Monday, May 4, 2009

A pulley

"God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." ~CS Lewis

When I was in seminary before the turn of the century (doesn't that sound like it was a hundred years ago?), one of the classes I took was Apologetics.  That's one of the theological terms that abound in seminaries. Others are hermenutics, systematic theology, doctrine and dogma.  I have neither the time nor interest in defining all these words this afternoon...ok, the truth is, I never really did.  They always sounded so incredibly dry to me compared to living as a disciple, leaning in to know and love Him more.  But perhaps (duh!) this is all beside my point today.  The Apologetics class I took turned out to be far meatier than I'd expected, and this is because it appealed to the creative side of my brain--where I dwell only when I'm breathing!  We spent half the term talking about "Pulleys", those things, people, ideas, objects, experiences that pull us closer to God if we're believers, and closer to seeking Him if we aren't.  The second half of the term, we talked about "Barriers", those things that keep us from God. The nutshell I just gave doesn't do justice to the rich, meaty readings and discussions we had in that class--it really expanded how I looked at experience, maybe how I catalogued life in the odd moments when I do catalogue it. 

Each student had to write a term paper and give a presentation to the class about the paper.  I wrote mine about "Pain as a pulley; Pain as a barrier."  I did research at such places as the ICU waiting room at our city's hospital, and even in the aisles of local stores.  I unashamedly listened in to every conversation I could.  See, most people start conversations by saying, "How's it going?"  And though most often that question is met with a non-committal, one or two word answer, "Fine," Pretty good," "so-so," I was lucky enough to hear folks tell the truth.  One conversation overheard in that waiting room between two men in their sixties:
A. balding man with black-rimmed glasses:"...no, it's in her lungs now, and she gets pretty tired." he said. "And your wife's?"
B. lean farmer with a midwestern accent: "yeah, it's moved to her liver, they don't give her much time.  We took her to Missouri to see her sister and family.  It was hard.  Everyone knew we were saying goodbye."
A."We're just trying to take it one day at a time."
B."I guess it's up to the good Lord now."
A. "You know I never really thought too much about God, but now..."
B. "yeah, it makes you want to believe, doesn't it?"
A. "And she really gets comfort from going to church so I take here.  And you know, I think it makes sense. The whole thing makes you wonder what the point is."
B." It helps me be grateful for what we have, to know that there's more than this."

Yes, I copied that straight from my paper, which I had copied straight from the little notebook I'd taken with me to the waiting room that day--those lovely older men had no idea I was doing any more than writing in my journal.  But what a treasure to have them prove my point so completely.  And here's more from the paper...quite eloquently put (if I do say so myself):

In thinking of pain as a pulley, I recognize that it is clearly also a barrier.  It seems to me that pain in the abstract is almost always a barrier, i.e.: "Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?" and "He let (or caused) thousands to die in a fire, earthquake, flood, volcano, etc...how could a loving God do this?"  At a distance it is easier to get angry and hostile, but when pain comes nearer and wears a face, it elementally changes.  Then the horror of it looks personal and the warer more often cries out to God--even the very God he or she blamed for disasters across the world.  Sometimes those cries ring with reproach: "How dare you do this to me?" but they are cries encased in human flesh--You' to 'Me'--rather than simply abstract wonderings.  Those are the pulley moments.  I almost imagine God saying, as I would of my wayward child, "At least she's talking to me." It's a starting place.  Nothing can happen until there is an honest beginning.  Abstract pain may imply God's absence, personal pain begs for His presence.

"In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also is character made.  The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making."  Nicholas Wolterstorff

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