Startled by Doubt Let us pray….
One of the new (to me) Taize chants goes like this:
Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us, let not my doubt or my darkness speak to me…
One of the many difficulties of reading scripture is the global aspect of reading several sequences in lightning speed over against the timing within the text. Luke 24 has at least four sequences that took a duration of time when they happened, but we can read them in minutes. We see the empty tomb, hear the angels’ explanation, wince when the disciples mock the women as nonsensical, and walk along side the three on the road to Emmaus. Now the section I just read seems unbelievable that after so many experiences the disciples could be startled. The repetition of resurrection sightings seems obvious.
No doubt for the ‘men’ hearing from men, this news is a bit more reliable. How pathetic our faith can be? How culturally bound we are to situations, points of view and understandings we grew up with! We never listen to so and so because they always say that. You know so and so never did respect so and so. How many conversations mock someone in our midst with no rebuttal from us, no discomfort expressed by those of us who say we follow Christ. With some of what is in the news – reliable or not, I can find myself most uncomfortably lumped together with those who say they are Christians, -whose Bibles or at least gospels are clearly different than the translations which I read that make my walk with Jesus most difficult.
In Durham, England there is a group that gather in a barbershop. They are MNG – the Monday Night Group. They are everything and nothing that the church should be. They love each other, watch out for each other, stand up for each other, accept each other as they are, you get the idea. They even forgive each other and receive forgiveness back, complete with the journey/work of forgetting that can accompany forgiveness. They, on the other hand, do not dress right, they should be in twelve step programs for some or several addictions, they have records with the police, served jail time, again you get the picture.
You see following Jesus, believing in the resurrection of Christ, not laughing but listening, attending to the ‘witness’ of those who have seen, believed and whose lives are free, forgiven, liberated. That is the stuff of faith. People of faith can still be messy. We all, no doubt, have a working definition of what a follower of Jesus looks like and perhaps those who don’t look like Christians. But we are not quality control for the church. Our Lord is.
Jesus always believed. But, of course, he knew the plan. Jesus was in on the design. Living it out gave the reactions that we witness to in the gospel accounts. Clearly it must have been frustrating that these disciples couldn’t believe. The disciples were not simply the men in the group but also the women who followed, paid the bills (Luke 8:3) and stayed while Jesus was dying with no ‘comfort care’. The presence of the those women at the cross and at the tomb Sunday morning should give us plenty of inspiration and direction for today. Could our behavior makes us seem to treat the witness to Jesus in our midst by the presence of His Spirit, as nonsense. It makes no difference how many church services we attend and how much we sustain the business side of the congregation. Our words, looks and company look one way, the community of faith we call church may look another way.
You see there is a reason our brothers at Taize and all their guests need this prayer, ‘let not my doubt or my darkness speak to me’. Doubt and darkness don’t just speak, they whisper nonstop into our souls, they scream above the device we are currently using, they imply in the conversations between us. They walk beside us on our journeys, but unlike Jesus they tear down our capacity to believe. They teach a doubt that stops us, not a doubt that opens a way before us. Doubt and Darkness can behave like friends – always around- but are really trying to destroy us.
Imagine with me the journey Ezekiel had out to the valley of dry bones. ‘The Lord’s power overcame him’ verse one says. The heat most bothersome, the bright light blinding, the dryness and parchedness on his lips and tongue. This is not a day trip, a silent retreat start up. This is not a hike or part of an exercise regimen. God sent Ezekiel out. God had something to say. To the average observer the prophet could be confused for a very despairing individual, wandering around a waste land of bones, behaving in an insane fashion. The soft hearted is going to have a feeling about this death exhibited in all these bones. As a child on hikes out in the fields and woods we would often discover carcasses of animals that had died. Never was it comforting. Like creation, God’s words spoken became happenings. Jesus showing up in the midst of the disciples Sunday night right after they heard the report from the men on the road to Emmaus, is strikingly similar to the experience of Ezekiel had before God spoke – the place was littered with doubt.
With Ezekiel after God’s command the same bones banging with life! Not so with these disciples. Even as Jesus ate fish in front of them- something ghosts are not able to do, there is no declaration of confidence by these followers of Jesus. There is a reason for this. People of faith handle doubt differently.
Every day of our life we have opportunities to ask, ‘Is God doing something here?’ Each breath comes with a possibility to believe or to doubt. In fact it may take as much energy/strength/thought etc to believe as to ignore. Just as Kierkegaard is noted for saying the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith. We, as those who follow Jesus, are called to sniff for the aroma of Christ, to trust that God is doing something, to ask, with the intent to participate, what God would have us do. Like Ezekiel we are asked to listen to dry bones or weary souls. Fear filled or passionate we are called to hear what God is saying. Not to make notes but to listen in order to live God’s words.
Some in the church want proof, evidence. A great story doesn’t always have evidence as scientists and historians would wish for. The story teller gives clues. In most deaths locally there is a body. This is why losses at sea, in battle and far away are so difficult. But a living soul doesn’t usually stay in the tomb, doesn’t keep the grave cloths on and doesn’t remain lying down.
Doubt can be a doorway. To peer into situations not otherwise considered. It can be an opportunity to see that which is not humanly visible. In this specific time I expect there are many things that raise doubts for us both in living and in dying. Death may be a great eyeopener, some perhaps think a bit too late. When we journey through our doubts to a trust beyond words, we could be touched by a love only God can give and pour through us. Amen