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Book Jacket

0800730739
Trade Paperback
240 pages
Apr 2006
Revell

Making Peace with a Dangerous God

by Linda Clare & Kristen Johnson Ingram

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

1

The Puzzle

Wrestling with the Very Idea of God

 

Finding the Pieces

        Kris:   How many pieces do we have of the puzzle of God?

        Linda:  We have Jesus, who has told us everything we know about God. We have the Bible as a road map. We have creation as Godís witness, and music and art and amazing food.

        Kris:   Everything around us shows us a thumbprint or silhouette or shadow of God; I wish to see a whole picture. So whatís the hardest piece of the puzzle for you to find?

        Linda:  Why God offers us control and then tells us to let go of it. Iím scared of letting go in my own life, scared to quit managing my family.

        Kris:   For the sake of a solution, can you consent to Godís management?

        Linda:  I donít know. Solution to what? Iím not trying to solve it all, but canít I plan ahead at least?

        Kris:   Robert Burns said the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray. I like the unpredictable.

        Linda:  That isnít true. You plan meals. You write first thing every morning. You go to church every Sunday. You just feel surprised by your own routine. I want the safety and calm of knowing whatís next.

        Kris:   Really? Youíre really scared when youíre not in charge?

        Linda:  Yes. But sometimes, I do see the value of whatís unforeseen.

 

Unforeseen and Unexpected

Linda

Frederick Buechner says if God didnít always arrive unforeseen, we might have all made ourselves scarce long before God got there. I donít know if Buechner means weíre too afraid of the light to stick around for Godís arrival, but for me it means that when the Lord taps me on the shoulder, God wants nothing less than to control my life.

Iím terrified of relinquishing control. My bent toward managing everything in my life began at a young age, when I underwent several post-polio orthopedic surgeries. In the hospital I focused on my reaction to pain so much that I refused analgesic injections after surgery, fearful of the poke of the needle. I suffered rather than risk a momentary pinprick. I wasnít sure God would rescue me from my ordeal, so I thought Iíd have to face it alone. The pain of not knowing what lay ahead was like walking through a dark place in the dead of night.

Over the years I perfected my management style. I went through several more operations, each time terrified that God might abandon me, or worse, that God might let me die. I directed myself never to cry or act as if I were scaredódespite the months away from family and friends and other institutional horrors of the time: hospital food, hospital clothing, no personal possessions allowed. I looked as stoic as a patient could be.

Back at home I also worked hard to prepare for any discomfort I might face. For instance, if I knew I was destined for the dentistís drill, Iíd lie in bed the night before, jabbing my gums with my fingernail, hard as I could. I wanted to simulate the Novocain shot so Iíd know what to expect. If I was ready, in the dentistís chair I could control my reactionóno squirming, yelling, or crying. Iíd be a model patient because Iíd practiced the pain in advance. A lot of the time I was a wounded animal, ready to pounce. More than anything I needed to control my world.

I also startled easily. Family members could walk up behind me, say something ordinary, and then watch me jump and gasp. Hyperalertness became my way to avoid unpleasant surprises.

I thought my childhood reasoning worked, in a twisted sort of way. If I was so afraid of life and of God, then the more I saw what was coming, the calmer I could be. Except that things, then or now, rarely unfold the way I think they will.

Iím not a kid anymore, but I still love to control my life. I plan my day and make detailed lists. My writing time is organized around a tight schedule involving teaching, editingóand pain control. I still have to cope with post-polio syndrome, trying to be ďenergy efficientĒ in order to sit upright for a long period. And I still startle like a kid whoís caught raiding the cookie jar.

Over and over the unknown strikes fear into me. I cry out to God but hear nothing save my own breathing for the longest time. My need to be in charge drives me to want a firm commitment from God. ďWhen can I expect you, Lord?Ē I plead. And it makes me crazy when God doesnít respond the way I think he should.

I moan that God doesnít care about me. The God who knows everything, whoís in control of the universe, feels so far away. Then when Iíve almost given up, God surprises me, manifesting himself at odd hours. But the God who arrives isnít anything like the God I planned on.

