Sunday, March 4, 2007

March 4, 2007

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park

The cold front that moved through here this week produced an astonishing variety of weather: clear and beautiful, stormy and blustery, snow, rain, sleet, wind, and all capped off by a night of dense fog which was back-lit by the full moon, and then last night we had a lunar eclipse. I had planned to write this week about nature and my connection to it, which is long-standing and very important to me.

But then the same front that produced this continuously varying show for those of us in New York also roared through the South and blew down a school and killed 8 teenagers. And I find that I can't write the column I had planned; it would seem almost blasphemous to do that now. Those reflections will have to wait for another time.

God is infinite; we are finite. That's the content of a first chapter of a theology text. It's a distillation of humankind's relationship to the divine. It can be viewed as an intellectual statement that is the introduction to a dry-as-dust chapter on the Divine Nature. It can be seen as a repetition of a truth that is so familiar as to produce boredom. But this week, for me, it is the source of great pain.

I cannot fathom God. I cannot understand God. I cannot guess what God is up to. This is because the ways of God are "far above, out of our sight" as the Scripture says. I am bound by a nature that cannot grasp what God is. I am finite and God is infinite. Sometimes this is very comforting to me. The mystery that envelops the presence of the divine sometimes moves and inspires me and energizes my prayer and my times of meditation. But this week my encounter with the infinite is not at all comforting; a tornado roared through Enterprise, Alabama one day and left behind death and loss and grieving, and how this fits with the other doctrines of God (God's goodness, God's love, etc.) is beyond my ability to see at this present moment.

Yes, I know the answers that are given. God didn't directly cause that tornado. God's purposes are greater that one storm. God's purposes are larger that we can fathom. I know those answers, and I believe them. Sometimes I am comforted by them. But not right now.

I'm left with the truth of my (our) theology: God is infinite and I am finite. I do not see the whole of God's ways. I do not know the whole of what God is up to. I do not comprehend the fullness of God's purpose. Whatever answer I make for myself, and for those who ask me what I think about this, is inadequate. My answer does not, it cannot, express the fullness of God and God's will. That is beyond expressing in human language. Job discovered that the answer to his pain was beyond all the arguments than anyone could offer.

So what do I do? Well, I am a monk, and I pray the Psalms four times a day, year in and year out. And so my answer tends to be in the language of the Psalms: I complain, I rage, I speak my hurt and sing the depth of my anguish. All of those parts of the Psalms that we tend to find most problematical are the content of my prayer right now. My answers are inadequate, but my heart is very full and a lot of what is in my heart isn't very pretty, but I can sing the messages of my heart.

And in that singing I find I can approach the Infinite more adequately than in my nicely formed ideas. With the chaos in my heart I sing the Psalms, and I feel met. I am encountered by a Presence far beyond my capacity to imagine. I am still left with the inadequacy of my reasoning mind, but I am not out of contact with God. Even while living through the outrageousness of a world made like ours is, I am caught up by the Divine.

Is that an answer? Who knows. It is just my experience right now.

(And of course there is a lot more to be said than this.)

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