This Deep Need for Presence

This Deep Need for Presence

This Deep Need for Presence
Psalm 42
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

What is it?
What is going on in this Psalm:
This longing for God, this deep need for the Presence
of God as my divine lover?
This inspires me!
This seems like what I would
ultimately desire for my own reality:
to be in a relationship with God in which
God is so real to me, so much a part of me
that any separation stings like a wasp,
wrenches like a sprain, aches like a broken heart.
A God so real that a touch seems like
a caught breath, a tender embrace,
laughter and joy and hope
all rolled up into one beat of my heart.
Who is this God of whom
this Psalmist writes?
I would like to know this God
deeper and deeper,
with more and more intimacy.
It seems that my heart longs for this wanting,
yearns for this knowing,
seeks for this loveliness and the tenderness of the
God known by this Psalmist.
The God who knows this Psalmist!
But I know, though I now yearn,
I have known all this before,
because I know I can only have the yearning,
if I have had the experience, and I have…

# # #

At the heart of mystical traditions is a longing for a deep spiritual connection to the divine being. This longing is of a nature that is not just religious or even contained in one faith tradition. There are similarities in them all. Many seem of a romantic or even of an erotic nature, desiring what is seen as some being at the heart of the universe to touch the seeker in a way that is life-changing and intimate.

Mystical prayer often times seem like poetry. Mysticism should not be confused with theology. Theology systematically tries to understand the nature of God and to express that understanding in quasi scientific or legal terminology. Spiritual and mystical vocabularies are of a passionate nature. Theological compositions read like textbooks; spiritual and mystical writings read like love letters.

Theology is based on a desire to know about, talk about, create systems of thought about, the divine being. Theology is intellectual. It sometimes seems a little cold and bloodless and only exciting to other theologians. Theology is by its very nature, philosophy.

Mysticism is of the heart. It is spirituality in action, and acting out the seeker’s dreams of the divine. I am using the term, divine, or divine being because there is much of mysticism that would not say the word, God, and mean the same thing as what someone else might mean by that term.

Mysticism, mystery, secret, unknown, hidden, unrevealed, esoteric, occult, symbolic, covert, arcane, ethereal, animating principal, essence, metaphysical are all words having to do with the seeking of a closer, more meaningful experience of that which is divine. But it is not so much about words, as it is about the longing, the heart’s need for more of what is considered the ultimate condition of love itself. This ultimate condition of love can be sought in Nature, the Cosmos, Heaven, Jesus, God, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, The Earth, and the recesses of our own hearts.

Again the one thing that stands out for me as far as true mysticism is concerned is the confluence of all spiritual paths into the one river of life. In the seeking for the one who dwells at the center of all that is, we are led into the same stream and into the same sacred pool of divine consciousness.

Some examples of Mystical/Spiritual writing follow:

Beseeching the breath of the divine one,
His life-giving breath,
His breath of old age,
His breath of waters,
His breath of seeds,
His breath of riches,
His breath of fecundity,
His breath of power,
His breath of all good fortune,
Asking for his breath
And into my warm body drawing his breath,
I add your breath
That happily you may always live. (Zuni Chant from Earth Prayers)



There is a sleepy whiteness
Of snug, well-spun cocoons;
A placid, graceful whiteness
Of sails on safe lagoons;
A raging, billowy whiteness
Of surf that dashes high;
An upward-lifting whiteness
Of spires against the sky
That point for seeking sailors
The way through surf to shore,
That say to souls in chrysalis,
“Arise, and sleep no more!” (The Glory of God, Georgia Harkness)


Perform all thy actions with mind concentrated on the Divine, renouncing attachment and
looking upon success and failure with an equal eye. Spirituality implies equanimity.

When thy reason has crossed the entanglements of illusion, then shalt thou become
indifferent both to the philosophies thou hast heard and to those thou mayest yet hear.

When the intellect, bewildered by the multiplicity of holy scripts, stands unperturbed in
blissful contemplation of the Infinite, then hast thou attained Spirituality.

Therefore, surrendering thy actions unto Me, thy thoughts concentrated on the Absolute,
free from selfishness and without anticipation of reward, with mind devoid of excitement,
begin thou to fight.

