Monday, September 19, 2011

divine mystery

So far in my life, I have been present for the death of one person.  I don't remember exactly how far she was into her nineties at the time, but she had lived a full life.

I got a call from her kids, both in their sixties or seventies at the time, and went down to the nursing home where I had visited her a number of times over the years I'd been one of her pastors.  As we stood around her bed that day, we talked about the funeral for a minute or two.  Then, we made small talk as we watched their mom's breathing get slower and slower.  As the pauses between breaths lengthened, and we watched more closely, it seemed that time itself paused in the space between our breaths.

That day, in a perfectly ordinary room in a perfectly ordinary nursing home, I experienced the presence of the divine in a more powerful and palpable way than I do most days.

I was surprised to be reminded of this as I sat in an interfaith prayer service on the tenth anniversary of the destruction we saw on September 11, 2001.  In that cathedral, as Christians and Jews and Muslims each shared a glimpse at their own scripture and tradition, I couldn't help but think that we Protestant Christians have lost the sense of encountering the divine in mystery.

It was most obvious when the Christian leader read from the Gospel.  It was a fine reading, well read and well chosen ... but in contrast to the beauty of the chanted Qur'an passage, and in contrast with the beauty of the chanted Torah section, I felt that the reading of the Gospel that night (compared to the reading of the other sacred passages) fell short. 

We can never truly and completely understand how the ancient sacred stories work in our soul, or even in our mind.  But, for some reason, we continue to come back to hear these stories ... I think because we know, somewhere deep, that we need them to shape who we are. No, we don't need to chant them in their original language to experience the depth of their mystery, but I don't think it hurts to allow the text to work on us in more ways than one.

It seems to me that we sometimes try to manage the mysterious, to control those things which perhaps we ought to simply experience. I love my tradition as Lutheran Christian.  I love our practices, our history, our theology, and sometimes our culture.  But I also find it beneficial to glimpse the way other people experience communion with the divine, and with divine community.

I'm not interested in cultural appropriation.  Especially from my position of sociological privilege (straight, white, male), I'm not interested in taking the 'cool' parts other people's religious practice and pretending that they "mean so much to me". 

But I can't help but to think that my life of faith, and more importantly that our society, will benefit by each of us being willing to entertain the possibility that G-d might just be bigger than any one of our religious boxes can contain. 


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