It’s really amazing the energy and fervour with which our community is attacked for our faith. What is more amazing is that, after all these years, we still hear these strident voices. Usually we manage to shut out particular frequencies to which we are subjected when these become sources of irritation, yet we allow judgements passed by self-righteous fundamentalists to irritate us. Sometimes those voices rise from within our own community, issuing from the lips of those who are insecure, frightened or filled with guilt and self-loathing. Such attacks would be ridiculed were they subjected to the rigorous cross-examination of a case brought to trial. Yet because these judgmental statements are made by “respectable” men and women who declare themselves to be God’s spokespersons they are deemed to carry the weight of God’s approval. If the words written and spoken had no effect on the lives of our families, our friends, our governmental institutions and legislators, our press, or our educators we could choose to ignore them and their proponents. But the truth is, they do affect our lives, and the lives of those around us, to the highest levels of government. Many of the rural youth suicides in Australia at this point in time can be traced directly, or indirectly, to the hatred directed against us. September 1999 brought unbelievable pain in its wake as four young gay men in my region chose suicide over life during a ten day period.
Where do we find renewal for our strength? I wonder how often we have sung, “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength”? Here lies the truth of our renewal, our intimate and unceasing relationship with God. Waiting upon God! Not rushing hither and thither as if we were trying to put out brush fires with our bare hands, but waiting upon God. Such a relationship develops until it enfolds us every moment of our lives and moderates each and every word and action.
When we answer God’s invitation to “Come” we discover that we are all sons and daughters loved by God. This is a truth no person can ever snatch from us, no matter what methods of persuasion they use. Scripture offers this truth in both Testaments: In Jeremiah 31: 3: we read, — The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”, John 3: 16, states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Priest and author Henri Nouwen in writing on the topic of God,s love for us draws first on the Scriptural use of the word “Beloved” as he proceeds to expound the truth that we are “Beloved of God.” As we accept and experience the intimacy of our relationship as God’s Beloved we become changed. We begin to grasp the dimensions of God’s love for us, and find our security and peace in the presence of God. Knowing God chooses us to be Beloved brings joy and praise into our lives and our hearts sing with God’s love. As we draw ever closer to God we find that we draw God’s presence into all the events of our days. The intimacy established by prayer continues regardless of any distractions we encounter, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
This intimacy finds its source in the silences between the words we utter in prayer. Just as God’s voice to Elijah was not in the mighty wind, the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the gentle whisper, so it is in the stillness of our bodies and minds that we hear God’s voice more clearly. Psalm 46: 10 offers this advice, “Be still, and know that I am God,” while in Isaiah 32: 17 we read, “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” Peace and stillness in the presence of God provide an oasis for our soul’s refreshment. Many Christians have reclaimed centering prayer as the foundation for their prayer life. Centering prayer focuses our thoughts and spirits on truths which are pinpointed in this process. Meditation is also a means of focusing our minds on particular texts or events and allowing God to unfold the full meaning of these worlds. We begin to experience simple yet powerful truths within the silence we have created. There is also a passion springing up within the hearts of many Christians to revive the practice of treading labyrinths paths as they focus on meditative, centering prayer. Unlike the maze, which in many ways reflects life with its many dead ends and false trails, the labyrinth has one path which leads to its center, thus reflecting our journey to the heart of God.
Many religions and faiths use repetition to inscribe upon the believers, hearts and minds those words on which the foundation of their faith is built. The Shema, the most holy statement of the Jewish faith, is recited not only each morning and evening, but also to the newly born babe, and to those at the point of death. We may, as do lovers, commit each precious word spoken by our Beloved God to our memories. When access to printed material is denied, as it has been denied during our own life-times, Scripture committed to memory will provide our spiritual nourishment. With God’s words resounding in our minds and hearts no matter what our situation, we may echo Paul’s words, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life; neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38-39).
We also find strength and nourishment through interaction with like-minded Christians. The body of Christ, the Church, is composed of individuals who have vowed to serve God and humanity as did Jesus. Scripture speaks much about friends, true friends and false friends alike, but for us in the passage in John 15: 9-17 we hear Jesus, words on his expectation of friendship. According to our Saviour, friends love one another with the same loving that he showed his disciples, with the same loving that he was accustomed to share with God. Again in this passage we hear Jesus, assertion that it is not we who choose him, but always he who chooses those he claims as friends and co-workers for the Dominion of God.
Just as Jesus took time to inquire after the problems which beset his friends and their families, so in true Christian circles we encounter this genuine concern for the emotional, physical and spiritual health of one another. Here is a willingness to assist practically, and a sharing of assets. Judgement is absent, for Christ demanded we forgo judgement – that being the prerogative of God. In honesty and love we become a community prepared to listen to one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to strengthen one another by sharing our own experiences and understanding. As a community of faith, regardless of our geographic location, our denomination, age, gender, abilities and able-ness, we empower one another as we prayerfully bring all our concerns before God. The Holy Spirit fills and controls our lives, words and actions so that when we encounter hateful words or circumstances, we stand together testifying to the truth of God’s holy presence in our lives. It matters not what is said of us, or how we are rebuked by those who claim to have insight into God’s mind, or whether like sharks in a blood frenzy they attack, determined to have justice rather than forgiveness and the law rather than love, for our security and strength lie in Jesus.
The Beatitudes allow us an insight into the mind of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” our Saviour said, and peace is a gift we can offer the world, as we draw our love and forgiveness from the One who could extend love and forgiveness at Calvary. Peace rather than retaliation, forgiveness rather than retribution, love rather than fragmentation – all have their source in the strength we draw from the Holy Spirit. Peacemakers constantly offer themselves on the altar of love, prepared to sacrifice all for the sake of love. Not for them the verbal violence directed by those who have not yet discovered the depths of peace acquired during our interaction with God. Instead, like a cool breeze in summer, peacemakers offer love’s refreshment where fires of anger and hate abound. We extend the cup of life, drawn from the wells of salvation, to all including those who believe in a God who first marginalises, and then condemns the marginalised. It is only when, in our own insecurity and fear, we turn our eyes from Jesus that we falter in life’s race, in our quest to perform the work God has uniquely for us. Yet all is not lost, for God waits, starting pistol in hand, while we fidget at the starting blocks. Perhaps our shoes are not laced correctly, perhaps our hair has blown into our eyes, maybe we’re straightening our shorts – while God continues to wait.
We have only one day at a time to experience. It is we who choose whether to draw our confidence, courage and strength from God in whom our lives are centered as we meet the challenges and opportunities each day presents. Perhaps some days we may choose to draw on our own strength and certainties. But, as we are finite, so these too are finite, and we will surely become discouraged and defeated. As we draw upon God’s love, as God becomes the prime source of our strength, as our awareness of being God’s Beloved imprints upon every circumstance and relationship, our lives become holy. Like Jesus, our lives reflect love and light, a love which knows no ending and a light which can never be extinguished. God is the source and strength which upholds us.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.