Sunday, September 26, 2004

What I Learned at Vacation Bible School Part 2

“And now ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce someone you all know very well, Jesus’ greatest enemy, the prince of darkness, Belzeebub, the devil himself… SATAN!!!” The spotlight swings stage left.

About a hundred kids jump and shriek when Satan, dressed in a black leather jacket, red cape, horns and pointy ears springs from a red, back-lit, fog shrouded rock. But they are soon entranced, Satan is a very smooth talking character. Satan tells how he tried to tempt Jesus into changing stones into free Happy Meals for himself and all the kids. He tells how he tried to get him to fly like Superman off the top of the church building to REALLY make VBS cool, but all to no avail. Then Satan takes out a handful of candy, red cinnamon “fire balls”, and starts tossing it around to all the kids in the audience. They all grab and catch and scramble on the floor to pick it up. “Have some candy kids! You’ll be my friends won’t you? See, they love me!!”

Satan sneers at the kids, “I may not be able to get Jesus to do what I want but I bet I can get YOU to! If you do what I say I’ll give you candy and sodas and you can stay up as late as you want… and then YOU’LL be my friends…. AHHH..HAHAHAHAHA!!!”

Jesus jumps up from his seat nearby and shouts, “Satan, you leave God’s children alone!" Jesus strides over to Satan and gets right in his face and pokes a finger in his chest.

"You mess with them, you answer to ME! You got that??” The kids go silent. Jesus and Satan are standing inches from each other, toe to toe, nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball. There is not a breath. Satan slowly backs down, cowering, and slinks back to his cave. “I’ll be back!” he shouts. The kids go wild. “Yaaaayyyyy Jesus!” And it’s off to the learning centers for more Bible times experiences.

One of the children is crying. Daniel. He’s almost four. Maybe Satan scared him. I look at his mouth and it is all red, he is drooling red slime. Maybe he bumped his mouth on a song book rack and cut his lip ….again.

I stoop down and hold his tiny face. “Daniel, are you hurt sweetheart?” Tears roll, he shakes his head side to side. His mouth is working overtime, puckering, drooling, sucking, biting his lips. It is not blood. I hear clicking inside his mouth.

“What’s in your mouth, Daniel… here, let me see.”

“It’s candy from the devil,” he says, drooling and sniffling.

“Well, what’s the matter Daniel? Why are you crying?”

“Cuz it’s ho-oooo-oot!” he says in a quivering voice.

“Well, Daniel, if it’s hot, why don’t you spit it out?”

“Cuz it’s caa-aaandy!” he wails.

Oh child, you said a mouthful. At three and a half you stated more clearly than any theologian the warfare within us.

Oh child, at three and a half the warfare already rages within you.

And what candy from the devil are you holding onto, O "grown up" child of God?

A lifestyle? Dinner parties or beer parties, Mercedes or pickups, Georgio Armani or Levis, mansions or cheap motels, or somewhere in between?

An image? Footloose and free, competent and invulnerable, sharing and caring, rich and powerful, martyred and self sacrificing, spiritual and righteous, angry and rebellious, non-conformist or on the edge, in the know and on the inside track of everything?

A relationship? Illicit, destructive, hopeless, imaginary, ego gratifying, degrading or questionable?

And what is it costing you O child, what is it hurting?

Your peace, your wife, your sincerity, your children, your honesty, your ideals, your self respect, your dreams, your hopes, your reputation, your ability to feel true joy, to see the world with a clear eye, to delight in the world with a pure heart, to look in the mirror with a clear conscience?

And, child, if you hurt so much, why don’t you let it go?

Because it’s candy.

Yes little children, we like the look, we love the feeling, we love the pleasure, we revel in the admiration and ego boost. So we eat the apple and then try to fix or drown out the bitter consequence. Sometimes we fast and pray, seek spiritual counsel and we still have a stash of candy hidden in the closet. When every word on overcoming sin has been spoken, when every encouragement has been uttered and every step of every program has been applied and you lose the battle, you still fall, you still hurt, you know you are dying, there is still yet one last word. It is the only word that really matters in the end to the wretched dying losers of the battle with temptation.