My wishful thinking has imagined a God who should not only find my lost wallet but also be a combination of Santa Claus and my favorite uncle. This no-problem God doesnít annoy me with late-night directives to pray for someone I donít even like. This God never tells me what to do. My idea also includes a God who always agrees with whatever I say, tells me I look fabulous, and writes blank checks for anything I need. Most of all, my fairy-tale God never points out my imperfections and only deals in appearances not substance.

Of course, my imaginary God wouldnít weep with me when awful things happen, because that would be a downer. No problem. Feel-Good God doesnít sympathize with misfortune nor provide me with challenges that build my character. And when I need a helping hand or a miracle to save the day, that God is suddenly on vacation until further notice.

Itís a good thing too. When the Ruler of All shows up, imposters disappear. Feel-Good God melts away. The One God, who is light and love, doesnít answer some of my prayers, is always telling me what to do, and bugs me endlessly about things Iíd rather not think about, such as offering tougher love to my wayward son. I trot out my phony God to maintain control and for comfort, but the true God, this dangerous Everything, sometimes walks up behind me and startles me right out of the room.

I always need a while to adjust to light. For a time I want to shield my eyes or scurry away to a dark corner like a bug; eventually I stop squinting, throw open the curtain, and see what God is up to. But some days letting go of the reins of my life is so hard.

I havenít wanted to tell anyone about how recently one of my own children took my medication to pay for a drug habit. After all, keeping that information secret from friends who had always given their support might cause me emotional hurt. So I save faceóand control. Whether through finances, prayer, or a simple phone call, I know God uses these people to show me love, but I couldnít divulge the awful truth. By admitting my problem Iíd make myself vulnerable.

Godís surprise in this mess came when I spoke to Kris on the phone. Before I knew it, Iíd blurted out my predicament. Her response burst with goodwill, comfort, and prayer. I wasnít prepared to spill my secret, but God provided love and understandingóa perfect answer to my shame and heartbreak.

Lots of times Godís surprises upset me because they donít fit with my expectations. God rarely delivers answers like Christmas gifts. And many times that miracle I need so desperately shows up at the last possible second, when I know God could have eased my anxiety sooner. Still, I watch, pray, wait. Sometimes I feign sleep, like a child awaiting Christmas morning, sneaking a peek to see if Godís on the way.

Iím not sure why I need to know when or whether to expect the holy. Itís not like Iím rushing to clean house or fix a great feast for the occasion. I donít think itís so I can brag that I saw God coming before anyone else. Iím afraid to be surprised by God because I donít want to hand over my life. Iím terrified and yet fascinated by Godís love. Real love can never be rehearsed.

Nor can real love be preserved.

The crazy thing about love is that what is true for one situation might change in the next. When my twenty-two-year-old son, whose background is spotted with mental and mood disorders, stole about two hundred dollars from us so he could buy drugs, I grieved. I grieved for my son and his poor choices, almost more than I mourned our own loss. But I didnít think I could give my son harsh consequences and still show I love him.

All day long I yelled at God. I demanded, ďWhy donít you fix my son?Ē I raised my face to the sky. ďGod? Where are you when I need you, anyway?Ē

But by the next day my love for my son had toughened into a mandate for him: Find a job, repay what was stolen, make a formal apology, go on the antidepressants needed, attend 12-step meetings. I had a whole list of other requirements. I told him all this, knowing Iíd have little say in what my son actually decided, but assured him that I would always love him too.

If Kris had hammered me with advice about my son or burdened me with a list of Bible verses to look up, Iíd have been put off. But she let me weep into the phone, gave me permission to fall apart, and let me wonder aloud where the Creator could be.

Then God did burst in with a comfort that felt like thick, warm honey.

Why hadnít I seen him coming? How could I have not known?

Deep down I know God is supposed to direct my days. Maybe my problem is Godís remedies feel too simple, as easy as a thousand love songs, as real as all the dangers of this world.

Love hurts, because I have to let go.

Love heals when I do.

Iím no less accustomed to letting go than I ever was. Often I still try to soften upcoming blows by practicing control, by prayer or deep breathing. Now and then I poke myself to see what Iím made of; I sleep with one eye open in case God shows up and begs me to take chances, entreats me to make peace with the unforeseen. If I know hours or minutes or seconds before the arrival of the King, Iím not sure Iíll be any less prepared for love or any more prepared for danger. All I know is that the unexpected life of love winds straight through the valley of the shadow of death.

