Doubt is at the heart of faith. This statement is no abstraction to me but a center bit in what I believe about God and Jesus and love. I look at my dear wife's brown eyes and face that seems as open to me as a flower or God's heart and remember nights twenty years ago where my heart was cold with sadness after being left by my first wife. And I am reminded to trust in Love, place my hopes in Him, my faith in His work still progressing despite all exterior signs to the contrary.
I remember last week sitting with others doing something quite liturgical for such a low-church mutt as me, a "Lectio Divina" in which a passage of Scripture is read, discussed, read again, meditated on, discussed, and read yet a third and fourth time -- each time causing one's own heart to burn with the truth and beauty of the words / Word's meanings.
We read from Lamentations 3:21-26:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
My heart leapt up in me not for joy but for pain as I read the last verse. My doubt makes it so hard to deeply accept the goodness of waiting for the salvation of the Lord when… well, a for-instance: an Iraqi mother kneels in the dusty remains of her house holding her dead seven-year-old son and crying out (tears come to my eyes as I mentally replay it) "God---Where is God?---where is God?!?" The cynic answers he was in the bombs from a Christian nation that was making Iraq safe for democracy. The young men, many of poorer families of my own country, are given lip service and sent into a war fewer and fewer of us believe had any purpose or any merit. My heart melts in me like wax from a cheap church candle.
Yet… another voice read the passage from rightly-named Lamentations and my resistance gave way to slow understanding. I realize that to see as God sees is indeed an act of faith rather than complete understanding and that God is Love if anything or anyone is and that he alone sees all and mourns all and has -- is -- and will draw history and humanity toward him as we are willing to be so drawn. In the mystery of Christ's suffering is the only answer for our sufferings and the sufferings of others. We participate in it, or we remain in denial, or we cave in to rage and despair.
Heaven is like the baby in the manger, here but not recognized, as my wife's eyes of gentleness are here but not recognized as being God's eyes in proxy. Her hands are likewise His hands doing me good all the days of my wife / life and her heart yearns over her children now grown as the Father Heart yearns over his children but will not force their love for then it would not be love.
And I do not know what is to become of that Muslim mother who mourns and cries out to her God. Perhaps it is like C. S. Lewis' "The Last Battle" where the earnest young Tash worshipper finds out that he has in fact loved the real God even if he didn't really understand fully who that God was – God is Love and He will know what to do. I identify with her suffering, which is of course so much greater than mine has ever been. I see Christ's sweat and blood in Gethsemane, his tears at the tomb of Lazarus (because he mourned not just Lazarus' death, but the reality of death itself, which would eventually reclaim Lazarus despite Jesus' miracle). I see the blood on the cross, which is the only way meaning can be given to that Muslim mother's screams of agony.
I do believe that Jesus was no televangelist and had no handsomeness or blond hair or blue eyes to attract a Hollywood producer. More likely he had olive skin and dark hair and perhaps wholly unremarkable (to us) New York Arab cab driver face so that none could come to him except they see as God sees: the character of a man singularly striking and wholly desirable.
It is nearly Christmas and the carols are sung and trees lit and stores making billions of dollars. None of this is wholly good or wholly evil and the heart of faith beats slow but steady in the breasts of Love's people. The child lies in the manger and in the mangers each of us knew were empty until His Advent became not a past event but a present knowing and future promise. For those who desire it, the baby takes up residence in our barren hearts making them fruitful mangers of Love.
Rejoice always it is said and again rejoice as the wealthy find their God today and lose him tomorrow and the poor bleed and despair -- their God is Despair -- Apollyon the Destroyer who steals their personhood and creates of them an army of ghosts invisible to the wealthy and even to many of God's people. Yet rejoice -- and work -- which is also rejoicing in the belief that Love has conquered through the manger and the cross is conquering through the Risen Christ and will conquer through Love's visible return.
Christmas is the promise of Messiah fulfilled and the surprise that God chose to fulfill it through the poor couple in that stable. I hope to go to that stable, holding my dearling’s hand, to find Jesus -- the place He has always been is with the poor -- and to worship and love Him in the Holy Faces of "the least of these" (Matthew 25:31-46).
My Carol -- my wife's name -- is indeed a "Song of Joy" to my heart's downward turnings, and a signpost toward that for which we patiently wait. I hope you are there to wait quietly with us for the salvation Love brings in Jesus—and to be a labourer for Love in a loveless, hopeless, faithless world.
Merry Christmas season!