Inadequate Words on the Absence of God

How often have I referenced God’s presence and absence? I’ve preached those words in tandem, enamored with how melodic they sound in a sentence. I’ve also cast them onto a computer’s screen, as if skipping two similar rocks across a digital pond.

Presence is a bright hope. Sensed. Glimpsed. Believed. Trusted. Calling. Comforting. Inspiring.

Absence is a dark place where the furniture has been rearranged. Or in a darker space where there is no furniture, no sense of size or shape, entry or exit.

I usually link the two two-syllable words because one makes the other safer. I try to please myself, you see. I try to please (or is it appease) anyone listening or reading, you see. When absence and presence are used, and especially when the climax of the sermon or essay is God’s presence, I conclude with an upbeat message and then vamoose for the nearest door.

My experiences with God’s presence have been fleeting but real. Those few—but precious—encounters authentically inform my words. And yet, my Holy moments or seconds are chump change compared to others. There are those who have had profound experiences with the Holy. They have humbly and regularly sensed God’s presence. What do I really know of Mystery? Continue reading →

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Show and Tell

I couldn’t get the fire going.

God knows I tried.

I’d collected the slender twigs and slightly larger sticks. They were piled loosely over a tidy bed of dry needles. Without the fire, there’d be no hot water for breakfast and (as a prideful 20-year old man-child) an uptick of my humiliation.

I struck the match again.

A hopeful flutter. A hint of flames. With puckered cheeks, I blew a soft breeze over the tender beginnings.

The flame sputtered, died. I tried again. Same results. I rubbed my hands. At near 6,000 feet on a late May morning, I could see my breath. Brrrr! How I longed for success with these cranky shards of wood. This was the morning of my first backpack, the first time to strap weight on my shoulders, the first time—after my friend Michael inspired me to borrow equipment—to leave the pavement for a dirt path vanishing into the forest. Continue reading →

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Speaking for Jesus with a Texas Twang

Pop quiz!

Please fill in the blanks for this Biblical verse (big clue: it’s the same word twice):

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to _________ the things that are _________, and give to God that things that are God’s.’” (It’s Luke 20:25, but do you really need to look it up?)

Next ridiculously obvious clue: a coin was shown to Jesus just before those words were spoken. I have a feeling you’ll get the correct answer. It’s a familiar passage and, well, if you’re reading this, I’m confident you’re a smart person!

The verse opening this slice of the third Gospel is equally satisfying and foreboding. Luke 20:20 noted, “So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him in what he said . . .”

Nasty! Sneaky! Dastardly! How 21st century!

For me, the satisfaction comes from the “spies” getting their comeuppance. This is the scene where those who fear Jesus seek to trap him by asking about taxes. Taxes were controversial then, just as now. Maybe what Jesus said would get him in trouble with 1) Caesar or 2) the Roman Empire’s version of the IRS. (Oops, now I’ve helped you with the quiz above!). But nimble Jesus sidesteps their trap. I imagine the spies with their mouths open and their eyes glazed over when Jesus turns the table with his question. And I also imagine, with a little sleight-of-hand, that Jesus figured out how to pocket their sample coin and give it to the poor.

It’s also a foreboding passage. At this stage of Jesus’ journey, his list of enemies has grown. The powerful were nervous. The insiders’ schemes increasingly deadly. Continue reading →

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