“No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

O, the sweet love of God. Taste and see that the Lord is Good. Rejoice O child of God, and eat the Body and Blood of your Savior. Taste the heavenly gift, laugh and be exceedingly glad you sinners, His Body is True Food and His Blood, True Drink. Rejoice you who have tasted the bitterness of sin, Jesus is the Snickers of God.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What I Learned at Vacation Bible School

In the summer of '89 I was Jesus for nine hours.

It was our congregation’s first attempt at a “Living Vacation Bible School”, three nights, three hours a night of full dress re-enactments of Bible times and gospel stories. Allan and I were asked to write the scripts for several of the stage plays. I was invited to play the part of Jesus. I was flattered and not just a bit proud. Allan and I had great fun writing the plays then seeing them come to life in rehearsals.

But as we worked on the scripts and the day approached there was something that began to weigh heavily within me. The gravity of what we were trying to say and what I was trying to show about Jesus became more and more a solemn, sacred consideration to me. I had set out to instruct and convict an audience, but as usual I ended up not teaching as much as being taught and not convicting as much as being convicted myself.

As I struggled with how to portray Jesus it finally became clear to me that the big question was not really, “What am I going to teach these people about Jesus?” It all came down to one thing really: I, who had professed to know Jesus, had to put it on the line… Do I know Him well enough to be like Him? Can I be an imitator or Christ or just an impersonator who happens to look like the stereotype of the way people think He looked? (See the picture taken at the VBS….) Will anyone be convinced? I knew deep inside of me that no matter how good we were at putting words in actors mouths, the words would still betray Jesuss if I didn’t know Him. And even if Allan and I were able to write a good script I knew it could not be played convincingly by someone with no heart for the character. So I went back to the Gospels again to see who Jesus is.

Something happens when you sit down and read the Gospels, not for doctrinal ammunition or to string verses together to make Paul and Jesus say the same thing, but to try to know Jesus, to answer the question “Who must I be to convince someone I am Jesus? What of ME has to go, what of Jesus is missing in me?”

So I was Jesus for nine hours. They were probably the most profound nine hours of my life. I came away humbled at how far short of being in His image I am. I came away humbled at the power there is in even the slightest, cheapest imitation of Him. I came away more in love with Him than ever. I knew something of me had died and by His mercy I was what I needed to be for those few hours, and by His mercy I could be what He wanted me to be for the rest of my life.

Here now are some lessons I learned at Vacation Bible School.

I was part of the auditorium plays. Everyone gathered there first. After the plays the children divided up and went to the learning centers in small groups. I stayed in my Jesus costume after the play was done and wandered around the buildings between class sessions. The kids would see me and yell, “Hey, Jesus!!” and waye. Some of them would give me a “high five” as they walked by. Some came up and held up their arms to be picked up and hugged. I played tag, picked up toddlers and turned them upside down and they shrieked with laughter “Do it again!” I let kids walk on the tops of my feet and walked to classes holding tiny hands.

I was sitting by one of the refreshment tables talking to some of the other cast when a line of children passed by. A small girl, maybe three years old, broke ranks and ran to me. She reached up and threw her arms around my neck and whispered “I love you Jesus.” Just as quickly, she ran back to her line and looking back at me, waved goodbye as they went in the building. Then it dawned on me. In their little minds I was Jesus. REALLY Jesus. This isn’t Steve Robinson they think they are playing with because most of them didn’t even know me. Besides, Steve doesn’t do this kind of things with kids. It hit me like a millstone: How I treat them and how they see me may influence how they see Jesus for the rest of their lives. I had to go sit alone for a few minutes.

