Archive for February, 2008

Faith – A Beginning

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Foreword

My use of the word faith in this essay is strictly in the sense of faith in God and not in the wider sense that I have used it in other essays on this site. 

 

Faith – A Beginning

I once lived without faith.  Alone in the world without knowledge of God I walked according to the course of this world, confident in the authority of my own reason.  But I stumbled.

I was given the opportunity to gain faith through the things that I suffered.  When my confident assertion that my reason was supreme was challenged, when I had to acknowledge that through the use of my reason I had steered my life into a dead end, and when I knew with certainty that on my own I could not extricate myself from the entangled consequences of my own actions, I was, at last, prepared to cry out for help.  But where?

Faith, when it eventually arrived, came like a thunderbolt.  I did not find faith on the street corner, although I had looked.  I had heard a myriad of voices all proclaiming that they had found the answer to the riddle of their lives, but nothing that they spoke touched the centre of my being, so I walked on.  I had heard the timbrel bells of saffron-robed devotees as they chanted hopefully for ecstasy and enlightenment: I had heard the peal of church bells heralding from their lofty spires the sounds of centuries of confusion: I had walked the lonely streets and looked in nooks and crannies, but all my searching and inquiring brought me lower still, for all seemed vanity and hopelessness.  So faith when it came was an unexpected surprise.

Faith did not come as a flash of illumination to intuitively reveal the meaning of life.  Nor did it come from listening to the professionally pious preaching sonorous sermons proclaiming the theological platitudes that steered their lives.  Neither did it come from my wishing to emulate the politically savvy, socially compassionate new breed of clergy the media focuses on.  No, when faith came, it came from the most unexpected quarter imaginable – God Himself.  By one word of His mouth all of my years of doubt, unbelief, scorn and derision were swept away.  Every tenet that I had based my life upon was blown away like chaff before the power of His breath, and I was revealed as naked, powerless and blind before His glorious life.  My old life ended when I met Him who is life.

It had been a long cold road that had led me to that moment when God revealed Himself to me.  I began life as a captive, an unwilling conscript in the Church Universal.  From an early age I had been instructed in the doctrinal orthodoxy that was the cornerstone of one particular faction of the Christian empire.  I was press-ganged and indoctrinated that I might be fully equipped to answer every question to defend my “unquestioning faith”, without ever knowing what real faith was.  It was something of a shattering blow to discover that there were other so-called Christians who believed in totally different things, regarding faith, to those that I had been taught were true.

My “faith”, piece by piece, was thus eroded.  No one with love and wisdom stood before me to arrest its inevitable decline.  I remember, as a youth, scanning the Christian landscape in search of some voice, some rock-like figure of love, some beacon of truth who could fan the dying embers of my feeble light.  But the Church seemed more like Babel, a confusion of tongues, than a source of light.

Disappointed and forlorn, embittered by the arrogant, loveless, authoritarian monolith that masqueraded as the keeper of truth and wisdom, I, like most of my generation, turned my back on Christianity and the Church.

Armed with the barest of hope, like a penlight in a sea of darkness, I went in search of truth.  I joined what seemed like a throng investigating other religions, looking for God in such things as Cosmic consciousness, I-Ching and Tarot walking the streets of the inner cities with our noses to the ground and our ears to the wind.

There was a camaraderie amongst this movement of dreamers.  New hopes, new horizons, the “Age of Aquarius”, peace, love and understanding was the message that filled our hearts and put stardust into our eyes.  The “times were a-changing”; it was a new generation, a new perspective, a new beginning.

But, like my Christianity before, this new hope slowly died.  The euphoria of youthful hope gave way to despair as my dreams collided with an unchanging world.  The reality of the uncaring face of the world, the chains of debt and mortgage commitments that shackled me to my career, relationships that had not weathered the initial blush of youth, and the ephemeral nature of the new age cults, left my heart burdened under the weight.

Truth seemed like some elusive El Dorado.  The only thing that seemed certain was the search – and that could end at any moment, for who could say when death would overtake me?

Slowly but surely, due to the grind, the length of the road, the unanswered questions, the madness of my life that mirrored the madness of the world (with its insane rush for material power and who knows what else), I failed.  I failed to keep hoping in my ability to make sense out of life, and I faltered.  I floundered in the flood that constantly sweeps the world along the path of who knows where we are headed.  And I longed desperately for an end to all my striving to nowhere.