 

The Difficulty of God

        Linda:  If control isnít the hardest part of the puzzle for you, what is?

        Kris:   I want to understand God. In fact, I want to see God face-to-face. Now.

        Linda:  Are you sure? Everyone in the Bible who tried that died.

        Kris:   Iím also terrified. What if God doesnít like me? What if I donít like God?

        Linda:  Very funny.

        Kris:   Iím serious. Iíve had some glimpses of God I didnít like much, and I donít always see Christís presence in people who claim they love him. If I could see Jesus Christ in person, then Iíd know how he looks in others.

        Linda:  What are you talking about?

        Kris:   Iím wondering if I would recognize Christ if he were an undocumented Mexican or a Chinese man who came into the country in a cargo box.

        Linda:  Well, then, think about him as the Good Shepherd, with the lamb over his shoulders.

        Kris:   Oh, sure, and with the long blond hair, straight out of a shampoo ad.

        Linda:  (sigh) Youíre just trying to be difficult.

        Kris:   Iím not trying. Life with God is difficult. Let me tell you about the Alien who can make you crazy.

 

An Alien God

Kris

I saw the Alienís picture in a recent magazine. He has close-together, intense, black eyes, a prominent nose, rough black hair, and a scruffy beard. If he were standing ahead of me in the airport security line, Iíd hope the officials would detain him. I wouldnít want that olive-skinned immigrant on any flight I take.

He doesnít just look sinister. Though he isnít a citizen of this country, he feels free to condemn our culture and our religious practices. He doesnít look like us or act like us, and he is so close to madness he wants us to adopt his ideas. Even when I get on conversational terms with him, I know in my heart that heís destructive to my peace and quiet, that he takes an extremist position about the way I practice my religion, and that heís not only crazy but impractical. As if I could welcome such a man not only into our country but into my private life!

Heís anticapitalistic, the enemy of our free market economy and our American business system; he even committed vandalism at an international currency exchange. He believes in some kind of monarchy instead of a democracy, a kingdom with one single, all-powerful ruler. He is already identified as a terrorist. Heís a threat to government, trying to recruit Americans to become members of his so-called kingdom. His economic plan is a disaster. He wants to redistribute wealth and invites us to enter intentional poverty, where weíll mingle with thieves, harlots, and homeless street people. And in spite of his insistence that he doesnít own any property, he shows up at some fancy cocktail parties and theaters. His followers have created hundreds of ďsleeperĒ cells right here in America, where they collect vast moneys to fund their cause.

He was sentenced to death in his own country because he threatened the balance of power and the peace of the people, and we in America want to send him back there. Even when we sympathize with his cause for a moment, we donít really like his otherness, his nonconformity, his recalcitrance about adapting to American culture. People have tried to remake him, turn him into a model American, but eventually his strangeness erupts and he scourges our society. The picture I saw, a computer-generated image of him based on anthropological fact, showed up in magazines and disturbed everyone who saw it. The image was too close to the truth, and we turned the page.

So who is this outsider, this scruffy wild man who insists that he, he alone, has the truth about God?

His name is Jesus.

He wants me to sacrifice myself by turning the other cheek, praying for my enemies, forgiving till seventy times seven, donating directly to unworthy beggars, and giving away everything I own so I can follow him.

Who shall abide the day of his coming?

Nobody. So weíve created a false messiah and welcomed him into our hearts instead. He is a little like Santa Claus combined with St. Francis. We call on him as Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, or the Good Shepherd, or Dr. Love, who carries lambs on his shoulders and children in his arms and speaks words of comfort to the downtrodden. The kind of savior we like soothes the suffering, comforts the afflicted, and wipes away all our tears.

Of course, Jesus is gentle and kind and a healer, but heís also the Alien who says that self-righteous believers are broods of snakes. He turns tables over in the temple and tells you to cut your right hand off if it wounds your conscience. He suggests that you pay your taxes when you find a magical fish and commands you to forget about the food and clothing and shelter youíll need tomorrow, trusting him to supply it.

We profess to like Jesus, and some secular writers call him a great teacher and psychologist. Great psychologist? If you take him seriously, if you welcome him into your life, youíll find him as abrasive as garnet sandpaper.

