I was out planting row after row of sweet corn in my garden this afternoon when the thought came to me again as it often does, seemingly out of the blue. And now no sooner are those words out of my fingertips onto the electronic page than I recognize they are literally true, insofar as I was working under a clear, blue cloudless sky. There was nothing, absolutely nothing to come between me and the truth that was trying to reach me at last.
There they were again, those words: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?”
For more reasons than I can possibly mention, let alone understand well enough to make sense of them here now, I have been a doubter regarding religion, and yet a spiritual searcher.
But I keep going back to Jesus, the extraordinary and no doubt divinely inspired, suffering man.
It’s as if I am thinking time and time again of a dear, old friend who was cruelly and unjustly killed. I would embrace him, comfort him, even fight to save him from the torment of the cross if somehow I could be taken back there to that moment.
It’s much the same way I think about my father, who died of ALS in 1970 in Los Angeles. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I didn’t know he was dying, or even that he was living there. And then one day at work I got that call, out of the blue.
I’ve often thought what good friends we might have been if he had lived long enough for us to find each other again. I would have understood his pain. I could have offered him the comfort he was never able to find. I would have no hesitation embracing him and saying, “I love you.”
Such simple words that mean so much.
So, yes, I feel that way about Jesus. I would have no hesitation whatsoever embracing and saying, “I love you,” to him.
And yet, I have come up with so many reasons that hold me back from fully embracing the Christian faith. That being said, I feel I must differentiate between the faith as held by the various Christian churches, and what Jesus actually taught. I’ve often thought the man who preached love above all other things must be the most misunderstood person who ever lived.
That being said, I must confess I am indeed like the disciple Philip who, in the Gospel of St. John, asks Jesus for visual proof of God’s existence.
Are you kidding me? That, in so many words, is the response of Jesus; and then there’s this:
Here I am, right before your eyes, as I’ve been for so long. “And still you don’t know me, Philip.”
This evening as I sat down at my desk the expression, “fear and trembling,” came to mind. I googled it, and got numerous results referring to it as the title of a book by the 19th Century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.
And that led me to the following quote from another of his books, Either/Or, generally regarded as one of the founding expressions of existential philosophy:
“There comes a moment in a person’s life when immediacy is ripe, so to speak, and when the spirit requires a higher form, when it wants to lay hold of itself as spirit. As immediate spirit, a person is bound up with all the earthly life, and now spirit wants to gather itself together out of this dispersion, so to speak, and to transfigure itself in itself; the personality wants to become conscious in its eternal validity. If this does not happen, if the movement is halted, if it is repressed, then depression sets in.”
Whew, that’s heavy; but certainly clear enough. It seemed at that moment to speak directly to me.
To make his “fear and trembling” point, Kierkegaard points to the story of Abraham being called upon by God to make a blood sacrifice of his son, Isaac. It is the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith, the price of the eternal validation of his spiritual self: one must be prepared to sacrifice what one loves most in the world.
Is the long, long time of my doubter phase finally coming to an end? All the signs are there. It’s almost a “now or never” moment. Now, there, I did it again: I gave myself an out with almost.
I stood up in the row between the planting of two seeds of untreated sweet corn early this afternoon. I looked out over the field, and then up into the clear blue sky. I thought of my suffering friend. I wanted to go to him.
Yet still, I hesitated.
And even now upon reflection, understanding that I am being called, I hesitate again.