Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Your face, Adonai, will I seek" II - an Explication or Midrash

I have been asked to explain what I mean when I say I am seeking the face of God. I use this phrase frequently and it's only fair that I should be asked about it and that I should explain myself.

But before you read on, you must read Psalm 27, preferably in the Episcopal Church's 1977 Book of Common Prayer, for it is this version which captured me oh so many years ago now. However, holding this against the NRSV translation will be intriguing as well.

In the first verse, we read (in the BCP version) "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?"

It has to be over twenty years ago now when I first started to unpack certain parts of my early life. In others like me, similar events had driven them to give up God completely: for them, there is no God, for it is not possible that there should be such a God as would allow the unwarranted horrors that life and humans can visit on a person.

But me, I knew that God was real. Why, I don't know, but that knowledge drove me to wrestle with God. I could do that because I believed and believe verse 1 of Psalm 27: Adonai is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? Adonai is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

Whom shall I fear? No one, not even the most high God Almighty. And so, I took my anger and my complaint and the abandonment felt by my brothers and sisters to the source.

Verses 5-6 of Psalm 27 read: One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

I wanted the struggle. I also wanted the reward: Peace. The Peace which passes understanding. I want, at the end of it all, to dwell in the heart of God all the days of my life. I want to be able to gaze on the very face of God even though the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that to do so is certain death. (However, for a refutation of this threat, find for yourself and read the story of St. Seraphim and his disciple, who together saw the face of God in one another through the power of the Holy Spirit. For she who wonders if my search for Jesus in the faces of those I meet every day is different from seeking the face of God, the answer is, No, it is all part and parcel.)

So, I wanted, and want, a real life relationship with the otherwise cardboard God I encounter in religion. Not the pat phrases, like "God has a purpose for everything," or, "God has a plan". None of that, please. But real life: God, you are responsible for the evil on earth for you permit it. Now what are you going to do about it and how shall you and I relate, given that assumption? I want the struggle and the joy, the peace and the restlessness.

And, God help me, I have gotten what I desired, or at least I have begun to see that I am at the beginning of what I desired so many years ago. But I digress. ( ! )

My complaint against God is this: Verse 7-8 of Psalm 27 read, "For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock. Even now he lifts up my head above my enemies round about me."

I said, God, you lie. You did not keep me and my brothers and sisters safe. To this day you do not. Instead, you appear to leave it up to us humans to do the right thing by each other, but you know we don't. So you leave Jesus, who hangs on the cross in our terrors and pain as well as being raised to our joy and delight, screaming on the cross into eternity, "Why have you forsaken me?" even though he has been raised from the dead. I do not understand this. And I will not buy the, "It is too hard for me. I leave it to you" bit. You didn't create me that way.

And so, I began my quest, which I describe this way: I am tracking down God, tracking God to his lair, and when I find him I will drag him out by the collar and shake him and say to him, face to face, "What the hell do you think you're doing here? Don't you know these are people's lives you're ****ing aroung with?"

"Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call" (Psalm 27:10a) And God did. With my whole being I felt, heard, sensed, that this is my charge; that it is this for which I was made. "You speak in my heart and say, 'Seek my face.' Your face, LORD, will I seek." But not a gentle seeking; rather, one that honors the totality of God, the whole God, the triune God.

I am not looking for proof of the existence of God. I already know, with a depth that is almost terrible, that God is. I am seeking a whole, and holy, real relationship. One in which I stand, not grovel; one from which I fear no retribution for my effrontery; a face to face, honest relationship.

"What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!" (verse 17) Ah yes, that is the question. I have no answer for you yet. I see occasions of God's goodness, but it resolves nothing; it just makes the "Why?" even greater, although it gives me occasions of rest from my quest.

"O tarry and await the LORD's pleasure; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the LORD." (verse 18) Well, I am not waiting patiently, but I am waiting, faithfully. I believe the promise, that my heart shall find comfort. But it will not be comfort as we have understood it. Rather, it shall be the true meaning of the word "comfort": a strengthening, a fortifying, for the continued wrestling, and the quest for the face of God. Adonai is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?