Pretend, for the sake of your peace, that Jesus is just one more man, and youíve missed a central fact about God: that God is right, and when we disagree, weíre wrong. As wrong as Judas or even the devil, as wrong as any sinner who ever existed.

Yet we donít welcome this holy alien. If we brought Jesus into everyday life, we would have no homeless people, no mentally ill men and women wandering in the streets, no kids starved, tortured, or killed in basements. We would quench his thirst by offering water to the people or countries that have none. We might know him as a prisoner when we visit the jails to relieve the inmatesí pain and help them find forgiveness and new life. Our attention to the gaps in society would be balanced not by our attention to creating a financially secure future or trying to create a free market economy, but by the amount of time we spend in worship and prayer and service.

The Sermon on the Mount, if it were read to people who hadnít heard it, would probably make them react with horror, just as they did when someone took a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the streets of Manhattan. People thought it was communist propaganda or a terrorist message.

To practice the sermon would be even worse. It would be like standing at the door to Congress, chanting, ďBlessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,Ē while the House debated a nuclear threat from Iraq or Korea or Pakistan. No doubt the sergeant at arms would have you removed. Or it would be like you rising up in a courtroom to shout to the defendant, ďIf they sue you for your coat, give them your overcoat too.Ē Youíd likely get a contempt citation. Or, imagine, if you were to tell the average American male that if heís looked with sexual interest at a woman, heís committed adultery. To make adultery a capital offense would rate raucous ridicule along with bawdy outrage.

I have to face up to Jesus the Alien.

I canít imprison him in gentility or keep him outside the door of my conscience forever. He breaks through walls of stone and appears on either side of locked doors.

Since I canít contain him, I can only give up to him, surrender to him, welcome him. Itís disruptive, even terrifying, to become his willing prisoner. Terrible to feel my ambition break and my shoulders relax. Scary to trust someone so unpredictable.

Life without him would be easier.

But what kind of life would that be?

 

Why Work This Puzzle When God Seems Absent?

        Kris:   I said that life without Christ would be easier, but then I think life without him is no life at all. What do you think?

        Linda:  I donít always notice that I have a life with him. Things get in the way. Things like pain and kids in trouble and lame cats. Some days I feel like giving up.

        Kris:   Do you think God isnít in your life when trouble strikes? That God is absent when you suffer?

        Linda:  Well, if heís present, Iím having a hard time knowing it.

        Kris:   Itís hard to think and write about Divinity when youíre suffering, isnít it?

        Linda:  Yes. Iím begging for Godís mercy, to stop my distress.

        Kris:   Since God didnít stop the Crusades or the Inquisition or the Holocaust, what makes you think you or I will get divine intervention for our misery?

        Linda:  Well, even if God doesnít change my afflictions, maybe Iíll at least get some peace about them.

        Kris:   Donít sell out experience for the sake of peace. Do you ever shake your fist at heaven, Linda? Do you ever call God to account?

        Linda:  I think I just want God to share my heartbreak. A big miracle would really scare me. If Jesus showed up, Iíd be terrified. So Iím looking for a peaceful heart. Begging for mercy.

 

Tuesday Peace

Linda

The winter dark holds off morning as long as it can. I donít want to leave my bed either, to face the day. But I rise and pull on my old bathrobe, one sleeve at a time. I shuffle in slippers toward the coffeepot and feel the weight of everything settle about my shoulders. I offer a silent plea to the Unseen on the way into Tuesday.

My grown sons are at it again. I say this to the Lord, but without making a sound. One son punched a wall and broke his hand the same week he had to find work or risk homelessness. The other son has ongoing substance abuse issues and untreated mental illness.

Why, God? All this and the cat has mysteriously become lame. My own limbs are stiff and sore. There is never enough money.

Of course, God must know this already. But Iím working as hard as I can to help. Does God know Iím heartsick and more codependent than ever?

These family issues arenít new. Shame echoes back at me from the abyss of years of wrangling with lost boys, eking out a living, trying to be more than I am. Why canít I fix me? People have given me lots of advice, some of it good and some of it cruel. My back aches with age and muscle weakness from old polio.

In the early dawn I beg God. Peace. Please, a little peace.

