We begin our mornings looking out through our patio doors. On the other side of the glass there is a deck (fortunately). Beyond the deck is our yard and beyond that our rear property line is defined by trees interspersed along the length of a rough stone fence. On the other side of the fence row there is a cornfield and clouds of all sorts drift over it through the day. Most mornings the silhouettes of the fence, field, and sky combine to frame the sunrise on the eastern horizon.
Each morning Cheryl and I take a few moments to ‘pray-talk’ before our day begins. We pray about whatever comes to the front of our minds: we thank God for the day, for his goodness, for various things in our lives; we pray for each other, our family, and any topics that may be weighing on us. One subject that re-appeared this morning was God’s creativity – the colours, textures, sounds, sights, etc. The limitless beauty that exists even though we have no hand in creating it.
Often I find myself expressing thanks for the rocks, trees, and cornfield outside our house that I know nothing about. Dumb, right? They are not particularly attractive right now, and I don’t even know who owns the field or how hundreds of boulders got piled there.
But I don’t need to know. My journey has brought me into their presence and they have come to represent something solid, dependable, calming.
I’m reminded of my faith – a winding, shifting journey that has taken me from old familiar places to new familiar places that I never could have predicted. Where I am now is very different from the past yet the object of my faith and my prayers is still something solid, dependable, calm.
It’s God, who is both knowable and unknowable, reality and mystery, able to be hugged but always incomprehensible.
Let there be dunking
I recently read a quote from the 1700s that is attributed to the leader of an American denomination called the Dunkers. This group was known for placing high importance on full submersion baptisms but there were all sorts of untrue rumours that were circulating about their beliefs.
It was recommended that they should publish their doctrines so there would be fewer misunderstandings. The response of Michael Welfare (Wohlfahrt) – the head dunker(!) – was memorable.
“. . . we fear that, if we should once print our confession of faith, we should feel ourselves as if bound and confin’d by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive further improvement, and our successors still more so, as conceiving what we their elders and founders had done, to be something sacred, never to be departed from.”
He was suggesting that their journey with God was still in progress and they needed to keep their options open to his leading. There might be more changes in front of them and they had no way of predicting that.
In another place he likened their beliefs to a man walking in the fog. As far as the man is concerned, he is walking in perfectly clear surroundings even though he can’t see what is really ahead, behind, or beside him.
In other words, the Dunkers admitted they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Some people of faith see this as heresy. ‘My faith in God is rock solid and unchangeable’, they say. Well, as I have already written, I am very secure in God but I have spent a lifetime learning about him and I am constantly reworking, rethinking, finding new diamonds to be mined.
Life is like that. We try very hard to understand and control it and we try even harder to ensure that it is safe and predictable but it never seems to cooperate.
Today marks the fifth year since my first wife passed away. Marilyn taught me that faith can be full of both wonder and questions, and that it can be deep.
The memories of the time of her illness are both bitter and sweet. During her sickness the fog temporarily became visible to me – trouble does that – and I was forced to acknowledge how much I couldn’t see. I had to learn a new way to live by faith.
Everything about the death of a spouse is wrong, as both Cheryl and I can confirm, yet here I am with a deeper and more grateful faith. I don’t see the fog around me now, but I know it’s there, just beyond my eyesight.
The writer of Hebrews talks about this in Hebrews 11. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” He isn’t saying we have complete confidence in what we believe, he’s saying we have confidence in what we can’t see – because God.
Faith isn’t preachy or over confident. Faith is quietly trusting God with the unknown, in spite of our uncertainty.
At this point in my life I like stone fences, trees, skies, and cornfields, because they feel solid and dependable.
And I’m comfortable not knowing what I don’t know.