Exasperation & Abandonment
“How long, O Lord?” cries the prophet in today’s first reading. I know I’ve cried those words out myself many times for one reason or another. And I can guess many of you have as well. How long, O Lord? How long must we endure this misery, this utter disgrace, this ridiculous and inexcusable horror? Why must this suffering and grief advance unhindered extending its vile reach far and wide, and dragging the innocent in its wake? Will this excruciating turmoil go on forever? When will we see relief? Will we ever know peace and harmony again? Will our children? Our grandchildren? Will those responsible for instigating and perpetrating this horrendous offense ever be brought to justice? And I’m really just complaining because they got my order wrong at Starbucks! No, they didn’t. I don’t do Starbucks. Well, I haven’t in a long time anyway. But I can easily guess where some of your minds were going, unless you live under a rock. But whichever side of the toast you butter, we can commiserate with the prophet. We have and may right now harbor much of the same anger, frustration, and weariness.
Some people will rationalize their misery, saying they brought it on themselves. Or they deserved it for something they had done. Or that it was inevitable because as a society we have become most careless and indifferent and downright selfish. And perhaps the thought has crossed our minds. What if they’re right?
Some will vehemently deny any wrongdoing, that the misery they experience is absolutely and egregiously unjust and beyond the pale. And if the injustice is evident to them beyond a reasonable doubt, why does God not notice? Is God blind? Have we not yet reached that misery threshold that’s supposed to trigger the righteous wrath of the Almighty? Why does God not intervene? What will it take? Does God not care?
Okay, let’s take a deep breath and quietly count to ten, and listen once again to the Lord’s response to the prophet’s anguish. “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.” Now I will have to confess that I am not comforted so easily. Maybe I need to hear it again, and again, and again. The whole affair can be likened to a parent comforting a child who just had a bout of night terrors. We often hear of God’s tremendous love and care for us. But sometimes in the midst of our seething indignation, our anguish, our terror, or our grief, we are not so easily placated. And quoting an anonymous meme I found somewhere: Never in the history of calm down has anybody calmed down by being told to calm down.
Ultimately we all have to face the reality that our faith in God could use some shoring up. We have questions, and well we should. Life, the world, God, our own selves can be so mystifying sometimes. But how can we possibly grasp the totality of truth? Few among us even have the wherewithal to grasp how the stock market works, or how government should function, or what authentic Christian discipleship means, or what women really want, or who let the dogs out. How can we possibly grasp the immensity of the mind of God? Now I have yet to meet a person who can seriously claim they have all the faith they need. I’m not saying we should stop asking questions. I have questions myself. I’m sure the pope has questions. But at some point, I know even the answers I get will not suffice. And the One who has the answers I need is in no way obligated to tell me. Or perhaps I am just not equipped to grasp it entirely. Have you ever been asked a question by a child, and you know they will never comprehend the answer you want to give? So what do you tell them? One day you will understand. One day it will all make sense. Not now. But you can trust me. One day.
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” I am not afraid to admit I find that image doesn’t ease my fears so easily. How do you even measure a person’s faith? Now when his apostles asked Jesus for an increase of faith, they were saying out loud that they could use some help trusting in God, that they didn’t always surrender to God’s wisdom and mercy with eagerness when the darkness overwhelmed them, and when God seemed distant and silent and powerless, and when life and the world and the people they loved just made no sense. If all we need is a little faith, faith the size of a mustard seed, what exactly constitutes a little faith?
Paul writes to Timothy and reminds him that he possesses within himself the awesome and glorious Spirit of God through the laying on of his own hands. This spirit of power and love and self-control is a blazing fire, much like the blazing fire and the rushing wind that descended upon the Apostles in the upper room at Pentecost. This same Spirit is to be the source of strength and courage to him in time of hardship and persecution. I suspect Timothy was perhaps a little discouraged and disillusioned. Maybe he was experiencing trouble from non-believers or local government officials. Maybe his own people were unresponsive or complacent or resistant. Maybe he was dealing with health problems or the challenges of aging, his own or that of a loved one. Needless to say, Paul sensed Timothy’s inner turmoil and flagging faith, or he decided to address some fear of the unknown, or some hesitance in taking risks, or even a sense of self-satisfaction in what they had already achieved. Whatever the reason for this reminder, it is something we need to hear today. We ourselves already received that same Spirit at our baptism, and again at confirmation, and—Jesus tells us—whenever we ask the Father. That fire within us needs to be stirred into flame once more. We need reminding every so often. We do not face our troubles alone.
The Trappist monk Thomas Merton says it most eloquently in his Prayer of Abandonment, asking God for the gift of faith. It captures my own sense of inadequacy. And yet I’m sure he had more faith than I will ever have. “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.”
Rolo B Castillo © 2019