Those who always act in accordance with My precepts, firm in faith and without cavilling,
they too are freed from the bondage of action.

But they who ridicule My word and do not keep it, are ignorant, devoid of wisdom and
blind. They seek but their own destruction.

Even the wise man acts in character with his nature; indeed, all creatures act according to
their natures. What is the use of compulsion then?

The love and hate which are aroused by the objects of sense arise from Nature; do not
yield to them. They only obstruct the path. (From The Bhagavad Gita)


[The Soul] is to be reached by him who, with the nature of the lover, is a born philosopher, suffering the pangs of love for beauty, yet not held by material loveliness, but rather feeing from that to things whose beauty in of the soul… (Plotinus)


The high things of God are foolishness and madness to man… Hence the wise men of God and the wise men of the world are foolish in the eyes of each other, for to the one group, the wisdom and knowledge of God is imperceivable, and to the other, the knowledge of the world is imperceivable. Wherefore the knowledge of the world is ignorance to the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of God is ignorance to the knowledge of the world. (St. John of the Cross)


The sum and substance of the whole matter is that a man must love God, must be restless for him. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God with form or God without form. You may or may not believe that God incarnates Himself as man. But you will realize Him if you have that yearning. Then He Himself will let you know what He is like. If you must be mad, why should you be mad for living things of the world? If you must be mad, be mad for God alone. (Ramakrishna)


God and the Godhead are as different from each other as heaven and earth …Creatures speak of God – but why do they not speak of the Godhead? Because there is only unity in the Godhead and there is nothing to talk about. God acts. The Godhead does not. …The difference between God and the Godhead is the difference between action and non-action… (Meister Eckhart)


The river and the waves are the same;
where is the difference between the
wave and the water?
When it rises it is water; when it falls it
is water. Tell me, where is there any
…So many bodies, so many opinions! But
my Beloved, though invisible, is in all
these bodies.
There is no life at all without the Beloved;
the Self lives as each and every one.
What, then, O friend, are you searching
for like a fool?
The object of your quest is within you, as
the oil is in the sesame seed.
As the pupil is in the eye, so is the Lord
in the body; the deluded do not know
Him, and search for Him without. (Kabir, 16th Century)


The blessing and the challenge to all of this is that unless you are going to adhere to a very specialized form of fundamentalism, no matter what path you choose to follow, you cannot go wrong. God is God. All life is held by a loving God. God is good. God is love. God is the unifying center of all that is diverse in the universe. God is… We are… And we are loved by the one whom we seek.

In a mystical framework, there is a loneliness inherent in the human condition. Both the light and the dark exist within our own selves, and it is up to us how we choose. Misplaced, and looking into the darkness, we can get on the wrong path and let the loneliness lead us to an existence of destruction. If we choose to look for the light, that loneliness can lead us into the deepest of loves—the love of God.

# # #

Psalm 42 — New Revised Standard Version

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.


Between Heaven and Hell

Between Heaven and Hell

Power and Might and Right
1 Kings 21:1-21
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Wouldn’t you just love to have
the power to get something done, made right
someone taken care of
so they get their just due?
Wouldn’t you just love to be a super-hero?
Use might to make sure right happens…
What would you, who would you, where would you,
if you were God?
AND, isn’t it good we are not—God?
I’m not sure we could do justice any better
as gods than as us.
God IS justice, and we just try at it.
It seems that for most humans,
justice has more to do with revenge than justice.
How could we do this thing called, “Justice?”
I think we begin by growing—more into God’s way
and more out of our own way.
God’s way is a way of love and grace.
What is our way?
Generally it is a way of equal signs, of pluses and minuses,
of weights and measures, of balances and imbalances—
how can this way of arithmetic make for justice? It can’t.
God’s way does not set us up to be tricked
out of our inheritance, our lives, our hope.
God’s way includes all, opens doors, levels mountains,
fills in valleys, heals hearts and relationships,
offers comfort, fills sorrow with joy,
and invites all over and over and over and over,
without exclusion, with nothing
but goodness and mercy all the days of our lives.
I’ll choose God’s way.

