This is a longer blog than usual and I've been writing it and rewriting it for almost two weeks now and I finally realized that I could go on fiddling with it indefinitely, so I might as well post it.
So for the last month, maybe, I have not been praying or meditating in the way Jesus taught me to do over the last year or so- which I first blogged about here.
I haven't been, partly because I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and partly because I make myself miserable with my inhuman standards of motherhood, which of course I fail at reaching, and then all I want to do is hide from Him.
Consequently, I was becoming anxious, irritable and frustrated. This reached a peak, which then propelled me to Jesus, in complete desperation, where I poured out my complaint before Him and declared to Him all my trouble, as the psalm so poetically puts it.
I understand, Jesus said, tenderly. But come anyway.
So I have been coming to Jesus anyway, and I've had to get used to this way of being with Him all over again, because it's not easy to comprehend, and it's difficult to participate in something that boggles the mind, especially if one is out of the practice of it.
I was standing on the steps of the inner room; I had paused, to look at Jesus and to try to let myself be present in that impossible space. When I did- when I saw Him- He smiled, and I recognized Him.
He looks like someone born in the Middle East who spent most of His life doing manual labor and who spent days and nights out under the elements with not enough to eat. He looks like a Rabbi who thinks deeply and laughs easily and wouldn't be ashamed of His ragtag and so often confused disciples, whom He calls friends.
(I've been reading "Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus," by Lois Tverberg, and loving it. It explains so many things about Him and His teachings. But that's a whole other blog post.)
Jesus looks like a man whose heart has been broken countless times because He won't ever stop loving, and wouldn't want to, even if He could. He looks like someone who has been betrayed, His body beaten, whipped, crowned with thorns and crucified; someone who forgave this, in one breath, in the same way He gave His life back to His Father, with His last. He looks someone who would easily squat on the beach and cook breakfast for His friends.
In short, Jesus looked like the sort of God that wouldn't mind standing ankle deep in a stream, smiling at me and calling me by name, even when I doubted Him, which is what He happened to be doing, just at that moment.
It came as a shock, all over again.
Hello Jenny, He said, with His usual good humor.
I had to take a deep breath before the plunge. "Hello... Jesus," I replied, in wonder.
I won't lie; I still wanted proof. I wanted to know, absolutely.
In response, Jesus reminded me of two experiences, things that were overwhelming, palpable and life changing- I blogged about one of them here. (This blog would be triple the size, if I attempted even to sketch it out there.)
He then explained something to me that I have still been thinking over. He said that if one could be absolutely certain about something, then it would not require faith. It would be something else entirely, and that particular something else doesn't come in this lifetime. Anyway, not in my experience.
Faith doesn't exclude doubt- by its very nature, it includes it. Or, to put it another way, if courage is action in the face of fear, than faith is belief in the presence of doubt.
He said that in order to participate with Him in relationship, I had to believe- that is, to open my heart, to make a space. This did not come across as a legalistic standard, simply something like a natural law, like gravity.
It reminds me of something Jesus had said to me before. He told me that He wanted me to remain fully present in this every day life, but to do so oriented out of faith, hope and love.
It was almost like a layered thing- I suppose it's like being a living part of His reign on earth. We are here, present and accounted for, but what illuminates us from the inside and motivates our actions, are those three most important things.
I used to think that faith was an intellectual stance, to believe in Jesus meant that I had to have all the right thoughts about Him. I felt anxious all the time, trying to have all the right thoughts about Jesus, in order to be pleasing to Him, which seemed like an impossibility.
Then, three years ago, I started to read the Scriptures again, but online and in different versions. Reading the Gospel of John in the Amplified version was eye opening, because when Jesus says, "believe in Me," which He often does, the Amplified version adds cling or adhere to, trust in, and rely on, after that statement.
For example: "Jesus replied, Because I said to you, I saw you beneath the fig tree, do you believe in and rely on and trust in Me? You shall see greater things than this!" John 1:50, Amplified
To rely on or to cling to a person is an emotional response- almost an instinctual response. It's much more personal and far more simple than trying to have all the right thoughts about someone.
Lately, I've been reading the Gospels again and I saw something I had not noticed before- how often Jesus points to His signs or the testimony of John the Baptist. That is, Jesus wasn't necessarily asking people to blindly believe in Him- there was proof, and He often pointed to it.
This all has been percolating in the back of my mind lately, because Jesus seems to be the same way with me that He was in the Gospels- that is, Jesus pointed to things which occurred in my life- things that I cannot explain, that made evident to me His love and presence.
And then Jesus encouraged me to believe, because faith makes evident what cannot be seen and it's not about having a lot of faith, it's about using the faith you have.
Naturally, I keep thinking about Thomas- so loyal he would go with Jesus even if it meant to die with Him, but usually known only for his doubts. And the thing is, I wonder now if it wasn't so much that he doubted- of course he did! So would I, I'm sure of it. It's just that Thomas choose to take a stand on his doubts. To die with his beloved Rabbi- that was a great love from a loyal realist. To believe Him capable of rising from the dead was ludicrous.
So much about faith is ludicrous, when it comes right down to it. It makes me think of my favorite mystic, Julian of Norwich, who lived during the Black Plague. God told her that, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
I don't mean to imply that there is no value in rational thought, by the way- that would be absurd and dangerous. That is so often how religious and spiritual abusers gain power- by demanding their followers give up rational thought or independent thought.
I prefer to think through my beliefs, when I am aware enough to do so- where they came from, and why I continue to believe them, what effect they have on my behavior and how I view others. It's just that any belief requires a certain kind of surrender at the point of mystery, and I can't help but think that there is always going to be that point, when it comes to God.
So lately I have been trying to choose belief in the presence of doubt, to be transparent and present to Jesus in a way that I can't explain and can barely describe.
Or to come anyway, as it were.
We went walking up the hill in the snow, hand in hand. We reached the top of the upper fields and went into the woods, dark in the night. I turned back and was almost paralyzed by beauty.
The moon must have risen in the sky, but I couldn't see it, all I could see were luminous and waving sheets of falling snow that had been backlit by the moonlight, and cut into by the black, stark shapes of the trees that we stood in. Eddies of snow were drifting through the black trees, sparkling and floating.
It was so hauntingly beautiful that I almost couldn't take it in.
"Jesus!" I whispered, throwing my arms around His waist. He put His arms around me and we looked at this sight together in silence. After a moment, I had to look away, because I felt too alive, so alive I felt I would break apart at the seams.
I knew, somehow, that Jesus is that alive, that open to life, all the time, because He is God and sustains life and it all flows openly through Him and He is open to it. He is open not just to the beauty, but to the pain and the grief. I see this in Him sometimes, but I think He must always feel it, in some sense, because He is with us in our pain and He won't ever leave us alone in our suffering until everything has been made right and whole and new.
After a while, we made our way back to the upper field and I saw the rooms in the distance, looking so familiar and so enchanting, all lit up in the falling snow.
I remembered, as a child, going out in the snow storm and returning, and seeing the buildings of home, and how they had been enchanted by snow and light and by my time away from them- and yet so familiar, even more my home than when I had left it to trek out into the snowy dark.
That's the way it is, when I come to Jesus after having kept myself away. He is the Divine Other and fully human, the Beginning and the End, God and the Son of God, and none of it is possible to fully comprehend and yet, seeing Him is like coming home all over again, and finding home to be more beautiful than I had known it before.