Finding God

"Hanging from Nowhere" with the Monks

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No one wanted to climb the rock but me. It was getting dark, and everyone was tired. But, really? Didn’t they see how glorious it was, how compelling? The pyramid shape, the rocky ledges, the ancient crumbling fort on its summit? Finally, I won. We tied on our sneakers and set off.

It was indeed magically majestic, and worthy of our efforts.

 

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Who can resist a mountain? For the ancients, mountain tops meant protection, domination, victory, safety.

For others, mountain summits evoke worship.  Never have I seen so many crosses atop mountains as I have in Greece.

 

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This week, we stayed in Meteora, surrounded by a bowl of mountains and monoliths laid bare. It’s a holy place, say all the books. And so say the generations of monks and nuns who have made these rocks their perch and their home since the 11th century. Their impossible home. But chosen, for many, to be closer to God.

 

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At one time there were thirty monasteries here in Meteora, (which means “hanged from nowhere”). Some were only accessible by rope ladder, by net (hauled up by a giant hook). The very presence of these buildings and the monks and nuns who inhabit them is miraculous.

 

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The day we hiked from the village to the summit of one monastery, I admit it. As I climbed the switchbacks for an hour, wending high and higher, until emerging into the stone steps chisled out of a massive monolith, as I ascended a steep half tunnel and suddenly emerged in a stone house among the clouds, heaven felt near.  The icons in the chapel were stunning. The quiet, overwhelming. The reverence, palpable. I lit a candle. I prayed. I envied the two monks who call this home. I wanted to stay.

 

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I wanted to step away from the buzzing human hive and hang from the sky this way, suspended in prayer. Imagine. No braying news hounds. no politicians, no freeways. No internet. no noise. Just me. And God.

 

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But I know the truth about myself, and maybe everyone else. All of us, even the inhabitants of high castles and underground caves are a confusing blend of God-hunger and self-satisfaction, purity and jealousy, holiness and selfishness.

 

 I live every summer on a far north island Alaskan island off an island.  I know the truth about it, that ultimately retreat from the world is retreat from others.

 

And I know too If my own soul state is my sole concern, and if I think I will be holier, purer for my remove from people, I am in error. I am as polluted as anyone else, and the cure is not isolation but God and neighbor-immersion.

 When we let the world shrink to one, we can believe that in caring for ourselves we are caring for the  world . ..

 

 

In Paul’s Mars Hill address to the Athenians he spoke the truth, that God’s desire is that men and women

“would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.”

 

He is not far from any of us. We don’t have to chisel stone steps up a thousand foot monolith. We don’t have to be hoisted to a cloister in the clouds to find him. He is here, in the world he created and still reigns over. He has come down to us.

Close your eyes right now, or open them, and you will find him.

 

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A Lost Child, "Burned Alive," and Ending Evil Now








A child was lost this last week. A child I knew. In the dark. In the forest by the cliffs. Someone who could fall down the ragged rocks to a brutal beach below. I was in agony for the parents of this child. We were praying, so many of us. Others ran to look with flashlights, friends from church, Coast Guard, the Navy, the state troopers. Kodiak is like that . ..







And the news around the world is so hard. This morning, how many more days will we wake to see these horrific words on our computer screens: hostages "beheaded." "tortured"  "burned alive"??   

I am sick at heart. 


And I am sick at heart of myself. In church on Sunday, our pastor spoke of sin. Who wants to hear about sin? I do. He spoke of sin in a new way. Not sin as in murdering, adultering, conniving, but sin as a gentle tipping of the scales toward ourselves. A subtle shifting of the weights we use to measure ourselves and others. And don't we do this? Don't we do this ALL this time, weight our Scale of Benefits and Praise just a wee bit heavier than everyone else's? And the Lord "hates dishonest scales." This is the root of all evil.







Done. Devastated. Tears. Forgive me these my great heavy sins, Lord





I went for a walk, as I do when I'm in troubled, lost. I went to the cliffs and woods, the same woods the child was lost in. I went to look for God. 







Where was God? We are always looking for him, I think, whether we know it or not. The Russian cosmonaut Titov was looking, telling a news conference in 1962 that 'In my travels around the earth I saw no God or angels.'" 

I was gone for two hours in the woods, around the lake. The griefs and fears of my friends, the evil of ISIS, the family in trouble . . . my own heavy heart.  I felt our common human lament and our human confusion: If you are there, God, why don’t you answer? And our second howl is like it: If you are there and you are good, why do you allow so much evil? 



















But I recognize my own complicity in the presence of sin and the seeming absence of God. Anthony Bloom, in his classic, Beginning to Pray, has written, “We have no right to complain of the absence of God for we are a great deal more absent than he ever is.” 























So it is. How is it that we demand God’s presence in our own heartbreaks and even in our whimsies when we make ourselves so absent from him otherwise? I have so many ways of absenting myself, this one chief among them: 

Each time I tip my own scale, I diminish another and enlarge myself. 

And each time I enlarge my own presence, I perceive God's presence less. 

And without God's presence, I am prone to evil . . . 




We are not using the wondrous paradoxical power God has given us: to decrease so that He may increase. 







              


             The child was found that day by rescuers hours later. Safe. At the end of the two hours, I too felt saved, gloriously freed from the self, opened to the sky, the spruce trees themselves reaching for light, the ocean breathing in and out. I emptied out my worries, the burdens of my friends, the burden of myself. 









And I knew, the answer to the question of Evil and Suffering starts here. Here, in my small heart. When I open my over-weighted self-loving heart to God, I am emptied, overthrown. God comes near, moves in. And there is no room for evil in a God-dwelling heart.

Here is what we do about evil in the world right now: 

 We rout the evil in our own hearts. We tip the scales toward others. Always.

I can't stop ISIS. But I can do this here where I live. 

We can ALL do this.