Warning: serious meter, high. This is not the usual blog post, a little more sober and meditative, not for everyone. For more of the usual goofiness, check back next week (or just skip to the video at the end).
(A non-poem to start the conversation)
The clouds burst and the heavens descend
As little white flakes twirl and dance
And my child’s heart stirs with delight
And I know Your joy
The winds pick up and begin to howl
And as the white rages, I perceive Your power
Then as night falls, all softly settles
And in the silence, is Your peace
The morning sun rises revealing
A glistening diamond landscape,
And I am awed by Your beauty
But then hundreds of feet trample
And the soot of car exhaust blackens
What remains, mingling with litter and dog droppings
A hardened horrifying mess
And in this ugliness faith falters, and I wonder
Where are You now?
This is the question I put to the wise priest who sits before me. How can the God Who Is Beauty be met in the ugly, the depressing, the banal? “This you must learn,” he tells me, “to meet Him even there.” And so I become again a searcher.
We have been speaking of longing, for the infinite and for more proximate pleasures that point to it. It is that time of year when I feel the call of both acutely, and long to head from home out into the world, to some place warm and far away, chasing beauty.
NYC in February is many things, but it is not pretty. The sky is grey and dismal, the world weary. The cold is biting and the remnants of Mother Nature’s last visit are vomited all over the streets, and graffitteed with garbage and mud. Residents are gloomy and grumbly, days and tempers short, and the light and warmth of spring still a faraway dream. Traffic crawls along 2nd Avenue, weaving through sleet and construction with car horns blaring and drivers offering to one another the only birds in sight.
I want to buy a planet ticket out and away. To anywhere but here.
I have traveled extensively—to all 50 states, to more than 25 countries on 5 continents, [Antarctica 2017!!] in search of beauty that when found transports me even further still.
How easy it is to meet God in the splendors of nature and the thrills of adventure! On an autumn night in Africa, the sky a blanket of stars brushed with the Milky Way, the song of the bush as soundtrack, punctuated by the occasional roar of a lion or cry of a hyena. In Alaska, soaring by helicopter over the glaciers that from above look like tiny ripples of icing, but upon landing tower above us majestic mountains. Snorkeling in the Caribbean, the sea forty-nine plus one hues of blue and teeming with creatures and colors that would humble a rainbow. And so on: the painted deserts of the southwest; the emerald seas of Ischia; the bioluminescence in the bay of Grand Cayman.
But in rush hour traffic? In the grime and the noise and the dismal and depressing? In an un-swept stairwell littered with insect corpses? (Stay tuned for 7 Quick Takes: Plagues Edition). In the streets full of frozen uncollected garbage scavenged by rats? Surely you jest.
There is no “there;” there is only “here.”
There is only now.
God is not on vacation; He is present.
On the subway ride from Harlem I ask Him. I hear no answer but am suddenly overwhelmed and consumed by a visiting affection for all things human. It is at once tender and gentle, yet wildly passionate, insane even–like the craziness of a lover who would literally kiss and embrace the ground His beloved walked on.
It is not the Transfiguration–my eyes see nothing attractive, nothing beyond the grime and the rats and the riff raff (of which I am a proud card-carrying member). My mind wriggles to break free even as my heart is held captive.
It is the scandal of the Incarnation again, the humility of God made man. “That means that God had to use the toilet!” a retreat speaker reminded us, and even I squirmed uncomfortably.
I do not like the idea of encountering God in the ugly.
I am coming to terms, slowly, with meeting Him in the mess that is me. I can, with grace, see Him in the mess that is others. Even, if with less perfect practice, in the monsters who mock Him, those souls that He loves even from His cross.
I find Him easily in laughter: whoever says “God has no sense of humor,” let him be anathema. And I find Him with less ease but more intensity in suffering. Even when pain pierces the heart it makes an opening for God.
I can believe if not perceive that He is there, hidden in the Host. I can hear His voice in the quiet of prayer, and the occasional glimpses of a glory that put the wonders of the world to dust.
Sometimes His presence is made known by absence, by longing, by an undefined ache for the infinite.
Even sin makes room for God, for mercy, for a meeting in the mess. “The radicalness of Christianity,” the same priest tells me, “is that we are not scandalized by our own sinfulness. Nor is God.”
So why I am afraid, even now?
If God is not afraid to descend into the dirt, do I have the courage and willingness to meet Him there?
I will let you know.
Meanwhile, I have a flight to book…
Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum –head on over for more 7 Quick Takes from other authors! And if you’re visiting from there, welcome!