I canít say it, but deep down I feel Godís dangerously aloof. In my life, peace means the absence of chaos, a respite from guilt and heartbreak. I want to come home to you, God, but first I need a little break. The coffee gurgles and drips, not fast enough for my liking. I wait near the kitchen window; watch a gang of crows dive-bomb another bird. The crows call in rasps that sound like Not enough. Never enough. Their assault reminds me of the frenzy our family dances, sometimes willingly, most times because none of us can stop.

Maybe I should put my trials in perspective, but like most people, I think my struggles are monumental. I do know if I dwell on problems, they tend to swell to many times their actual size. This doesnít prevent my anxiety. Bloated questions rise above the caws and wing-flaps out in the yard. Am I ever going to have a normal life? Will I ever feel safe?

The crows have gone. Probably not, I think, though a hint of brightening seeps into the horizon. I strain to hear Godís voice, feel around in my heart to see if God has arrived. Faraway, a car backfires. I sip my coffee and try to rejoice in the day the Lord has made.

The cat hops in on three legs and rubs against me.

ďSorry, old boy,Ē I whisper.

He still has an appetite, in spite of his limp. I set his food down and promise to do better by him as soon as I can. He gobbles up his kibble as if he believes I will.

Iíve heard some people say that to the cat, Iím God. Poor kitty. He thinks heís safe with me.

So this is my crisis on a bleak January morning: Consider whether my God is safe enough to entreat, interested enough to listen, a good enough friend to fall on when I canít stand.

I shiver with cold and with dread in case I donít like the answer. Kitty cleans his face and paws, all the while balancing on his good hind leg. He doesnít look worried.

The coffee wakes me so I can think. Maybe the question isnít, Is God, whoís in control, safe? Maybe the question is, Am I safe with God?

To arrive at the conclusionóthat terrible things happen in life and thereís not much I can do to change itóhurtles me back toward a safe version of God. I go grappling into the morning darkness, scrabbling for the right prayer, the precise words or formula that will guarantee my safety. I plead with the ceiling through unspent tears. God help me. What Iím asking is for God to fix all the bobbles and bumbles of my existence. Iím after a God who is as reliable as that old Plymouth I once owned. I want the love of God that goes with the grain. Iím as needy as my gimpy cat.

So I plead for peace. Mercy, God. Give my family grace, God. A small loan to tide us over until payday wouldnít hurt.

All around me life goes on its perilous way.

In the midst of the terrible stands this terrible God.

How could I not have seen this before?

A safe God canít fend off evil, canít deliver awesome love. Safety guarantees only limited growth, a narrow view. To tackle lifeís problems, monumental or trivial, I need this terrible God, the one whoís daring and risky, who allows me to grapple with him, feel around in the dark for him.

Heís waiting there in the unknown. Solid and terrible.

Maybe there is more safety than I thought in risking everything for a brush with this God who often seems so unknown. To approach the holy, you take a chance. To find out if God really loves, you have to step closer and put your hand in his side. You will feel a hole. Your fingers, your hand will fit there.

The moment I look past my vengeful and distant idea of God to connect with pure Love, misery abates and depression skulks away. Iím no safer than I ever was. Worse, I am powerless.

A pink morning light weaves itself around leafless trees and lands, prismlike on my fingers. A filigree of beauty and possibility spreads before me. I know sunrise wonít last long. I hold my breath as the pinks deepen to orange. If I listen long enough, will I notice that I possess peace?

The sunrise finally fades into plain Tuesday morning, and I am still grappling, still listening.

Iím headed into it.

 

The Other Side of the Puzzle

        Linda:  I believe in the terrible love of God, but fears of the terrible sometimes get in the way. Arenít you ever afraid of God?

        Kris:   Yes, but Iím willing to walk through the dark or the fire to discover what I want. Well, that sounds pretty dramatic. What I mean is my fear of God isnít as strong as my desire to know him.

        Linda:  Are you getting closer? Have you received a revelation?

        Kris:   Every day with God is another revelation. I think we only catch glimpses of God darkly, as in a mirror.

        Linda:  But do you understand how to please God? Iím never sure I make the cut.

        Kris:   Oh, man, God is apparently pleased when a snake swallows a rat. I find God trying to please me much of the time, which makes me feel confused.

