Welcome to Doubt

After a 2-month absence I was happy to be back in my (Anglican) home parish again this morning preaching on Doubting Thomas:

A small town in B.C. has one claim to fame: their mountain towers over the town, like a monument to eternity. Most of the time, however, the mountain is hiding in the clouds.On the few clear days in the valley, you can hear people say to one another: “The mountain is out!”

Now, even when it cannot be seen, the mountain is there, right? If you follow the directions on the road map, there is no doubt that you will bump into the Mountain. It is a long drive around, and it is a difficult climb up that mountain. Many tourists come to visit that small town, hoping to catch a glimpse of this piece of natural beauty. Many, being there on the gray and cloudy days, do not make the effort to find the mountain hiding in the mist. Many leave the town, not believing that the Mountain is really there, because if they cannot see it, chances are that the mountain does not exist at all…

Hmmm … unless I can see for myself, I may doubt the existence of whatever it is. Unless I can see for myself, I may not believe. Unless I can see for myself, I may live in fear that God may not be real. All we know for sure are the wounds and the bruises we collect over time. No wonder Thomas demanded to touch the wounds of Christ — just for proof. We do not argue with suffering and death: they are as real as the clouds around the Mountain.

My friend Marian knew about the thick clouds around the mountain. Not that she has ever been to that town in B.C. — no. As a matter of fact, she has been so sick that she hasn’t been much further than a ten minute walk down the block near her house. Visits to the doctors in the city are so tiring that she needs days in bed afterwards just to recover from the trip.

Marian was young — in her mid-forties blessed with a caring husband and two young children. But Marian’s life had been seriously curtailed by some mysterious illness, as if her body had suddenly betrayed her. Doctors were at a loss for a diagnosis: thyroid cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, mercury poisoning from dental fillings, damaged immune system from radiation treatments. It was a bit like Russian Roulette.

Meanwhile Marian fought in her spirit to maintain a sense of God in the midst of the pain, the tests and the fatigue. Like the disciples on that first day of the week, fear gripped Marian’s heart, settling in like the thick clouds around the mountain, locking the doors of her soul. Marian screamed silently in the lonely hours in bed, day and night, saying with Thomas: I cannot believe in you Lord, unless I can touch your wounds, unless you touch my wounds …

Marian is Thomas’ Twin, and so are we all. Not only do we want proof to show that Jesus is risen; we dismiss any proof that comes our way. In all fairness, we can excuse the frightened bunch of disciples – they really didn’t have a clue, at first anyways. I’m guessing Thomas wasn’t the only doubter in the mix. But Scripture has made him alone the patron saint of all doubters.

But we … We who profess Jesus as Lord, we who have been baptized into His death and resurrection, we cannot hide behind the excuse of ignorance. We are not among those who do not see and yet believe — we are among those who do see Jesus, who have received Jesus’ Spirit of peace and still do not believe, locking the doors with our fear.

We offer and receive comfort — Jesus is there, clear as day. We welcome a stranger, visit the prisoner — Jesus is there, clear as day. We forgive and receive forgiveness —Jesus is there, clear as day. We hear God’s Word and partake in Holy Communion — Jesus is there, clear as day.

But more often than we would like to admit, fear holds us back from one another, and from God, keeping us from seeing Jesus. Fear is our biggest enemy, just like fear drove the disciples to lock themselves in that upper room, not realizing that the “enemy” was not outside the room, but right in their own hearts. Fear is the thick cloud around the mountain, hiding from view the new life promised in the Risen One of God.

One year I asked Marian what Easter meant to her. That year Lent had been particularly trying on Marian’s health. Panic struck every little bit of faith she had left. “I now realize,” she says, “that my deepest problem was not my health, but fear. Like a persistent underground current, fear undermined every effort at healing. I feared constantly that God may not want me to get better.”

It was only when Marian unmasked the enemy in her own soul that God’s healing power could move in, at a level much deeper and extensive than merely bodily. Jesus touched Marian’s wounds with the Love that moves right through locked doors. “Never before had I felt the power of the resurrection so tangibly in my body,” said Marian, overjoyed that she made it to church that Easter morning.

Slowly, Marian is healing. The road continues to be rocky, and there are setbacks, always those darn setbacks. But now Marian’s heart knows something that the mind cannot ever grasp: the wounds in her body are touched, are soaked, in Love, and everything else takes its cue from there. Jesus breathed on her, blowing away the clouds around the mountain, bringing peace and a clear sight of Him who is steadfast Love and Mercy.

Jesus did not condemn Thomas for doubting. Jesus does not condemn us for doubting. Instead, Jesus uses our doubting to move us into a deeper seeing with the heart until we too can say: My Lord and my God. Because seeing does not lead to believing; believing leads to seeing. Perception shapes reality. If we regard the wounds of our lives as punishments that is what will shape our reality. If we choose to regard the wounds of our lives as pathways to God’s love and mercy, then Jesus can move in and say with love: Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe and live in my peace. 

