What would you feel if God suddenly walked into a room? Fear? Shame? Joy? Apprehension? Panic? A desire to hide? Relief when God finally left? Indeed, how would we even recognize God should God walk into a room?
Jane Tyson Clement, a poet and a member of the Bruderhof community, fantasizes about what might run through her mind and heart if Jesus suddenly walked up to her. In a poem entitled, Vigil, she writes:
“What would I do, O Master,
if you came slowly out of the woods.
Would I know your step?
Would I know by my beating heart?
Would I know by your eyes?
Would I feel on my shoulder too, the burden you carry?
Would I rise and stand still till you drew near
or cover my eyes in shame?
Or would I simply forget everything
except that you had come and were here?”
Those last lines highlight the most important of all truths, namely, that God is love and only by letting that kind of love into our lives can we save ourselves from disappointment, shame, and sadness.
I don’t often remember my dreams, nor do I set much stock by them, but, several years ago, I had a dream that I both remember and set some stock by. It went something like this:
For whatever reason, and dreams don’t give you a reason, I was asked to go to an airport and pick up Jesus, who was arriving on a flight. I was understandably nervous and frightened. A bevy of apprehensions beset me: How would I recognize him? What would he look like? How would he react to me? What would I say to him? Would I like what I saw? More frightening yet, would he like what he saw when he looked at me?
With those feelings surging through me, I stood, as one stands in a dream, at the end of a long corridor nervously surveying the passengers who were walking towards me. How would I recognize Jesus and would his first glance at me reflect his disappointment?
But this was a good dream and it taught me as much about God as I’d learned in all my years of studying theology. All of my fears were alleviated in a second. What happened was the opposite of all my expectations: Suddenly, walking down the corridor towards me was Jesus, smiling, beaming with delight, coming straight for me, rushing, eager to meet me. Everything about him was stunningly and wonderfully disarming. There was no awkward moment; everything about him erased that. His eyes, his face, and his body embraced me without reserve and without judgement. I knew he saw straight through me, knew all my faults and weaknesses, my lack of substance, and none of it mattered.
And, for that moment, none of it mattered to me either. Jesus was eager to meet me! In that moment, as Jane Tyson Clement suggests, one forgets everything, except that God is here. There’s no place for fear or shame or wondering what God thinks of you.
And that’s a lesson we must somehow learn, somehow experience.
We live with too much fear of God. Partly its bad theology, but mostly we fear because we’ve never experienced the kind of love that’s manifest in God and we take for granted that anyone who sees us as we really are (in our unloveliness, weaknesses, pathology, sin, insubstantiality) will, in the end, be as disappointed with us as we are with ourselves.
At the end of the day we expect that God is disappointed with us and will greet us with a frown. The tragedy and sadness here is that, because we think that God is disappointed in us, especially at those times when we are disappointed with ourselves, we try to avoid meeting the one person, one love, and the one energy, God, that actually understands us, accepts us, delights in us, and is eager to smile at us. We are relieved that we never have to pick up Jesus at an airport. That’s also true of church: We stay away from church exactly at those times when we would most need to be there.
A prairie poet and former Oblate confrere, Harry Hellman, gets the last word on this. He puts it well:
Let’s go back to the weather.
Most days you don’t notice there is any
until you fall into love, and/or sin,
and then you see the clouds and stare holes into heaven,
looking for Christ
when He’s really at your shoulder looking for you
and in such great shape, you’d never believe what he’s been through.
Then before you know how it happened, it’s July again or August
and you have time to do what you should have been doing all your life,
sitting or walking on the grass in bare feet
and loving. …
Then you’re all petals once more, and tendrils
till the storm breaks
And the biggest piece goes to heaven,
and to hell with the weather.