# # #

What follows is a theology I have grown into over many years of consideration of the actual intention and teaching of Jesus. It is a theology of absolute love and grace and forgiveness. I was brought up as the child of a Fundamentalist minister, and learned about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible from my earliest times. As I wrote what is below, I can hear my father saying, “You have scandalized the Gospel!” I can hear accusations that I have “Watered down the Scripture!” But I contend not.

I have come to believe that any theology that contends that humans are desperate sinners who must take Jesus into their hearts or suffer an everlasting damnation of a fiery hell is a scandalous theology, not of Christian scripture, and certainly not any “Good News” that I might find helpful in either my daily life or in my future, eternal life.

These thoughts, beliefs, are growing and taking on more efficacy as I read about and ponder the life and teachings of Jesus my Christ. I believe he offers a way for us that is much better than we have ever offered ourselves in terms of our readings of the Bible. All I believe is in Christian and in Hebrew scripture, but is seems we Christians have been caught up more in right and wrong, good and bad, than in the boldness of faith Jesus offered us. So let me continue.

I have long asserted that the idea of heaven and hell is all about our human sense of reward or eternal security, in the case of Heaven, and punishment, or revenge in the case of Hell. Humans seem to have a need to get even. When we are at the mercy of tyrants with no way to escape, we want to know that the tyrant in question will get theirs, if not in this life, then in the life to come. Also, we want assurance that when we, the good and holy, die we will get the ultimate reward, heaven.

Many Christians as well as some other of the Big Five religions (Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity) have this reward and punishment model. Speaking for Christianity, there are many who have defined sin and sinning so broadly, or narrowly, that only those of a particular tradition have a chance at a heavenly reward. There are formulas to speak, virtues to achieve, lifestyles to uphold, commandments to keep, and stands to take in order to become one of the few chosen people.

God, I do believe, does not function in that fashion. God has a wholly other agenda. God has an idea of mercy and grace and healing and wholeness and unity that is of supreme importance for us and for God. It is a standard, it is a way of life, it is a path to take and it is God’s plan for all. This plan contains no condemnation, no revenge, and no hurt.

It is important for us to note that God will not listen to people with bad agendas like Ahab did with Jezebel. People who want to steal our birthright, our heritage, our righteous future are not those to whom God pays much attention. The self-righteous who have twisted scripture into an unforgiving, judging document without mercy, that seems to only agree with the self-righteous, is not about God or God’s Word. Anytime we use scripture as an excuse for us to judge, exclude, create outsiders, or make any human feel unwelcome, it ceases to be the Word of God and becomes the word of us.

I do not believe in the traditional understandings of heaven and hell. I do not believe those places exist as places, or as dimensions, or planes of existence, and certainly not as place where brimstone burns or the streets are paved with gold. What I do believe is that God is absolutely trustworthy. Therefore I believe that the Justice of God is a justice that takes care of us, holding and loving us even in our darkest moments. Let’s take a moment and see what these would be and what God would do about them.

I do believe that God still loves and forgives those who torture, murder, do horrible things to adults and children, commit genocide, drop nuclear bombs, commit terrorist acts that maim and destroy lives, and do despicable and unforgivable things to other humans. We may not be able to, but God can, will and does. So, what I am indicating is that there is no hell for anyone–no matter how bad, except, and I believe this to be true, in this lifetime, on this planet, for this now—and it is really bad and truly comfortless.

Is there a heaven? I believe that there are metaphors for heaven that are made up out of the imagination, and while they may be truly artistic and beautiful, they are nonetheless, metaphors. What I do believe is that God will indeed care for us forever. I am not sure it gets any better than that. I have come to this: I love God and God loves me, and God will take care of me in unimanageably glorious ways.

In conclusion, other humans might plot against me and steal from me and do their best to make my life a living hell, but God will nurture and love me for eternity. The thing is though, I am not so special that it is only me and my kind for whom God will do this—God will do this for every kind of human imaginable and unimaginable as well.

# # #

1 Kings 21:1-21 — New Revised Standard Version

Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat. His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them.

Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.” As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel.”


