God is Absent

Introduction:
John's Gospel explaining that Jesus had to leave physically so that his disciples would find him spiritually
Find him in their hearts and in their midst
Losing him was a loss, a grief, an enduring sorrow, yet they would also gain:
See things from a fresh perspective
Learn many more things than he had been able to teach them in the time/circumstances available
Realise that Jesus greater than they had realised, God greater than they could imagine

1. Hardship
Feeling abandoned. Left to struggle. World closing in (ageing, illness, onset of disability, can no longer do what we used to do in the past, dependent on others, cared-for). Life is one long list of difficulties and problems to be worked through. Personally, socially, world.

Paul/Romans: Should not be surprised. All creation in labour, struggling to bring a new world order to birth.

2. Hope
We have a hope, but what is it? Not sure what it is, we cannot see it, so how can we wait for it with patience?

I find it in:
God's attitude towards us
Jesus' understanding of suffering
Holy Spirit's gentle intimate understanding.

God knows the shape of our need, feels our frustration and enables us to bear with ourselves – and others.

3. Being Received
Begins with the way that we are loved by God.
Story of Yeshi Dhonden.

Being received. Being welcomed. Feeling able to trust that welcome. Feeling able to receive from that person. Feeling able to ask.

God loves us like that. Sees us, knows us and knowing us, looks upon us only with love.
God comes all the way to meet us. Knows what we want to say even when we don't. Knows what we need before we ask. Helps us to understand our pride and obstinacy. Helps us set it aside to ask.

God understands. Not only out there but deep within us, feeling our frustration, desire to be independent, longing to do what we have done so easily in the past, reluctance to have to rely on others.

But God won't do all the asking for us. Why not? Because it is good for us to learn how to ask. OK to have an appropriate amount of pride in ourselves, but too much cuts us off from other people.

Being cared for by other people can be a liberating experience.
(Yes, can be difficult, not all carers are good at it. Some are care-less. But then some people who need to be cared for are manipulative)

But as we learn how to ask we find that much caring is done well. It builds trust. Learning how to ask is part of learning how to trust other people, how to have faith in other people and all this is part of having faith in God, and in ourselves, too.

By learning how to ask, we also learn how much love there is – still – in the world. How deeply and broadly God is involved in the world and present in the hearts of other people, whether or not they name him. Most of all, we learn how profoundly God is listening to us. That in the depths of the heart of God we are known and loved. Received.

In the Elizabeth Peters story, The Falcon at the Portal, the hero, Ramses Emerson, is accused of fathering the illegitimate child of a young prostitute in Cairo. It emerges that he has supported the child, Sennia, and attempted to help the mother escape her procurer. The accusation, and his consequent actions, cost Ramses the woman he loves, Nefret. And yet it is his cousin, Percy, who is Sennia's father. Like many other European men, Percy had sought sex with a virgin as a way of avoiding venereal disease. So he paid the procurer to provide him with a young girl he could rape and use. But he did not accept any responsibility for her, or for her child, and was willing to abandon Sennia to a life of poverty and prostitution. In the end it is Ramses who claims Sennia, at first out of a sense of honour, duty or obligation, as a kinsman, and then because he has grown to feel a fatherly affection for her. Though she has cost him so much - and for years he believes his loss to be irredeemable - she is also his pride, his comfort and his joy.
In claiming Sennia, Ramses is motivated by a mixture of emotions, but what is certain is that he does not intend to lay any obligation upon her. He claims her because her father has abandoned her and her mother is dead; because no one else cares for her; and because the alternative is to leave her to suffering and abuse. The claim is a necessity that love lays upon him: it is not a burden to be laid upon her. And in this respect, the story illustrates the way that God's call claims us, yet leaves us free to respond with an answering love - or not.

 

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