I thought about what the kids were seeing that night. I thought about our “adult Sunday school Jesus” and how our grown up teaching about Jesus must impress our kids. I thought about how our “imitation of Christ” must make kids think about Jesus. I imagined it must be like Jesus and His disciples when they walked into town with Christ. The official apostolic motorcade rolling into town, sirens blaring, lights flashing, security all around. Clear the way for the Messiah, VIP coming through, no time for autographs and baby kissing.

And here come the kids. “HEY EVERYBODY ITS JESUS!!!”
Suddenly the disciples’ doctrine powered, dead serious messianic motorcade is surrounded by runny nosed rug rats and reduced to Romper Room. They are scandalized. Jesus, on the other hand is having a ball. The disciples stand back and try to look like they have serious matters to attend to. They stand off to the side, crossed arms wrapped tightly around their chests. They impatiently tap their sandals in the dirt, raising little puffs of dust. After all, someone has to give an air of dignity to this movement. If we look serious and perturbed enough maybe these parents and kids will get the message that we need to be moving along here, we have a mission to accomplish, we have Pharisees to debate at the synagogue in half an hour.
Finally one of them gets frustrated and begins shooing the kids away. “OK people, let’s go…Enough already… Jesus has some important things to do today…move along now…..”

Jesus is sitting in the dirt playing pat-a-cake and looks up at the disciples. He looks down at the ground and slowly shakes His head. He gets up slowly and shakes the dust from the back of His robe. He picks up a child and says, “Peter, James, John, Andrew…Come here you guys. Yeah, you… and the rest of you too.”

Jesus says, “You see this child? This is what the kingdom is all about. We are having a ball. You think this kid is worried about who is greatest, who’s best, who’s first, doctrinal debates, establishing kingdoms or whether or not you think they are qualified to play with me or not? Nope. All he knows is if he comes running to play with me there is no way I’m going to exclude him from the game. They know I’m the Life of the party. And you know what guys? If you ever say or do anything to change that in these little kids it will be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea. And I’m dead serious……”

Jesus looks at Peter who looks like a whipped puppy now. He is looking at the ground digging small furrows in the dirt with his big toe. The others are rocking back and forth on their heels, trying to look nonchalant because all the parents are staring at them now. Jesus’ face grows somber with compassion and He reaches out and puts His hand on Peter’s broad, slumped shoulder. “Peter,” He says, “the Kingdom is so simple even kids can get it….. and Peter…..”

“Yes, Lord?” Peter slowly looks up at Jesus.

Jesus grins. “TAG! YOU’RE IT!!!” and runs away laughing, leading a pack of screeching kids.

That night I carried, hugged, tagged and high-fived to exhaustion.

Because that is how I think Jesus would have done it.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Thief

I knew Mark was a heroin addict when I hired him. He eventually went the way of most of the addicts that worked for me, he just disappeared one day with some of my tools and an advance. I hadn’t heard from him in months. The next time he called he was dying of AIDS. “I need to talk to you,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper.

Mark lay in his bed, too weak to sit up. He was a child in the body of a twenty one year old man that looked eighty. His quest for self destruction was nearly complete. It hadn’t taken him nearly as long as some others I knew.

He talked. He told me about his family, the beatings by his father, the conspiracy of silence, the times he sought protection and comfort from his mother only to be pushed away. He told of his early years, how he started drinking and using drugs in the eighth grade. He told about robbing pharmacies, he would just walk in, jump over the counter and grab bottles and run. He told about robbing appliance stores. He would throw a garbage can through a display window and grab TV’s or stereos and run before the police could arrive. He told about all the people he ripped off, the friends he used, the checks he forged, the drugs he stole from other addicts, the beatings he gave and took, the shoplifting and breaking and entering. He never got caught.

He told about how, when he needed a fix and needles were not available, he would buy the needles used to inflate basketballs and file them down to a point on the concrete. He eventually got AIDS sharing his needles.

I listened. He got quiet. There was a long silence while he stared at the ceiling. I was about to break the growing uncomfortable pause when he said, “There’s something else.” I sat and waited. I waited a long time.

