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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Distance


Months ago, I reread, studied and meditated on the book of Genesis. Like so much of scripture the stories in Genesis are so familiar that they that the sharp edges are blurred and blunted, smoothed over by our not coming to these passages with open eyes and an open heart to what the text can reveal to us anew.  

"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden."

God had created man and woman in his image. He gave them a purpose (communion with Him) and a vocation (tending the garden). Yet, in this passage, God is walking through this garden and I imagine Him as sorrowful as when He enters another garden (Gethsemane) to pray, "If it be thy will." This garden, where once the Lord could walk and talk with his creation, He knows that they have hidden from Him, fear Him, they don't want to be near Him. God understands this and he calls to them, "Where are you?"

What struck me in reading this is that it's one of the most tragic and sorrow-filled questions in all of history. The Lord God asks, "Where are you?" This question revealed that God's heart was heavy because the very reason He created humanity (communion with Him) was now broken. The question, "Where are you?" is a question of distance, of proximity. God is asking man, "Where are you in relation to Me?" And I believe that God asks us that question daily as well.

Like a disobedient child with his parent, Adam replies, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid . . ."  That must have pierced God's heart. I heard you and didn't want to be with you. I did not want to be in your very presence. 

Creation is a loving act. God created, called it "good" seven times and from Adam and Eve on to the Tower of Babel,  man would sin seven separate sins as if to negate the goodness God had proclaimed. 

In this moment of hiding, neither Adam nor Eve see their Creator as loving and they knew that He had warned them, "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die." They expected death. Yet, even in that moment, this broken-hearted Abba, still longed for His creation to see themselves as His beloved children. Part of that very death was humanities loss of their identity in God. They lost that core understanding that they were created "good" and that they were always in the very presence of God. With sin came a loss of awareness that we carry with us even today. We are always in the presence of God but we are seldom in the awareness of that presence. God has not distanced Himself from us, like Adam and Eve, we continue to distance ourselves from Him. 

Thomas Merton wrote, "Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how." 

That is brokenness. What we were created for (being in God's presence and communing with Him) is now an act we have to strive and work towards. It does not come naturally, as our nature is now self-focused and we prefer our noise and distractions to returning to the holy presence of our Creator. 

When God calls to me with the question, "Where are you?"

How will I answer? 

What are the distractions or diversions or daily habits that are keeping me from this fellowship?

Why am I hiding and what am I hiding?

How often is it not sin but schedule that keeps me from spending time with my Creator?  Does my soul really pant for God, as is written in Psalm 42?  If I'm honest, not really, Not as much as it might for a new car or a vacation or even to just plop myself on the couch to binge watch something on Netflix or Amazon Prime (as I've been doing with the show In Treatment).  

We are not distant from what we desire. 

This brings me back to one of my all-time favorite quotes, in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes, "How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives."

How do I spend my days?

The holy is found in the daily. The sacred is found in the small moments. 

It's funny but when I posted that to Facebook and tweeted it, I attached a photo of a nature path I had walked recently. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that isn't accurate. If I truly want to be accurate about those two statements, then this photo applies:


It is much easier to spend time with God in nature, amidst the beauty of His creation, but not so much when there is a pile of dirty dishes in the sink that need to be washed. Yet, how much more often am I at that sink than I am on that nature trail? 

In his book Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence, who spent most of his life in the kitchen of a priory, wrote this:

He (God) does not ask much of us, merely a thought of  Him from time to time,
a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer
Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and
present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace
in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and
in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing
to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.

Do we think that way when we are working in our kitchens? Washing and drying and putting away dishes. Or in preparing meals. Or in sweeping or mopping the floors? 

These small acts, this creating holy habits, is a way of establishing ourselves to a sense of God's presence within the mundane, everyday routines that we have already established. 

In her beautiful book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren writes, "The small bits of our days are profoundly meaningful because they are the site of our worship. The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines."

But do we see them in this light? Do we see even our most tedious of tasks (cleaning the bathrooms) as sites of our worship? Or do we, like Adam and Eve, continue to withdraw from God in doing the simple, ordinary tasks of our day? In our workplace as we enter numbers in an Excel spreadsheet? Or in grocery shopping? In the school car line as we are dropping off or picking up our children? In folding and putting away laundry that seems to never end? In driving in rush hour traffic to or from work? 

Where is it and what is it that we are doing that is drawing us away from a God who longs for relationship and fellowship with us? 

And I will not rest in my true identity as a beloved child of God if I don't spend time with Him.

How can I make time throughout my day, wherever I am, in whatever I'm doing? This is the question I must ask myself continually. 







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