Making a Way for Justice

Making a Way for Justice

Promise, Faith, Action
1 Kings 17:1-16
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Old stories about long dead people
who trusted God and trusted
God’s word.
Stories that change lives.
Stories that enhance our living.
Stories that build our faith!
And what are the stories we tell?
What is it we do in God’s name
that is worth the telling?
What have we seen of God’s work
that is worth the telling?
Or is it that we do nothing,
speak nothing,
standing mute in the face of Eternity
and frozen in our inaction
in the midst of the action
of our own living?
The stories, actually sagas
coming out of these past times
are big stories
making everyday people
doing their everyday things
seem bigger than the lives they lived.
Yet, are not our own lives, in a real way,
bigger than the lives we live?
Think about it…
Everything—every action, every thought we take
has an impact on other lives, other times, other cultures.
The choices we make, if they are worth making at all,
are worth telling about, worth catching the imagination
of future generations.
What are your stories of the
promises, faith, and actions of your life—
and how would they be told?

# # #

At the end of our time on earth we get buried. Usually there is what is called a Memorial Service that is held in a church, an auditorium, at the grave side, or in a backyard. People remember, reminisce about the dearly departed, and tell stories, some funny, some sad, some about the things they did that were small, petty, nice, fun, heroic, or just cool. Things that make the other folks there remember as well, and tell other stories. What are the stories that will be told about you? How will you be remembered?

Will you be remembered for your cooking, or for the justice you demanded? Will it be for how much you could eat, drink, how well you could hold your liquor, or will it be how you were a person of faith? Will you be remembered for the violence you perpetrated, or for the love you brought to those around you? When you are talked about behind your back, is it about your goodness or is it about how preposterous or how difficult you are?

We read these Bible stories as if the people they were about were exceptional, but they were not. They were just ordinary folks who said yes to God. Elijah the Tishbite was just one such person. He did what God asked and did it well. The story is not told to make Elijah into more than he was, but to depict someone who could stand up for what was right.

Paraphrasing the sequence of events leading up to our story, There had been a lot of not standing up for what was right in the recent past. Baasha plodded “in the rut of Jeroboam, making [God’s] people Israel sin and making [God] seethe over their sin.” “Elah son of Baasha began his rule. He was king in Tirzah only two years when he was at the house of Arza the palace manager, drinking himself drunk when Zimri, captain of half his chariot-force, killed him. Zimri then became the king. Zimri had no sooner become king than he killed everyone connected with Baasha, got rid of them all like so many stray dogs—relatives and friends alike. Zimri totally wiped out the family of Baasha, but then there was a quick succession of bad kings: Omri, then Ahab, under who’s rule Hiel of Bethel refortified Jericho at the terrible cost of ritually sacrificing his firstborn son Abiram at the laying of the foundation, and then his youngest son Segub at the setting up of the gates. Then came Elijah, and our story takes up.

Some questions for us in our own time: Do we recognize justice enough to speak up for it? What does justice look like? What are some current issues that demand our voice be heard? How do we know when it is our word and not God’s word that is speaking? Do we have the courage to speak out and trust God to care for us?

What does Justice look like? If you have read any part of either Hebrew or Christian Scripture you have encountered the shape and face of justice. Justice is the business of making right the many wrongs around us. Justice makes sure things are fair, equal, and that the playing field is level. If you truly have encountered and believe in what Jesus claimed about bringing in the Jubilee Year with his coming, then you have to step away from any scripture writings that say otherwise. We just cannot put exceptions on God’s demand for justice.

I use the following model as a means to look at Scripture to understand what is God’s word and what is not. I figure that if Jesus is God’s message to all creation about how God is, then what Jesus did is more about God and God’s intentions for us that any words written in Scripture. I use it like a candle to an egg, looking within the text for traces of the Grace Jesus brought us. If we are reading about judgements concerning other people or ways of life or choices, then we need to carefully ask, in the light of Jesus’ gospel, the good news, how does what we are reading hold up? Sometimes the texts do, many times they do not. Here it is:

© Rev. Hilary F. Marckx, Ph. D.

