Whispers

I hear a voice I had not known:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you.
– Psalm 81:5b-7a (NRSV)

I’ve never felt close to God in a personal buddy-buddy kind of way. It’s never been my spiritual practice to call up Jesus in prayer like we’re BFFs who need to ponder every personal detail together, from hairstyles to romance.

Maybe it’s due to my upbringing in an Evangelical & Reformed UCC congregation with its formal worship, its elevated altar (not a communion table), and its hazy white dossal behind which I assumed as a child that God might dwell. Maybe it’s due to my personality type. Certainly it’s an aspect of my theology. I’m particularly fond of God’s mystery and grandeur; I’m less keen on God whispering sweet nothings in my ear.

In any event, God has always been distant to me. To hear the voice of God, the actual disembodied voice of God, would be to hear a voice that I do not recognize.

Sometimes this spiritual distance with God seems unorthodox. Across the theological span of modern American Christianity, closeness with God is prevalent and valued:

“Proximity to Jesus will save us.”

“Proximity to justice will save us.”

Those of us with a theology of God’s aloofness, and those of us experiencing a season of spiritual dryness, can be tempted to doubt that we can be saved across the distance. “If proximity is necessary for salvation,” we find ourselves thinking, “we may never be delivered.”

And yet there it is in Psalm 81—the assurance that deliverance can come through an unknown voice, justice can pour out from a well we didn’t dig, relief can be given by a stranger.

Thank you, God, that deliverance comes even when it is unknown and far away.

written for the 2020 Lenten Devotional
(a Stillspeaking Writers’ Group product)

Fire and Brimstone

On the wicked, God will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous. (Psalm 11:6-7, NRSV)

Is God still righteous if the wicked thrive?

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are children weeping in the streets because their parents have been taken from them–by immigration officials, by gun violence, by war.

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are people raging around the world because the systems that should support their lives have undermined them: governments spend money more readily on teargas than on education, corporations prioritize profit over community, religions love orthodoxy more than understanding.

Maybe you’ve noticed your own spirit, listless and wondering “How long?”: how long will hearts bleed, how long will discouragement weigh down souls, how long until hope is realized.

But still wars are waged and walls are built. Still wealth inequality skyrockets and gun sales surge.

Fire and brimstone aren’t raining down to engulf AK-47s.

Coals are not being stoked by the breath of God to incinerate white nationalism.

Is God still righteous?

One of the most essential classes of my seminary years focused on the problem of theodicy–the question of whether God can be good when evil still exists. Our class texts were the novels of Toni Morrison. The answers to theodicy that we found in Morrison’s novels, if they could be called answers, were complicated and sometimes discouraging. Perhaps God’s righteousness can’t be defended in the face of evil. Perhaps God’s goodness can only be found in part and in fleeting moments.

But finding answers wasn’t really the point. The point was to do the work of seeking them: to gaze honestly at trauma and evil, to look hard for hope, and to dig deep for love and life.

I don’t know if God is still good. I suspect God’s righteousness is tarnished, at the very least. But we’re called to keep searching for it–and searching for one another–through the fire and brimstone.

Sweet Jesus, the world is a mess. The wicked thrive, and violence multiplies. Find within us what we long to find within you: goodness, mercy, and love.

Written for the UCC Daily Devotional

Psalm 107

O give thanks to the Holy One, whose reputation is goodness,
whose love is steadfast and forever.

From the depths of mourning,
in anger and in tears we pray:

O give thanks to the Holy One, whose reputation is goodness,
whose love is steadfast and forever.

From the wasteland of gun violence,
in distress and in repentance we pray:

O give thanks to the Holy One, whose reputation is goodness,
whose love is steadfast and forever.

From the deadly bowels of racism,
in defiance and for life we pray:

O give thanks to the Holy One, whose reputation is goodness,
whose love is steadfast and forever.

From the culture of accumulation,
in our jealous vigilance we pray:

O give thanks to the Holy One, whose reputation is goodness,
whose love is steadfast and forever.

From the middle of the storm,
in fear and in defeat we pray:

O give thanks to the Holy One, whose reputation is goodness,
whose love is steadfast and forever.

From the bedside of sickness and death,
in the company of love and loss we pray:

O give thanks to the Holy One, whose reputation is goodness,
whose love is steadfast and forever.

Who else would we praise but you, O God?
Whose name should be sung in worship or
carved onto our hearts for the sake of life?
Be Thou our judgment and our redemption
according to your goodness and your love,
and we will meditate on your faithfulness
from sunrise to sunrise with thanksgiving.

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Wilderness

We long for your voice
like a deer longs for water,
but no, Lord — do not put your voice
in our ears and our hearts, for it might
split us open and rend us from
the comforts and assumptions
with which we have clothed faith.

We long for your presence
like a ship longs for the shore,
but no, Spirit — do not be an anchor
to our wandering spirits, for you might
disrupt our restless living with the call
to faithfulness; we would
rather battle the storms.

We long for your help
like an eagle longs for the wind,
but no, Mercy — do not lift us up
with story and song, for we prefer reason
to imagination and your provocation
might shatter the certainty
by which we cling to you.

cross-posted with RevGalBlogPals

Clinging to Metaphors

We are underwater.
Let there be a Rock that is higher.

We are weary and worn.
Let there be a Peace beyond understanding.

We are frustrated, impatient.
Let there be a Seed in every season.

We are heartbroken.
Let there be a Fire to gather us together.

We are frantic, anxious, scattered.
Let there be a Plumb Line that remains steady.

For the sake of our salvation,
O Most Inscrutable God,
let there be metaphors.