Some weeks are harder than others and this past week, on the difficulty scale, was in the upper mid-range for me. The clash of theology and relationships; words misspoken, and misunderstood; friends, young and hospitalized; and enormous decisions in my work at a time when I feel tiny, not enormous. These all came together in one beautiful, overheated mess.
By the end of the week, I'm asking all kinds of theological questions, wondering if I've gotten right, or totally mucked it up, wondering if I'm on God's side or the side of fear, wondering why God couldn't have spelled a lot of His ideas out more clearly, rather than leaving us here to shoot at each other when we don't agree.
It was against this backdrop that I found myself at a party on Thursday night. Maybe you've been in that space where you know that you're supposed to be pleasant, know that it's a pleasant occassion and that you don't need to unload all your weariness and inner turmoil on these wonderful people, some of whom have flown cross country today to be here with old friends. You know that the last thing anyone needs is your baggage, your burden, your questions. It's a party, for God's sake. Lighten up. But I need answers, or at least an encouraging word, because if the truth could be told, I've mountains of doubt about what I believe and don't believe right now, and I'm supposed to be the answer man.
That's when I see my daughter, who's agreed to help serve at this party I'm attending. She smiles, gives me a hug, and walks away. That's when I notice something on her foot. What is that, a grease mark? She walked by again with a bowl of gaucamole or something, and I was able to see that it wasn't grease on her foot, but a brand new tatoo. She stopped and spoke with a friend, and I was able to read the text: "and all shall be well", which I immediately recognized as a quote from Julian of Norwich.
If I were to have a crush on a 14th century theologian, it would no doubt be Dame Julian
, who offered expressions of hope and grace at a time when the Black Plague was fanning the flames of a theology of fear and judgement. She hoped for universal salvation, but though she didn't feel she could fully endorse that, she was
able to claim with confidence that God would, in the end, make all things well. Here's the larger context of the now famous quote that "all's well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well"
Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great
harm which has come through sin to your creatures?
This was God's response to her:
And so our good Lord answered
all the questions and doubts which I could raise,
saying most comfortingly:
I make all things well,
and I can make all things well,
and I shall make all things well,
and I will make all things well;
and you will see for yourself
that every kind of thing will be well.
...And in these words God wishes us
to be enclosed in rest and peace.
It's a good word, reminiscent of the mysterious optimisn of Paul found here. And it was the foot, with Julian's words on it, that kicked me back into hope. Yes, our present fog and ignorance is creating oceans of pain. Yes, we fail. Yes, we're motivated by fear, hurt, anger, way too much of time. Yes, injustices persist, and every step forward seems at time to be a step closer to a cliff. And yet, Julian and Paul are right. God is inexorably for us, and all of us are heading towards a time when the fog will clear, and Christ will reign, and beauty will transform, and disease will end, and... of course... all manner of things shall be well.
Oh Lord Christ...
For the reminder, a foot at a time, that the ship's headed somewhere beautiful, we give you thanks. In spite of our collective failings, our fears, our judgements, and capacity for breaking things, You remain at the helm. Let us see the end more clearly, that we might impart hope more fully, live more graciously, and be your hands and feet for hope.