O that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him... - Job 23
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" - Mark 10
If you live in a part of the world where autumn foliage offers its gift at this time of year, you may have experienced this most acutely in this season. A Facebook friend put it this way yesterday:
"It's so beautiful out it almost hurts. I was going to try to describe it and realize I can't. Decided to take the long way home."
I think we all know what he means; "so beautiful it almost hurts."
Job prays in some kind of agony to the God who appears to have abandoned him. A man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him, calls him "Good Teacher", and pleads his case. "How can I find eternal life?"
I'm not certain that my Facebook friend would say he's asking about eternal life, but I do know this: when Creation's beauty and glory shows me a glimpse of itself, it DOES hurt. I ache so deeply to live in that beauty for all time. I try, as my friend did, to name it, to capture it, to write it indelibly on my heart so that it will live there in every moment of my life. Yes, forever - eternally.
And darned if it doesn't keep slipping away. I can't find the words to describe it; I hold tight to the conceit that, if I could just name it, I could trap it in a bottle and drink from it at will. It nearly breaks our hearts not to be able to do so. But the ache doesn't break our hearts; it only breaks them open.
Many of us have heard the haunting words of Leonard Cohen: "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in." A noticing so astute and sacred that it almost qualifies as having captured the uncapturable.
Many people deploy their religious or faith life in an effort to make themselves invulnerable. We make a crash landing on a supposed truth ("I am right and others are wrong", or "God loves and favors me specially, because I have embraced virtue and righteousness") and proceed to don that supposed truth like a shield. Maybe this was Job's greatest struggle; despite being "blameless and upright", as the beginning of his story tells us, he later laments, "Today also my complaint is bitter; [God's] hand is heavy despite my groaning."
Sooner or later, in any honest life of faith, the shield cracks. And maybe it's a good thing for this to happen sooner rather than later. When we stand before a glorious sunset with the foliage shimmering all around us, we sense the eternal, and it is holy and beautiful beyond description. We see what is perfectly lovely, and it shows us the smallness of what we are. It's both heartbreaking and liberating to confront this crack in our shield.
My Facebook friend responded to his inability to speak the impossible words to describe the beauty he saw by taking "the long way home." He had enough sense to know that, while he couldn't name it, he could stay longer. Maybe the goal of a life of faith - if there is a goal at all - is simply to practice staying longer. Sooner or later, we realize that we're already there.
And we can stay forever. Trust God on this.
We stay for only an hour or so when we worship Sundays at 10 AM. This time is like foliage for the soul. But really, the leaves never actually fall. You know what I mean, right? If you do, you're welcome to join with us. If you don't, you're even more welcome.