Season 6 - Week 5
“Worth Searching For”
"The soul is making the most progress when she is traveling through the deepest darkness, knowing nothing. Since it is God that is the master and guide of the blind soul, she can rejoice. Once she understands this, she can consider herself to be “secure in the darkness." St. John of the Cross
"I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists." Joan Dye Gussow
Once upon a time, a little girl was told by her family that they had been chosen to go into space. That they were going to spend many years in a spaceship, but when they got to the other side, they would be special, they would help discover things that had never been discovered. Finally the day came, and they all went into the spaceship. The windows were black, because space is dark. They spent years on this spaceship. Waiting waiting waiting. One day the girl, who was now a woman, asked how much longer they would be travelling for. Her parents looked nervous, they squirmed, they said some things that didn't make sense. She was suspicious. In desperation, she ripped open the doors to discover that they had been sitting in their front garden the whole time.
Sometimes we think we're on a path, a journey, a grand adventure but if we look closer, we find that we've kept ourselves from any true discovery by becoming comfortably settled inside a tiny room in our minds, with rigid walls, and no air, convincing ourselves that we're somewhere we're really not. We're not really searching for anything until we step out of our delusion and open our eyes.
There's a story in the gospels that has a detail in it that I've always found fascinating. It's the story where a man asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter, and while he is on his way there, a woman pushes through the crowd to him, touches his clothes, and is healed from an illness that had ensured she was ostracised from her community. Jesus stops to spend time talking to the woman, and in the meantime the child dies. Jesus goes on to raise her from the dead, so y'know, all's well that ends well....
I guess the people watching will have felt frustration and shock, that a child was allowed to die in the process of Jesus taking time to talk to an 'unclean' woman. They maybe would have considered the 'innocent child' more worthy of Today's Great Miracle.
The detail that Luke notes is that the daughter was 12 years old, and the woman had been sick for 12 years. I'd always been intrigued that the number of years was the same.
When I think about the last 12 years for both of them, I see an aspect of God that moves me deeply.
I don't know what the child's life was like, but I could safely assume she was happy, that she was loved, probably well-off, her father clearly cared for her deeply. She probably didn't have much need yet to look outside of herself and her life, she had everything she needed.
The woman had 12 years that ran parallel to the child's life. And it was very different. She was an outcast, and sick. But the thing that strikes me most about her, was that she was a Searcher. She'd spent 12 years searching for someone or something to fix her. She'd spent all her money, all her time, in pursuit of this. And then she saw the solution, face to face, and reached out her hand, still searching with all she had.
I don't find it shocking that Jesus stopped for her. Because I believe that God's face turns towards those who are searching. I don't really believe God cares as much as we think about having things sorted, about having all the right answers, about doing all the right things. Sometimes that stuff becomes a spaceship sitting in the front garden. We don’t need to search because we’re ‘sorted’ and we ‘know’. I think God cares deeply about the genuine search, about the struggle, about the pursuit of a deeper and more meaningful life.
I think that at some point we have to stop eating the margarine that someone else has concocted for us, and go out and find something genuine. Something real. Something we really believe. Something we can hold in our hands, or see with our eyes, and know for sure that it matters. That is was worth fighting for, worth searching for.
Sometimes the search can be a real struggle, especially if we hit The Dark Night of The Soul, where we're searching for even a flickering pinpoint light that indicates that God even exists somewhere out there. (By the way, if you're in one of those right now, keep your eyes open. You'll find God in unexpected places. The trick is to stop looking at the light, at the things you thought you knew, and peer into the darkness instead, into the unknown, the bit you're scared of. God's always there. Trust me.)
But even outside of that great search into the very existence of God, I think it's important to first approach every aspect of life with questions instead of answers. To do everything we can to make sure we keep God well away from that box we've got in our hands. The one we keep trying to shove God and everyone else into. We've probably broken a few of their limbs doing that. It matters that our ideas about life, and other people, and God, are constantly allowed to be challenged and questioned, and turned over and over in our hands from different angles, to see how they look when the light catches them a certain way. That we move freely with open hands, instead of standing rigid with closed fists. That we search, constantly. Sometimes we'll find things we didn't even know we were looking for.
I believe that the searching soul is the one God leans towards, watching our every move with anticipation for what we might discover. That God's creativity sparks with ours when we open the shutters, kick down doors, and run out into the wild. God is never able to move so close to us as when we leave all our preconceptions and fixed opinions in a heap on the floor, like clothes we've stripped off, just before running into the sea. I also believe that once we've tasted that open, abandoned life, when our hair is matted with sea salt, and goosebumps dot our skin as the cold water trickles down our naked bodies, that the ordinary, predictable way will never appeal again. We'll awaken the Searcher within us, we'll sense God's great face turn towards us, and catch the irresistible scent of possibility and wonder.
Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’
But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’
Naomi paints a really vivid picture of the danger of thinking we have all the answers when it comes to God, and in fact the whole of life. But that's not to say that we can never be sure of anything. Are you someone who enjoys certainty, or likes to ask a lot of questions? What are your biggest questions when it comes to your faith? Can you bring them to God without needing him to answer them right away?
The story is told of the ethicist John Kavanaugh who went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta. He asked Mother Teresa to pray for him to have clarity about what he should do. Mother Teresa said no, telling him instead that “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” She added, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
God, today we do not ask for clarity but for greater trust. Forgive us for the ways that we have become rigid and stuck in our certainty. Give us a searcher's heart that longs above all for you and that will not be satisfied with anything less. Give us patience in the darkness; give us eyes that recognise you, even when you look different to how we imagined. Give us courage, curiousity and humility we pray. And may we know the deep joy of being surprised by you, at every corner. Amen