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.


living stones said...

Thank you for this powerful reflection. Very meaningful, very challenging. I hear this kind of call from God, too. I'm grateful for and excited by our community's desire and commitment for genuineness, humility, and love in following God. Again, thank you for sharing in this way with us.

living stones said...

Joy, the second silent retreat I ever went on was led by a gentle priest who asked us to sit in silence with the scripture verse, “Who do you say I am?” This past weekend I found my notes from that retreat, and I went over them again. I like how you are helping me reflect on this question once more, and how you bring us all around to consider "the essence of God’s presence.” He is with us in our suffering. And always how important to remember it is God’s face, and not His hand, that we seek. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful reflection. I appreciate being able to grow together. --Blessings, Anna

Bill said...

Your reflections bring so many foundational issues of life with God into the conversation. One is the classic double question "Who is God" and "Who am I"? It seems that those are fundamental issues that we all wrestle with. Also, there is the follow up question for when we think we have an answer "How do we know when we get the final answer" (if we ever get to that place).

Then an even more basic question is the place and role of suffering in creation. This overflows into our wrestling with an understanding of God's power (limited or unlimited) and God's goodness.

I'll admit I have glib answers and some thoughtful answers to these questions but the more I encounter real life situations where these are vital, not just academic theorizing, the more I hold what I think I know lightly.


Paul Corrigan said...

Thank you Joy for this post. It is indeed meaningful and challenging.

I am grateful also for the other comments that have been left here.

Daniel said...

Joy, thank you so much for sharing! I, too, experienced a major shift while struggling with expectations for healing (and particularly the well-intended expectations of my pentecostal peers). After some time, I began to realize that God was using this difficult season to identify my unhealthy projections and expectations, to help me accept moments of suffering as an integral part of my journey, and to reveal miracles in the most mundane and common activities. These truths are communicated so wonderfully in your story, and I'm humbled by your honest words and graceful spirit.

Joy said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I am so blessed to be a part of this community where we can grow together, mutually wrestling with the question of who He is and who our true selves are. It seems that everything we face in life fundamentally come down to how we answer these questions, and as you poignantly pointed out Bill, the audacity of thinking we can answer such questions with our finite minds is laughable.

It's simplicity we're after. I like how you put it, Daniel: "accept moments of suffering as an integral part of my journey,and to reveal miracles in the most mundane and common activities."

The other day I was reading Keating's Open Heart, Open Mind (while riding the ridiculously crowded subway, of all places). But his reflection on Song 2:6 spoke the word my heart needed to hear:

"If you want to be fully embraced by the Lord, you have to accept both arms: the one that allows suffering for the sake of purification and the one that brings the joy of union. When you feel physical pain or when psychological struggles are persecuting you, you should think that God is hugging you extra tightly. Trials are an expression of His love, not rejection."

The hard part is learning how to simply accept - accept the embrace of the Divine Lover in whatever it's form in the present moment.

Blessing to all of you!

Bill said...

It is so hard to accept God's love in difficult times. Just this morning I failed horribly. I was driving to work and the thermostat had not yet opened and I was shivering almost uncontrollably. Somehow I remembered that I should be offering that very cold experience to God but somehow it sure didn't seem like a very spiritual moment. Maybe it's just training to remember who I am in God at all times.

Anjreux said...

Good stuff, I was recently thinking about what you had mentioned in the middle of your entry, dealing with the influence that the United States christian culture has had on other countries
Thanks for your insights!

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