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Mistaking the Divine

This is a short reflection I wrote for my community at George Fox University. Sharing here as a reminder to keep walking.

Be honest, what have you forgotten? What parts of you are deadened or what close friendships feel oddly estranged? All new life begins with a separation from the life we’ve known. Collectively this last year or so we were dislodged from the life we knew; ejected into unending revolution, splintering and disillusionment. What we knew vanished, and behold, nothing new had yet appeared. What do we do when our ways of connecting to God and others evaporate? What do we do when our prayers sound so tinny, God’s voice silent, our own soul flat? What do we do when life separates us from Life?

My answer this past year has been to walk. It’s all I have known to do at times. I have a two-and-half-mile loop down North Meridian Street, around Joan Austin Elementary and back - roughly a few miles. This route is a labyrinth where hear the inner whisper – soul connecting to Spirit. Walking helps me become human again. Here, my mind loosens, my fear moves to sadness and loneliness dilates to connection. One day, desperate to feel human, I went for another walk. Before the next block, a dear friend drove up, opened the car door and said, “Get in!” We drove to Chapters and walked around Newberg for an hour. On my walk to find God, God began walking with me.

A few days after Jesus’ death, two of his friends were walking, in shock and traumatized in the fallout of his brutal murder. These disciples had nowhere to go, no one to console them, a funeral wasn’t an option and gathering together wasn’t safe.

Suddenly, the transformed Christ joined them on their walk (Luke 24:16). It is easy to scoff, friends recognize their friends. Intimacy implies I deep level of knowing, the faintest idiosyncrasies are familiar to those we love. Instead, these friends thought he was from out of town, a stranger, even aloof. Earlier that day Mary Magdalene, a very close friend, mistook Jesus for a gardener (John 20: 14-15), and later Jesus closes friends thought he was a ghost (Mark 6:49). How could those so close to Jesus not recognize him?

You see, an indicator of deepening intimacy is often a shallow sense of recognition. We go through seasons where our image of God calcifies and the life drains out. Longing for friendship, God feels like a stranger; aching to be held, Christ becomes a ghost; thinking we found a familiar face, we discover it was just the gardener.

I hear from people all the time that they cannot connect with God, they can't bring themselves to return to church or pick up certain spiritual practices. Our containers and categories support life for a time, but they must break if any life is to come forward. When we are separated from what we’ve known, we are offered an opportunity to transform and grow. If we can sit in that tension and allow it to do its work, something new will be born. Continue walking and something deeply familiar yet completely transformed will join you soon enough.



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