June 14, 2008

the sparrow

I just finished reading The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell. So essentially--and you know this from page one, so there is no spoiler--life is discovered on another planet and the Jesuits send out an evangelistic mission to this planet. Only one priest survives. The story is told in timeframes, past and present. The survivor priest tells his story of the fatal mission via "Jesuit hearings" in present tense which is alternated by the story unfolding in past tense. It's kind of a sci-fi/fantasy meets theology/does God exist/problem of evil discussion meets the complexity of human relationships and individual identity.

The surviving priest battles with his faith in a God that permits terrible atrocities to happen not only to himself, but to his beloved friends and to the innocents of the newly discovered world. Now this is somewhat of a spoiler, so you may want to stop reading: the priest and his other priest-superiors and priet-peers come to some sort of resolution at the end as they ponder scriptural sparrow. God sees each and every sparrow that falls...yet, they still fall.
In my own understanding of faith I found myself changing how I pray in recent years. I still pray "God keep ______ from happening" or "God please make ________ happen", but I pray that less. Instead I pray more, "God help me to know your presence in this situation", "thank you that no matter what happens I will not be alone. You will never abandon me."

A few years ago I was struggling with something deeply in my soul and I was begging God to make everything come out okay. In one of those times when I am a good enough listener to hear God speak (which isn't as often as I would like, of course), I heard deep down in me, "No, I won't promise you that."
Why not? I argued. "My promise is that I will always be with you. And that is the better promise."
The better promise whatever. But as I have come to terms with that, I realize that I do have an inkling of belief that this is true. Somehow the better promise is not that I won't fall, or that the sparrow won't fall, or that atrocities won't happen, but that God will be there. God will not abandon me. God is present. Does this bring hope and comfort? Yes, it does, oddly. And I am not completely sure why. It would certainly bring more comfort to say that God keeps bad things from happening in my life and that God holds buildings up when earthquakes obliterate children and tsunamis wash away a generation. Is God is present enough? It is enough because it has to be?

I think that the line between faith and desperation is very thin, if present at all. We believe because we have faith, but we often believe because that's all we've got. Somehow I am convinced that it does incredibly matter that God sees the sparrow fall. And that God is present in my life no matter what happens and will not abandon me. But just between me and you, I wish that God would intervene a bit more obviously.

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