I draw in my breath and exhale, praying to be released from any illusions that I could improve upon my colleagues’ work. “Make me humble, Lord. Make me true.” Glib answers, formulaic responses, any hint of arrogance would quickly be detected by his cynicism and broken heart.
“I am about ready to give up on church,” he told me with a hint of defiance, as though he were daring me to be helpful to him. His story was painful and his betrayal, despair, and hurt were palpable. As he wept, shoulders shaking, I sat Shiva. I kept the ancient Jewish vigil of simple presence to another’s suffering. As those who comforted the bereaved in Jesus’ tradition, I waited for my guest to initiate conversation.
“Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, not in God himself,” wrote the Spanish writer, Unamuno.
We live in a world with little patience for doubt or questioning. We do not value subtlety, complexity, or mystery. We possess minimal tolerance for simply sitting with ambiguity and suffering. We do not trust there is any effectual power at work in our lives beyond what we can manipulate or contrive with our own wills and abilities.
The pragmatism, that is the religion many of us bow before, insists on quick, easy solutions. If something “works,” then it deserves our support. An end product that satisfies our needs justifies almost any means.
Our market place economy heavily determines how we think of ourselves and the world. The language of faith with its nuance, poetry, metaphor, and reverence for mystery has been exchanged for the practical idiom of the market place, which measures worth by utility and productivity.
This is not a new sin. The people of Isaiah’s day were also co-opted by a culture of consumption and utilitarianism. The prophet reminds Israel that they and their carved idols and cast metal images do not know everything. “Now I am revealing new things to you, things hidden and unknown to you, created just now, this very moment, of these things you have heard nothing until now, so that you cannot say, “Oh yes, I knew all this.” (Isaiah 48: 6)
I do not know the end of the young man’s story, as is often the case with those who pass through my life. I gave him what I could, which was my love and respect for his losses. As I sat with him, I saw that God loved him very much and also saw how deeply this young man loved God and didn’t know it.
I found myself face to face with my poverty – my lack of any satisfying answer to tie up everything and take away his pain. I had no bright ideas, plans for recovery, or quick fix resources to suggest. In the words of Isaiah, I could only stay open for the hidden thing, the unknown thing which was coming into being in that young man’s soul, just at that moment out of the infinite, divine unknowable Mind of God.
I had only love to give,
which, in times like this, never seems to be enough,