Our practice for the kids this week is to face fear, by safely exploring some of the things that we fear to face. What do we, even as adults, or maybe especially because we are adults, fear to face? Maybe like the kids we fear some sort of animal or monster. Maybe it’s people or dark alleys. Maybe it’s darkness itself. Darkness. Itself.
We could deeply explore our fears of darkness and the meaning of darkness. But that’s for another time.
Perhaps we also fear, or should fear, the face of God. What is it to see God face to face? Where do we come face to face with God?
It is in times of challenge that we seek and find God. It is in times of quiet stillness, reflection, and inner work that we find God. It may seem that we never see God. It may seem that we always see God.
Because I study yoga, I’m going to relate a yoga story to you first. Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita asks to see God in his true form. It is so powerful that God must first prepare Arjuna and still Arjuna is undone. It is an incredibly powerful passage describing God. Good, Bad, Light, Dark, Order, and Chaos…everything and nothing contained in that moment. The universe ending. The universe beginning. It is incomprehensible to us. We live is sphere of rules and opposites, in a world of tangible this or that, but not everything. God transcends that.
Experiences that bring us face to face with God change us. They are experiences that are are completely clear and completely muddy.
Jacob in Genesis sees the face of God and is changed forever. Jacob is not even sure what he is tackling in the beginning. Is it God, demon, man? It is a moment of chaos wherein he simply acts and trusts. He has faith. He is so changed by the experience that God gives him a new name in the aftermath. His entire role in life has been changed in that moment. It was a moment of chaos and nothing can ever be the same once his eyes have been opened.
Remember that Genesis is old. It’s really old. It is still a bit full of nuggets of older gods, demons, and the like. It is a time of transition from a world of many gods to a faith of one God. You can see this transition through Genesis and if you love old myths, you can see these other stories come to life in stories of Genesis. Some are old myths, some are bit of history, some we can’t be sure of. So many of the stories are universal, be open to seeing your stories in a new way. I mention this, because it is likely that this experience of Jacob becoming Israel is also a story of man, and his one God, overcoming and usurping one of the old Canaanite gods, El. The beginning of the transition to the One God religions.
Out of a moment of utter chaos and confusion, Jacob is forever changed. His role becomes clear. He becomes Israel.
We often find ourselves seeking, and face to face with, God when we are deeply challenged. It may seem, like Jacob, that we’re in the midst of a battle or wresting. Perhaps we are deeply unsettled. Deep in emotional turmoil. God comes in in those deeply contradictory forms. It may be so unclear that we don’t realize until later that perhaps we were face to face with God. Most of the the experiences of coming face to face with God are awe-full and terrifying at the same time. These are clues that we are in some way coming face to face with God.
These are the times where we change and grow. Perhaps you are unsettled that I speak of coming face to face with God. I’m not saying that God comes and stands beside you and gives you the answers to your problems. But that God is all around us and is present in our lives.
Perhaps in the face of someone who is so good that you strive to be like them. Their goodness spills over and supports you in becoming your best self without you even changing a thing. It just is and you just are. Perhaps in the face of someone you love. Perhaps in your own eyes. It is Victor Hugo who said that to love another person is to see the face of God. If you’ve read Hugo, these are not easy loves. Love is not exactly easy; it is to make oneself vulnerable. Contradictories and chaos.
God can also be found in the demons in our lives. Our own demons as well as the people who behave in ways that we can’t comprehend. Coming face to face with these demons helps us to think and learn.
God is challenging us in those contradictory, unknowable ways. We are meant to grow.
It is how we look at the world that intimately connects us to God. When we are forced, or choose, to look at the world differently. This is actually the physical metaphor of a yoga pose: they force us (literally) to look at the world from different angles and learn to overcome fear by stepping outside of our comfort zones. (part of the children’s challenge this week)
What if it’s true that God shows up when called? How does that change your outlook on life?
What if God is asking us to look at what we don’t want to see? What if seeing God is to face what we don’t want to see? What do we do with it? Continue to look away or open our eyes to look within and without?
Moments of deep forgiveness, faith, vulnerability, and love both challenge and help us to rise up to be the best versions of ourselves. All of these have their contradictory angles. Sometimes we become the worse versions of ourselves to become the best.
What if God’s plan is to remind us of what we’ve turned away from? What if we are suddenly face to face with God right now? I’m pretty sure that none of us is feeling like the best versions of ourselves right now. What if that means that God is with us? What if all of this is actually God with us, telling us that we’ve stopped paying attention to what’s important.
That this gift of life is precious and we need to honor that in ourselves and others. How do we help others who feel like life is hopeless? How do we help ourselves? That we are meant to cherish life, even on the bad days, and do Good Work. That we are meant to be stewards for one another and of the earth. Perhaps we are afraid because we don’t know where to begin, but God might be reminding us of our true purpose.
Perhaps we are face to face with God and being reminded that we have been so far removed from ourselves that we’ve forgotten that we are capable of healing and caring. We, each of us, is not small and insignificant. We, each of us, is so important.
In Matthew this week, we see Jesus seeking solitude in his grief but being confronted by the hungry. He doesn’t turn away, but turns to God, and feeds the people who need him. Sometimes, we just need to offer someone bread and wine (or water).
We can choose to walk away or to keep looking. We can choose to draw in or step out. We need a little of both. To use another yoga metaphor, this is what a balance pose reminds us of: to turn in to nourish ourselves and then to turn out to give back.
It may seem impossible, but if we just begin, the doorways open. There is possibility. There is enough. Trust. Faith. The key is to have just enough trust and faith to begin. Especially when our own demons are triggered.
Especially because of fear and grief. Especially because of turmoil and pain. Especially when we would rather turn away.
Look at what is happening around you and seek one good thing to begin with. Trust that God is here. Know God is here, because when we come face to face with God everything seems in contradiction, so if it seems that God is not with us, then God must be with us.
Reading: Matthew 14: 13-14; 18–20
When he heard what had happened Jesus withdrew privately by boat to a remote place; but large numbers of people heard of it, and came after him in hoards from the towns. When he came ashore and saw a large crowd, his heart went out to them, and he healed those who were sick…Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples; and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate well and were satisfied.
Closing Blessing: Psalm 145
In all his promises the Lord keeps faith, he is unchanging in all his works; the Lord supports all who stumble and raise all who are bowed down. All raise their eyes to you in hope, and you give them their food when it is due. You open your hand and satisfy every living creature with your favor. The Lord is righteous in all his ways, faithful in all he does; the Lord is near to all who call to him, to all who call to him in sincerity. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him. Amen.