02 April 2012

Ground Zero, Part 1

I can feel it right here...

...at the back of my neck: the current of a past event––assuring as the breath of a deer on her doe––reminding me that whatever night may come, it will dawn, inexorably, to life. When I turn my head to catch sight of this hope, there is the city’s steel girders, glass windows, black smoke. But still I feel that breath––right there. And so I look beyond this concrete mess, out along the apostolic sight-line, until I am but an arm’s length from the historical lung: the tomb that breathed the Morning: the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead––as though it were only yesterday. 

The disciples Peter and John running to the tomb of Jesus.
When I was a boy, a storm knocked out the power one night and the whole house went country-dark, like a coroner’s blanket had been draped over our roof: nothing but black. Dad was on the night shift back then, so it was Mom and I huddling in the hallway, together on the floor. She said if I invited Jesus into my heart, I would never have to be afraid of anything again. So we prayed, and it worked––the fear went away.
That is how I became a Christian. But did that make it real? Was my faith proven true by the comfort I felt, or was it a make-believe fort to run to and hide in from darkness and death? Why is it if I do not believe in fairy-tales, I do believe in this: that Jesus is God’s Son, that his Spirit is in me, and that he’ll take me to be where he is when I die?  Death is coming––of that I am sure––inching its way closer minute by minute, and there is nothing I can do to keep it away. It may be a Monday or a Tuesday, but one day my heart will stop, my eyes will close, and my breath will be lost. So whatever I’m going to believe in this life, I want it to be the truth.

Such were the thoughts of a twenty-something divinity student on his way to the pastorate, reading a daily diet of unbelieving intellectuals. It seemed like every time I opened a text book from my seminary curriculum, whether in philosophy or Biblical studies, I would find myself disheartened by the thoughts of scholars who disdained my Christian faith.

The problem was that although my heart had been won for Jesus in the childhood years, what had not been won was my mind. I was divided, split down the middle between the questions of the present and the feelings of the past. Only now, I felt nothing. When I prayed––and I prayed desperately every morning––it seemed that my words lacked all buoyancy and settled unheard in the back alley trash.

 I could feel it coming: the moment when I would let go of this faith and drift into the vain entropy of an atheistic universe.

“Is this what it’s all about?,” I asked myself. “Untying questions and contradictions, always living in fear that one day there will come some intellectual knot which I cannot work out, and then SNAP, my faith will be broken?”

My mom had said that if I invited Jesus into my heart, I would never have to be afraid of anything. Yet here I was, terrified.

So I turned on myself and asked, “Why am I afraid? Is there something I’m missing, some item of first importance that could so ground me that even when I can’t unravel a question, even when I feel nothing of God’s presence, I will continue to stand firm?  

Dear God, help me, is there anything like that? Is there something I’m missing?

Well there was, and it changed everything for me.

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