Saturday, May 4, 2013
PERSPECTIVES ON HORROR
THE DARK SIDE OF THIS WEEK
The spring weather was a beautiful this week, and our Freshman Backpacking Project got off to a
Two ideas helped me keep my bearings in the midst of all the negativity. The first was the Old Testament theology of the Wilderness and the second the upcoming feast of the Ascension.
I’ve already written several times about the Hebrew word midbar, which we sometimes mistranslate as “desert.” It means a trackless place untamed and uninhabited by humans. For the Israelites the wilderness was “God’s country,” where the Lord was totally in charge and they were completely dependent on Yahweh for everything from traveling directions (the pillar of cloud) and food (manna) to military protection against hostile tribes. (You can go to the “labels” column to the left of this post and click on “Wilderness” for more thoughts on this topic.)
Well, when I found myself starting to wander in a land of darkness and anxiety I soon recognized it as the Wilderness, what our Jewish ancestors called the midbar. The bad news is that in the wilderness there are no maps, no sense of being in control. The good news, though, is that I am assuredly in “God’s Country” and can therefore expect to encounter the Lord there. The One Who Saves is waiting to meet me there in the very events that I find so discouraging, frightening and repulsive. So I just kept looking carefully at those experiences to discover the divine presence. And, again like the Israelites in the midbar, I in fact met the Lord there more than once this week.
THE GIFT OF THE ASCENSION
Thursday, May 9, 2013 is Ascension Thursday. The liturgy of the paschal season has been leading us toward this feast for weeks. And reflecting on the meaning of the mystery of the Ascension has also been a help to me during certain depressing moments.
In the naïve worldview of ancient Israel, where the earth was as flat as a dinner plate and the firmament was above and the netherworld below, the idea of Jesus’ “ascending” up into a cloud was easily accepted. Too easily, perhaps, because it would then seem to mean that Jesus, taken “up” into heaven, had gone away from us and was thus no longer present.
Fortunately our modern astronomy won’t allow us to settle for this simple picture of Jesus rising “upward” to heaven. And that’s great, because we’re not as likely to misinterpret it as meaning “Jesus left us.” We are forced to look for the meaning of the event rather than simply settling for “Jesus went up into the clouds of heaven.” And it is precisely this theological meaning that has been a comfort to me at times this past week.
The feast of the Ascension celebrates Jesus’ passing beyond the familiar dimensions of time and space, beyond the reach of our senses and into the presence of the Father. So what? Well, think about it: This means that Jesus is no longer bound by time and space, so he is now more present to us than he ever was previous to the Ascension. He is in our hearts and bodies, in our friends and our foes, in the spring breeze and, mysteriously, in the tragedies of hurricanes and demented terrorist bombings. Now, I may be repelled by the idea that God could somehow be present in those terrible things, but that’s far more comforting than the alternate view – that God is totally absent from those tragic times and horrible places and that I am left to face them on my own. I don’t want a God who’s only present to me when times are good!
So as I struggled with this week’s headlines I was consoled by the presence of the Ascended Lord who I knew was right in the midst of the whole mess. And I knew that somehow he was standing beside me as I was wandering in that mysterious trackless wilderness, the midbar, “God’s Country.”