I lost heart I lost hope!  A lifetime of living amongst men had taught me that no one really cared for his fellow man.  I, literally, could no longer stand the pain of my spiritual emptiness.  I had grown numb in the emotional void I found myself in.  Life became robotic; I went through the motions but less and less could I connect to the flow of life all around me.

Finally, when I could see no way of escape, when I was parched to the centre of my being in my need for love and truth, I heard God speak.  On my way home from work, meditating, as I drove along, on the words of a poem I had just written which began,

            “Am I these things

            These senseless things

            These things I think I am,

                                                          a voice shattered my reverie and said, “I am the word of God”. Nothing more was spoken, but in the speaking I had the feeling that He would speak again. 

The impact that this event had upon me was so profound I can barely begin to describe it; the very ground that I stood on, the foundation of my entire understanding of life, was undermined by His voice.  In His speaking I knew that I had built my life upon a lie.  Everything that I had thought about life, assumed about existence, believed as truth, collapsed and I was left in a void, unable to continue my life as I was, but also not knowing what to make of my life from this point on.  I was literally left in fear and trembling, agonising over what to do next.  Whereas before I was at the end of my tether, now even that fragile state was shattered, such was the magnitude of His effect upon me.

It was not until some time later, several weeks, that I really cried out with all of my strength saying, “Lord, I do not know what You want me to do with my life, but all I do know is that, whatever it is, that is all that I wish to do”.  When I had done this, and meant every word of it, He began to lead me and I began to hear his voice again.  Perhaps not in the same dramatic way as when He first spoke when I was driving in the car but in a thousand other ways and instances He has shown me His love and care and guidance and He has truly become God to me.  The more I have trusted Him the more I have learnt of His faithfulness and the immensity of His love.

Since the dramatic beginning of my faith, over twenty years ago, I have come to know the risen Christ in a way I had once thought impossible.  I have also come to understand that the church, the source of all my disillusionment, remains unchanged, holding to a form of religion that denies the need to actually meet with God and come to know what is the reality of the awesome power of His presence and the fullness of His love.  This lack within the church remains my deepest sorrow.

A Christian Tale

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Once upon a time in history (and what is history but a tale of travail and woe) a man lived (or at least he assumed that he did). Night followed day and unfortunately the night mostly won. And he was alone. It wasn’t that he was separated from people but rather that he knew that there was a part of himself, the deepest part, that knew its aloneness.

And he looked. He searched the world that presented itself to him for an answer to the riddle and an end to the ache that plagued his life. But he saw no one, no one who he could believe or trust. The wisest were fools, as foolish as himself. He read books, all manner of the thoughts of men. Sometimes he agreed, sometimes he didn’t, but all the time, no matter whom he saw or what he read, whether he agreed or not, he felt alone. He may have felt that he was not alone in his aloneness, that there was a comradeship, if you like, in being alone together, but nothing took away the ache, and nothing answered the riddle that filled his soul.

It wasn’t that that he didn’t have fun, or didn’t in any way enjoy life, for he did, but rather that he knew that nothing really freed him from his deepest need. So despite of all the wonderful things in the world, the sights and sounds, the beauty, the awe, the friends, at heart he was sad. In this sadness, which he could not share with anyone, he wrote. He wrote the song of his life, his aches, his sadness, the passing of things, the end of beauty, the darkness of this world so desperately in need of light. And he groaned like a moon struck dove in search of land, and he flew alone.

He shared his songs and poems with family and friends, but he knew in his heart he had nothing to bring, nothing to say that was either helpful or hadn’t been said somewhere before, and he thought “I need to live longer, then perhaps I might bring something of beauty or wisdom or truth that others might sing by”. But the longer he lived the more he knew that it was hopeless; and the reason it was hopeless was that he still ached in the loneliness of his deepest being. In fact the more he lived, the more he ached with the futility of all that he lived; and when he looked around him he ached with the futility in which all men lived. So the longer he lived the more he ached with the nothingness of what to say or sing. And he ached alone.

