GOD IN THE WILDERNESS
I have been soaking in this quote by Henri Nouwen: “God is not just our good inclinations, our fervor, our generosity, or our love. All such experiences of the heart may remind us of God’s presence, but their absence does not prove God’s absence.” Nouwen is reminding us that our faith is often based on how we feel at the moment. We “feel God’s presence” when we feel happy or “blessed,” or useful. But we wonder where God is when we don’t feel happy or blessed and especially when we feel the sad or beat up or alone.
Richard Rohr continually reminds us that God is in our suffering because God suffers, too. In the final scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ‘s setting of the crucifixion, the camera abruptly and swiftly pulls up to reveal an overhead view of the cross – and a tear drop falling from the sky and splashing near the cross. Earlier in the scene, Jesus cries, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Recalling this scene when we are lonely or sad or in pain might help us feel God’s presence while we travel a wilderness of pain or troubled feelings.
My son Kelly McFall is a college history professor history and head of the Honors College at Henry Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. For years he has been experimenting with writing, testing, and publishing semester – long academic games to give his students an experiential knowledge of the history they are study. Students assume the roles of historical characters and practice critical think- ing, primary source analysis, and argument, both written and spoken. His first published game, The Needs of Others, Human Rights, International Organizations, and Interventions in Rwanda, 1994, focused on the genocide in Rwanda, which has been his passion for years.
This spring he traveled for two weeks with a Presbyterian Church – sponsored group to Rawanda where he visited memorial sites, traveled the countryside, and met with groups of Rawandans. He even sat in on a reconciliation session between Hutu and Tutsis family who have been ravaged by the civil strife in Rawanda. He was overwhelmed! He speaks in awe of the strength and resilience of these people and the power of their attempts to forgive each other.
One of the consequences of my retirement was the letting go, one by one, of the sponsorship of five teen-agers whom I have supported through Compassion International since they were ten or eleven. I corresponded with them six or seven times a year and received fascinating letters in return. When I called Compassion to release the last one, I was told that if I could no longer support a child financially, I could support one through correspondence. Evidently some sponsors can afford the financial commitment, but not the commitment to write letters. I was surprised at this option and agreed immediately.
Yesterday I got a newsy packet in the mail about my new “pen pal” – a 16-year-old boy. I was reminded of what an awe -inspiring task it is encourage and influence the life of a young man a world and a culture away from me! And I was overwhelmed to learn that he lives in RAWANDA!
Conclusion – Our God, the Great Orchestrator, has a plan!
“NUMB AND DUMB”
During the past year, I have been in groups, eager to be formed spiritually, where deep anger over our president’s moral vacuum, lies, and vicious actions takes over the conversation. Invariably that anger turns to guilt and confusion: “How do I get rid of this anger?” we say. “I wake up to it in the morning and go to sleep with it at night.”
Parker Palmer feels our pain! He is as angry as any one of us. He devotes an entire chapter “Staying Engaged with the World” in his new book, On the Brink of Everything to the anger and desperation we feel about the political atmosphere in America. He remarks that we must be angry with the “assaults on almost everything we hold near and dear” or else we will become “numb and dumb.” But he warns us not got get “hooked on anger.” We can’t be “addicted to an emotion that gives [us] a fleeting high but leaves [us] feeling worse all the while robbing [us] of well-being and creating an insatiable desire for the next hit.” Palmer says “Being hooked saps me of energy and harms my health. Worse, still it diverts me from taking personal responsibility for what ‘s going on right now.”
How do we make our anger useful, rather than being hooked to an addiction? Palmer encourages us to use that anger to find our voice, to find our place of service, and also to recognize our participation (perhaps unrecognized) in the underlying problems in the United States that have given rise to a man like Donald J. Trump becoming president. Parker says that we have to come to terms with “our complicity in white privilege and the injustice and inhumanity that flow from it.” Having been on this journey since I met my African-American husband nearly thirty years ago, I strongly agree with him. I also strongly recommend his discussion of this issue to all who are filled with righteous anger and despair.