Sighing and Praying

All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.

I keep trying to remind myself of these words.  My first spiritual director seemed to think that I would enjoy Julian of Norwich.  She thought that I would appreciate the unabashedly feminine language for God, but it was these words that jumped across the page of this medieval mystic’s writings. It’s not that these words are easy for me.  Quite the opposite.  I find them challenging and a bit naive.  It’s my heart though.  I’m aware of what is wrong.  I’m aware that there are so many things wrong — even when I’m relatively comfortable.  I know that there are people oppressed by poverty.  I know that there is rampant disease in Haiti.  I know that there are miners underground in New Zealand who may or may not be alive.  I know that there are people and places that aren’t given a story in the news — but still, things are not good for them either.  And so, I’m repeating these words to myself like a mantra.

Singing Taize on the Island of Iona

These words don’t come easily to me.  I was reminded of that somewhere in the middle of last week .  I was most aware of this when a church member started talking about having an “attitude of gratitude” and I wanted to roll my eyes.

It’s not that I don’t understand what she means or grasp the intent.  I do.  I just don’t feel all that grateful.  I wish I was able to claim that space for gratitude.  I wish that I could say with any certainty that all things would be well, but it’s not the faith that I proclaim.  I don’t believe that God is directing us always toward the positive.  I don’t think that God seeks for us to be happy. That is not the center of the Christian faith.

This is quite the hot topic right now and lots of people are talking about it — mostly related to how we talk to our teens. My friend Lara wrote eloquently about this phenomenon on her blog Serendipty Soiree.  You’ll see in the comments that I refer to an article that appeared this summer in the Christian Century pointing to the problem with moralistic therapeutic deism. Christianity isn’t about a God that will make us comfortable — but a faith that calls us into justice for all God’s people.  At least, that’s the gist for me.  My God is one that seeks more love in greater ways and I’m not always happy about it.  Sometimes it makes me really, really uncomfortable.  Sometimes it means that I really don’t believe that everything will be well.  No matter how much I want to believe in the presence of God walking with our humility, I’m not so sure that this will all be anything remotely close to well.  In fact, I know it.  My version of well is not God’s version of well.

Right now, my version of well would be different than the reality I face.  Last week, I was overwhelmed with the complexity of life in the members of our church.  If I could wave my magic wand, I would.  I don’t think that God works that way.  I don’t think God is a big scary puppet-master but I’ve given her my ear-full.  I know she’s listening.  I know she’s there.  I know she’s holding my hand but I also know things aren’t going to change.  I’m not going to get my way.  I’d really like to because there are stories that are truly breaking my heart.  What I do believe is what Matt Rossano hints at in his recent Huffington Post article Fear of Death, Joy of Life and the Origins of God: in faith, we come together.  It doesn’t solve the problem.  It doesn’t make it go away.  It doesn’t even bend God’s will.  It might not even make it well, but somehow, we’re aware that we are known and loved.  We’re not alone.  It’s the most profound mystery to me.  It’s what brings me into this faith and keeps me here.  We can’t change these circumstances that break our hearts.  However, every once in a while, we get to sit with someone, tell the story and cry.  Nobody needs to wipe away the tears or apologize because we know.  It hurts.  It stings.  Still, God is there in the ways that we come together and I am thankful for that.  Thankful indeed.

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