The Gospel (Luke 4:18) of Jesus is found in the life, death & resurrection of Jesus—
how he walked his talk—it is:

LIBERATING–(Ephesians 4:7-8, Colossians 2:8-10)
It does not enslave people, it will never demand we give up our freewill to any spiritual leader,
or any government;
HEALING–(Matthew 13:15, Luke 6:17)
It is neither harmful nor wounding, but comforts and is life-giving and re-creating. In this gospel we can be truly safe, nor will it hurt us and tell us it is for our own good; it enables us to live into the truth to which we were created;
SAVING–(Matthew 1:21, Luke 19:10)
It does not jeopardize or risk our well being, or ever demand that we live in fear or dread;
FREEING–(John 8:31-36)
It will not fetter the spirit, or stifle our creativity. It leads us out of darkness, and it celebrates healthy human relationships;
It does not give entitlement to only a few, or give some the right to hoard more than their share. It will never demand we become less as a person so others can become more;
FORGIVING–(Matthew 6:14, 7:1-5, Mark 2:1-12)
The Gospel of Jesus the Christ is truly good news because it does not condemn us to unending misery and the sorrow of separation from God, but lifts us up into a communion of eternal goodness and joy with the one who shares love with us regardless of our choices.

If we live with this understanding of relationship, we can’t go wrong. We need not fear any mis-interpretation of text because the Gospel does not condemn. We are truly free in Jesus. I hold that if we live our lives attempting to hold true to the above standard, we will have lived lives that are indeed true to the Gospel of Jesus our Christ.

But to actually answer the question as to what Justice may look like let me offer some examples.

In Jeremiah 21 we read, “Start each day by dealing with justice. Rescue victims from their exploiters.”

Jeremiah 22, “Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!”

Again in Jeremiah 22, “Extortion is rife, robbery is epidemic, the poor and needy are abused, outsiders are kicked around at will, with no access to justice.”

In Amos 5 we read, “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

Then in Matthew 12:15-21, “Jesus, knowing they were out to get him, moved on. A lot of people followed him, and he healed them all. He also cautioned them to keep it quiet, following guidelines set down by Isaiah: Look well at my handpicked servant; I love him so much, take such delight in him. I’ve placed my Spirit on him; he’ll decree justice to the nations. But he won’t yell, won’t raise his voice; there’ll be no commotion in the streets. He won’t walk over anyone’s feelings, won’t push you into a corner. Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers.”

In conclusion, for anyone who quibbles about justice there is this passage from Matthew 26 where we read of Jesus speaking,

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

I do not care what your issue is. You could decide it is OK to overlook, exclude, ignore, ridicule, Socialists, Communists, Democrats, Republicans, Blacks, Asians, Homosexuals (practicing, non-practicing, married, single, in committed relationships or not), Straights, Prisoners, Women, Men, Vegetarians, Carnivores—whatever, you are doing it to Jesus.

Understand, this is not about doctrine, dogma, sola scriptura, your comfort level, what your children think, what kind of church you go to, what your education is, or who your friends are. This is just quite simply about what God AND what Jesus expect of their followers—no more, no less. From the way it reads, it seems that God does not care about our de-humanizing categories, descriptions, and stereotypes, and that God sees humans as humans–the humans God created, loves and nurtures. We are part of this creation, and we are expected to treat each of us, regardless, as we would have God treat us.

And this is the kind of life for which I would like to be remembered, and my story to be written: as being a lover of justice who made a positive change, and who helped level the playing field for at least one life.

# # #

1 Kings 17:1-16 — The Message

17 And then this happened: Elijah the Tishbite, from among the settlers of Gilead, confronted Ahab: “As surely as God lives, the God of Israel before whom I stand in obedient service, the next years are going to see a total drought—not a drop of dew or rain unless I say otherwise.”

2-4 God then told Elijah, “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.”

5-6 Elijah obeyed God’s orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan. And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook.

7-9 Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought. Then God spoke to him: “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you.”

10-11 So he got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the entrance of the village he met a woman, a widow, gathering firewood. He asked her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug? I need a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”

12 She said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die.”

13-14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and do what you’ve said. But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son. This is the word of the God of Israel: ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.’”