He finally sighed and began. “I was drunk one night. Real drunk. And I was driving home. I don’t even remember where I was or when it happened. But I hit him. I hit this dude walking across the street.
All of a sudden he was just there in front of me and “WHAM”. And I got scared. Real scared. And I drove off. I remember going to a fifty cent car wash and washing blood and vomit off the front of my car and off the windshield. I got sick and puked. I went home and stayed inside and drunk for a week. They never caught me. It was after that that I started using heroin.” He looked at me.

“I killed a guy. I killed him.” He looked back at the ceiling, breathing hard.

I waited again. Mark finally looked back at me. “Can I go to heaven, Steve?”

“You believe Jesus can forgive you, don’t you Mark?”

“I guess I don’t have much of a choice at this point, do I?” he halfway grinned.

“I guess not.” I half grinned back.

“So, will I go?”

“I don’t see why not.”

He closed his eyes and his whole body went slack, like a stretched rubber band that was released.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Don’t thank me,” I said.

“I wasn’t,” he said.

On the way home I thought of a thief who hung next to a man beaten beyond recognition and yet recognized something in Him that was a hope beyond his wildest dreams. He had nothing to lose by asking, given the situation, he didn’t have many options left, really. He took the chance of his life.

“You the Son of God?” he asks.

“You bet your life I am.”

“Wow! Today’s my lucky day. When you get there, put in a good word for me, OK?”

“You got it.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Sure the thief staked his life on it, but it was not much of a life at that point. He was pretty well used up, beaten up and dumped on the trash heap of humanity. Human trash hanging on a cross outside the city,
worthless to anyone for anything. Except God. So he offered up his last and only gift, his last ditch hope against hope that this other hopeless case next to him was who He claimed to be and His word was good.
And He was, and His word was.

I’ve always wished I could hear Mark after he died. I imagine him grabbing the first person he saw in heaven.

“Hey, you wouldn’t believe what just happened to me of all people…..”

“Yeah, I would. You see, I was a thief and one day…..”

Friday, September 10, 2004

Letter to an Empty Vessel

Dear Beloved Sister,
Yes, I was surprised when you, of all people, came to me seeking my counsel and prayers. You, looked to by so many of us as strong and wise, confessing your confusion about how to overcome your spiritual weaknesses. You, so friendly and compassionate, confessing your loneliness while surrounded by familiar faces and names. You, so full of the Spirit, how hard it must have been to come and confess your love for God and your distress over the emptiness you feel and your desire to feel close to God once again. Thank you for trusting me to give you consolation and counsel. You ask me how it is that you can come to church, into the presence of God to worship, commune with the family of God, your family, and yet leave feeling so abandoned, distant from God and the people you love and who love you; how you can sing praise one moment and the next moment stand in the parking lot nearly weeping at the despair within you. You ask where you are lacking in spirituality. You ask what you must do to overcome this weakness in you. You ask what is wrong with you and your relationship with God. Perhaps it is, my Sister, that everything is right.

I know why you ask what is wrong. You have been told it is wrong to feel empty, abandoned, lonely, and sorrowful. You have been told that if you do not "get something out of worship and fellowship it is because you did not put anything into it." Perhaps you are not getting what you THINK you should. Maybe you are not receiving what you have been told you SHOULD want. But maybe God is giving you by His grace, through His Spirit, what you need. Have you really considered what it is you assume you are "supposed" to "get" out of your relationship with God? God is a God of mercy, He is the “Lover of mankind”. God’s grace is a true free lunch. He knows what spiritual food we need not just to survive but to grow strong and stay healthy. Part of taking Him up on the free lunch of grace is not deciding ahead of time what the menu will be. St. Paul tells us in Romans chapter nine that Jacob got surf and turf and champagne while Esau got a side order of toast and water. But both were somehow grace and mercy in ways we cannot fathom. We are His children and do not know what we ought to be eating, left to ourselves we’ll go for the Twinkies and cotton candy. But God is our Father who puts the vegetables and liver on our plates. We just need to be obedient children and eat what is put in front of us.

You are asking yourself what does this have to do with your feelings of emptiness and wrestlings with your spirituality? Simply this: The Spirit is at work within you. Be still. Stop trying to guess what things you need to come up with to GET God's things, let God give His things freely to you for a change. Stop trying to get, simply allow Him to give to you through his Spirit out of His vast store of gifts. And do not be quick to reject His gifts because they are not what you expected. These strange, disquieting feelings are from Him, I believe, because the fruit of His Spirit is growing, taking hold within you, locking its roots deep inside you.

Galatians 5:19ff says that Love is the very essence, the seed of the fruit of the Spirit, containing within it all that makes up the fruit, all that is God Himself who is Love. Love becomes ever more mysterious and insane to me as I learn to live in its power. I do not know much about it, not nearly as much as I once believed I did, but I do know to love God is not all happiness and contentment (as opposed to joy and peace), it is not all smiles and laughter (as opposed to poverty of spirit and mourning). This one thing I have learned about Love, and it pertains to your spiritual sorrows and your desperation to sense God's presence, it is the very source of your distress. Very simply put it is this: to the degree I love someone deeply and passionately, that is the degree to which my heart aches at the smallest distance between us. We dwell in a fog of abandonment and sorrow without the presence of our lover. In every great love there is great pain because the desire to be completely and finally consumed by and to be fully bound together with one another can never be fulfilled in the limitations of this world and our flesh. I think that is why the final and complete expression of love, the most touching and romantic of all love story endings, is not when lovers finally make love but it is when two lovers die in one another's arms. It is the gospel according to Romeo and Juliet. All that kept them apart, all adversaries, all limitations of the flesh and heart, at that moment, are powerless: love alone is triumphant, sovereign, their unity is consummated finally and completely, never to be severed from or lost to one another again.

Thus love, when it moves beyond the will and the intellect ("I know this is how love would behave, so I
will behave like I love") and into the heart, where passion reigns unfettered and burns white hot, furiously,
it brings forth both the desire to be united, completely, wholly and finally with the One we love so desperately and feel such sorrow at the vast distance between us. Only those who love God with unbridled passion in all its irrationality can weep over not being able to be with Him at every moment; only they can cry out to be consumed by His presence. Only they can know the divine romance of the desire to die in the arms of their Beloved, God. It is only they who can say like the apostle Paul, "For to me, to live is Christ, but to die is gain," (Phil. 1:21). or "You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you will also be revealed with Him in glory." (Col.3:3.4)

I think there are many people struggling with the same feelings but are afraid to admit them because they feel they are signs of spiritual weakness. They have forgotten that love is both a bright hope and a dark despair, that these feelings are part of the experience of what it is to be in love. Listen to the Lover's Song of Songs:
"On my bed night after night I sought him, Whom my soul lovest.
I must arise now and go search the city.
I must seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him but did not find him.
I opened to my beloved
But my beloved had turned away and gone I
My heart went out to him as he spoke.
I searched for him but did not find him;
I called to him but he did not answer me."
Song of Solomon 3:2, 5-6