        Linda:  Really? You think Godís out to please us? I donít know that itís Godís job to please us.

        Kris:   Frankly, I donít know what Godís job isóif God has a job. I do know God keeps barging into my mind, changing what I think I see into something else.

        Linda:  Like what?

        Kris:   Letís say my life is a quilt or something. I think it looks pretty awful and then God shows me a different vision . . .

 

God Is a Patchwork Quilt (and So Am I)

Kris

My life with God is less like a jigsaw puzzle and more like an unfinished quilt, a swatch of patchwork thatís been put away too long so itís rumpled and musty. I lift it out of my mental cedar chest and shake it to see the squares. Godís contributions are tidy and colorful, while all of mine are faded or stained, attached with crooked stitches.

I hold that unfinished quilt up to myself, as high as my shoulders, and look in the mirror. The whole is even worse than the parts. The entire object is mismanaged, unplanned. It should be ripped apart and restructured, without any of my own pieces; but then the quilt would be Godís alone and if the quilt is my life, the new God-only coverlet would deny my having lived.

What to do? I can tear out the squares and triangles Iíve added and create better ones, but that too would be denial. To remove my patches would be hiding the facts of my life behind pretty, false stories. So what I have to do is live with the whole and acknowledge that Godís ideas are better than mine and that no matter how I try to repair my quilt, my patches will never look like Godís.

Still theyíre mine, after all; the quilt reveals, if not my perfection, at least my memories. One faded scrap of plaid is from a pleated skirt and bolero I wore to first grade, and the wrinkled peach square was left after Nana, my grandmother, sewed me some special pajamas. I wore them in the hospital when I had a mastoid operation. I canít remember exactly what garment the pale blue piece came from, but I feel a quick surge of recognition, a love for what is vaguely familiar. All the patchwork comes not just from outgrown garments but from my life itself.

A beige trapezoid was somehow about the summer when I was forty-one and ran away from home. I run my finger over its soft nap and remember patchouli and hair to my waist and sleeping in the woods. Yes, I had fun that summer. I found out about candles and incense and Sufi dancing, but when I left my family and faith community, I took some people down with me, young students and church friends and one of my nearly grown children. Maybe all of my children.

I put my head back and close my eyes. Odd. The most self-centered times of my life are fragrant and less faded, and the periods when I really did serve my family and the church, when I really was being good, look the most unattractive.

ďFix this,Ē I yell, gazing at the ceiling. I donít know where God lives, but I automatically look upward. Childhood habits die hard. Besides, the author of Genesis did speak of heaven and earth above and below, of vaults and domes and dwelling places. So if heaven is, say, on another continuum that brushes my left elbow, I hope my upward-directed prayer somehow finds its way there. ďGod!Ē I call. ďFix my quilt!Ē

I hold up the quilt, stretching it over my head to display it, so God can see what I mean.

Fix what? God says. I think itís beautiful.

Thatís God, all right, praising what I think needs a major repair.

So maybe there was no use for those dark, heavy theology texts that I struggled through? Maybe I shouldnít have bothered with meditation and retreats and quiet days? Did I waste my time with prayer and supplication and church? Are all those communions where I took the Body and Blood, which were supposed to exalt my spirit to levels of the Divine, not important to show up in the quilt? How can only the flimsy facts of my life appear, and God think the patchwork is beautiful? How can my quilt orómore plainlyómy self  look beautiful to God, when Iíve missed the mark so often (and still do)?

One of the things I dislike most is that my life hasnít been so different from anyone elseís. My teenage intention to be ďdifferentĒ apparently resonated in all my friends and probably teenagers everywhere, because we were so different from our parents that we all looked alike. Burying my gifts for years is a story thousands of women could tell, and my anger at my mother is a record millions can play. Struggling through menopause and entering old age are awful, but the experienceódrat!ówas not unique to me.

Then what was the use of me? What would the world lose if I dropped dead right now?

A thousand clichťs leap into my hearing: Donít talk that way. Youíre going to outlive us all. If you died, we wouldnít have your books. God isnít through with you yet.

Yeah, yeah. Iíve heard this all before. Iím rankled that my life is apparently not so matchless as I expected. My service to the world seems so small and piddling. So all my efforts to shine like a star in a crooked and perverse generation havenít been so stellar at all.