Anonymous said...

I know the quest well for I was on it for a very long time. I would go through periods every year of intense longing and searching and no one could help me understand. I was 24 when I came to know Jesus as my personal savior and that happened when I happened on a book by Dale Evans Rogers called Woman At The Well. She answered all my questions and at the end I asked Jesus into my heart even while telling him I did not know for sure he was there but if so I did want him in my life as my savior and to direct my life. I have never known such peace as I did at that moment. Now I have been a challenge for God I am sure, I have ranted and raved when I didn't get my own way, but gradually I am maturing in the Lord (at least I hope so) and learning to give him my problems as he asks and to LEAVE THEM THERE. That was a big problem for me for a long time. However, I know I have heard the voice of God at times and that which he told me has always come true. I know that he gave humans free will so we could come to know him and unfortunately that includes letting those who want to follow their own way or the devil's to do just that. We who believe in God and strive toward him will reap a heavenly reward, of that I am sure. I have questions such as lately in the past 3 years one comes to mind as why did I live through a horrendous accident and my grandson did not? I don't know I just have to have faith that God does have a reason. We have been told by so many that Jarrett came in contact with that he was such a blessing to them, so maybe his mission on earth was finished and mine not. I also know that although Jarrett had passed on, God allowed him to be with me in the crucial first hours after the crash. I think it is that that gave me the will to hang on. God never promised a rose garden after our salvation, he just promised us grace, mercy and peace and I know he has supplied that to me endless times. I also know the devil is real and have seen the proof of it while working in a mental health facility. We had many people out of satanist cults and some of which I saw was really scary and let me tell you, I know how much it is worth to keep my hand in God's. I go through days where I have to picture my hand in his, but the peace always comes. I know my grandson is with God and I will see him again one day and I will press on.....

Carole said...

Lois I am the anonymous writer, if you haven't already figured it out through the Dale Rogers reference. Had to have an account here and I kept losing the content so went for anonymous to get it through. Persistance........

Lois Keen said...

Carole, I very much appreciate your response. We are, and have been, on different roads to the same destination. I will get around to returning your email soon. I promise.

Jeffri Harre said...

Years ago when I was going through a rough time, I had a college friend with whom I corresponded regularly. In one of her letters to me during this time, she told me to sit down and ready Psalm 27. I still have questions, but Psalm 27 is much more a comfort to me than Psalm 23! She gave me a rare gift, and I truly regret that we lost touch later on.

I am experiencing this quest again, to some extent, as I follow the Gospel of John with the bishops in preparation for their Lambeth Conference. I just want to shake God and Jesus and shout, "What the f*** were you thinking??!!??"

A very wise woman once told me, "God has big shoulders. God can take it. So go ahead and yell at God."


Anonymous said...

moll2kateThis message is for Jeffri, could not get him through his email on his site so will do this. I hope you read this site often, Jeffri.
I, too, have gone through my rages with God and you know what? He stands by and lets us get it out I guess like a child's temper tantrum. But he is there and as the Bible says His ways are not like our ways. I have been in a horrendous accident and have had to go through multiple surgeries, lost a grandson in the accident, have had to give up that which was most dear to me (my horses) because I will never walk steadily and be able to care for them. Now that part may not be some of what you have gone through, but when I am wracked with sorrow, I no longer ask why or rant and rave, but go to Psalm 34 and it is full of promises from God and He has kept everyone of them and more. We have questions, but if not answered here on earth, they will be answered in heaven, we just need to be patient and rely on and love the Lord and praise Him for everything. I have found there is always something to be able to thank Him for in any situation.

Carole said...

Jeffri, I left the above comment under anonymous because for some reason Google wouldn't take my password.

Lois Keen said...

Jeffri, let me introduce you to Carole. We were best friends in high school and have just found one another again in the past couple of weeks. I helped sneak her things out of the house when she ran away from home to marry the young man to whom she is still married these 45? years now!

She and I have different points of view on all this stuff I'm writing about, but we have things in common, too. So, off you two go, then. Converse away if you like.