I don’t know about you, but somehow – despite the intellectual reality – I always imagined my mom would be there. It was a fact: like gravity. Like sunrise. Like pennies stuck in the car seat – hidden, but inevitably there when you looked. For me. For my boys. And beyond.
Funny, how when something happens, your thoughts – or at least mine – think of her more frequently.
God is like that: there, not needing much of our attention until something goes awry and then we find ourselves thinking about him more.
Or we should.
The heartbreak for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, of recent hurricanes and earthquake, the death of a rock star all share and express for me a heart-ache, too; but it’s the pain of seeing so many people at such a loss to find meaning and solace in a culture that has eschewed the presence of God.
Oh, that. Him. Or Her (if you’re inclined toward the kind of gender-inclusion that really needn’t apply in the world of the Supreme). The Holy. The creator and sustainer and redeemer of the universe as we can only know it this side of heaven.
Margaret Somerville wrote “Those using ‘separation of church and state’ to justify excluding religion from the public square have created confusion among: Freedom of religion; freedom for religion; and freedom from religion.” Somerville, a professor of bioethics and law on two continents, wrote that in 2010….but the movement to exclude or excuse religion has been ongoing for decades.
For more than 20 years as a pastor, I serve (and continue to serve) not only those entrusted to be as church members but also the non-churched/religious of our communities. These are not necessarily people without faith, or a love for God – just people who have accepted the populist idea that God can be worshipped/appreciated/followed outside the community.
Which is abundantly untrue. Because in a culture that keeps God outside of the public arena, and people who keep themselves outside of a faith community, the power of God becomes like something kept in a back pocket or back seat. Or an unfamiliar key on our jangling keychains – something to be tried when we find ourselves facing an unfamiliar lock.
Expressions of general angst, like the words of one recent post “I’m insecure lately and been looking for ways to help myself” are heartbreaking reminders that we cannot help ourselves . . . but we can help one another. Those who mourn who have nowhere to find hope are equally balanced by those who celebrate — but even joy becomes empty and celebrations shrill. And I cannot help but think that the self-medicating/numbing of so many in our society springs in part from a lack of hope in anything outside of themselves.
Christianity celebrates and practices the strength of God-in-community. Communities not of cookie-cutter religious adherents, but of the diverse and different, multi-gifted tolerant and supportive faithful who share the same God. A God who modeled forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Patience in the Almighty. Sustained support in the Spirit.
But in order to benefit from that, you have to be one. You have to invest that weekly hour in coming together, not remaining apart. ‘Separate but equal’ doesn’t work in faith any more than it worked in culture.
All the candle-lit standing vigils are single events like the horror they speak to. Every disaster relief program comes and goes, and ends up pointing fingers at who does more, who does what; and who does the next one. It brings to mind, on this the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the words to Martin Luther’s iconic hymn:
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he.
I will miss my mom. In thinking of her as ‘always there’ I may have lost something along the way: it’s why I can’t quite decipher the scraps of paper and collections of things it’s time to sift through. Memories are satisfying – but relationships need be savored while we have them.
The same thing goes for God.
Our best relationship can be had now, and our most satisfying one is when it is shared with others. The “let us not give up meeting together” of Hebrews 10 is plucked out of its context but still applies: get God. Get a church family. And in so doing, celebrate your own family by making weekly worship a way to sustain your faith the way Sunday dinner (or Taco Tuesday) feeds and celebrates your family.
Bonus: maybe a listen to this recording of ‘Ave Maria’ from memorial service: