God’s will

When someone is sick, people start talking about God’s will. Thy will be done. What does it mean? I’ve heard it used several ways: “Thy will be done” as a magical prayer. It’s easy to fall into the belief that if I say this special prayer before a frightening, uncertain event, then the outcome is God’s will—even if the outcome is terrible. I knew a woman who broke her neck in an accident. Just before the accident she had prayed for God’s will to be done, and so she believed that it was God’s will for her to break her neck. She lost her faith over it. This interpretation of “Thy will be done” imagines us having a lot more power than we do. If I say the magic words, then everything will happen exactly according to God’s will? No. My words and thoughts do not control the universe. “Thy […]

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Redemptive sadness

I spent three nights last month at Mercy Center in Burlingame, California. The Mercy Center has several walking paths that were created years ago by Father Thomas Hand, S.J. One of the paths, called the Water Way, leads you down a slope and into an area shadowed by trees, then along a dark creek that is criss-crossed with fallen branches and tree trunks. This depiction of the Tenth Station of the Cross is nailed to a post at one end of the Water Way. At this point in the story, Christ’s clothes are taken from him: one last humiliation before death. I am struck by the sadness in each man’s face, and by the way in which Christ is clasping the man’s hand. I don’t believe that redemptive violence is part of the Christian story.* Instead, I believe that God willingly entered into our suffering to be with us, because […]

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No, it’s not about comfort.

John 11:1–45 v. 37: But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” It’s the fifth Sunday in Lent, and the first anniversary of my dad’s death. The story of Lazarus’s death and resurrection (or resuscitation?) was very alive to me during March of last year. Here is an excerpt from my journal. March 15, 2007 The heading for this section in my bible is “Jesus Comforts the Sisters.” I just crossed it out. I don’t think your deepest intention and hope for them here is that they be comforted. Comfort is so little compared to whatever it is you’re really driving at in your interactions with them. No, you are not bringing COMFORT to the sisters—COMFORT would have been showing up a week earlier and sparing them Lazarus’s death scene, embalming, burial, and their own grieving, […]

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Looking for someone else

John 20:14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus, I don’t want this to be you. I would guess that Mary saw only two options: Jesus was either dead, or he was alive. She had seen him die and knew he was dead. Then he came back to “life,” and maybe she assumed that if Jesus was “alive” again, he would go back to being how he was before. For me, it’s easy to imagine these two options (and only these two options) for God: (1) God is dead, dead meaning DEAD, and therefore powerless and uncaring; or (2) God is alive, meaning active and powerful. This would be a never-fading, never-dying God who prevented suffering and death from happening in the first place. But what have we got? In John 11:1–44, Jesus allows Lazarus to die, […]

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Staying with Jesus

John 19:38–42 [My paraphrase…] Two wealthy men who’ve been pretending not to be Jesus’ disciples come forward to claim his dead body, prepare it for burial, and lay it in a tomb. I’ve been working my way through the gospel of John, and for round about a year I’ve been mired in the crucifixion. Jesus’ willingness to suffer astonishes and puzzles me something awful, because the implications are really frightening. Back in March or April I wrote the following question on the bookmark that I keep in my breviary: Christ is not driven by a need to avoid suffering. What does life look like, knowing this? What did going forward with life look like for these two men who had just watched Jesus willingly endure suffering? For one thing, they stayed with him, tolerating the discomfort of a sight, sound, smell, and touch that just about everyone else wanted to […]

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