Finally when he had reached the end of his tether, when at last he knew he did not know how to resolve the riddle that plagued his life, when finally he knew more than anything else, more than life itself, that he had to know why his heart ached – a voice spoke, a light illumined his darkness, a mystery was revealed. This unexpected intrusion into his life was overwhelming. All that had passed before toppled like a house of cards. His years of darkness, his anguish, his pain, his entire life shattered and the jagged pieces lay all around. He was like a mute, like a man in a trance, he was stunned, he walked as if in a dream. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, where to begin or who to turn to, until he fell like a dead man into the everlasting arms.

He couldn’t begin to explain his hurt or confusion. He couldn’t begin to tell the depths of his shame, or the overwhelming joy at his change of fortune. He had begun a journey, a path of discovery to a new life. It was the beginning of a slow and often painful journey, a resurrection of his life from nothingness and dust. It was an ending of his life of loneliness, for he had come face to face with God.

He began to change. He cried tears, he felt his hope restored, his life renewed. Piece by piece he felt the veil removed that had blinded and hidden him from truth. He began to sing again, and, bit by bit, his life became more joyfully radiant than he had ever hoped or sought. He felt an overflowing joy that could not be expressed and he began to write again. He wrote with a new purpose, no longer did he feel constrained with feelings that he had nothing to say. Now he felt that he had to speak, for he could not contain his joy or his desire that all men might share with him this mystery he had found.

He went to his family and friends and they listened politely to him. They couldn’t help but notice the changes that had been wrought in him, but they could not grasp the significance of the event he was describing. He tried every way he knew how to explain both the import and the reality of his experience and what it meant for them all, but they were unmoved. Finally he knew he could do no more, so he walked on, alone, sad, but no longer alone in his aloneness.

He looked around and wondered if there was anyone else whom he could share his joy with. He looked and noticed that there were groups of people sitting in numerous buildings saying that they too had met with God. So he went amongst them. The first group he went to would not even let him finish his story, they rudely dismissed him saying, “God doesn’t speak like that to people today, be off with you!” The next group of people listened and said to him, “That’s all very interesting but are you a premillennialist or not?” So he went from group to group, growing sadder and more confused. One group said, “Get yourself baptised!” another group said, “Do you speak in tongues!” someone else handed him a bible: another said, “You must believe in this confession!” still another said, “Ah yes, but are you saved!” Bewildered, all he wanted to do was shout, “I was sick but now I’m healed, I was blind but now I see, I was lost but now I’m found!” But they were all so busy believing, whatever it was that their particular group was believing, that they were unable to hear the depth of the wonder of what he was saying, to really share his joy with him. Nobody really wanted to meet the Friend he had found.

So he wandered on his own, a wiser man, with his words like goads looking for a heart to steer, a soul to cheer, and he shook his head with wonder that whether he was empty or filled to overflowing, he seemed destined to walk alone.

Easter 1983

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Day after day I’ll follow You
Wounded by the love that flows from You
Full of wonder at the agony
Love suffered to set me free.

Oh what shame, what pain You washed away
What wonder and what Joy You bring today
The body of Your love shows no decay
For in power You have risen today.

And where, oh where are we in 1983
Watching an image of Your life on colour T.V.
Are we so lost, so blind, we just can’t see
Preferring darkness to the light that sets us free.

Oh Jesus how much longer will we celebrate
When will you in your wrath say “It’s too late”
To my brothers at the foot of Mount Sinai
Still worshiping the Golden Calf.

Move our souls, our bodies through Your Spirit Lord
Open our mouths that we might preach Your word
Full with the love that flows from You
To lead lost souls to Calvary

My heart gives thanks for the morning

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

My heart gives thanks for the morning
Far brighter than the sun of any day
The brightness of Your love forever shining
Giving substance to the unseen footsteps of Your way.

Your eyes beheld me and filled with heartfelt pity
You drew me to Yourself in love's deep song
Delighting me with signs and wonders
Loosening my tongue to praise Your name.

I sing with eyes filled to overflowing
Of the glory of Your love poured out each day
To sing with heart felt wonder
That You love and keep me in Your way.

I am nothing, but Your love creates in me all praise
As You reveal in me the fire of Your everlasting passion
The life of joy You live forever with the Father
You open up and share it all with me.

I cannot fully take in all the depths of such beauty
Or adequately proclaim in words this heartfelt song
My stammering tongue is truly silenced
In the dazzling presence of Yourself