“O god, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is,
To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
Because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips;
When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.” Psalm 63 v.1-7.
This Christmas I have felt a visceral longing for God. This psalm speaks to that ache, that divine shadow where my soul rejoices.
As a child witnessing the story of Christmas in church and in creches, I loved to look at the comfortable tableaux of the mangered babe nestled safely between Mary and Joseph. Never once did I discern a trace of irony in its presentation. Instead, the straw bed seemed appropriate for the King of the World; after all, didn’t it glow gold in the light?
For years the nativity story retained a peaceful aura for me. This luminescent scene annually awakened glimpses of glory, worshipful adoration, feelings of awe both familiar and fresh.
But this year something felt different. Before awe and adoration I felt, above all, wonder. God, who art Thou, that comes to me in the form of a baby, lying helplessly in the feeding trough?
When I look at a nativity scene, I discern ironies, an ache. The juxtapositions embedded in a scene that not long ago sweetly supported my assumptions about God spur me to journey in question farther than I have before.
For example: I used to think that you came to earth the way you did because, of course. I had always known you to annually appear as the Baby Jesus, just as every Christmas comes complete with carols, cookies, and a tree.
But you hid the essence of divine nature in this seasonal showcase. You are the God of the unexpected. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
The people of your day expected a political messiah, someone who would free them from an undeniably brutal, unjust Roman regime. And here you came, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, with the Slaughter of the Innocents at your heel. As the mothers in Israel wept over their slain sons, were you yet the God they needed? Am I, another mother in Israel, to trust my precious ones to you knowing full well what happened to them?
But I do. Obviously I do. Didn’t David answer that himself? “Thy loving kindness is better than life.” And: “O god, thou art my God.”
And you will teach me to find you where I have come to assume you are not. I will find you in the unmet expectation, the flat out disappointment, the shadowy doubt, maybe–probably!–even the cliché. The next time someone goes to the pulpit and recites a rehearsed script with conviction, instead of feeling annoyed and impatient, I will look for You, my God who hides in plain sight. I know I will find you in every place I assumed you were not.
I will rejoice in the shadow of the divine wing. Here are some of my shadows, where I expect our meeting: Polygamy. The way Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. The patriarchal order of the church and the temple. Do You love women? Do You love us as much as You love men? Do You love me? I weep that I have to write the question, and Lord, I expect to find You here, in the ache. We will meet and you will cause me to bless you while I live. I believe this because I know about the babe in the manger, the filled inn.
More shadows: Blacks and the priesthood–why the lag?? Why isn’t Your church at the vanguard of social progress? Shouldn’t the church light the way for the world? And while we’re at it, how come LGBT people are not allowed to hope for the tremendous, blessed, sweet marriage I enjoy? Why is this crown of existence available to only a few?
Lord, whose ways are not my ways, meet me here.
You meet me with the flight to Egypt; Rachel, who would not be comforted, those slain little boys–those sweet, tender boys.
This Christmas You are why I wonder, and adore.