15-16 And she went right off and did it, did just as Elijah asked. And it turned out as he said—daily food for her and her family. The jar of meal didn’t run out and the bottle of oil didn’t become empty: God’s promise fulfilled to the letter, exactly as Elijah had delivered it!


Faith in the Promise

Faith in the Promise

Faith, but Whose?
Luke 7:1-10
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Sometimes we know the way.
Sometimes we need to be shown the way.
Sometimes the way is apparent.
Sometimes the way is not a way at all,
but a jumble, scramble, ramble,
and so bad we need a guide.
Sometimes, once we are pointed
in the right direction,
we can do it on our own—sometimes.

Have you ever known you could do it
if you could just figure out how?
No map, no compass, and clouds
passing in front of the North Star,
and you peering wearily,
just trying to get some kind of a reading
so you could continue.
Scared, in danger, isolated, trapped in a bad situation,
and you just knew you could get out of it
if you could just find a door.

I think it is about timing—being ready—
to jump, to run, to flee, to decide to change.
It’s about that moment when we are finally ready
to choose our salvation and trust in faith.
Surely not our non-existent faith,
so weak, so finite it has withered
before it even had a chance to break through and grow.

I am thinking that the faith that actually saves and heals
is the faith that Jesus had
in the one he knew as Abba, his father, our God.
I think it is the only hope
for those of us who can only hope
the healing and salvation is for us…

# # #

Have you ever been in an ongoing situation where your self-image took a beating? I mean a beating! Have you ever just looked at yourself and you seemed a stranger to the person you once were, and whomever it was you once were was a quickly fading memory?

Sometimes we just take a huge hit, a broadside to our egos and self-esteem and we are crushed! It doesn’t take much to do it either. One bad choice, one wrong decision, a seemingly silly detour, that negatively changes the course of the rest of your life.

We may be extremely intelligent, thinking people, but we are all at risk at some point in our lives. It could be something we can’t foresee, or expect. Like taking a wrong turn at night, getting lost, ending up in a bad neighborhood, and in the midst of a gang event. Opening your door to the wrong stranger. Letting your mind wander as you are driving at just the wrong moment. Seeing a good business opportunity or partner that destroys your finances. Choosing the wrong life’s partner, and living in abuse and fear and danger for years.

For me it was the business decision that turned upside down and capsized me for close to ten years. I was a commercial advertising photographer who hit the street running after my apprenticeship/schooling and went straight to the top, working on national accounts and magazine covers out of my livingroom studio.

I wanted a studio, got the opportunity, made the deal, moved in, set up and went to work. It was a portrait studio, but I made the conversion to commercial, and began bringing in clients. It was ideal, and just what I needed for expansion. I had the room to work. I had a kitchen for the food stylists to prepare. My clients loved it! It all went fine until I got to thinking how I should optimize my business potential by taking advantage of the portrait goodwill that came with my purchase of the studio. WRONG!

At that time I had very few people skills, and no personality with which to make good portraits. You can’t deal with average, everyday people in the same way that you deal with cars, concepts, hotdogs, cheese, models, or rockets. I tried. I put more and more energy into what I could not do and considered a challenge, and less and less time on what I did really well. As my energy and focus shifted, so did my clientele. However, I went from happy advertising and marketing clients, to unhappy and confused portrait clients. It was a battle I lost so thoroughly and devastatingly that it was five years before I got back on track again, and another five before I could say I was healed from the experience. But it was not until I was able to find a road map for my life that I was able to fully escape from my low self-esteem and regain my confident past.

I am reading Hoda Kotb’s book, Ten Years Later. She writes about six different people who went through their own forms of hell and not only survived, but thrived. Hoda writes of Amy Barns who had four academic degrees, and who got into a controlling, abusive, violent relationship, and went from being only one hundred pounds overweight to around four hundred pounds overweight at five hundred pounds. Amy shares of being systematically beaten for periods lasting days and being shackled while her abuser rested up so he could beat her some more.

What is interesting is that for both Amy and for me our turn-around moments were in prayer. We looked beyond our own faith, our own lives, and we looked to the one to whom Jesus looked when he prayed, God.

