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This week we hear another story of Call – that of Elijah to faith in doubt, to discern the presence of the Divine in the seeming absence of God. When we’re at the end of our rope (like Elijah in this chapter) we often turn to God in prayer for help. Sometimes we feel as if we have no answer, as if God isn’t listening, or isn’t even present with us. This can happen because of our preconceived ideas and expectations of what God will do and how God will act. It can come from our false expectation or readings of the biblical narratives when it seems as if God responded instantaneously and consistently. Theologian Miceál Ledwith surmises that “Normally the more deep and mature the faith of the person, the more likely he or she is to see this apparent silence or apparent absence of God as a time for purification. The more shallow the faith and the more inadequate the religious ideas in a person’s consciousness the more likely that person is to react with impatience, hostility or even agnosticism.” But is it really that black and white, is it a simple question of mature faith, versus immature (or fake) faith? Can we reduce it to a zero sum game of having more & more faith? Mother Teresa struggled her whole life with the absence of God. [LINK] to article on her journal.
Throughout the Bible, God at times seems to be as much absent as present. That’s what is underneath the story of Elijah. People respond differently to this paradox. Some complain and grumble, like the Israelites in the wilderness. Some trust in God’s provision like Abraham awaiting a lamb in Genesis 22. And some wrestle with God to force God’s hand and intervention as Jacob does in Genesis 32. And yet God gave them strength for the journey of faith and life, and gives it to us today.
Paul talks about this same presence and absence in a different way, focusing upon the divergent parts of the human body as a metaphor for the mystery that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Jesus, resurrected and seemingly absent, is made present in the world in, through, and alongside us, when we we live, act, and love together as Christ does.
Our church building turns 100 this weekend. The reasons for moving the church to this undeveloped virgin housing tract in 1917, the desire to provide a church where there wasn’t’ one, is no longer valid. And yet we are called to be the church, to make the body of christ present in a world that now believes that God is largely absent and silent. Maybe the mission of the church today isn’t all that different than it was in 1917?
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
Download a study guide PDF of these texts on CAPCOakland.org HERE.