Then I hear someone whispering. Iím alone in the house, so I say aloud, ďWe had our quilt talk. Now run along.Ē

But what about the other one? God says, and spreads out the quilt of his own existence. Itís bigger than mine, big as the universe, but it makes me twitchy and uncomfortable. It has too many squares, some of which I recognize and others I never saw before. The outside edge of the quilt looks phony, artificial.

Those are the myths, God says. I can hear laughter in Godís voice.

ďWhatís funny?Ē

People donít understand myths. They think theyíre false. But some myths come true, like the one about a Savior God who dies and is resurrected. Egyptians, Sumerians, lots of peoples believed in that one.

ďWerenít those gods all false?Ē I ask.

Maybe. Or maybe they were just remembering forward.

ďBut they couldnít be saved by believing in those gods, could they?Ē

No one is ever told any story but her own, God says.

I sigh. You sigh a lot when you deal with God. Not the loud stage sigh you may do when your kids act up. This is the one when you know youíre beaten but donít feel satisfied. I look at Godís quilt again and become more confused than ever. The squares have turned different colors, and I canít find a pattern.

Who is God? What is God? Does God care what I do, or is God only concerned with what I am? Does God ever intervene in human life, or is God Deus absconditusóhidden, with a policy of noninterference? Is God passionately involved with my existence? Of all these questions bumping around in my mind, this is the one I utter: ďWhatís the relationship between your quilt and mine?Ē

I thought youíd never ask, God says. Lookee.

Somehow Godís patchwork falls over mine as a transparent overlay. My quilt glows through with celestial hues. Now I can glimpse my whole life as prayer, powerful even while I struggled with relationships and study and work.

Why is God always right? In this light, my quilt is beautiful.

Prayer does it, God says.

ďBut whose prayers were those?Ē I ask. ďYours or mine? Does God pray to God?Ē

Somebodyís been praying, God says.

I plead. ďWho? Whoís been praying?Ē

Thatís what this is all about, God says. This searching is to find out. An angel escort comes after God.

Iím left alone. I stand with a spiritual quilt in my hands, hoping God isnít far away.

 

The Agony of Belief

        Linda:  I think God seems the Trickster, like the Native Americansí Coyote. But then I thinkóno, God isnít a trickster. Heís just love, and love is dangerous. So God is dangerous because God is love. The closer I get to love, the more I risk getting not only burned but consumed. I guess we each see this danger from a different perspective. You say you canít get away from God, and Iím always afraid God wants to get away from me.

        Kris:   God in my life is like an impish child, shouting, ďLetís dance!Ē when Iím trying my best just to walk. God is too mysterious, too unpredictable. Why should I believe in the God of the Bible? Buddhists have more peace and Hindus more color, while God asks me to believe the improbable scenario of the New Testament.

        Linda:  No other world religion claims that God came to earth and walked among us, died to exonerate our collective and individual sins, and then came back to life.

        Kris:   What do you think is most dangerous about that belief?

        Linda:  If my experiences with non-Christians are any indication, Jesus makes everyone uncomfortable, makes people question themselves, stands us up against a higher standard. Some of the problem is a backlash against politicized Christianity, but the bigger danger appears to be that in-your-face, all-or-nothing, love-your-enemies Jesus. Iíve got to come to terms with that God, because that God is apparently in pursuit of me. God takes risks and wants me to be free enough to take risks. I want to end my self-consciousness because it keeps me at armís length from Jesus. And I have to admit that God is irresistible.

        Kris:   Hebrews says itís a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and Iím scared even when those hands are loving. But why isnít living easier? Why so much pain and sorrow? Are you sure God isnít the Trickster?

        Linda:  Iím not sure of anything, and God keeps demanding my attention, even when Iím sick or in real physical pain or worried about my kids. And then thereís that leap-of-faith thing. Every theologian or philosopher I have read brings it down to that. God does the work but then stands back and waits for you to jump over a river full of alligators and snakes.

        Kris:   Maybe weíve already made the leap. We canít go back because God is dangerous to ego and stubbornness, a threat to ambition and self-pity. And a loving God is the biggest threat of all. I think Heather Harpham Kopp said it best when she wrote, ďHoly, Holy! God is love. Watch out! Watch out!Ē2