Somehow we think it embarrassing, or even blasphemous to speak of love for God in the same breath as the greatest passions we feel for another human, and yet these passions are created in us, they are in His image and are glorious, and truly our human passions are but a dim shadow of what it means to be in love with God. Just as in all true loves there is joy, peace, and fulfillment, there is also longing, sorrow, and an emptiness when we cannot see our beloved's face, feel his touch, here, now, and forever. These feelings, if they are toward God, are not "unspiritual feelings". Our love for God is like our human love and there are times that the joys we feel in the presence of our beloved bears witness to the depths of our love, but the pit of desperation deep in the night at the absence of our beloved bears a greater witness to the strength of our love. The truth of love is that human lovers and lovers of God do at times feel sad, lonely, and empty because of the absence of their beloved. There is a deep, hollow, and holy place within us that can only be filled with the very presence of my beloved one and just the remembrance or the thought of the beloved will not do. To be ravaged by despair at the absence of God is the greatest witness to our love for God. It is not lack of faith that brings this despair, but it is the depth of our passion. It is not that we are wanting in faith, but it is that we truly want HIM. Faith may be the knowledge or hope that He is still out there but is silent, but love is the pit in our stomach as we stare into the void where He once stood and we don't know when He will return to us. Spiritual despair is the truest witness to love for God, the hardest to bear surely, but to have a great love is to suffer greatly for it.

I hope you can see that you are not alone in these feelings, you do not weep over the empty places in your heart, dear sister, because you lack love, but because you are growing in love. God is winning your heart, mind, soul and strength. And all lovers have a room within their hearts reserved for sorrow over their desire for the one they love and what they know they cannot fulfill in this earthly life. Do not deny your feelings, dear Sister. Cherish them, live in them. Know they are from your Beloved, God.
I am my Beloved’s and He is mine,

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Man in the Mall

When you give a party, invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the blind…Luke 14:13

I just happened to be on that side of town. I was waiting for a contractor to cut checks and needed to kill some time, so I went to the mall for lunch. This particular mall was my old stomping grounds during high school. Dave and I almost wore a path in the terrazzo floor during our senior year of high school. We had driver’s licenses and wheels. We went there nearly every evening and mostly we watched people. Mostly girls, actually. But people in general too.

I got a sandwich at the deli and sat down in the mall to watch the people. I saw him again. He was sitting on the edge of one of the red brick planters, like always. He had one arm crossed, resting his useless hand in his lap, the hand that swung on his bony arm like a knot at the end of a rope at his side when he walked. With his index finger of his other hand he traced “figure eights” in the dirt of the planter, like always.
I would swear he wore the same black rimmed glasses with dirty lenses as thick as Fig Newtons. He still wore light blue denim bell bottoms, even though they had been “out” for years, and tennis shoes prematurely worn on one side from his shuffle-walk. His back had become even more hunched on the side of his good arm. When he looked up to watch the passers-by (he always had to tilt his head way back to look up because his body was hunched forward and his glasses had slid down his nose) his head would list to one side and rest on his hump, and his mouth would hang open. I watched him watch people walk by, just as I had seen him do every time I had been to that mall, just as I had seen him do for the first time nearly twenty years before.

Twenty years. I imagined him for twenty years (maybe more, that is only the time I knew of) going to the mall every day for eight or ten hours, shuffling, sitting, then shuffle some more, then sit a while longer.
I wondered what he thought about while shuffling, sitting, staring for all those years. I wondered what he was capable of thinking about.

I wondered if he was ever jealous of the “whole” people. I wondered if he was ever angered at his ugliness, or if he perceived that he was “ugly”, that he didn’t fit in with our culture’s love affair with beauty.

I wondered if he ever wanted children to buy toys for, or a wife to watch try on a new dress, or if he had a wife and children maybe before some calamity struck him and them down.

I wondered if he ever stifled the urge to risk saying hello (I’d never heard him speak) to one of the shoppers, a pretty woman, a toddling child who would wander over to him and stare at him like a strange mannequin, a blue haired widow, a man in a wheelchair. Did he ever want to speak just to hear someone speak back to him, even if to insult him.

I wondered if he ever left the mall feeling lonlier than when he arrived, and if so, how much more loneliness upon loneliness could a human being bear after twenty years.

I wondered if God, in His mercy, had short circuited whatever part of his heart and mind that would allow him to know he was different and so alone.

I wondered too about all the people that passed him every day, if they even see him, if they consider who he might be, or what it is that is going on inside him. I wondered if any of them thank God, their stars, their karma or even blind luck for not being like him.

