I have been writing these almost-weekly meditations for about a year now. I have forty of them on file, and there is a noticeable pattern. In Winter time, most of them go something like this: “IT’S DARK AND COLD AND HORRIBLE (AAAAaaauuuUGH!) BUT I TRUST THAT GOD IS PRESENT AND LOVES US IN THIS PLACE EVEN THOUGH IT MAY NOT BE REALLY OBVIOUS RIGHT NOW.” In the Summer time, on the other hand, the theme is something more like this: “There are signs of God’s love and grace all around (tra-la-la-la) and we are surrounded with beauty and revelations of holiness and goodness that we can soak in and be nourished to abundant fullness.”
I’m exaggerating, but only a little. The thing is, both of these experiences of God are a part of a life of faith. Both of these themes are important and necessary because life is full of times when everything seems dark and horrible and God seems distant, and life is also full of times when God seems astonishingly near, all around and everywhere, and it is easy for us to perceive signs of love and grace and feel that God is present and active in our lives. The life of faith is all about loving and trusting in the midst of both of these extremes – and everything in between. Our seasons of faith are sometimes tied to particular seasons of time, but more often they are not. Events of joy and celebration, events of tragedy and horror, events that don’t seem like events but rather the ordinary humdrum of every day – all of these evoke different feelings about ourselves, God, the world, and other people, and in these different seasons of our lives we are in relationship with God in different ways.
But the Good News is that we CAN be in relationship with God, regardless of what season of life we are in – whether or not it seems we are capable of loving God, whether or not God seems easy or hard to love at a given moment. Because the love between God and human beings is not about us. It is not about the ability of flawed, complicated, selfish and fearful human beings to love well. God is ALWAYS loving us fully, more passionately and completely than we can even comprehend, even when we are having real difficulty, for whatever reason, loving and trusting in God. Sometimes we are deeply aware of God’s overflowing abundance an presence in our lives. Other times, it is dark and things are difficult and we wonder where God is and what God is doing. That’s life, and a robust faith involves being honest with ourselves, God, and one another about life’s joys and hardships, even the hardships of love – including the difficulty of loving God in those times when it is difficult. It is about intimacy and vulnerability. Not about putting on the masks of happiness, perfection, success and saccharine-coated cheeriness to prove how pious we can be.
Our Scriptures speak to every conceivable emotion in human life, and its many books contain stories, poems, songs, and sayings (every conceivable genre of literature, actually) about people in relationship with God through it all. Sometimes, the relationship is one of struggle, but it is relationship nonetheless. And here is the important part – God remains in faithful loving relationship with humanity through all the incomprehensible horribleness and amazing beauty and messy love that is a part of the experience of being human. God does not leave us alone in the midst of the thorny tangle of life. God is with us, loving us in season of darkness or season of vibrancy. One of the names for Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, which means “God With Us.” Jesus is the fullest, most complete revelation of who God is, what God does, what God is like. We know through that revelation is that God is, indeed, in the midst of the troublesome and often painful realities of human life in a way that is real and that makes a difference between life and death. Likewise, Jesus is with us when life is rich and full, in the big feasts and the times when we are nurtured, loved and accepted, with laughter and joy flowing through souls (he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because, apparently, he spent so much time in such joyful celebrations with his beloveds). God With Us – whatever our season may be.