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    The darkness of God

    Partial solar eclipse, 10 June 2002, Joshua Tree National Park, California. Sometimes the sun is eclipsed by a moon, you know I don’t see you when she walks in the roomU2, The Fly

    Today is All Saints Day. Today we Christian persons remember those good saints who have gone before us. In particular I remember someone I never knew: My mother-in-law, Julia. She was buried the day I graduated from Furman University, 2 June 1990. I wish so often that she could be here to meet her grandchildren and love on them. By all accounts, Julia would have been one amazing mother-in-law and grandmother. (Hm. I just realized that our daughter, Julia’s namesake, was born exactly 12 years to the day after Julia was buried.) I also remember my grandparents Walter and Louise Adams, Leonard and Ona Price, Lilly Thompson. Also my stepfather Bob. All these folks were so good to me. I am grateful for the lives they lived.

    As the nights grow longer and the air chills, it is a good time of year to assess our place before God and make a few tough admissions. We are mortal and frail beings. Each of us has lived at the edge of a precipice our whole lives. We just don’t look down, is all. All Saints Day is a good time to do that.

    So who are we? What do we see when we look at ourselves?

    We are an intelligent species, that is true. We have done well to build the world we have, and we are in the midst of discovering a universe beyond imagining. We have learned to build a better can opener and grow a taller basketball player. But what do we have to compare ourselves to? Chimps? Dolphins? Yes, we are smarter than these, and by many orders of magnitude. But still. Step back a bit and take a broader view of things. Are we really all that? I don’t think so. Sorry, I just can’t get excited about “human excellence.” We are creatures, and little more.

    It gets worse, in a way. God often seems to be, as Al Pacino said in The Devil’s Advocate, an absentee landlord. You may see God everywhere, but I don’t. Maybe I do and I just don’t know it. In any case, I’m sticking with Meister Eckhart, who said in his fifth German Sermon,

    Whoever is seeking God by ways is finding ways and losing God, who in ways is hidden.

    ¬†What this means to me is that, if you try to find God, you won’t. Or, you don’t find God by looking for God. There is no program for apprehending God. The harder you try, the more God eludes you. This is my experience.

    When do I see God? Not often, I can tell you that. But All Saints is a good time to tell you when I have. The precipice I mentioned earlier, the one above which we have each walked our entire lives, the one that scares us because it’s about the reality of our creatureliness and frailty and mortality, has a lot to do with God for me. It is only after a good long look down into that abyss that I have found God. And I never look down in search of God. It’s kind of an involuntary thing, and I don’t know what I look for when I look down there. But if I hold the emptiness in my view for longer than is comfortable, something shows up that I can’t deny. Something that makes me at first scared as hell, and then peaceful beyond words. Strange, that that’s how it is for me. Am I alone in this?

    Perhaps I have just outed myself. Now everyone knows I’m borderline insane. Oh well. It’s best to just have it out on the table, I guess.

    Back to All Saints. This holy day, like so many others, is based on an old pagan festival. Samhain, midway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, is one of four so-called cross-quarter days. Like the solstices and equinoxes themselves, these days are astronomical in physical origin and pagan in religious origin but today they carry lots of weight in the lives not only of Christians but of the broader culture: Passover (OK, so maybe this one was not shanghaied from the pagans), Christmas, Easter, Groundhog Day, May Day, Halloween, etc. There is something deeply appealing to me about the astronomical – religious connection to these events. There is hope in it, somehow. I can’t explain this.

    Speaking of hope, I will end this on an up note. As the nights deepen, the winter solstice and the longest and darkest of nights approaches. Yet this, of course, is the night Christ is born. A tiny light in a vast darkness, but a light nonetheless. It’s there, and it’s coming. But don’t go looking for it, or you’ll never find it.


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