Let God Be God
Most of us take seriously our duty to bolster our faith by prayer, discussion, reading, discernment and through the sacraments, especially during the Lenten season. In the past the priest would, irritatedly, sermonise about big days and supermarket Christians and all that. These days, as a symptom of growing humility, perhaps, they’re just grateful people still take their faith seriously enough to make an effort.
This year’s Ash Wednesday was a busy day. Not only did it fall on the same day as the commercialised Valentine’s Day, but it was also the day on which the former president incoherently asked, “What have I done?”, before he finally saw the writing on the wall, and resigned.
That day Cape Town’s St Mary’s cathedral, which faces parliament, was filled with many MPs in their dark suits. Rumour was that they were going to pass a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma the following day.
So Mr Zuma’s falling on his sword late that evening was not inspired by altruistic motives for the greater good of the country; rather he feared the national humiliation of a parliamentary recall.
Either way, it was rather pleasing to see the MPs assign the burden of their responsibilities with grave significance to the extent that they also committed them to God’s altar.
It reminded me of David, the first recorded king in the Bible, who took the weight of governing people to the altar of God, as did Moses, in a way.
That line of thought, by progression, took me to King Saul, the first king of the Israelites to be corrupted by power. When he realised the spirit of the Lord had departed from him he went mad. He envied David, on whose shoulders the power of God had rested, and went to his grave wondering how he had lost favour with the Lord.
Victims of Our Own Making
It is not too difficult to see Mr Zuma in the light of Saul — the inability of introspection, allowing fear of public ridicule to override his public responsibility for what is good for the nation, victimising himself and seeing conspiracies behind every bush that is moved by the wind, and so forth.
He had allowed himself into thinking public power is self-generated, and not a responsibility of stewardship from God.
This is one of the consequences of shifting the centre of your life away from God on to yourself. It surreptitiously creeps into all of us, even in prayer when we want to direct the process. We want God to reward our efforts in a manner we lay down for God: to feel mystical, happy, charged, bountiful, holy, etc, as if God is Santa Claus to our prayerful efforts.
While we wait for all that, like Saul and ancient Israelites who were thought to be God’s favourite — the Sadducees and Pharisees — we miss out on the God of everyday experiences.
Like Mr Zuma, we broadcast our delusions: “But people still love me.” Or like Saul, we consult clairvoyant powers and shriek against the prophets — those who don’t fear to tell us the truth, whatever the costs to their own lives — that “God has departed from you”.
We feel confounded, because we thought we were doing everything right: attending Mass, fasting and sacrificing. Yet we feel God has departed from us.
This is because we have shunned God, who gives himself in the stream of our ordinary mundane things; in the brethren we are angry with while we go to prayer; in Lazarus we skip over at our gates because we are rushing to attend to what we think is corban.
Pride the Number One Obstacle
Like Saul and Mr Zuma, we refuse to take the spiritual battle into the realms of our own subjectivity — understanding of things.
This is how we not only miss the preaching Christ of the Beatitudes but also crucify him in the Golgotha of our own hearts. Because in him we see only the son of Miriam and miss the first principle of life.
Our Christian knowledge assures us that God’s passion is to reveal divine Self in Love. Hence the incarnation. Our sins, in particular our egos, are what is blocking God’s revelation of Love in our lives.
During Lent we enter into prayer programmes, cells, spiritual guidance and so on, so we may have a greater understanding and feeling of our spiritual ascendency.
Yet, when we look closer, we may discover that we want to serve God by our egos, that we want God to be as opposed to what God has revealed of himself. Everything we do, we do to prop up our ego of our understanding of what God should be.
Humility and Trust
The authentic Lenten period is when, like Peter, we trust what is still a mirage in our eyes, by getting out of the boat of our comforts, understanding and wishes.
It’s when we call unto the Lord: “If it is you, bid me to come to you upon the waters.” Not only that, but it’s when we discern his voice, amid our worries and fears, say: “Come”.
That’s when we jump out of the boat with childlike trust, wobbly and weak, but with extended arms; still doubtful but praying that he takes away our disbelief. It is to find courage beyond our fears and our non-understanding to say: “Lord hold me fast, lest I fall.” It is to stop looking at the raging waves at our feet and concentrate on the extended hand of the Lord.
Lent is the time to prepare us for the encounter of unflinching Love. But we have to be prepared to let go of our own ideas of what that encounter entails, and enter the silent embrace of the Lord’s mystical dimension.
We must give up wanting assurances and signs, for only “a faithless generation” demands these. If we are people of faith, then we need to die to egotism, self-determination and the desire to self-achieve.
Then God will be in our lives and will adopt our plans and give us the desires of our own hearts as a means of demonstrating his goodness.