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Missing and Finding God

“I Miss God” I received a text a few nights ago and that is all it said. “I miss God.”

That’s all it needed to say. It got my attention. It made me sad. It made me cringe. It made my heart hurt. And at a deep level I totally got it.

Of course, the pastor in me responded quickly with love, care, and concern. At least that is what I hope was received. The person didn’t want or need to talk in the moment but simply needed a safe place to say that out loud amidst a situation that was clearly heart breaking. The truth of the moment, from the heart. We have continued our text conversation both perplexed, dismayed, full of wonder and curiosity about the complexity of loving God and being a person of faith. Living with the tension is not easy.

This text has stayed with me all week.

The reading from Isaiah was written while God’s chosen people were in exile in Babylonia. They were tired, in anguish, feeling oppressed, wondering where their beloved God was. I bet they said on more than one occasion, “I miss God.”

Tuesday was World AIDS Day. At first the HIV virus ravaged the lives of gay men, sex workers, drug addicts, and disproportionately affected communities of color all over the world causing this disease called AIDS. People were ostracized, demonized, and blamed for their sinful ways that led to the disease. I worked in the AIDS community for almost 10 years of my life and heard story after story from people disowned by their family and church communities. It was sad, maddening and astounding. I heard stories from People not able to access or afford healthcare, or being brushed off to the sidelines. I Watched people I loved dwindle away and die … it was heart breaking. Hearing hateful things spoken by “church people” hurt deeply. Believe me during those years, I heard and likely said, “I miss God.”

COVID 19. What shall I say about this pandemic that hasn’t been said time and time again. Hundreds of thousands of people dying, millions of people infected, millions more out of work. Listening to stories of heartbreak, grief, exhaustion, anger, frustration, desperation. It’s enough to make one say, “I miss God.”

So when I received that text, in my heart of hearts, I completely understood, at a visceral level, what the person was saying and feeling. Maybe you do too. I have a sense that many people want to say that but either haven’t had the courage or the words or the energy. But I bet many know the feeling.

So what do we do with all this? It’s easy to get overwhelmed and sink deeper into despair. When we are feeling like nothing is right, everything is broken, things are bleak, that is often the only thing we see.

Again, in the text from Isaiah, God’s chosen people were in exile in Babylonia and they felt abandoned and bewildered. There was much suffering, and it would have made sense that they cried out in despair. When all hope felt lost. When God seemed furthest away. When nothing made sense. Some held on in faith. Then God spoke.

Or maybe God had been speaking all along, and they didn’t notice and this time they heard it with new ears. Comfort, Comfort my people. Prepare the way of God. Make a straight highway in the desert. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. God will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Are you hearing (and maybe singing) all those beautiful songs from Handel’s Messiah? (True confession – I listened to them this week!)

These familiar words of hope, comfort, care and protection. I also hear, see, and feel assurance. Even in moments that just don’t make sense, is it possible to hold on in faith knowing God is present and at work, even when we don’t or can’t see, hear or feel it? And the other thing that strikes me – God gives a call to action. God says to the messenger – Comfort my people. Prepare the way. Make a straight highway through the desert. And then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed. God’s messenger reminds the people that God is present and active.

Nicole reminded me about Thomas Merton and this quote. “God, Who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet He seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He is absent than when He is present.” Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

And two quotes from St Teresa of Avila, 16th Century nun:

"Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world."

"The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too."

God is on the journey too – more present when absent that when God is present.

How can it be?

What if God is right there in the hurt, the anguish, the pain, the grief? What if God feels it all too, right there with you? What if God is the hand that reaches out to hold yours? What if God is the person who sends a card that lifts your spirits? Or the person who called to say hello? Or the person delivering a meal? The healthcare worker at your bedside. The person who answers the phone when you’re on the brink of taking your life or another drink or shooting up again?

What if God is there when someone in the hospital takes his last breath and a moment later the sweet lullaby comes over the intercom announcing ever so gently a new life is born? What if God is in the sun that continues to rise day in and day out? What if God is in the stranger’s eyes who catches yours as you walk by? What if God is in the rain, the wind, your cat, dog, or horse? What if God is in you? What if God was never missing or absent but we just didn’t notice her there?

Who is crying in the wilderness to us? Can you hear the call? This advent period of waiting and wondering and curiosity … what are you waiting for? Are you waiting like the Israelites to be rescued? Are you waiting and looking with watchful eyes, ears and heart for what might be possible? Just like with the AIDS crisis, the Israelites in exile, now with this pandemic, there is no turning back. We’re called to be different people, to be called into action. To open our eyes, ears and hearts for the way God is active right now in our lives.

What if we just don’t recognize when God shows up because we are waiting for some grand entrance?

What if God isn’t missing at all? Just quietly waiting for us to wake up and realize she is right here in plain sight. On the other end of the phone, zoom room, walking by on the path, in the woods, in your living room, at the table. What if God is joy and sorrow? Exhilaration and defeat? Crying with you in the hard times. Is God missing or an intimate companion who gets you just as you are and there for you when you need help or guidance?

What if God is at the table with us? That image of the table that Joy Harjo writes so eloquently about is so powerful. So simple, so every day. So much happens at the table – we are transformed at the table, we grow at the table, we are nourished, taught. I will not lie to you and say that all my memories of being around a table are happy or pleasant, they aren’t. But have I been formed at the table? You bet. Has God been present at the table, absolutely!

Comfort, O comfort my people. Go forth in the wilderness and make a straight path. This season of advent, as we wait, in this interim time, the great pause, let us find some peace as we look around and notice the presence of God. Claim that divine spark within you to bring hope and peace to yourself and others. Maybe the world will end here as we take that sweet bite. Or maybe it will keep going.

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