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?