It was a dark and stormy night.
The small band of travelers trudged through the mud and the rain to the bank of the river,
which was swollen and surging, and they stopped, considering whether to keep going.
Saint Teresa disembarked and went ahead on foot: "We are doing the Lord's work, so how could we die in a better cause?"
In the angry river she lost her footing ... and nearly her life.
When she finally stumbled to safety, she prayed, "O Lord, when will you stop with all
The Lord answered, "Don't complain, daughter; this is how I treat all my friends."
Teresa replied, "That's why you have so few of them."
The greatest of all God's prophets sits in Herod's prison cell, alone with his doubts.
He sends his disciples to the one he baptized with his lonely, mocking question: Are you
the one..., or are we to wait for another?
Jesus sends back an unsatisfying answer.
Go and tell John what you hear and see, which of course is all any of us can do.
Theological arguments ring hollow in hell.
In the grip of suffering and tragedy and prison, right answers don't help.
Who cares how a flashlight works when you don't have one?
Jesus tries to widen John's view through eyes that have also looked into John's.
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
John would surely hear the echoes of Isaiah, recognize the drumbeat of the faith.
He would surely see the lives transformed in the direction of God's will, which is what
his baptism and preaching were all about.
And, as professor Craig Koester points out, he would likely also think, "and I'm still in jail."
Why, O Lord?
We can not and dare not presume to answer for God because we do not know.
It's not for lack of trying.
Everything happens for a reason, we tell ourselves, because it has to be true, right?
It has to be true because...well, because we so desperately want it to be.
Maybe there is no reason.
Or maybe there is a reason we don't want to hear, a reason that would thicken the
darkness rather than lighten it.
Or maybe there are reasons sometimes and no reasons other times, and maybe there is a pattern, and maybe there isn't, and maybe there are patterns and randomness, and maybe there is an order that includes some chaos, or maybe life is chaos that includes some order.
We don't really know, and that drives us crazy, so we try our hardest to convince ourselves
that God knows and that God can be trusted.
But John is in jail and the river is fast and deep.
The diagnosis is cancer, which some people overcome, and some people don't.
The blind receive their sight, but not all of them.
The poor have good news brought to them, but not all of them.
There are more people who are homeless than there are blankets and houses to provide.
They say what good have you done, by saving just this one, Tony Arata sings.
It's like whispering a prayer in the fury of a storm, which we also do today, because
prayer does make a difference, except when it doesn't.
Some are healed, and some are not; the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective, but not guaranteed.
And of course this time of year intensifies the darkness as much as it does the light.
The joy of being with beloved family is real.
The pain of being with them, or without them, is too.
Grief and discord and conflict spike; the expectation of seasonal cheer is oppressive when family has died or rejected or wounded or abandoned or abused you.
The wedding is extra painful for the lonely bridesmaid.
The pregnancy is extra painful for the barren friend.
The adorable baby pictures on Facebook are extra painful for the woman who had a miscarriage.
It seems so much easier for the joyful to tune out and forget the suffering than it is for the
suffering to open their hurting hearts to the good news for others that is not for them.
All of it is too much for us to organize or explain or manage, so the fullness of life and death we cannot control becomes too much for us to bear.
We cope by reducing the mystery into slogans and platitudes and denying doubt, demonizing it as the opposite of faith.
But that is a step in the wrong direction.
Anne Lamott writes: I have a lot of faith.
But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything.
I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt,
Certainty is missing the point entirely.
Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there
until some light returns...
During Advent, Christians prepare for the birth of Jesus, which means the true light.
All your better religions have a holy season as the days grow shorter, when we ask
ourselves, Where is the spring?
Will it actually come again this year, break through the quagmire, the terror, the cluelessness?