Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Lenten Reflection

Lovely it is to unfold
The soul and our brief life
- Friedrich Holderlin

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I'm young, but not entirely unaware of my mortality. And with this in mind, sometimes I think and act as if my brief time on earth ought to be ever meaningful, ever important. I dole my time out as if I have only a limited amount and therefore just shouldn't have to be bothered by some things. I attempt to make calculations about the validity of one course of action over another. (Which class should I take? What author should I read? What ministry should I support?) There is some value to this point of view, of course. We are intrinsically limited, finite, dust.

But there's another important dynamic at play in the Ash Wednesday reminder of our mortality: Since life is always a divine gift, it is always therefore an excess. Rather than rationing out our time with a constant eye on calculations (which one could never have certainty about anyway) what would it look like to just live--to live with abandon? This would be a life that is not easily shaken, but rests simply in the knowledge of the givenness of life and the goodness of the giver. And since life is such a gift, it can only be lived authentically when we, in turn, give; we give our love, our time, our devotion, our lives. To live attuned to the givenness of life... that, I think, is a brief life that is lovely to unfold.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah?

“He who seeks not the cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.”

You’d never expect that a slip on an icy sidewalk would lead me to glory. But after hitting the pavers yesterday, my aching body began to wonder and question, asking first that inevitable “why,” which always transforms into “who.”

To give you a little background, I was diagnoses with Fibromyalgia Syndrome at 12 years old, and spent the next five years battling the widespread aches, constant pain, and chronic fatigue associated with this illness. But a few years ago, things started to change. After returning to the faith, the pains slowly faded until my rheumatologist amazedly pronounced my FMS “resolved” – a very rare victory when it comes to Fibromyalgia, a disease that typically does not ever go away.

So I had this amazing testimony: God healed me. My illness was gone without a trace. I had a normal life again, able to walk and attend school free from the shackles of pain and fatigue. But notice I’m using the past tense. Last semester, I started to experience the same symptoms again. I denied that it was Fibromyalgia for a time, but several aching months later, and I’ve finally accepted that I have Fibromyalgia. The physical discomfort didn’t bother as much as the nagging question in my mind, “Why, God, is it back?”

Why would God nullify the miracle He did in my life? Doesn’t that reduce His glory? I can no longer say that God healed me, but that He gave me a time of remission – not that grand or glorious, now is it? But then…what is glory? I guess I could ask the exact same question in this way: who is God. Or as Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

The other day I was discussing the state of the Korean church with my “big brother” in my host family, who is a professor of church history at a university here in Seoul. He said that because American church has great influence upon Korean Christianity, the three major focuses in many church here are health, wealth, and success. I thought by coming to Korea I would escape this rapid consumeristic American gospel, but the US’s influence throughout the world is far more powerful that I ever realized. Maybe, if I may be so humble to admit, it has also influenced my perception of God as well.

Jesus asked, “What about you?” Who do I personally believe Jesus is? I’ve been just like the Pharisees, who demanded a sign from Jesus (Matthew 16:1-4), recognizing God’s glory in my healing, but too blinded to see His glory in my suffering. John of the Cross, in his 102th Saying of Light and Love, equated the glory of God with the cross of Christ. Wow… I’ve had it all wrong: God’s glory is not in His shining, radiant, miracle-working power; it’s in Jesus Christ, who fully manifested God’s glory on the cross – the cross of death, shame, humiliation, mortification – that brought the Father glory (John 17:4). This is our Lord: a man, weak and wilted, nailed on a cross. That is glory. His glory is not in His empty tomb – of course the God of the universe can raise the dead! His glory is in the cross, where the omnipotent God chose to suffer and die.

This glory is the essence of God’s presence. Glory is God. Not the way we humans think of glory (Matthew 16:23) as magnificent and resplendent, but glory is denying the self, taking up the cross and following Christ to Golgotha (Matthew 16:24). Right before He walked this path, Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be with Him where He is to see His glory so that we can be brought into complete unity with the Trinity: the beautiful mystery of oneness.

Lord Jesus, help us to remember that suffering for You is better than working miracles (John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, 171), that your face, not Your hand, is what we seek (Ps 26:8), and that Your lover’s call to us is to forsake everything to be one with Your three-fold essence in humble glory.

Blog Archive