For Centuries human beings have been haunted by fundamental questions, and I have to say this afternoon I am haunted too. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Is there a God? And more importantly if there is, how do we connect with that God? Theodore Roethke suggests to us that in a dark time the eye begins to see. For many of us the world may feel remarkably dark at the moment, and the idea that some deity may be ‘out there’ holding the ‘royal flush’ hand of life for us may seem a little distant. But in the same way a map never just shows you where you are, where you want to go, and how you get there, faith is more than just communicating verbally with a transcendent God. Faith evokes travel, exotic places and the allure of the unknown. The big question it seems is; do we deny ourselves the chance to hide from this?
Hope it seems is, in some sense, about how we invest universal spiritual acts and truths with particular meanings. In his painting, ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’ the artist Paul Gauguin seems to be wrestling between the often disorientating nature of human life and nihilistic despair. There is a wanderlust and disappointment in his questions which many of us will relate to. But here’s the thing. No-one truly understands ‘hope’ found in the light until they have had to remember it in the darkness. If the gospel is hope then it has to start reaching into those dark places we would rather not visit. Not just the geographic dark places; but those dark places of the soul where our resident demons and Pharisees cause havoc.
For within our humanity something Divine is at stake. It seems to me that God is hiding in our world and our task is to let the Divine emerge from our actions. Is it not true that all of us, at some time, have experienced moments in which we have sensed a mysterious ‘waiting’ for us? Maybe meaning is found in sensing that demand and responding to it in some way. This type of faith is essential for daily living. It is the courage and tenacity to move forward despite both darkness and disappointment. Leonard Cohn frames this concept beautifully when he suggests that, ‘there are cracks, cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.’ Rabbi Niles Elliott Goldstein even goes as far as to suggest that ‘if God doesn’t exist in the shadows as well as in the light, then God doesn’t exist.’ And if that makes us feel uncomfortable then I suggest we return to the Psalms, particularly 139.
The truth is there are no easy answers when it comes to explaining dark times and disappointment – there may in fact be no answers at all, and the last thing I want is to dampen anyone’s faith, but I fear we may be missing the point. For if we yearn for the power of the prophets - their signs and wonders – then we yearn for the wrong thing. For if the prophets teach us anything, they teach us how to articulate aloud our disappointments, our big questions, when we feel abandoned by God. For in essence they deal with the apparent silence of God, and within that they also include God’s response to their own disappointment from dark times. Philip Yancey says that faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse. So emphasising that in fact we don’t love God because of what He gives, but rather for whom He is, and the darkness is a defining part of that. Just maybe we need to spend less time thinking about what we see, and more time thinking about why we see it that way.
Which in thoery is all well and good, but the practice of that this afternooon seems a little out of my reach...