Saturday, October 13, 2007

But Then

I know I'm taking a break, but I have started to read blogs again, and I found something I wanted to share.

There are people who will tell you stories of starting seminary in which one of the confirmations of God's call seems to be the melting away of obstacles.

That particular experience has not been mine. (And, as I will admit to being somewhat relieved to have discovered in the past month, mine is as common as its opposite.)

My experience has involved two major and one minor financial setbacks (the minor one being so defined only in relation to the other two; I think most people would characterize that one alone as major enough, but it all depends on where you stand), and days and days of illness, first the dog's and now my own, which have combined to create chaos in the household and to make midterms infinitely more difficult than necessary.

The one thing which has remained clear and consistent has been the support and encouragment I have received, strong and encouraging and affirming (and astonishing to this previously God-resistant girl), across the spectrum from 77-year-old Jesuit to 20-year old a-religious daughter, with people of all ages and from all religious and not-religious affiliations and convictions in between. I tend to rely on those words as gifts straight from the Spirit on days like this when I am so utterly worn out.

And then, I found the following
here this morning:

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by Fr. John Kahle

Now, before I am tarred and feathered for making this statement, please allow me to share some very personal thoughts and feelings with you.

Does this sound familiar? You attend church regularly . . . you participate in church affairs. . . you pay your pledge on time. . . you try to be constant and regular with prayers and fasting . . . you try your very best to live your life as God desires . . . but in spite of all your efforts, one thing after another seems to go wrong. A serious illness strikes you or a loved one; a death of a relative or close friend occurs; family problems and financial woes smite you one after another, and on. . . and on. . . and on.

Suddenly you find yourself questioning what do you really believe, what has happened to your faith and sometimes saying, “What are you doing to me God? Why are you heaping all these problems and setbacks on me? Whose side are you on?”

You know a family across the street, or in the next block, which has never seen the inside of a church. The man of the house is too busy playing golf on Sunday to go to church, or the entire family goes to the shore for the weekend. Whatever the reason, they have no time for God and yet, as far as you know, no real problems confront them, and you repeat, “God, whose side are you really on?” Does it sound familiar?

Take heart my friends, because we are not alone with our feelings. As we think about faith and strength from faith, we might remember some gospel lessons and passages of scripture which tell us that even the people who were closest to Christ, had moments when their faith failed them. I refer to the disciples, who lived with Christ for the some three plus years of his earthly ministry.

In St. Matthew, chapter 17, we read of a man, who comes to Christ to have mercy on his son who is a lunatic. He tells Christ that the disciples had tried curing the boy but they failed. Christ asks that the son be brought to him and he cures him. Then the disciples come to Jesus and ask why they could not cure the boy, and Jesus replies, “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

Chapter 14 of the book of St. Mark tells the sad story of Christ’s betrayal by Judas. But sadder still, it tells of the disciple Peter, one of Christ’s dearest, and the fact that Jesus told Peter he would deny him thrice. Peter said he would die with Christ first, rather than deny him, yet Peter did three times deny Christ that night.

The lesson told us in St. Matthew, chapter 14, again involves the disciples, and Peter in particular. The twelve are on a ship while Jesus remained ashore. In the night, the ship is tossed about in a very severe storm and all those aboard are very frightened. Jesus begins walking to them on the water and they see him coming. Peter says, “Lord, if it be you, bid me come unto you on the water.” Jesus bids him to come. When Peter came down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Christ. The wind and waves made Peter afraid and he began to sink. Peter cries aloud, “Lord, save me.” Jesus stretched forth his hand and caught Peter, saying, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

The fourth lesson touches the book of St. John, chapter 20. Jesus is crucified and resurrected and has appeared to all the remaining disciples except Thomas. When the followers tell Thomas they have seen Jesus, he refuses to believe them. He states that unless he can see the print of the nails in Christ’s hands and put his finger into his side, he will not believe. Eight days later when Christ appears to them again, Thomas is there and has the satisfaction of doing the things needed to make him believe. Jesus said to Thomas, “Thomas, because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

It is a frightening thing when one begins to question his beliefs and faith, but it need not be. Because by questioning and searching, we learn and experience new and stronger faith.

