I had originally planned to write here words that were as close to what I said Friday night as I could remember. But I don’t have phonographic memory, and my original audience – young Hungarians and a student translator – was very different from the audience of English-fluent friends and family. So while the words here are quite different than my original testimony, the stories are the same.
Seeking after God is a bit of habit with me; I grew up in a Christian home with a mother who worked as a pastor for several years. I have never been very far from Christianity. But I have felt very far away from God probably more often than I have felt close to God. God has not promised me that I will see, feel, or understand God’s presence, but there have been a few times in my life when the presence of God was so near that it had no room to go but inside me, and those particular seeds of presence miraculously fell on fertile soil. These are the stories of their fruit.
I was 17, in my final year of high school, and utterly miserable. I had been suffering from depression for several years, and though by that point I had sought help, nothing seemed to be getting any better. Negative pathways ruled my mind, and I didn’t know how to get out. One day I was walking to my Latin class at Indiana University, hurrying down Kirkwood Avenue for those of you who know Bloomington. It was a grey January day (not unlike the days we’ve been having here in Ukraine), and my thoughts were busy. “I wish I didn’t have to go to class. I don’t like it; the students are annoying, and I don’t know that I did my homework well enough. I’m tired, I don’t feel like studying, and I don’t think this is doing me any good anyway. What purpose does this class serve? Not that I know what I want to do with my life anyway, it’s all purposeless…” You get the point. Then, it started to snow.
Friends, I hate snow, as a general rule. There are those few moments when I’m able to climb out of myself and enjoy the beauty, but those moments are few. “Ugh, why is it snowing?” I began asking myself. “I hate snow. I hate cold, and winter, and I’m going to have to drive in this. I hate this day and…” I stopped. This was exactly the negative line of thinking that I had to pull into check if I wanted to be free of depression. I looked around at the snow. The flakes were so big—maybe the size of a penny—that the snow was falling slowly, almost dreamlike. If I walked through it and looked at it just the right way, it didn’t really look like snow anymore. It looked like I was flying through the universe, and the stars were floating past me. It was like being in space, in the hugeness of the cosmos—in the hugeness of God. And I smiled, and I looked up at the sky and the snow and I relished that flight through the stars. And I liked it. I liked the snow. From that moment on, I stopped seeing things the same way. I suddenly realized what a GIFT life was. I learned to live in wonder, to see each pollen particle on my hand, each winter appearance of Orion, each chord and interval in a song, each smile and word from a friend … all of these things, I learned to see as monuments to the greatness of God.
But the knowledge of the greatness of God did not sustain me forever. Profound wonder was not a deep enough root to keep the sun from scorching me. I arrived this past summer at Taizé, a religious community in Burgundy, scorched and tired and confused, feeling far removed from God and not entirely sure I wanted to get any closer. My time there was a healing time for me, a time when I learned to pray ceaselessly, when I learned to break down the expectations for myself I had mistaken for truth and learned to simply offer myself to God as I was.
It was my last week at the community, and I was sitting on the edge of the hill praying. I could see the whole eastern valley from where I sat, a long line of pasture and forest and rainy sky. There was a small herd of white cows making its way through one field. I was thinking about love, and wanting and receiving and giving love. And how even if no human being loved me, God does. Then, something I had known with my mind was revealed to my heart. I was just watching the cows walk through the rain, telling myself that God loved me. I expanded the statement. The God who made these cows loves me. The God who made everything in this beautiful view loves me.
I felt like someone had grabbed hold of my insides. The God who made everything in this view that I am marveling at loves me. The God who shaped the hills loves me. The God who grew this incredible and intricate tree loves me. God knew I would see it. Maybe God even fashioned some of the branches in a particular way that God knew would be especially pleasing to me. The same God who made the raindrops and the snowflakes knows that some of the freckles on my left hand make an “L.” The God who made the cows, created every color, formed the stones of the wall, made the person who made the wall, sent the rain, lit the sun, created the stars, each super nova and nebula in all their incomprehensible vastness and beauty, this God loves me. The God who crafted each tiny cell in that moss, each tiny cell in my foot, in me, loves me.
The God who designed the intricacies of a sunflower knows that the word platypus makes me want to laugh, that Samuel Barber’s music always makes me want to cry, that my two middle toes are double-jointed. God knows that only my right thumb-print has a circular pattern. God knows that I like to make fairy boats out of walnut shells.
And God loves me.
Of course I have heard those words from the moment I was old enough to go up for the children’s sermon, but never had that seed of God’s love fallen from my head into the richer ground my soul offers. Never had I felt that paradox of the cosmic Creator and the intimate Lover.
I pray for each of you that you learn to feel the great, great love of God which surrounds you even when you don’t have eyes to see it. That you are overwhelmed by it. That the knowledge of it sustains you even when God appears far away. And that God’s great wonder and extravagant love never cease to amaze you.
photo credit here