Maybe it’s just the weather: Cold rain, wind and fog. Repeat.
I haven’t blogged for a few weeks because I haven’t had anything to say that I feel confident enough about to write an essay on it. Or, when I have felt confident, it has been a combative, argumentative spirit that leaves me tied in knots inside—a hellish eddy in the river of my experience that I would not wish to inflict on anyone. When I get like that I write a few paragraphs with my teeth clenched and my stomach tight until I come to my senses, realize that I haven’t fully exhaled for forty-five minutes, and then delete the whole thing. It’s always a good sign that “delete” was the right decision when I actually feel my muscles relaxing afterward.
But this is what Praying In The Rain is all about. Learning to pray, to be with God, when the weather of my life is cold rain, wind and fog. It’s not as if God doesn’t know it’s raining. It’s not as if God doesn’t know what certain chemicals do to your brain when you don’t see the sun for six or eight weeks on a stretch. It’s not as if my life and its crises and conundrums and the urgent “needs” of those around me, it’s not as if this is happening behind God’s back. God knows. God not only or merely knows, God is right here with me in the cold damp of my life. God is right here even though I don’t perceive it. Or better: I don’t perceive it as I would like to perceive it.
I like to perceive God in my life in the warm heart, in the happy serendipity, the almost miraculous circumstances that sometimes come about and make God seem so near. I like to perceive God in the encouraging word, in the exciting insight, in the choice word that gives life to someone and often surprises and inspires me even as I hear it coming out of my mouth. That’s the way I like to perceive God. But God is no less present in the driving rain or the clogged gutters. God is no less present when my head hurts, when my house is a mess, when I have to get up on cold, dark winter mornings, when voices in my head are saying, “just hide, just stay in bed, just make an excuse.” Despite the voices and the mental fog, God is there too. God is present as I feel the cold floor on my feet, as I wash this rebelling earthen vessel, and as I make myself do what I know is right—or at least what I thought I knew was right, but now I’m not sure. In the cold, dark, damp of an early winter morning, I seldom know what is right—this is not the time to think about it. And many days, especially in the winter, it doesn’t get much better as the day goes on. I keep busy. I have things to do and to say, people I have to get back to. And God is here too. I just don’t perceive it, or want to perceive it.
Maybe part of the reason why God seems far away in the dark times and the hard times is because I don’t want to perceive God here. I only want to perceive the nearness of God in what I enjoy, what blesses me at the moment. Perhaps I am blind to what I don’t want to see. I want to live in the resurrection without passing through the spitting, the scourging, the mocking, and the death of this broken world. I want to be raised with Christ without dying with Him. I want an unreality. But God is real, and God is really present in this sad, broken, cold and rainy world. In the cloudy confusion of my mind, God is present.
Maybe I don’t want to perceive God in the mess of my life because I think it is somehow supposed to be different. I think I should be different. I think the circumstances of my life should be different. I think I should be a better person, as if I should be earning only A’s and B’s in life, but seem rather to be getting lots of C-‘s, D’s and the occasional F—and that’s trying hard. God can’t be in this, can He? God can’t be near me, with me and helping me if the actual experience of my life is so sub-normal, so sub-par, so far below what I think it’s supposed to be. This is what I think, oftentimes. I think that God is far away because if God were near my mind would think more clearly, I would care about others more sincerely, I wouldn’t get tired or bored or distracted so easily. If God were near I would have the energy to do what I think God would have me do, what I think I’m supposed to do. If God were near I wouldn’t get sick so easily, have debilitating headaches, get offended so easily, and avoid saying prayers so often. If God were near, I think I know what it would be like—but my life seldom looks like what I think it would be, should be, could be if God were near. And so, perhaps, that’s why I don’t think God is near: because I think my life is supposed to somehow be so much better than it is, and that’s where God is. I think God is waiting for me in that better life, that better life that does not exist. And because at some level I continue to think this way, I don’t perceive God in the valleys, in the rain, in the winter, in the messy C-‘s and D’s of my life as it really is.
But God is there. That’s the Gospel. God came to be with us in the fallenness of our world, in the messiness and brokenness of our world as it really is. Perhaps the problem is me. Perhaps I need to stop thinking that I should be something I am not, that my life should be something it isn’t. Perhaps I need to listen to the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “blessed are the meek,” “blessed are those who mourn,” “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for [a] righteousness [that they do not posses].” Maybe God seems far away because I have tried to see myself as one of the 99 righteous instead of as the one lost sheep found by the Master. That’s were Jesus is, with the lost sheep.
If there is any lesson I have learned while praying in the rain, while I have tried to pray in the damp, dreary mess that is my life, if there is any one thing I have learned it is this: God is where I am, not where I wish I were or think I should be; God is near the broken hearted; God has mercy on sinners. And the harder I try to jump through the hoops of what I think I’m supposed to be, what I think a good Christian, a good priest is supposed to be, then the further God seems to be from me. But when I accept my weaknesses, when I accept the mediocrity that even my very best efforts produce, when I realize that all I really have to offer God are the two copper coins that my life amounts to, then, then, God starts to come near. Of course it is not that God moves, it is rather that in my mind I have allowed myself to come to where God is, to come to God in my life as it is. I have learned and I am learning over and over again to meet Christ in my weakness, in my poverty of spirit. I have come to perceive Christ in the mess—where He has been all along, holding my hand and leading me through the very mess that is my life to His resurrection.