When I was a little boy, I wanted a kite very badly. To ask for a nickel to buy a kite would have been like asking for the world. I had a mind, two hands and the ability, so I decided to make my own kite. I knew what a kite should look like, but I lacked the experience and knowledge gained from building one. So I began.

When completed, my first attempt merely looked like a kite. Each time I ran to send it skyward, as I would look back it would be dragging along the ground becoming torn and shredded.

The second and third attempts, while they bore a striking resemblance to a kite, never left the ground. However, with each attempt, I learned more and gained more patience. I found that by looking at, and studying other kites, I discovered my mistakes and corrected them.

After many more attempts and failures, I finally had a kite that left the ground. However, I discovered that after it was airborne, a strong wind would cause it to nosedive and it was back on the ground. By looking at other flying kites, I realized the need for weight and added a tail, short in a light wind, and long in a heavy, strong wind, I had finally gained my kite.

As an experiment one day, I added as much string to the kite as I could find. While the kite flew so high and far, that it was almost lost from my sight, I always knew it was there. The curve of the string told me it was up there, and the stronger and harder the wind blew, the harder the kite pulled on my hand and the higher it went.

Faith is much like that kite. We must work and study to gain a strong faith. There will be many failures and setbacks. We will get up, dust ourselves off and try again. When we feel we have a good strong faith, developed through God’s word and teaching, the only way God will know if it truly “flies” and will support us, is to put it to the test.

Therefore, only by testing our faith will God know how good His work really is. He will show us our weaknesses and help us to improve if we question and learn from each experience.

So my dearest friends, and especially the children, go build a kite of Christian faith, and fly it.


Father John is pastor of the Lehigh Valley Mission of St. Paul in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Originally in Word Magazine
A Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
September 1989

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We have some wonderful kites in our storage closet, left over from annual family vacations in St. Augustine, where kite flying is a form of beach art.

So: kite it is for me.

10 comments:

Jan said...

GG, such a beautiful post. Thank you.It's hard to hold on sometimes, but with words and thoughts from others to urge us on, we can.

Lisa :-] said...

Hmmmm......

mompriest said...

I have always loved kites. Love to fly them...this post is wonderful for where I am in my life as well. Not sure I agree with the idea that God "tests" us, but sure like the idea that God takes the bad stuff that comes our way, the stuff that ground us, and helps us learn how to fly anyway....

Kathryn J said...

You have no idea how much I needed this entry right now.

Just last week, I was asking God why he was testing me and meditating on one translation of the "Lord's Prayer" which ends with "put us not to the test". I like that ending because it implies a relationship with God more than other translations which seem to put God way up there and us way down here.

The kite image is powerful. I'm going to try to hold on tight to that string. To think, I almost didn't bother checking your blog because I knew you were on break.

LawAndGospel said...

Interesting. Why is it human nature to assume that those who do not seem to have outward faith should not have as much as those who do? Luckily our God is a patient and loving God with each of us equally beloved children. Not sure God tests us, but I am sure God is at work in our lives and uses what we experience to refine our faith. Blessings in your studies!

Diane said...

thank you so much for sharing this. much food (& kites) for thought

RevDrKate said...

This was a great find...thank you for sharing it. It makes a link for me from struggle to joy that I have been needing....funny that!

Kris said...

Thank you my friend for taking the time to share that.
For the past few weeks I have been struggling to find ways to explain FAITH to my 21yr old nephew .. who being 21 knows EVERYTHING!! I can already hear his arguments when I offer this ... but I think too it will help plant the seed. You can't SEE the kite .. but you know it is there ... that is FAITH. The struggle to build the kite will be a lesson for another day :)
I hope you are feeling better!!

Presbyterian Gal said...

Thanks for this life preserver.

Magdalene6127 said...

I am glad you find support and encouragement in such disparate places. I hope you find it here. Blessings on your call, may the obstacles make it all the more precious.

Prayers for you, (((GG))).

Mags