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In the silence of our souls
we wait,
for what we do not know.
Something.
We wait for
Something.
Encountering God
(C) 2000, Don Mize

An arresting scene is played out at the end of the book of Acts
(Acts 28:16-29).  Paul is in Rome in chains.  His great ambition
to go to Rome and preach has been realized in a backward
way.  He comes in chains.  However, given the freedom to have
his own lodging, he invites the Jewish leaders in Rome to come
and visit him.  That meeting is enacted before us.  Luke, the
writer of Acts, tells the story. The end result is that some of the
Jewish leaders believed Paul's gospel (which involved a
different interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures), and some did
not.

The Human Problem

We must understand that the problem presented in this passage
is a human problem rather than a Jewish problem.  The Jews in
this passage are like any religious people who hold a set of
beliefs, who are involved in a religious institution, and who are
presented with something new.

In a New Jersey newspaper,
The Record, Rev. Wayne Holcomb
wrote an article entitled, “Three Views from Three Branches.”  In
the article he discusses the nature of God.  He correctly points
out that in the history of Christianity there have been two different
views about how to talk about the nature of God.  One view,
negation, takes the position that the least said the better.  After
all, God is Other, beyond human comprehension, and words are
inadequate.  The other approach, affirmation, maintains that we
may talk accurately about God by making inferences from
revelation or from observation.

He goes on to say, which I also believe is correct, that theology
is working backward from experience.  In other words, no one
does theology in a vacuum.  A knower must experience what is
known.  A tree may fall in the forest without anyone being there to
hear, but that objective fact is not thought about, reasoned about,
or expressed in words unless a person (a knower) does so.
When we start to think about that encounter, when we start trying
to put that encounter into words, we are doing theology.

In my opinion, Christianity is about encountering God.  On the
Damascus road, Paul encountered the living Christ, and he
changed (Acts 9:1-20).  Out of that encounter and subsequent
encounters, Paul wrote, preached, and taught.  After that
encounter, he looked at the scriptures from a new perspective,
he saw Jewish history from a new perspective, and he saw
Jesus of Nazareth from a new perspective.  That encounter
brought him to Rome and brought us to the scene Luke
described.  And, we must not fall into the trap of focusing on
those Jews.  The problem presented is not a Jewish problem but
a human problem.

Beware of an open heart

There is more to hearing than ears, and there is more to seeing
than eyes.  You and I must beware of an open heart.  

In the journal
Occupational Hazards, Virginia Sutcliffe pointed
out in a June 1, 1999, article “A Sound Check for Hearing
Conversation,” that hearing loss is gradual. Therefore, people
don’t notice their hearing loss.

In the journal
Science, Phillip D. Szuromi wrote an article entitled
“Move it or Lose It.” In this March 3, 2000, article, he discusses
his study in which he established that eye movement is essential
to seeing.  If we stare for a long time at something that does not
move, a process called “fading” sets in.  We simply stop seeing
it.  We simply stop seeing the familiar.

In the December 1, 1998, journal
Theological Studies, Rebecca
McKenna wrote an interesting article on “The Transformative
Mission of the Church in the Thought of Gregory Baum.”  She
mentions Baum’s view that we do not see the truth because we
do not want to see.  We are too eager to defend out interests.  
We do not make ourselves sensitive to aspects of reality that
threaten us.

Hearing loss is so gradual that we don’t notice.  We stop seeing
the familiar.  We stop being sensitive to the truth because we
are safe “within our castle,” defending our interests. This human
problem is made more intense by religious institutions.  Paul’s
listeners inherited the great stories of God’s work in the lives of
their ancestors.  They inherited the synagogue, the written
scriptures, the teachings of the rabbis.  But they, like too many
moderns, stopped encountering God.  They had ears that did not
hear, and eyes that did not see, and hearts that were hard.  The
encounter with God became lost within the wasteland of their
organized and institutionalized religion.

Beware of the open heart.  You might encounter the Living God.  
Religion, the great barrier to God, wraps us in the past while
God arrives now.

Religion, the great barrier to God

The online source, www.quotationspage.com, gives the two
following quotes without citing the original works.  I share the
quotes as illustrations because  I am familiar enough with the
works of Archbishop William Temple and Carl Jung to believe
the quotes probably are correct.  I have been unable so far to
locate the original works.

Archbishop William Temple supposedly once said, “It is a
mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly concerned
with religion.”

