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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Splendrous Gates

On the way back from Kampala, I re-read Through the Gates of Splendor.  Today, I saw on the news that an Irish priest who had lived in Kericho, Kenya, since 1968 (!!),  was brutally murdered in his home.  For a CD player and two mobile phones, it looks like youths pried the windows open before dawn, tied him up with rope, and killed him with a machete in his bed.  The priest was nearly 70 and had given his life, 40 years of it anyway, to the people in that community.  This happened near the town where Scott spent his summer college internship that drew him towards missions.  Brutal and senseless and absolutely WRONG.  

If we, like Job, asked for explanations, I think we would be told, like Job, that God is God (Job 38).  Elizabeth Elliot quotes that chapter in her epilogue--those last pages are worth reading again, often.  For my own heart and anyone associated with Fr Jeremiah Roche, I quote EE:  

I believe with all my heart that God's Story has a happy ending.  Julian of Norwich wrote, "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."

But not yet, not necessarily yet.  It takes faith to hold onto that in the face of the great burden of experience that seems to prove otherwise.  What God means by happiness and goodness is a far higher thing than we can conceive . . . 

The massacre was a hard fact, widely reported at the time, surprisingly well remembered by many even today.  It was interpreted according to the measure of one's faith or faithlessness--full of meaning or empty.  A triumph or a tragedy.  An example of brave obedience or a case of fathomless foolishness.  The beginning of a great work, a demonstration of the power of God, a sorrowful first act which would lead to a beautifully predictable third act in which all puzzles would be solved, God would vindicate Himself, Aucas would be converted, and we could all "feel good" about our faith.  Bulletins about progress were hailed with joy and a certain amount of "Ah! You see!"  But the danger lies in seizing upon the immediate and hoped-for, as though God's justice is thereby verified, and glossing over as neatly as possible certain other consequences, some of them inevitable, others simply the result of a botched job.  In short, in the Auca story as in other stories, we are consoled as long as we do not examine too closely the unpalatable data.  By this evasion we are willing still to call the work "ours," to arrogate to ourselves whatever there is of success, and to deny all failure.  

A healthier faith seeks a reference point outside all human experience, the Polestar which marks the course of all human events, not forgetting that impenetrable mystery of the interplay of God's will and man's . . . 

I think of the Indians themselves--what bewilderment, what inconvenience, what disorientation, what uprooting, what actual diseases (polio, for example) they suffered because we missionaries got to them at last!  The skeptic points with glee to such woeful facts and we dodge them nimbly , fearing any assessment of the work which may cast suspicion at least on the level of our spirituality if not the validity of our faith.

But we are sinners.  And we are buffoons. . ."O Lord, deliver us from our sad, sweet, stinking selves!" . . It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on.  It is God, and nothing less than God, for the work is God's and the call is God's and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, the whole scene, the whole mess, the whole package--our bravery and our cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses.

Amen.  These are the words of experience, pain, hard wisdom, long perspective, that ring true to me.  We are a mess.  God knows the full picture.  Terrible, terrible things happen, and are not immediately justified or explained.  Some of the terrible things are our fault, many are not.  We must examine all the data, even the unpalatable parts, to grow in holiness and grace.  But in the end, God is God, and I am not.

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