But where is God in all of this?

She asked the question so plainly, so earnestly, that it forced me to a halt.

I was in full-on leader mode, looking at the clock, consulting my notes, trying to bring our group discussion to a natural conclusion that would coincide with our self-appointed end time…and that all flew out of my head in the moment she asked the question.

The question that has been on my mind, and I’m sure on yours, from time to time, throughout these last six months.

As the numbers of COVID deaths rise, and the wildfires continue to burn; as the protests spread and the political barbs keep being thrown; as the radio waves and my Facebook feed get more venomous, more divisive, more contemptuous….where is God in all of this?

It’s a good question; and a fair one.

It’s also a brave question, when most of us are spending the days just trying to survive: to look outside of ourselves for even a minute to seek God.

And, finally, it is an old question; one that has been asked over and over since God first revealed God’s self to humanity.

If you take a quick tour through scripture, you’ll see the Israelites asking this from their chains in Egypt; from their exile in Babylon; from their oppression in the Roman empire. You’ll read about Job asking this of God: “where are you and what are you doing?” when he loses his children, his livestock, his property, in a seemingly senseless tragedy. You’ll watch the disciples ask it on the road to Emmaus, after burying their leader who was crucified on a cross.

And even beyond that, you’ll find it throughout church history, in the writings of the saints, the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote it into a daily spiritual practice called the Examen that people still do engage with, asking themselves: where did I experience God today?

We keep asking it, because that’s what we are called to do, as Christians: to look for God in the midst of our suffering, in the midst of chaos; in the places where it seems impossible we might find God.

But perhaps we also ask because there isn’t just one answer.

“Where is God?” might have had a very different answer in March than it does right now.

On a sunny day than a rainy one.

When our hearts are full, and when they are broken.

So here’s the invitation: keep asking. Don’t be afraid to explore, or ashamed that you need to know. Ask yourself, and ask ones you love.

Where is God in all of this?

I don’t know what you will find, because I suspect that our answers would be different. But I do know this; scripture promises that when we look for God, “seek and you will find.”

So go! Look. And I am willing to bet, you will be surprised what you find. And who you find.

Psalm 62

“For God alone my soul waits in silence.”

So many of the psalms come to life in new ways these strange and difficult days, as we are confronted by our mortality and painful troubles fill our days and nights. We find that our words fall short of soothing the sorrows of racial wounds and political divides: sound bites are all we seem to have left. 202,000 of our dear loved ones have died, and we are still settling in to our isolation for the long haul. It is a moment, likely more than any other to come in our human journey, when life is laid bare, as we realize how tenuous our existence really is, how fragile and fleeting our life’s breath.

Right here and now we are invited into the breath prayer of Psalm 62: “For God alone my soul waits in silence. David uses it twice, comes back to it again, as if to reveal both his desperation and the soothing hope the simple words bring into the chaos.

“For God alone… God is not one among many. This kind of prayer is not about covering bases, but rather centering ourselves in the midst of one reality into another that holds us. We are left after all is said and done with God alone, who holds our coming and going from this time on and forevermore. We are brought from a temporal into a broad immortal space.

my soul waits“…In life’s brokenness I quiet my soul and wait. Waiting means there is another whom I trust and from whom I receive, who I anticipate making an appearance. My praying turns from trying to manipulate the will of God to putting myself in a position to be moved by God’s will. My soul waits.

in silence“…it’s not the absence of sound when I run out of something to say. It is rather a fertile time of being quite so that I can hear what God wants to say. There are many things I have to get off my chest. There is much that seems urgent to speak. But then comes blessed silence, so that I can hear God whispering that all is well, that “I have overcome the world.”

The result? “from him comes my salvation” (v.1) and “for my hope is in him.” (v.5). The first (salvation) understands that the past gives context to the present. The second (hope) is convinced that the future gives context to the present too.

Read the whole psalm song. Read it over and over until it holds onto you:

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (v.8)

“For God alone my soul waits in silence.”

Peter Hawkinson

This reflection flows from my devotional reading of Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon You from Self to Community by Eugene Peterson, 1993, Eerdmans publishing.

“From” or “For”?

For Freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

This is the grand opening verse of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, 5th chapter. These are familiar words, and wonderfully inviting…but in regards to this freedom, there are more, and less familiar, a few sentences down the page:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (v. 13-14)

If you asked me what Paul says about freedom in Christ, I’d immediately quote you the first part, likely on its own, without the second. I love this sense of what freedom “sets me free” from. No submitting anymore. I am now very much in control. It’s the verse we often speak, or at least find in our heads, to differentiate ourselves from things we don’t want to face or do. Can you relate?

But Paul’s qualifying and further comments, the less familiar portion, draws different conclusions. I am not set free by Christ simply “from” the law, rules, responsibilities, etc…. but “For”. FOR. For a new purpose, which is to become a servant, to love my neighbor as myself. Our freedom, our new life in Christ, sets us free from ourselves so that we have energy, time, and resources to love and serve others around us. It’s the opposite, it seems, of what I often think and have in mind.

Richard Rohr says this: “God needs to seduce you out of and beyond yourself, so God uses three things in particular: Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.” (The Universal Christ, page 52). The call to freedom for me then is a great tug of war — relentless, new every morning, and begging the question: Shall it be a “From” or a “For” day? Shall I be consumed with my rights and privileges, comforts and desires, or shall I, like my Lord Jesus, let these things go SO THAT I can focus on how to love and serve my neighbor?

There’s no easy answer, at least for me. Rather, it’s a deep desire and prayer that this day that the LORD has made can be a “Freedom For” day.

I wonder what you think?

Peter Hawkinson

For every season

I am unabashedly a fall person. I was born in late September, and grew up to love football on Sunday afternoons and hot apple crisp. I love bringing my flannel shirts and cozy sweaters out of storage, love the crunch of leaves and the smell of spiced cider and the cheery sight of pumpkins on doorsteps.

I yearn, somewhere in the midst of the sweltering days of August, for cool mornings and chilly evenings.

Usually, that is.

But not so much this year.

This year, as the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are beginning their descent, I find myself getting anxious. And not the normal kind of anxious that I have felt for the last two years, at the start of the Chicago winter season, knowing that I’ll be scraping my windshield for what seems like forever and convincing my dog to let me wrap her in a winter coat.

This year, my anxiety has another layer to it. I am worried about the isolation and the fear of the next six months; worried about how bad things could get with the flu and the coronavirus; worried about how I’ll feel when I can’t have a social life outside and safely-distanced from my friends, but have to go back indoors and feel isolated.

This year, I have held on to summer with an iron grip, a grasping and desperately-clenched fist.

But, like so much else in life, I can’t control the change of the seasons. I know that fall is coming; as surely as the sun rises and sets each day, the leaves will start to turn soon. So where does that leave me?

Alone with my worries?

Maybe not.

In my daily Bible reading – attempting to make it through both Testaments in one year – I now find myself in Proverbs. It’s not a quick read, but lengthy chapters of theological and philosophical sayings, like “Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it” (15:17).

But in the midst of all those sayings, one theme has come up time and again: discipline. Not as in punishment, but discipline as in a habit; a consistent practice. Something you do every day, so that it becomes second-nature. In Proverbs, the discipline we are encouraged to take up is searching for wisdom and seeking after God. Trying to go deeper and grow stronger in our discipleship journey.

I think that is the key, as we get into a season that is a little darker and a little harder: consistency.

Consistency in discipleship, in prayer and reading scripture and seeking the church community.

Consistency in relationship, in talking to God and family, friends and dear ones.

Consistency in grace and understanding for ourselves.

Consistency in care, for our own bodies and spirits, and for those around us.

So much is changing; so much already has. And most of that is out of our control. But not all of it.

In every season, summer or winter, spring or fall; in times of ease and times of challenge; in joy and in hardship, we can lean into these disciplines of discipleship, and trust that God will meet us there.

John 16:33

JOHN 16:33
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

This is my favorite Bible verse. It has come to mind over and over throughout my life. I first read it at work one early morning. And I printed this verse and put it on my computer monitor and it gave me what I needed to get through each difficult day. It has come back to me as we have faced the death of family members and friends. It has come back to me as I have struggled with faith communities and failed friendships.

