The darkness before the dawn

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 22, 2019

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

Some three thousand years ago, King David of Israel composed a series of what came to be considered as sacred songs, or hymns. Numbering 150 in total, they reflect much of the human condition, the worship of a singular god, and the laments and praises of a, at least, inspired mind. For these past three millennia, they have served us well as both a bridge of the Judeo-Christian ethos and a reflection upon the very humanity of our worship.

In the tenth Psalm, we are asked, “Why standest thou so far off, O Lord, and hidest thy face in the needful time of trouble? While the language may seem a bit awkward, as it comes from the King James version of the Bible, the query is quite clear.

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There are few of us who have not felt some distance from God. Perhaps it has come from an actual, physical earthly abandonment, or when someone tells us, “Hey, I’m out of here; you’re on your own.” Perhaps it is losing someone we love, a parent, child, mate, or friend, which may bring us to a feeling of complete isolation, and even desperation. There is little question of our debilitated selves in such conditions, as we often lack reasoned clarity, which has been clouded by our, quite understandable, emotions and fears. Over the recent decades much study has been made about, “muscle memory.”

In brief, it calls for the use of physical skillsets which, when combined with emotional and mental repetition, results in a seemingly automatic behavior. It is a much-used discipline amongst our athletes, the armed forces and law enforcement. The purpose is to develop each individual’s ability to react appropriately to situational stress; sometimes extreme. A soldier in combat executes a response more effectively and more quickly; a police officer deescalates a hostage situation; an athlete more readily identifies what is expected and what may be accomplished.

We too are subject to muscle memory. No, we may not have to put our lives on the line, or we have hung up our athletic shoes. Yet, we are in combat. We are constantly fighting the darkness of ourselves, and the darkness within those around us. When we weary, when we tire, we may have the sense that God is standing afar off and we cannot see the face of the one we so long for.

Consider our lack of muscle memory. Oh, it may not be found in our biceps, or triceps; our glutes, or our pecks. It is not to be found on a military drill field, or an “active shooter” police exercise. It is that muscle above our neck, which requires regular exercise to be prepared for the next stressor in our lives. We know, as Christians, that Christ Jesus is in all places at all times. If we truly believe this to be so, then Christ is not only standing next to us, he is deep within us. Most profoundly, Jesus is an integral part of us. Our sense of distance, from him, is a direct result of our “flabby” minds’ inability to have the conditioned confidence, vis a vie our well-exercised faith, to weather the storm. King David’s lament, of God hiding his face, speaks to the humanness of the writer and ourselves. Indeed, there are times when God’s plan, or purpose, is not clear.

During these times, we earnestly seek the clarity for our firmly stated interrogatories, and it may not be what we wish, understand, or desire. As an impatient lot, we require our answers to be swift and clear. In spite of the history before us, and the directions form our Lord and Savior, we persist. Foolish we…as it will happen when God wills it so. It just may be that it is ourselves who are providing the egregious distance and most incorrectly lamenting the “Great Chasm.”