What Are You Seeking?
Since January 8th the world became a little smaller. Empathy for the victims, family and friends of Ukrainian Flight 752 has weaved the entire world together in grief. Individual responses have been as varied as grief prescribes: denial, anger and even bargaining. We wander as one humanity through this tragedy.
John, the gospel writer, not John the Baptist, has seen crowds like this before. He refers to them as people who are wandering through great darkness. To them and to us now, he proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John offers to us our grief, a light, a shepherd, who knows his sheep are lost in darkness, who will search for every last one of them, to bring them home, who will lead them beside still waters, and feed them in green pastures.
When people are hurting, grieving and fearful, they will latch on to any hope. Our society is really good at offering Band-Aid solutions and distractions. Feel down? Take a blue pill. Feel anxious? Take a red one. Can’t sleep? There’s a yellow pill for that. Enough pills to exhaust the colours of the rainbow, the demand for them making pharmaceutical companies extremely rich. But maybe you just need to stop dwelling on things. Try social-media. Glue yourself to another reality presented on screen. Maybe you just need a change of pace. How about some fun in the sun or a cruise? Why not go on Wayfair’s web-site because apparently they have what you need. Or, how about getting in shape or remaking yourself with a new wardrobe? You’ll feel better about yourself.
We are not a people who accept the darkness and pain of life even though it is a natural counterbalance to light and joy. The yang to the yin. You don’t get one without experiencing the other. But we will do anything to avoid the darkness, fearful that it will destroy us.
I was once drawn unwillingly into a conversation with a man who was angry at the state of something or other. I really don’t remember what it was. I asked him, “Why, does this bother you so much?” “Well, doesn’t it bother you?” “But I am asking you what junkyard dog is this kicking inside of you?” “It’s wrong! “It’s just wrong!” “That’s not for me to judge. The question is why does it bother YOU so much?” Like most people who won’t take the bait, he turned it back on me. “Well, I suppose you think it is okay for blah, blah, blah.” This wasn’t conversation. This was just venting. The wisdom I learned from this exchange is this. If you are waiting for the world to become the way you think it should be, you’re going to spend your life dancing with emptiness.
That is why what Jesus says next is so crucial. He turns to those following him, some who want Jesus to make the dark just magically disappear, who are following Jesus hoping he will do all the work of atonement for them, to these he says, “What are you seeking?” Jesus is not Santa Claus. Jesus is not asking for your Christmas list. The question is meant to be introspective. Stop for a moment, take a deep look into your soul. What are you really seeking in your life? The deep peace the choir prayed for you to have last week? A joy that no darkness can ever extinguish? The assurance of always and forever being loved? Or, do you think anger, blame and bargaining is going to heal the grief of 63 Canadians prominent and promising who lost their lives in such a meaningless way? What are you really seeking?
Some in the crowd understood Jesus’ question. Andrew did. He asked the Rabbi where he was staying. Andrew was not asking for the address of Jesus’ B+B. His question was wrapped in the knowledge of his own homelessness. Andrew doesn’t want an address, he wants to go home, a place where he is welcomed and accepted. Andrew understands that going home means becoming an active part of a family. He is willing to accept his part in rehabilitating his soul. No magical solution here. Being in a family is both joyous and difficult. It comes with the willingness to say they may not be perfect but neither am I, and together we will discover tolerance, forgiveness and love and heal together.
Jesus invites Andrew to come and see. Jesus is welcoming him into relationship. He is saying to Andrew, “If you want to know what love looks like, come and see. If you want to experience God’s glory and live a life filled with a bread that never perishes, enjoy an eternal spring of living water that will never leave you thirsty, then come with me, abide with me, and know God for God and I are one.” Andrew accepts because what he is seeking for in his life is not solutions to his grief, but transformation.
I once had the privilege of knowing a woman who had accepted Jesus’ invitation to come and see. Initially I had pigeonholed her as one of those senior women who is a gentile little grandmother rocking in her chair, knitting. As I accepted her invitation to come and see her, I sat in her living room on a pleasant fall afternoon, enjoying a perfectly good cup of tea and the story of her life. She had been but a teenager when she was raped. I was as shocked as you when she trusted me with this.
It was in the days when the shame of this was born entirely by herself and her family. Her family did as all families did at that time, sent her away so the neighbours would not see the shame that they already suspected. She ended up in an ill-reputed house for unwed mothers in Toronto. She was given a job sewing in the Tip Top factory in Toronto. She gave birth to a daughter who she never met because she was taken from her at the moment of birth. She returned home to the knowing looks of her community.
Eventually, the clouds in her life parted and later in life she married a fine man. They had four strong children. Then the darkness appeared as her husband was diagnosed with bone cancer. For three long years she nursed his pain at home until he passed away. Years later, as she was living as a widow on her meager Canadian pension, the police showed up at her door. Her son had just been killed by a drunk driver on his way to his senior prom. My heart could hardly contain my sorrow and my eyes betrayed me. Yet, she gently reached across the distance between us and lightly touched my hand, forcing me to look at her. The light of her eyes and her smile finished the story for me. She simply said, “My faith has seen me through and I know that whatever the world has thought of me, however cursed my life appeared to be, it wasn’t. I have always known that I am deeply loved. I find peace in knowing, truly knowing, that my husband and son are, at this moment, dancing in the presence of God. Because of this I have hope. I hold no bitterness to the two men who brought such darkness into my life. I pray for them that someday the pain within them that caused them to do what they did will be healed. I know that, because of God’s redemptive love, there is always hope.”
Years later, when I heard this woman had died, I knew on that day there was a new star in heaven. Upon attending her funeral, I also learned that she never pressed charges against the drunk driver but asked that he come and visit her regularly. He was at her funeral.
There will always be more than just one valley of the shadow of death we will need to walk through in our lives. Death has thrown its shadows upon the whole world in the 752 Airline disaster. The sighs of our planet are death sighs. The breakdown of leadership and political trust is killing our society. In the midst of all of this, Jesus is asking, “What are you really seeking?” If you are in need of hope, then come and see. Come and find a home for your soul, a place I am preparing for you. Come and open yourself to a deeply intimate relationship with God. So intimate that you may draw the breath of God into your own soul. “Breathe on me breath of God, until I’m wholly thine. Until this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.”
What are you really seeking?