It came back to me again at 5:30AM today. My puppy thinks that when she wakes up, I should wake up. I had just informed her that wasn’t happening and dozed off again and this verse came to mind like the voice of God speaking to me. And it made sense in a new way. “In this world you will have trouble.” What an understatement! 2020 is overflowing with trouble. And I’m anxious, afraid, depressed and despairing. I am constantly reminded with each new email, Tweet and Insta post that I’m not doing near enough to respond and fix the causes of all this trouble. I’m not even doing enough to enter into “good trouble” as John Lewis asked us to do. Yet this morning, while it was just barely getting light out and my puppy gave up and went back to her bed, I heard the voice of God say “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

“In this world you will have trouble.” God doesn’t prevent trouble from coming. God doesn’t put a bubble around his believers so that nothing bad will ever happen to them. But God knows that “in this world you will have trouble”. It’s unavoidable. It really is what it is. And, don’t miss this, God also knows what the trouble is and will be. Because God knows us fully including our history, our sin, our successes and failures both individually, socially and globally. And yet what it is isn’t all it is because God has “overcome the world.” God doesn’t say we don’t have work to do or that if we believe then all our trouble will just go away. God says that we can have hope, we can have guidance, we can do the hard work that needs doing to get through the trouble to the other side because God has already overcome the trouble.

It’s that simple and yet that difficult. We still have a lot of work to do. I know I do. And it’s hard and overwhelming and stressful. And that’s where the rest of the verse comes in, “but take heart!” There is hope! Believe in the God who has “overcome the world” and follow God’s lead because only God knows the way out. And, if we can do that, we will be able to experience God’s fundamental truth that “in me you may have peace.”

Julie Bromley

Letting Go

“Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” (Philippians 2, the Message Translation)

I’ve always wondered what Jesus really was getting at when he talked about losing your life as the way to find it. That image, that invitation, that command to some kind of life of losing doesn’t seem attractive. Intriguing, maybe, but not attractive. Yet this is the word of Jesus that has haunted me more than all his others during this time of our country’s racial reckoning, at least its beginning.

As Christians, and in particular as those who’ve committed ourselves to follow Jesus, our primary symbol is a cross, and our primary call is to cross-bearing. And this is self-sacrificial work, because we bear a cross not for ourselves, but for others, for the love and well being of others. In the midst of a world and culture obsessed with power and wealth and privilege, ours is a call to let go of things for the sake of Christ, following Christ. And this is particularly tough for those of us who in this world have much power, wealth, and privilege.

Maybe what Jesus means about losing life to find it has to do not with dying a physical death as much as letting go of our living selves, of crucifying, or as my friend Bret Widman says it, being discipled out of our power, wealth, and privilege so that we can focus instead on helping others, loving others, serving others — and in these things working toward a just and right world.

I’m thinking about this a lot — that maybe denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Christ is not meant to be a punishment, not a miserable life — but rather life’s truest joy and meaning after all. That in letting go and losing ourselves there is a free and open space to care deeply and serve the needs of those who are and have suffered. There is freedom in losing ourselves in the sorrows of our neighbors. And there is the chance to honestly repent of what has been, without needing to make it about ourselves and become defensive.

As The Message has Paul saying it, “Put yourself aside.” This is the way of our Lord Jesus, and our way into the pain and suffering of our African American sisters and brothers. We choose as those following the cross-bearing way of Jesus to bear their pain, and to lament with them injustices of the centuries. We choose as those following the cross-bearing way of Jesus to acknowledge our part in this unjust system, and to work for it’s change. We choose to offer up our power and privilege to Christ in hopes of helping others get ahead. We choose to love, and with some imagination and hope work together for God’s Kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done on earth.

All this depends on our willingness to let go of ourselves and live a New Life in Christ for the sake of others. As God says through the prophet Amos, “Do you know what I want? I want justice — oceans of it. I want fairness — rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s ALL I want.” (Amos 5:24, the Message)

May God help us in these our days of life, to let go of ourselves and lean into God’s Holy Work of restoration, of reconciliation.

Peter Hawkinson