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Messy reflections

OttowaLike all of us, I spent most of this week with a watchful eye on the news. I join in the feelings of anger and sadness, as the events of Wednesday rang out amid the resonance of Monday’s events. There are many questions we could ask, and indeed are asking. How on earth do we respond? What on earth can we say about these things, not in vain attempt to ‘understand’ these events, nor to ‘explain’ them, but to give a voice of response as people of faith?

I hate these events for a very selfish reason. I don’t like talking about them. As one tasked with standing in the pulpit on Sunday, I vehemently reject the type of preaching that spends more time commenting on current events than on the Biblical world. This means that my habit is to ‘stick with the text’, sometimes to the the ignoring of what is happening in the world. But this week I feel differently. This week I feel something should be said. Thus, on Wednesday afternoon I again turned to the readings for this coming Sunday desiring to hear how the God’s word could possibly address us. I turned to the psalm of the day, Psalm 90, and found words echoing the feelings many of us have: “Turn, O Lord. How long? Have compassion on your servants!”

The 90th psalm doesn’t provide any answers. We don’t find justifications about the nature of sin; there are no discussions about the heart of evil people, or a cry for the vengeance of God to be realized. It doesn’t help things make sense. Yet deep within these verses we are challenged to see our lives from the context of God’s eternal presence. “From everlasting to everlasting you are God’, says the Psalm, firmly establishing the changelessness of God’s identity. From beginning to end, from A to Z, from start to finish, God is God. God, the creator of the most stalwart mountains is the one who holds power and might over all things on earth. We must reside and rest in Him who is our true refuge, our security, our hope, our life.

This does not mean that the horrors of life will not make their way to us. We see the eternity of God from the point of our own frailty. We run into problems when we forget that we have but fragile lives and we live in a fallen world. In a previous post, long ago, I mentioned how Forbes magazine runs a list every year of the richest deceased celebrities. That’s right, celebrities long past, like Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson, not only make money, but have agents! The quest for fame is a quest not for temporary popularity, but for for eternal recognition. Can we say that the actions of Monday and Wednesday are an attempt to exert a will, to make a statement, as if eternity rested upon their shoulders?

But eternity doesn’t rest on our shoulders; It rests upon God’s – the one who holds us in life and in death, We are not called to enter into our days trying to muscle God into our plans, because we are but a momentary dream. Rather we are called to surrender our will, and our lives, to him who spans eternity and can see things far greater than we can. We learn how to live in this world by immersing ourselves in God’s presence. It is in the place of rendering ourselves completely bare and naked before our creator that we are able to cry “Turn, O Lord, How long? Have compassion on your servants!” It is a cry of openness, a cry of surrender, of self abandon before The Lord of heaven and earth. Because there are some things that will never make sense. There are things that we can’t reason out, or find explanations that will make all the pieces fall into place. All we can do is ask for God to have compassion on us.

Compassion is a wonderful word. It is from the Latin meaning ‘to suffer with’. Turn to us O God, and do not take away our suffering, but come into it!  We ask God not to remove the horrors of life, because let’s be honest, as frail and fallen people that will never occur until the last day, but to come and dwell therein. Furthermore, it is the answer to this cry that we see exploding through scripture. God, the creator of all, the redeemer of Israel, the one enfleshed in Jesus, responds to this cry over and over and over again. We hear it in Psalm 23 ‘Though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil for you are with me.’ We hear it in the prophets when God speaks words of comfort and restoration. We see it in the manger where God comes to us in the midst of the dirt and messiness of life. We see it in the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus is filled with sorrow to the point of death. And we see it most profoundly in the cross, where God’s full ‘suffering with’ becomes the ‘suffering for’, and his love is declared to us all.

God’s love is steadfast. It is eternal. It is always present and always offered. Yet sadly there are times where fragile humanity decides to see satisfaction in other things. Gunmen who prey on the innocent are wanting satisfaction – as defined by their own fragile minds or warped thoughts of justice. But whether in extreme or radicalised situations, or even in the small places of our own lives, we err when we see satisfaction as coming from anything except entering into God’s will and steadfast love in our lives. We are to wake every morning, not desiring to fulfil our own plans, but entering into the presence of the one with us in this moment. We live in the context of His love.

We are called to be formed in this love; To make it the foundation of our entire lives. We open ourselves, to allow the work of God to be manifest in God’s servants, i.e, you and I, and yearn to be places where the glorious power of God resides. It is only when we do this that the favour of The Lord our God is upon us – because it is not based upon our own fragile attempts to create our own satisfaction. Divine favour comes from God’s grace, received not from the things we do but by opening ourselves to the presence of God in our midst.

We journey on from these events with a spirit trying to be open to the compassion and love of God; a spirit that longs for God’s way to be revealed amongst us and through us; a spirit aching for God’s power. This is a spirit that does not explain away the bad things of life, but sees the compassion of God in the thick of them. Perhaps, the events of the past week, perhaps Psalm 90, reminds us that we are called to have this attitude.

So let’s ask our ‘How longs?’ and cry our ‘when will this end?’ We can pray diligently for the power of God to be revealed in the life, that evil be eradicated, that those who work towards death and destruction be thwarted. But in those prayers, let us understand that those prayers must include our own prayers of openness to God’s eternal presence. God’s response to these things involves the transformation of our lives further in the power of God’s heavenly steadfast love, and that the only real way forward is for our wills to be conformed to His, and for us to be satisfied in He who renews us in his presence each and every morning. Amen.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
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  • Kyle Norman