Carl Jung, one of the farthers of psychology, is quoted as
saying,  “Religion is a defense against the experience of God.

Both ideas are on target.  God is not concerned with religion as
an end within itself.  Furthermore, all too often religion becomes
a defense to ward off an encounter with the Living God.

How often we retreat into our religion rather than opening our
eyes, our ears, and our hearts to the Living God.  But what later
becomes fossilized as religion begins as an encounter with the
Living God.

We flee the Living God who comes exploding expectations,
bursting theologies, igniting fires.

We long for the Living God

Abraham, the great father of faith, encountered God and started
a journey in response to that encounter.  He became to
prototype of all who are saved by faith (See Romans 4).

Moses encountered God at the burning bush and returned to
Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of slavery (See Exodus 3).

Elijah, discouraged and alone, encountered God in a still, small
voice that sent him back to face Queen Jezebel and proclaim
the true God to an idolatrous people (See I Kings 19).

Isaiah, in the day when King Uzziah died, encountered God in
the temple.  In his terrifying vision of the holiness of God, he
responded to the question, “Who shall we send?” with the
response, “Here am I; send me.”  He proclaimed God’s word in
days of crisis and gave us all a vision of hope (See Isaiah 6).

Paul, on the Damascus road, serving his religion, bearing
papers that would allow him to throw followers of this Jesus into
prison, encountered the Living Christ and was never the same
again (See Acts 9).

How we flee the Living God who comes caring not for past
shrines, touching our hearts, creating new holy moments now.

How we flee the Living God

Kelly Ettenborough, wrote an article in the February 25, 2001,
Arizona Republic: “Where Has God Gone? American
Spirituality May Be Miles Wide but Only Inches Deep.”

She gives some interesting statistics.  About 96% of Americans
say they believe in God.  About 90% say they pray every day.  
Yet, on any given weekend, 4 out of 10 show up at any religious
service.

Evidence is growing that this sort of faith in God doesn’t
translate into a belief  that God watches their actions.  They may
quote that God watches over the sparrow, but unless the boss is
watching, God doesn’t affect their behavior.

About 82% say that they want to experience spiritual growth, but
they have no spiritual practices to lead them into spiritual growth.

She quotes a Gallup Poll that concluded, “Spirituality in
American may be 3000 miles wide, but it is only inches deep.”

An even more disturbing finding is that while people say they
believe in God, on a follow up question they indicate they don’t
trust God.

Another finding is that even people who regularly attend religious
services don’t have a deep knowledge of their faith.

Her conclusion is that Christians have been losing the sacred
core to their faith.  They have lost the sense that faith is based on
an encounter with God.  Belief in God and religion have become
a sort of personal mythology that somehow makes life go better
without being real.

Our Problem

We do those things that make up our personal religion without
the awareness that all worship, all faith, all true belief comes
from an encounter with the Living God.  Like the Jews with whom
Paul spoke, we focus on our religion.  We have eyes that don’t
see, ears that don’t hear, and hearts that are hardened.

Too much to hear and understand

We are afraid that a new encounter with God might make us
think differently, view relationships differently, act differently, or
believe differently.  Too much to hear and understand, too
glorious to see with blinded eyes, and so we cower in the past.

James Russell Lowell has a line in his poem, “The Cathedral,”
that sums up how many of us live. He visited one of the great
Cathedral’s in Europe and reflected on the seeming conflict
between science and religion.  Inspired by the magnificent old
church with its stained glass windows, he penned the words,
“Safe in the hallowed quiets of the past.”

That is precisely what many of us desire to be: “Safe in the
hallowed quiets of the past.”

A dangerous thing

A dangerous thing, an open heart; for seeing and hearing, we
encounter God now.

Francis Thompson wrote a wonderful poem entitled “The Hound
of Heaven.”  In this poem he describes his fear of God as he
imagines God as a great Hound on his trail.  He describes how
he fled from the Hound of Heaven, how he feared God, how he
could always hear the beating feet on the Hound behind him.  
Finally, he cannot go on, and the Great Hound approaches.  He
encounters Love.  When we run from God, we run from Love.

We want to wrap ourselves in the past, in religion, in institutions
so we can avoid the Living God.

(C) 2000, Don Mize
In the silence of our souls
we wait
for what we do not know.
Something.
We wait for
Something.

We wait for Something
in our misery,
in our laughter,
in our diversions.
We wait
for Love.
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In the silence of our souls

(C) 2000, Don Mize