to destroy the Church, dragging out men and women, handing them over for imprisonment. And those who had been scattered went about, continually preaching the word.

For sure it has been true in both your life and mine that regardless of our despair, one day continues to follow the next. No doubt that one day will NOT be true, and I’ll be dead and so will you. But until then, I’ll breathe my 20,000 breaths a day and my heart will beat its 144,000 beats each day, and the sun will rise and the sun will set. In spite of my despair, can I live with that?

Jesus said, this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me. This is the will of the Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life and shall be raised on the last day.

My friend in India, discouraged by the quick loss last week of two of his acquaintances (both killed quickly by Covid-19) looked for something from the psalms besides assurance of God’s intimate power and strength. There is the last line of Psalm 88: “The darkness is my closest friend.” But at such a time as this, when lament is all we have and God’s comfort just a distant memory, we need a theology of despair. Thomas Merton needs it too:

It is true that solitary life must be a life of prayer and meditation, if it is to be authentically Christian, but what prayer! What meditation! Utter poverty. Often an incapacity to pray, to see, to hope … a bitter, arid struggle to press forward through a blinding sand storm. Do not mistake my meaning. It is not a question of intellectual doubt … it is something else, a kind of doubt that questions the very roots of a person’s own existence, a doubt which undermines their very reason for existing and for doing what they do.

It is this doubt which reduces me finally to silence, and in the silence which ceases to ask questions, I receive the only certitude I know: the presence of God in the midst of uncertainty and nothingness, real, yes, but a reality which cannot be placed or identified. (from The Desert: An Anthology for Lent by John Moses)

Sometimes we move to the “desert” voluntarily, as John Moses says, “abandoning everything in favour of nothing, or rather abandoning everything in favour of God, and God alone.” But often this move is involuntary in the extreme, as in our despair, what we thought mattered, doesn’t.

I think again of the painting I mentioned yesterday. Will I accept God’s presence with nothing to cushion it, or turn away? In my own moment of extremity, will I believe Jesus when he says …

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

(Acts 8, Psalm 66, John 6)


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