July 8, 2016, Reflection informed by recent meditation on Genesis 15:1-6 and Hebrews 11:1-3.
Abram believed in the promises of God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, right relationship with God. Belief, that place of trust in God, even in the face of not seeing the fulfillment of promises.
Today, just after the killing of 4 police officers in Dallas during protests over the killing by police of two black men earlier this week, in the wake of Orlando, in the wake of the obscene parade of violent and hate filled behavior and language that seems hell-bent on total destruction of this country, I have no words to pray. I have no way to believe in the future. I have no way to confront any of the problems that threaten to overwhelm this country. No, wrong word. The threat is long past. The overwhelming is here now. The destruction is happening now. I have no way to trust in the present. I’m uncertain as to how I can even express trust in God, considering the present circumstances. Like Abram, I’m trying to figure out what I can do to help fulfill God’s promises of leaving a legacy of a life that mattered enough to be reckoned as righteousness, because this morning, I don’t even know how to pray.
But I feel drawn to my studio and the Trinity icon I painted 2 years ago — the icon I was led to paint in what I knew at the time was a foolish hope of better understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. So I light a candle and an incense stick, because it feels like that’s the best I can do to pray, to offer something symbolic of my hope of a prayer rising as smoke or a prayer being one little light in a very dark place. It’s all I can do, which feels pitifully small. And I sit in silence before my Trinity icon thinking about the uselessness of it all. I remember my friend Russ, a deacon in the Diocese of Texas, who told me the only way he could pray at the time of the Paris bombings was to sit in front of his copy of the Trinity icon, and then to imagine the people who were suffering being in the center of the three angels. That’s the best he could do, that’s all he could do, he said. And I think, I hope, it was credited to Russ as righteousness.
So I sit in front of my Trinity icon, and once again notice the mistakes I made in the painting, and know I have to move past that superficiality in order to arrive at the place where the icon will speak to my soul, where deep calls to deep. I’m not there yet. I’m only thinking of how I have no words. I, who live on words and speaking, have nothing to say to God. There’s nothing I can say that will make any difference, there’s nothing I can do that can set anything right. I’m “smallened,” my word for humbled by the immensity of a God too great to comprehend. Phrases from a song learned nearly 6 decades ago in high school chorus come to mind: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence. Ponder nothing earthly minded.” Indeed, let all mortal flesh keep silence before God. There are too many words anyway. There is nothing to say in the face of this overwhelming dark place. There is nothing to say when we know not how to pray as we ought. I sink further into silence, trusting I am not alone in this place of hopelessness before God. But I am before God, as best as I can be this morning. I’m doing only what I seem to be able to do. To light a candle and incense stick and sit in silence before an image of three angels. And believe I am not the only one doing this.
I am quickly reminded of the realizations of redemptions just this week, and some family relationships being made new, of prayers prayed four decades ago coming to fulfillment. Of new hopes and possibilities. The sense of lightness and detachment from ongoing train wrecks continuing in other parts of the family, crises about which I have no power or influence, only the responsibility to pray. And I’m terrible at faithful praying. I’m terrible at having faithful responses in the face of things I cannot do anything about. Like the pregnancy caused by our 16 year old great grandson. Like the killings in Dallas and St Paul and Baton Rouge and Orlando and on and on…. My hopelessness is reinforced by the present so that I forget to trust in the promises for the future. “Ponder nothing earthly minded,” says the song, versus the compelling to sit in silence and feel the hopelessness of this world’s situation, to feel it in the name of God. To feel it in the name of the immensity of the Trinity that I don’t understand and can’t speak of with words. To endure the feeling of hopelessness for even a few minutes because I have the luxury of feeling hopeful most of the time because of the circumstances of my life. I have the luxury of getting up from my place in front of the icon and going about my day, where other people cannot get up and go on about a normal day because they will never have a normal day again. The least I can do, maybe the only thing I can do, is what I’m doing. It doesn’t seem like much in the way of a faithful response. It doesn’t seem like enough. But it is all I seem to be able to do.
As in other times of hopelessness in my life, when I’ve yelled or cried out to God, or sat in abject poverty of spirit smallened before the mystery that is God, there comes an unexplainable assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I do not wonder if this ‘counts’ as faith, or worry whether or not this morning’s silence will be credited as righteousness. I have to trust. That is all I can do.