I wondered what would happen if God in His mercy made each person who passed him to be like him for one day, letting them live in the twisted wreck of flesh he occupied, letting them feel his accumulated feelings. I wondered how life in the mall would change, how life beyond the mall would change.

I wondered how many people who have passed him in twenty years were Christians. I wondered how many of them have seen him, maybe many times like I had. I wondered how many of them had made any attempt to see if he was hurting, to find out if his heart was broken or if he lived in desperation or in anger at our God. I wondered how many of them know what Jesus said about compassion, the last being first, the outcast being welcomed in, the gospel being preached to the poor in pocket and spirit. I wondered why, if some seventy five percent of our nation claims to be Christian and even more to be “spiritual”, not one of the hundred or more people that passed him by during that hour ever stopped to talk to him, somehow acknowledge his existence, much less even make eye contact with him.

I finished my ruminations. I finished my sandwich. And as I left to go pick up my check, I wondered why I too did not.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Meeting God

When I remember God I am troubled.
When I sigh, my spirit grows weak.
Thou hast held my eyelids watching,
I am so troubled I cannot speak. Psalm 77:3-4

I have always wanted to meet God, to see Him, to have a vision, to hear a whisper in the night, to see the uncreated light, to feel an overwhelming presence, or to even wrestle with Him like Jacob. But I never have, not in those ways. Yet I know I have. And so have you.

You see, not all encounters with God are catastrophic, supernatural, crippling or easily recognized. Some come quietly and unannounced. There are no "seven warning signs". You may be driving and you find yourself miles along from the last intersection you conciously remember. You realize at odd times that you have been staring through someone, maybe the bank teller or even your spouse at the dinner table. You may be washing your hands and look up into the mirror and see someone else, perhaps a total stranger to yourself.
You may be holding a half ripe tomato at the produce counter and somehow, somewhere deep inside you go empty, empty as a beggar's plate. There comes a disquieting want within you. It leaves you hollow for a moment, then it is gone. You make the turn, cash the check, dry your hands and you shake off the feeling like a cat-nap and go on, distracted by the next thing you see or hear.

This feeling, like all inexplicable feelings, weaves itself into the fabric of your days. It may be a brief sigh, a momentary sadness, sometimes a deep weariness. It is not quite darkness. It is not truly light. It is not quite despair, it is not hope. It is not quite fear, it is not peace. It is a vague notion that you once possessed something precious and it is now missing. Or perhaps that you were once possessed by Someone Precious and it is you that is missing. It is a twinge of homesickness, a feeling that you belong somewhere but are not there; or that you belong to someone but have lost touch. This fleeting melancholy is easily dismissed in the frenzy of the day because it does not paralyze you or cause you to break out in uncontrollable weeping. It can be evaded by turning up the radio, finding a conversation, making a phone call or even searching for a perfect tomato.

But in the night, when there are no distractions, no tasks, when there is no one but yourself and all that is in you and all that is missing within you, it is then that the feeling is no longer a vague notion but a troubling and persistent void. It is then that, even if you claim to know no God, you have within you an empty and hungering place that you fear to name because to name it would be to know to Whom it belongs and for Whom it hungers. You know with fearful certainty that someone precious is missing. You almost know for Whom it is you are longing. It is a Lover whose face you would know if you saw it, whose name you would recognize if only someone would speak it, whose heart you know is longing for you. It is our Beloved who longs for us in the still of His nights, to whom we know, somehow, somewhere, deep within our own hearts, that we belong.

The next time you find yourself sighing, shrouded in a mist of melancholy, let yourself be troubled. Be still.
Close your eyes. Do not speak. Listen. In the hollow chambers of your empty heart a soft and almost recognizable voice echoes there. It is His voice in a whisper calling out for you. To be silent and to listen, to be troubled at the calling and not knowing how to answer it or even what it would mean to answer is enough if we enter the emptiness, because the troubled heart is the one He has touched and it is there that He awaits.