Demolition, Alterations, Renovations, Disaster Reconstruction
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 147: 10-11
I have been freaking out. Jesus is in my interior space and he is rearranging the furniture. He pushes a couch across the room. What! Are you going to put that over there? He opens a closet door and starts sorting through things I had hidden away. He is making piles of stuff to haul to the landfill and take to Good Will. Wait, Jesus! I might need that! The place is a mess. I hope nobody stops by unannounced.
Jesus doesn’t seem to mind the chaos he is making and pretty much ignores me. He pulls out something and holds it up. “Here take a look at this,” he says. Then I cringe, or weep, or shudder, or feel a tiny bit hopeful.
I asked for this. I prayed one of those reckless prayers which come upon us occasionally. Then I went and asked others to pray for me too. Really reckless. The prayer was to remove those things in me that blocked my receptivity to the Grace of God. What prompted the prayer was my need. You know – the frustration, weariness, sadness, loneliness, fear – it comes in many forms – that eats away at your peace and joy.
You start thinking, well if I could just get this thing changed, or add this or subtract that from my life – ah then I would feel so much better. As you know, this is the basic doctrine of The Church of Unholy Consumption, in which most of us are credit card carrying members. We get our daily devotions from TV commercials and the advertising that permeates every nook and cranny of our lives. We are reassured over and over that our problems may be solved by satisfying our desires. Figure out what you want and then go get it. You deserve it. Don’t know what you want? Well may we make a suggestion? We just got this new ratchet in today!
Of course we have desires and need to respect them and get them met appropriately. But desires may quickly become disordered and increasingly demanding. Ian Matthews (The Impact of God-Soundings from St. John of the Cross) writes, “When desire is out of order, it increasingly causes fatigue, anxiety, confusion, a sense of guilt, and finally an inability to do anything about it. It is a picture of addiction where the person’s dependence is killing him. … Disorder here, while it may bring gratification, ultimately kills joy.” (Page 41)
Jesus, no snake oil salesman of salvation, offers something radically different and – let’s be honest here – painful. John of the Cross writes about the process of deeper communion with Christ, “To come to what you know not, you must go by way of where you know not.”
To simply to be present to a need without having to blame someone, rush out and fill it, or feel ashamed is something people recovering from addictions understand very well. Iain Matthews continues: “Not filling the gap can feel like starving, but it allows the genuinely new to be disclosed. It allows one to live not as a consumer among objects, but as a person among persons fit for communion, for the love which can hold the other, and be held with open palms. That is the level of spirit: availability as a person for communion: the space for the gift of the Other. This is more than just a rearrangement of the pieces.” (pages 44-45)
Albert Einstein said, “No problem was ever solved by the same mind that created it.” Yet we think our problems will be resolved by a rearrangement of the pieces, that is, changing the organization of our lives, our relationships, our jobs, our life partners, our churches, our institutions. We think we can bring wholeness for ourselves by restructuring, redistribution, reimagining, and redesigning. We think strong horses and fast runners will solve our problems. Such thinking keeps us at the surface level and relying on ourselves – our intellect, creativity, and flexibility – for the answers. We refuse to tolerate the painful “gap” through which the genuinely new may be disclosed and Grace may emerge.
There may come a time when you just get sick of it. You see the shallowness, the lack of freedom, the treadmill nature of operating our lives on the level of our senses. You are tired of watching the shadows of your ever shifting, ever insatiable surface desires. You may see a need for a deep down fundamental shift, a conversion of your heart. You may say, “Jesus, I want more than a rearrangement of the pieces. I want you.”
That’s Jesus’ cue. And he hops right to it. He sets to work, not on your external reality – the things you thought needed to be improved – but on reordering your desires themselves. He shifts your priorities, your values. He prunes runaway pride. He hacks out dead attitudes. He fires up a chainsaw and cuts away whole walls of rigid thinking. And friends, it is just as he told us. It feels terrible. It feels like you are dying, because you are.
Eugene Peterson paraphrases the verses from Psalm 147 above in this way: He’s not impressed with horsepower; the size of our muscles means little to him. Those who fear God, get God’s attention; they can depend on his strength.
Christ opens the gate on that pen of strong horses you had corralled and sets them free. He dismisses all the fast runners – the thinkers, the experts, the latest technologies. And you are left with your fear, your wonder, and your love for this God who cares enough about you to enter into you and create such a rumpus. There in the mess you untie your hope from your own efforts and strength and attach it to the strength of God. And little by little you begin to trust that something new and amazing is emerging, something which you could never think of or make happen in a thousand years.
Now tell me, who wouldn’t love a God like this?
More about prayer –