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Dark nights of the soul… we all have them, those moments in your pilgrimage toward God when you question your faith; moments when you find yourself asking questions like do I still believe? I have moments like this. But I don’t think in reality that it is a question of whether I believe in God or not, because I think I always will. As I said I cannot look around me at the wonder of creation and question (let alone deny) the existence of a ‘creator of the heavens and earth’. I think my ‘dark night of the soul’ that I’m experiencing at the moment is the need to feel the very real presence of God in and around me. However, when I look around me I see spiritual (let alone religous) apathy. And what’s more, I am failing more and more to be spiritually nourished in my own parish. Perhaps this says more about me than the parish community. Furthermore, I don’t just experience this apathy in my life in the parish, but also in my life as the programmes coordinator of a spirituality centre. I’m struggling to find ways to get people to show an interest in their spiritual development. Perhaps they don’t need it, perhaps they get it from somewhere else other than what we offer, perhaps people are just too tired and too busy. Whatever the reason it gets me down to think that myself and the people facilitating the various spirituality programs go to a lot of effort to make these opportunities available but the uptake of the offering is often small, if at all.
As I said, I don’t think this is so much as a problem for others as it is for me. What I mean is, when I first started attending church I fell in love with God. For me, being at chuch meant being in God’s house in much the same way as one wants to be in the house of the person they are dating or are in love with. What’s more, I wanted everyone to know about the love of God that I experienced, and that they could experience it to. Church services were a place where we come together to celebrate our love of God. We would sing praises and thanksgiving to God as we would sing love songs to a lover. The preaching was always like an invitation to enter into a loving relationship with the God who loves us, it was real and personal and it touched right to the very core of my heart. I could feel the presence of God in and around me. In the people, the songs of praise, the preaching and just about everything around me said here I am. I am with you.
As I said I wanted everyone to experience this great love of God. God, for me, offered so much life and the thought that I could have this life for all eternity was nothing less than excstatic. So I’ve always wanted to share my experience of God with others. I want for others what I experienced, the overflowing love of God in and through me.
However, my world today seems like this passion is dying out. I feel as though I am trying to give this love to a world that does not want it. I feel a little bit rejected by a world who rejects my lover. I want so much to tell them about my lover but they don’t seem to be interested. They are too busy, too egocentric, too materialistic, too all embracing. I find Christianity to have become so watered down, so that the world can no longer see just how much of a gift it is that God gives, just how much God’s love is for us, just how much by embracing the love of the lover that we can have life eternal. The world does not see the relevance for God because the world has taken the reality of God’s love and blessing and replaced it with a belief in their golden calves.
So as I said, perhaps my dark night of the soul is a need to return to a time when I could feel God around me in worship, in relationships and in the people around me. But as I cannot control those things perhaps I need to find new ways to experience that same excstatic love once again in my life with God.
Br Gabriel and I recently spent two weeks visiting All Soul’s St Gabriel’s School in Charters Towers. This is my third such visit to ASSG. During our time there we had opportunity to spend time with each of the year levels (5-12). In a session with Yr 11 we played a short segment from the video The Power of One. In this segment Gideon Duma is trying to engage PK to set up a school to teach english. PK is resistant to the idea – especially as Gideon is trying to use the legend of ‘the rainmaker’ to motivate people to participate in Gideon’s plans to have his people learn english. PK reminds Gideon that neither of them believe in the myth of ‘the rainmaker’. Gideon responds by saying he will use anything if it will bring hope to his people and free them from the effects of apartheid. In the final part of the exchange Gideon challenges PK by saying ‘what do you believe in’. We then invited the students to select one or two photos we had laid out which describes what it is they believe in. I think this was a bit of a challenge for most of them but there were some interesting responses non the less. This of course prompted me to reflect on what it is that I believe in; it was then that I realised the enormity of the task I had laid out for the Yr 11s. It is not as straight forward an answer as one might first think. To answer that question I have to explain my backward logic. You see, I look around me at the wonder of creation, of all that lives and breathes and ask myself the question where did all this come from. When you begin to answer that question you invariably come to y was created by x and so forth untill you reach the first created thing, and that which created it is that which cannot be created or destroyed. We Christians refer to this eternally existing entity as ‘God’. Thus I believe in ‘the maker of heaven and earth of all things seen and unseen’. To people who want to challenge my belief of this I offer a counter challenge – if you can create so much as a hydrogen atom using only the contents of an absolute vacuum then I’ll believe what ever you want. I’m being a bit flippant but the point is that whatever created that which is created would be ‘God’.
How we understand ‘God’ has become widely skewed by language, culture, time. As human beings we can only communicate our experience of ‘God’ in human language. In doing so we invariably anthropomorphise (given human qualities and characteristics) ‘God’. We describe ‘God’ in human terms giving ‘God’ human traits and identity. The trouble with this is that we begin to view and understand ‘God’ as a human being which immediately narrows our understanding to the level at which we understand ourselves. As Christians we rely on preceeding generations of people from various languages and cultures to inform our understanding of the nature of ‘God’. We have to try and interpret their experience of ‘God’ expressed in falible human language across time and culture; perhaps comparing and contrasting this to our own experience of ‘God’.
So can we ever fully comprehend ‘God’. This is where discussions often get very interesting, and sometimes heated. As a Christian I believe that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. You see, I like others, believe that the Divine Being became incarnate in human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As the human incarnation of the Divine Jesus was both human and Divine; that as a person Jesus retains all the qualities, attributes, essence of ‘God’ as well as those of humanity. Thus in Jesus we can begin to understand in our own simple human frail way something of the nature of ‘God’.
Thus I believe that in order to understand ‘God’ we must first begin to understand Jesus. The teachings and ministry of Jesus as reported in the New Testament are underpinned by a profound message; ‘God’ is the ultimate expression of love, compassion and sacrifice.
Furthermore, ‘God’ calls us to become expressions of this same sense of love, compassion and sacrifice and in so doing we come into union with ‘God’. As both ‘God’ and Man Jesus shows us the way to ‘God’; the way by which we become one with ‘God’. Our task then is to so model our lives on Jesus that we become ‘God’ like. It is through Jesus that we have ‘life like God’.
Religion is born out of this desire to understand and partake in the nature and life of ‘God’. Many young people told me that they have no need for religion – it’s outdated, unnecessary, corrupt, irrelevant and some other more choice words.
When I look around the world, at the increasing violence, exploitation of the poor and marginalised, destruction of the environment, I ask myself why it is that young people do not see religion as an option. Religion might be not its best advertisement but the message of ‘God’ incarnate – Jesus – remains relevant, necessary and its integrity intact. If religion, Christianity, offers nothing to those who would dismiss it surely it offers hope and a way out of certain death for an imploding world.
My prayer for these young cynics is that they might experience the ultimate expression of love, compassion and sacrifice revealed to us in ‘God’ incarnate Jesus. That they might look passed the human frailty of the Church and see that it offers them hope and deliverance.