When our hurts and injuries of life are kissed with love and mercy, doubt makes way for a deep inner “knowing” that all shall be well, and all matter of things shall be well in God’s economy of life and love and mercy, just as Thomas discovered, just as Marian discovered.

Faith that is incapable of entering into the Lord’s wounds is not faith. Our faith is incarnate in a God who became flesh, who was made sin (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21), who was wounded for us. But if we desire a deep and strong faith, we have to approach and touch those wounds, tenderly care for those wounds, as well as allow others to caress/kiss our wounds.

The Healer of our wounds, our illness, our brokenness bore our wounds in his death. The Healer of wounds lives, and dwells among us. With Thomas, and with Marian, we are nvited to touch the wounds of Christ in one another. The woundedness of the world are the wounds of Christ on the cross. The pain in our own lives is the birthplace of resurrection faith…”Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

In Jesus we are able not only to touch the mercy of God with our hands, but we are inspired to become instruments of his mercy. Blowing away the thick clouds around the mountain with the peace of the risen Lord, we bump into Jesus as we wind our way up that mountain, in the joy of his resurrection.

Baptized in Christ, we are an Easter people. Sharing in the glory of his resurrection, we have been given the gift and power of God to heal, to forgive, to comfort, to bring peace. The risen Jesus stands among us today, dispelling fear and disbelief, inviting us to be his guiding and healing presence in our broken world. Let us rejoice, knowing ourselves loved and redeemed beyond all measure. In Christ, we become worthy bearers of God’s gifts, gifts desperately needed in our world both broken and beloved … AMEN

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Heaven on Earth

My friend looked radiant as I entered the hospital room. “I found a way to be in heaven while living on earth!” she exclaimed. My open mouth and wide-eyed look gave away my shock; where was the depressed spirit, the monotone voice I heard only days ago, indicating that Carol had given up? She leafed through the book on her bedside table, while paraphrasing what she had read under the heading A little secret for those afraid of dying: “There are three ways to get to heaven without dying: to live fully in the present moment, since in heaven there is no time limit; to allow everything in life to move you and fill you with love, since the measure of love given and received is the only thing we get to take with us in death; and to give away those things that make for treasures in heaven like forgiveness, comfort, blessings, faith, hope and love.”

These words were as much a revelation to me as they were to my friend. For what I heard was another way of saying that the kingdom of God is truly here and now. We do not have to wait until after death to enjoy this kingdom. The more in fact we learn to live in faith, hope and love in this life, the more familiar heaven will feel, the more prepared we will be to meet God face to face. Treasures in heaven are those things we give away on earth. It is God’s greatest wish to give us the kingdom, and it is available here and now in the giving of ourselves, free of charge, without strings attached.

This new insight served as a corrective on my previous understandings that viewed heavenly blessings as “rewards” for living properly and faithfully. I still view the blessings as rewards, but not in some punitive/meritorious system imposed by God. Rather, heavenly blessings are a natural outcome of how we live our lives. If we can live as generously, as forgiving, as foolishly intense, as lovingly as God does, we will feel right at home in heaven once we get there. To the extent that we seem incapable of living and loving as God does, to that extent heaven will feel not only unfamiliar, but even hostile. If loving generously was not a part of our life on earth, then heaven can indeed feel like hell. It is not a vengeful God who chooses to punish. It is us that merely experience the natural consequence of a life filled with inadequate loving. Pope John Paul II said the same thing: ” ‘Eternal damnation’ is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice forever” (Papal Audience, July 28/1999). Seen in this light, God’s desire to honour our human freedom at all times is the fulfillment of God’s foolish loving of creation.

One summer evening a parish priest in a small town in B.C. heard a knock on his door. A young man and his wife were stranded. They had taken a week’s holiday with their old van, camping in the Rockies. Just before heading home to Calgary, their van was robbed – purse, wallet, stereo, belongings – all gone. They filed a police report. They tried to call a brother and a mother in Calgary; everyone was on holidays. They had no way to get home. The priest gave them enough money to make it to Calgary. He gave it to them with the request that when they could pay back, they do so by turning around and giving it to someone else in need. With grateful hearts, they promised they would even increase the amount. Deeply moved and immensely grateful, echoes of the movie Pay it Forward streamed through the couple’s minds and hearts.

This is how treasures in heaven multiply. This is how we train our heart to love as fully as God does. My friend in her hospital bed took this lesson seriously. So did the parish priest in B.C. and the young couple at the receiving end of his generosity. Treasures in heaven, enjoyed while on earth.

It’s heaven all the way to heaven; it’s hell all the way to hell. ~ St. Catherine of Siena & Richard Rohr, OFM

Heaven is a choice we make, not a place we find. ~ Wayne Dyer

It’s not hard, is it?

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