In much of my formal essay writing the past year, one question/response from my readers has repeated itself over and over: If the church is such a sore point for me, why do I stay in it? A reasonable question--an obvious one, perhaps, to all my non-Christian readers. That said, I'll be posting some meditations on my answers--just some ramblings gearing me up for the next essay.
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When Jesus appears lately, the scene is post-resurrection. But the cross isn't far in the background, perched atop a hill and set starkly against the grey sky. I know "grey sky" is cliched, but it's the truth: In my mind's eye, the sky is the color of dishwater. I wonder why Jesus appears to me with the cross, and why the image of him set against the instrument of his death unleashes any anguish inside me. It's in this scene, and only this scene, I know he gets me.
I've tried meditating on Jesus-who-welcomed-children, Jesus-who-didn''t-condemn-the adulteress, and Jesus-the-newborn-babe. None of these images emerges naturally in my prayer times. It is always Jesus-post-cross, at the scene of his death. Alive-after-death: the epitome of strength. I think, if he can handle the cross, then he can handle me. He could calm me down. Maybe better than Welbutrin.
What I throw at him is questions about the marriage, his church, the money, the kids, my general sense of being lost. (I'm not oblivious to the great irony of my feeling lost even though Jesus "found" me. I'm sure the irony is not lost on him, either).
Every time I'm about to give up on Jesus, he arrives. It's as if he's found me again, although the classic "Footprints" poem (and the New Testament) would say that's faulty theology: Jesus never left me. A good theology would say the leaving is on my end--not that I left him intentionally, but that I'm imperfect, human: I do not always sense Jesus' spirit near me, even if it is. I do not always believe he is with me, even when he is. But regardless of whether any finding actually occurs, in the moments I'm describing I believe he's found me. That's when: I express grief and know he understands.
Those two factors--the expression and the knowledge of him hearing--occur, it seems, when stars align.
"You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me," wrote a psalmist. "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain." It comes down again to me being human, then, does it? The knowledge of Jesus listening is perhaps too profound, too out-of-reach of my intellectual grasp. If this is the case, then I pray that Jesus be merciful to me in my weak-mindedness. If I don't know, maybe what's happening is feeling, and seeing. And aren't those just alternate ways of knowing? Isn't that his image and the grey sky? Isn't that the aching in my chest when I sense he is near?
How do I talk about grief and Jesus' comfort without relying on Christian cliches of "crying out to God" and "getting on my knees", which ring to me of religiousity. It is something different than that. It's raw. It's rediscovery of him alive-after-death. I rediscover him when I think I'm the one who's dying.
I once listened to a new believer give her testimony in front of a group of Christians. She'd had a bumpy road--bad relationships, addictions. Jesus found her. She discovered him. And walking arm in arm, the two of them set about untangling her life.
"Thanks to God and Prozac," she concluded, "here I am today."
I'll say Amen.