God is complicated. There’s no one easy answer as we saw in the children’s book: What is God Like? No one can truly express what God is in a way that fits the mold and needs of everyone. There is no one answer and the questions are complicated. Why do people get sick? Why do people get hurt? Why do people die? Why is life unfair?
It’s frustrating. It’s a blessing. It’s a Mystery to be pondered and contemplated and reflected on throughout all of the stages of our life. There is no end to the question and the mystery of God. And that is a good thing.
It may not seem like a good thing. Especially when things are especially challenging and scary and we just want answers. Especially when things seem the most puzzling or down right madness. Maybe we make it complicated? Maybe it’s actually very simple? Maybe not. But maybe the simple and uncomplicated, ordinary, is part of the answer. We simply need ears to hear and eyes to see. Then, perhaps we will understand. Perhaps we will see the rhythm to the chaos and madness.
How do we better hear and see (maybe even feel and smell and taste)? We need quiet to hear. We need simplicity in words and deeds to focus our attention. We need to slow down. We never see very clearly when we’re in More-Mode or Better-When-Mode or Busy-Mode. We all know this, but we’re not always that great at practicing it. I think one of the greatest things I read recently was this: “Every time we finally reach the future, it vanishes into the present.” (W. Muller).
How perfect is that? We’re constantly wishing our lives away…”I can’t wait” or “when it’s summer”, “when I’m on vacation”, “when I retire”, “when I have more money“…future, future, future and it’s true: the future simply vanishes into the present and we wish for Another-Better.
If we read closely, we see that Jesus didn’t stop when it was “finished”. When there were no more ill to tend and poor to feed. He stopped when it was time for him to stop and rest and pray. Even God “steps back”. God steps back to reflect and it’s only then that he finds that it was Good. If we step back, maybe rest and pray, we will see, and hear, the natural rhythm. The cycles of joy and sadness, illness and wellness, courage and fear, life and death. We will see new beginnings in the ends. Allowing for endings when it’s time.
It’s said that hind sight is always 20/20. True, isn’t it? Things make more sense when we look back on them with a better sense of clarity and calm. We never see well in the midst of the chaos, the messiness, the madness…
If we look back at each past pandemic, it is fascinating to see what sort of world evolved in the decades after. In some cases civilizations collapsed, but in others there was a renaissance out of dark ages. There was a revolution of art and beauty. There was a kindness for one’s fellow human beings. We can’t see what’s evolving now, because we’re in the messiness, but I shall look forward to looking back and seeing what Beauty and Goodness emerges.
When we see clearly, we see the natural pattern of work, rest, pray, love…repeat. It might come in varying forms for each of our needs, but it’s there. This work, rest, pray, love and it must be in some semblance of balance. Think about Christmas. We don’t seek for this Christmas to be better than the last, maybe we do, but is that the point? Or is the point to repeat the cycle and repetition of the birth of light and hope and love and Jesus? With each year collecting its own flavor and new answers over time. We grow with the repetition and cycle. Our Christmas today is very different for us than it was when we were ten, and will be very different five years from now, but the essence is the same. Love and giving and light and hope.
Communion. It’s in the ritual of repetition that the magic happens. It doesn’t really grow and change and evolve…but we do.
These cycles and repetitions see the new, the now, in the familiar. There is the essence of the old, all the way back thousands of years and yet it is new and now.
Jesus is offering us the blessings in the cycle, but for now, not for some imagined future. Listen: Blessed are the meek, Blessed are the poor, Blesses are the grieving. It’s now. We are already blessed. We are not blessed when we’re powerful. We’re not blessed when we have just a little more money. We’re not blessed when we feel a little less loss. We’re blessed now. Exactly as things are.
Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God is with us and in us and through the cycles of rest and work, fear and courage, life and death, we create heaven on earth. We do the work and it’s simple. We’ve been here before. What are the deepest prayers? We begin to make them complicated. Memorize pieces of scripture and long beautiful prayers. But what did Jesus say? You only need this: Our Father who art in heaven….
When life gets really messy, it’s the simple prayers we can hold on to (thank you to our kids for some of these):
All shall be well.
Make me an instrument of peace.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
What is our deepest work? To be strong when someone does not have their own strength. To listen to one who feels unheard. To believe in another’s goodness and light when they can not believe in it themselves. To believe in another’s blessings when they can not see them. To be there until they can see and hear and believe for themselves.
And the cycle repeats and repeats. Now I am sad, but it will turn to joy. Now I am filled with courage, but it will shift to fear, and back again.
And so, in ordinary times, maybe we do the extraordinary ordinary.
Sometimes it is our turn to minister.
Sometimes, it is our turn to be ministered to.