When we walked into church yesterday morning, we were surprised to see one of the great stone columns was encased in scaffolding and plastic sheeting. It is an old building so restoration is inevitably an ongoing process, but there had been no warning and of course we were all worried that the roof was falling in. We had to wait until the announcements slot after the sermon to find out that no, we weren’t in danger. The construction was just routine, preplanned work that had been bumped up a few weeks due to a change in the contractors’ schedule.
It gave the sanctuary a strange air. I’m not used to sanctuary as construction zone. But maybe that’s only fitting. All sorts of things feel in flux and precarious these days.
Checking on social media this morning, I wasn’t surprised to see that everyone had something to say about tomorrow’s American election. For all of us non-Americans, it can be hard to know how to engage with this unpalatable election. What can we really do other than pray? I read a lot of prayers online this morning and a lot of anxiety in them, too. There were also disagreements and debate. Ridicule and hope and dread and then all the feelings in between. The messages that got under my skin were the ones pronouncing that tomorrow we will all discover what God has in store.
I believe that what God has in store for us is abiding presence and freedom. That’s always what God has in store for us, whatever our nationality, political preference or personal circumstance. And both presence and freedom are profoundly comforting and convicting. God is close. The work is in our hands. That is easy enough to discuss with our children and compelling enough to spend a lifetime working through.
Lately, I’ve been rereading C. S. Lewis’ last book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. When I last read this book, I was in university and looking for a balance to all the philosophy of religion books I was reading. I might have found lighter relief in murder mysteries, perhaps, but in Lewis, I found comfort. What struck me then was his concept of God as a ‘bright blur.” He wrote that he struggled with this phantom he had created in the place of God – a separateness which shone brightly with a kind of mis-imagined light. God is more daily than that, more “in here” and “in there” as Lewis puts it, more present in “the daily miracle of finite consciousness.” God is present. And that reassurance gave me space to breathe.
Reading Lewis again, I am struck by his insistence that prayer should be seen as a way of reminding God of our needs. Does that seem strange? Who are we to nag our Creator? Yet time and again in the Bible, we hear the psalmist, the prophets and even Jesus himself reminding God of divine promises and human need. Lewis described this process as an unveiling: “Not that any veil could have baffled His sight. The change is in us… instead of merely being known, we show, we tell, we offer ourselves to view.”
That’s how covenant relationship works. We are close enough to wrestle things through and we are connected enough trust that no amount of wrestling can cause division between us. God will remain the ground of our being. Our prayers become a space where we examine and come to know our God-given freedom.
Maybe that doesn’t feel enough sometimes. When the world feels so precarious, we want more certainty. We want confidence to know that whatever happens comes directly from God’s hands. I’m just not sure that a confidence like that is what we are called to. It feels to me like our lives are less like a Christmas morning stocking and more akin to a construction zone – an ever-on-going work in progress where we,too, are set to work . And isn’t there abundant grace in that?
Creative Commons photo thanks to Victoria Pickering via Flickr