This morning, I’m not writing about what I said I was going to write about. Instead, I offer you, hot off the presses of my experience, a case study…an experience in knowing.
Years ago, I was tasked with writing a personal credo, and it began with the words, “We are not alone.” And yet, loneliness is pervasive. It grows oppressive when the awareness of God recedes, put in flight by any number of assailants; atheistic evangelism, the failure of the modern church, the ongoing suffering of innocents, pride that just won’t quit, or legitimate crises in knowing how we know.
By way of metaphor, let me slip from “loneliness” to “emptiness.” “Filling” is an idea that’s been with me for a long time. Providence even gave me a song about it when I was in “Smoke on the Mountain” back in 1996. “Bring Them In” referred to a “filling station” where folks could be filled with all that was good. Reference Isaiah 55 and its notions of that which satisfies, the finest food wine, the richest of fare that costs nothing.
One of my lifelong conversations with God usually begins a new round with some soul-felt outburst that goes like this:
“God, why does nothing fill us? Why is there nowhere to turn where comfort is substantial enough to actually last? Why is this especially true in the frustrating, crushing days, when all that we seem to be made for feels mostly like wreckage? Why design us like this? Seems like such an exercise in frustration and futility. For You and us both.”
Yesterday, I had one of those outbursts. Not a shouting one, but a sighing one. (NOTE: Make no mistake, I have no real complaint about life at the moment. I’m just living it, like you are. But the truth remains…in my experience, even the most glorious moments of fulfillment rapidly lose their shine, and off we go, plodding in search of the next one.) My war with Resistance (Pressman, The War of Art) is in full tilt, my poor characters (in my play) are at each other’s throats, and the house is quiet as my imagination roars away at ghosts. So along the way yesterday, a small burst of a prayer, most likely muttered through the fog.
“Why does nothing fill?”
Cut to: This morning I woke at 5:15. Got up, brushed my teeth, wandered down the stairs. Did my coffee ritual, and sat down, as I usually do, with a fairly hefty Bible. I’m being pulled into Isaiah it seems. Judah has gone from being a faithful city to a whore, and God is unhappy. Isaiah says get down into the rocks and crags and hide, because the terror of the Lord is coming.
There’s a bracing beginning.
But I’m actually in chapter 6 now, and there are the seraphs, those creatures hovering before the throne of God with six wings. For whatever reason, I saw those creatures clearly in my mind’s eye (something Francis Schaeffer said couldn’t be done, btw…), and an idea struck me. The seraphs have six wings; with two, they cover their faces, with two, the cover their feet, and with two, they fly. How are faces and feet and flying related? Again, an idea presents itself: in the presence of God, humble eyes and obedient feet result in flight.
Not gospel…just a thought.
And then comes the kicker. The thought presents itself from nowhere, really.
“I should memorize the prayer of Ephesians 3.” I say this to myself, remembering it’s one of the great prayers, one of the staples.
Here’s the prayer in the New International Version. Ephesian 3:14-20:
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
So I go to work, memorizing. When I memorize scripture, I work the words as I would with any character. Inside Paul’s head, working to understand how the sentences build Paul’s meaning. He wants us to know a love that surpasses knowledge that we may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.
How do you explain the arrival of a moment of transcendent experience? Something unnameable rises in me, and lines of thought and feeling converge, and I dissolve. Into a single moment comes a realization that God has led me to this moment quite directly, in order to mutter back to me a gift of presence and understanding.
“Why does nothing fill?” His reply? Something like “Memorize the Ephesians 3 prayer and remember this: the fullness of My love is that for which your vessel selves are designed.” And in offering me this, He affirms one more time that my personal credo remains the core of my life. “We are not alone.”
How do I know God spoke with me this morning? It’s an answer to drive the doubters crazy.