Paul writes that we cannot be saved by our works, and that we must be saved by faith (Romans 3:28). This text has troubled me, because, while he was contrasting keeping the Jewish Holiness Codes of Leviticus and the Ten Commandments of Exodus, with pure and true faith, it has always seemed to me that if we rely on our own faith, it too becomes a work in a way analogous to both the Codes and the Commandments. And if that is true, then how is salvation possible at all?

At some point it struck me that it is not our faith in either Jesus or God that saves us, it is the faith that Jesus had in his Abba, father, our God. It seems that this is the only way out of the faith/works conundrum. The Roman Captain seemed to understand this. He did not need Jesus to come to his house and do anything. All he needed was for Jesus to ask for him and it would be done.

I have a friend who is an atheist. He will not/cannot bring himself to believe in any Force/Being/God that can do anything for anyone. Yet, when things go wrong in his life, he calls me and asks me to pray. I asked him why he does that when he does not believe himself. He told me that while he has no faith himself in any God whatsoever, I do, and because I do, he asks me to pray because he has faith in my faith. And so it is with us. It is not our faith that does anything in and of itself, but the faith Jesus has in the one who raised him from his tomb, the one he knows as Abba, Father.

Amy was able to discover the strength to cut loose from the abuse and rebuild her life to a place that was better than when she started her downward spiral. I was able to discover what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. Speaking for myself, it sure was not any faith I had that turned me around. It was a faith above and beyond anything I had, or could do, or come up with on my own.

So, what have I learned? The first and foremost lesson I have learned from my own experience is that while I could get all bound up trying to not make any bad decisions or choices, I can just relax and trust the God of all love and compassion to be there for me when I am ready to escape from those things in which I find myself trapped. This doesn’t mean that I can be frivolous in my decision-making, because I really need to try and do the right things. It means that after a thoughtful decision, if it nonetheless turns out to be a bad direction, if I ask I will be shown a way out that will not cause myself or others damage. I have also learned that the only times I can actually fail is if I either do not try, or if I give up too early and quit before I succeed.

I have also learned that I am a good person, and that I am worthy of success. I need to take life seriously, but I am still free to be myself freely and enjoy myself. But I have come to understand that my own personal freedom is concatenate to the freedoms of all those around me. I can only be as free as they are, and they only as free as I am, and if I impinge on their freedom for the sake of mine, then to that degree I will lose my own. It works like this: our experiences of freedom, justice, failure, triumph, bondage, pain, joy, hope, faith, and salvation all interact with all others at all times. My misery can make others miserable. My inability to break free of my bondage can hold others in bondage as well. Yet, my hope can make others hopeful, and my salvation can lead others to their own salvation. In this regard it is important for me to be very careful how and what I share of my own perceptions.

When I was failing and was miserable all I could be was a failure and miserable, and I gifted all those around me with a strong sense of my failure and misery. Now that I have experienced the glory of God’s compassion and deliverance, I have an obligation not to forget my experience of both the failure and misery, and the success and the joy. Should I forget the pain, I may also forget the deliverance. Should I forget the deliverance, it is quite possible for me to interpret small, current setbacks as failures and once again spread misery. Deliverance sets a precedent for deliverance. Joy sets a precedent for joy. Should I dare forget either I might forget God’s grace poured out on me.

I also have learned that this profound faith that Jesus had in God is a faith that is not mine. It is a faith that, unlike my own limited version of faith, is dependable and never wavers. It is not what I can do, but what God does through Jesus on my behalf that matters. It is this profound faith of Jesus that heals and brings us into the strength of the fullness of who we are and who we can be.

# # #

Luke 7:1-10 — The Message

When he finished speaking to the people, he entered Capernaum. A Roman captain there had a servant who was on his deathbed. He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking him to come and heal his servant. They came to Jesus and urged him to do it, saying, “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.”

Jesus went with them. When he was still quite far from the house, the captain sent friends to tell him, “Master, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. I’m not that good a person, you know. I’d be embarrassed for you to come to my house, even embarrassed to come to you in person. Just give the order and my servant will get well. I’m a man under orders; I also give orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.” When the messengers got back home, they found the servant up and well.