* * * * *
A garden cool. A God at leisure. Lovers conspire. Nectar tasted.
The God is gone.
He appears in visitors and shapes and shadows, and as a voice to an ancient Babylonian:
“I will make you…”
The Babylonian’s faith is counted as righteousness, and deservedly so, for this man doesn’t hear the voice of God in any way for decades. (And I get mad when his voice leaves me for months.)
This God lets his people sit in slavery for hundreds of years. When his Chosen asks to see his Glory, He offers only the briefest glimpse of his back. When His People stray at Sinai, He still offers to give them every benefit that He promised–the land, the victory, and their identity. The only difference: He would send his angels with them and withdraw his own Presence.
They freak out.
One gets the sense that they know–from all their time in the desert–just how sweet and rare and brief His Presence is. They deny all that He offers apart from Himself, for the sake of simply having Him around.
His People go on and must rely on temples and stories; Sovereign Dirt and even piles of stones simply to remember–simply to hold fast to the faintest strands that He still is.
Because the Lord is fleeting. The Sovereign winds of Voice, Movement, and Soul-Stir are mere gasps in the pant of life.
Millennia pass. He is only seen in the crudest of ways: land, stories, flames, clouds, authoritative words, and even military might. But He is never known.
And then He comes to his People as one of them. He finally dwells. His Presence is no longer fleeting, but the Meaning certainly is. His people behold his unwavering face, and it still seems as a mirage. Conqueror? King? Anointed One? Prophet? Drunkard? Glutton? Dead?
But He rises, and everyone’s eyes and minds are opened. They can finally truly know and enjoy.
And then he tells them he’s leaving. In fact, he says that it’s better that he leaves, because of this Holy Spirit fellow we then get stuck with. And he (She? It?) proves to be even more fleeting than the other Two-Thirds.
We have faith that this Spirit is in the background, speeding through our hearts and lives and world like freight train. And yet, there still seems to be a fence between us and him. He leaves the occasional token tied to the fence’s links–something to show he’s still there–but more often than not, he’s gone.
That’s why it’s so easy to make idols out of the Bible, theology, and obedience. They are conduits of some sort of religious experience, even if it is without eternal and ultimate intimacy and significance. At least it’s something.
And to make matters worse, it’s not us; it’s Him.
This fleetingness of God is far too consistent to be a mere “we’re too sinful or distracted to notice”-sort of thing. Or even a “if you just have enough faith!”-kind of situation.
It is the rhythm of this world. It is God’s Sovereign way he has decided to always move among His People and His World. And it’s frustrating.
I don’t pretend to know why He has decided to dress Himself in hiddenness. One could say that it’s to make us rely on faith. That seems too easy and simplistic (and dare I say, sort of awkward?). One could say that he is so present that we sort of become numb to it. I resonate with this, but there’s no way to know if it’s true. If we’re numb, how do we know what it is that we are numb to?
And so we’re left without an answer to why, and are only given the what. We are only told the way things are, and the way he’s seen–and not why this is the case. And on that account, Hopkins was right:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
God is fleeting. He does not so much descend from the sky, as seep up from below. He is not around us as much as He is through us.
And this is frustrating, yes. As He seeps up through human hands and lives, the numerous filters He has to go through before being seen in a face, an act, or a relationship are all quite dirty. Our God is always filtered; always mediated.
And perhaps that is the beauty of this enterprise.
The last time the Holy Spirit simply fell from above, he did not return in grand fashion. Instead, he took residence. He buried within. For the long-haul.
And perhaps his hiddenness and fleeting form is not an abandon from above. But maybe–just maybe–when God is seen in those mediations and whispers and sacramental moments, when God is pressed through the sieve of human fraility, He is actually raising us up by the Spirit ever closer to our Father and Lover above.
When God is filtered through human lives and mundane things, it is not simply that the Divine is made Human; but it is also–and perhaps more significantly–the case that something of the Human is made Divine. We’re caught up in the force of the freight train. And it’s sweet.
And then we walk away, still feeling like it’s not enough, and still wanting more. Not having any reason why, we press on, cherishing the trinkets of days gone by, longing for those in the days to come.
And somehow, by this Spirit, we are graced with a quiet confidence, even in the light of months or decades of silence, that this hiddenness is simply like the unsaid silent knowledge between an old, old couple. Walking in a park, holding hands.
And so we needn’t worry after all.
See my past Weekly Photo Challenges & Photo Sermons here.