Clinging to God's Love Forever
... and Staying the Course as People of Faith
Feb 1, 2000
(This essay is written for members of any denomination or faith.)
King David, in Psalm 63, eloquently expressed his intense longing to stay in communion with God, when he said,
'O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is.' He went on to say: '... my mouth praises thee with joyful lips, when I think of thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the watches of the night; for thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to thee; thy right hand upholds me.'
I was especially struck by his phrase:
'... and meditate on thee in the watches of the night.'
I imagine David gazing out from his tent at the silent desert, reflecting about God, yearning to be closer to Him. King David tried to 'cling' to God through a process of profound heartistic thought. He thought in silence - away from the noise and distraction of daily life.
Very few of us have the luxury of spending large amounts of time in stillness and in quiet. Noise has become a constant companion. Time has telescoped inward, compressed by the tyranny of instant communication and shortened deadlines. Life has become so intense, that I often find myself yearning for the time when I'll live in the spirit world, where time doesn't exist, because only there will I have endless time to do quiet things like draw and sing and idly examine flowers.
Yet, our irony is that faith requires time spent in many quiet moments of reflection, away from the distractions that prevent us from hearing and feeling the presence of God. It is also our sad irony that, as devoted people of faith who may have struggled and sacrificed for years, we sometimes find ourselves far away from the faith that we prayed with tears to attain. There is a distinct parallel between the feelings of hope felt by newlyweds and new religious converts. In both cases, the future seems bright, and thoughts of disillusionment are nowhere to be seen.
After years in the trenches, however, an active religious life may seem to be dominated by one emergency campaign after another; where the desire for short term goals tends to interfere with the ability to reflect deeply about a long term perspective. In many ways, short term goals are easier to digest. Americans have an amazing power to pull together in brief and intense campaigns. Many of us probably enjoyed such dramatic times spent sacrificing together for the glorious cause of building God's kingdom. At least the first few times.
As time goes by, and we get older, and start growing rather grey around the edges, we may feel like we've been wrung dry far too many times. Phrases like 'blood out of turnips' float through our minds as we stolidly gaze at memos detailing new and ever so urgent projects. 'Oy' might become an operative word.
It's so very easy to become tired.
When our soul and heart are tired, and when we feel abused, misunderstood and generally under-appreciated, our thoughts quite easily can become cynical and hopeless. We may chew on pains both imagined and real, ticking off our growing list of justifiable complaints until the atmosphere around us becomes completely dark. It is then that we desperately need to stop quite dead in our tracks and find the time to think.
Thinking is a very interesting activity. Intellect by itself has no root, and can go in wild and horrific directions, pushed by the subtle tides of our fallen nature and evil desires. How else could Nazi doctors so calmly consider making lampshades out of human skin?
If we're feeling especially intellectual about our misery, we might start to travel down the Gallic path of viewing life as but a dream - and therefore not worth a moment's worry. Twisting our way through the bramble bushes of our fallen nature requires thought that is focused on the simple precept of heart. I believe that this is why Jesus said that we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Little children are so simple in their heartistic desires that they cut right through all the mud and confusion that mess up adult synapses. Children tend to say things that are wonderfully obvious (to them) like, 'But of course I want my mommy and daddy to love each other and stay together!'
As adults, we are reluctant to seem unsophisticated. Who wants to be a country bumpkin, anyway? It doesn't help that society is often so brutal and shallow that it seldom applauds simple virtues like kindness and sympathy. We are beset from within and without.
When we sit in nature, gazing at a beautiful and idyllic scene, our minds can become calm, and we can notice our hearts once again. The whole concept of 'heart' is amazingly simple, but at the same time incredibly strong, like a spine. Stating that the core of each human being is 'the desire to gain joy by giving and receiving love' is a powerful and uncommon way of looking at people. The revelation that God has spent a million plus years in lonely grief over the misery of mankind is an explanation of spiritual reality that transforms our hearts when we meditate in the 'watches of the night.' When we gaze at a barren outcrop of rock on a mountain side, we feel the age of things in our bones, and without trying to, we suddenly cry from the realization that God has been living alone.
We believe in love. Not pat love; not saccharin sweet pap that rambles across the backs of boring greeting cards. As men and women of faith, who bled and sweat and cried as we worked without sleep in the cold of prayerful nights and hot campaign days, we know what love meant to us in our youth. The dream of love sustained us; fed us; gave us hope that one day we would be able to hug God and make Him happy.
James Lipton, on Bravo's television program, 'Inside the Actor's Studio', always asks each actor, 'When you are entering heaven, what do you want God to say to you?' Oh, how I yearn to hear a sincere answer about God, in the public forum! One seldom does.
I can't think of anything I'd rather hear God say, than, 'You made me happy.'
In the silence of contemplative thought, we find the root of our heart and the root of our faith. We find our love, because we yearn for love. We long to cling to God, and long to go beyond the vestiges of doubt and pain and insecurity and fear that drive us away from the One who simply wants to be with us.
Religious life is nothing if not complex. Everyone has their own opinion, and flavor of faith. How then, can we maintain our own faith in God without falling prey to the temptations of cynicism and resentment? How can we pass through all the complicated difficulties that can't be ignored by intelligent adults? Modern men and women often require a scientific explanation of faith in order to persevere and correctly understand God.
Sometimes, in our misery, we entirely lose our way, and can't even remember where we were going in the first place. I love the passage in Pilgrim's Progress, where John Bunyan talks about the man named Christian, who has lost his way in a 'slough of despond.'
'Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended this talk, they drew near to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain, and they, being heedless, did both suddenly fall into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond. Here therefore they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.
What are the steps for us, as people who, at the birth of our faith, wanted to love God, and wanted to help build a heavenly world of heart? What will help us find our way through the muck of battlefield pain and resentment?
One could create quite a lengthy prescription, based on our many and varied experiences and the variety of teachings that we may have studied. In fact, a common reaction from someone who is struggling to stay committed to their faith is, 'Don't give me any book answers. I've heard them all.' And it's true. We all know the litany of antidotes, such as prayer, repentance, humility, study, public service and faith in things unseen.
I believe that all of these are valuable and true. If one has to cross a bridge over a chasm, each rung is individually important. One misstep on any of them, and the end is nigh. However, rather than simply focusing on 'methods of faith', I believe that we have to deal with motivation. Not just 'how' to cross the bridge, but 'why.' If we can't think of a good reason, we may just decide to stay home.
Unlike Marxists, for us, the end does not justify the means. Although it may go against conventional wisdom, and though we may be scorned for acting so, our view of life tells us that the means to the end are the same as the end. We reach the world of true love by creating it as we travel along the way. We are fueled by our heartistic purpose. True love, in all of its beauty, really is the most powerful force in the universe. For this reason, I remind myself, and my children, and constantly talk together with my beloved wife, Kim, about the simple prescription of love.
One could say that we live at the center of a 'sphere of love', giving outward in all directions, continuously creating an atmosphere of love around us. We reach out toward God with our love, and toward each and every person that we encounter. We cling to God and cling to the water of true love.
When Kim and I struggle with the travails of daily life, I give her a hug and kiss her cheek, and smile, and say, 'Kimmy Poo, let's just pray the prayer of love, and everything will be ok.'
When she smiles back, I know we're on the way.
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to one of his favorite mottos: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”