A few days ago I found myself walking along a street late at night in a big regional Australian city enjoying what I refer to as a ‘random wander’ in the presence of that dreadful and captivating mystery, which the English language has tagged with the cliché, ‘God’. Like all clichés the concept has lived in my mind for decades and has at times been a useful metaphor and at other times a useful fiction assisting me—or not—on a faith journey inside an experimental laboratory called ‘me’, which of course is another cliché.
Anyway, there I was, a little homo sapiens at large in this place filled with homes and families, glories and tragedies, attempting to listen to and to enjoy the cool of the night, the old buildings and the people, which I understood to be filled with the presence of a God who ‘pervades all things visible and invisible’. If that was all there was to it then the event might have been just another poet wandering in the darkness of an impersonal universe. But according to our faith,
‘There’s more that dances on the prairies than the wind
More that pulses in the ocean than the tide
There’s a love that’s fiercer than the love between friends
And it was this love that I was thinking about as I walked and began to imagine and to feel a deep overflowing love and goodness that drenched every rock and stone and human being like some sweet and un-nerving secret. All of which reminded me of a painting of London described in a Charles William’s novel All Hallows Eve. The further I walked the stronger the feeling became, as if I was getting close to an epi-centre of some kind.
Then—outside a hotel—I met two men, one sitting on a bench and drunk and the other standing, clearly a security guard, who looked relieved to see me. Both men were engaged in a kind of loud exchange of words: not hostile but what could have been mistaken for aggressive because of the volume with which they spoke, but since they were a couple of meters apart (and the wind was blowing) they needed to talk loudly.
The drunk introduced himself and wanted to know if I could go with him to play the pokies. I made it clear that I would rather not but he was persistent so I agreed on the understanding that once we had wasted our money we would then go for coffee. By the time we made it to the pokies—at another late night pub—he was a little more sober but still excited about the prospect of winning, a fact he soon became embarrassed about when he realised he had lost his entire $5 bet and I had won twice that amount.
By this stage he had told me enough of his story to make it clear that he was not just having a bender, his entire life was becoming one big train-wreck and he was desperate for help. But a man doesn’t admit that kind of thing easily, so, even as he was ‘fessing up’ to it he would suddenly launch into a soliloquay of bravado, and backwards and forwards on the see-saw of despair we went until finally even he was tired of his bluster and we drove back where I was staying: at the local Cornerstone team house. As it turned out he didn’t want a coffee, but we found a bed for him and—having woken one of the boys (who knew him)—he chatted for a while and then fell asleep at 3am.
In all the travelling, talking and preaching involved in my kind of work, these ‘random wanderings’ have become what I cannot do without because they break me out of Christendom’s domesticated, predictable God-bubble and lead me back into the unpredictability and chaos of reality. Here is where I suddenly find myself looking into the eyes of Jesus in the form of another dishevelled, angry and frightened human being. And there’s no telling what might happen when you attempt to offer grace to someone who’s laughing at it but hanging on it by a thread—at once resenting and hungry for agape love; resenting and hungry for you and your friendship.
Will you be tested and found wanting? Of course! But so what? For this is a redemptive partnership with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the ‘No longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’. All of which leaves you facing your own weakness, lostness and need of that same grace in order to be able to give not just cold charity but the very best you can offer of your own heart and soul; of your imagination, time, money and strength. On many such occasions, I realised later on that I was the one who was given the greater gift. As it says in the poem,
‘Love’s as hard as nails, love is nails
Blunt, thick, hammered through the medial nerves of one,
Who having made us, knew the thing he had done.
This love, boldly—and it could be said, irresponsibly and recklessly—asserts as a fact, that possessions, money and even our own lives have the potential to become fountains of eternal love, if only we will allow them to be released into the lives of others—not out of a morbid fear or a sanctimonious desire to be ‘unselfish’ or to impress someone, but as a ‘joining in of the dance’ that is love made alive and hilarious. As Anthony Bloom once said, ‘All the food of this world is divine love made edible … The moment we try to be rich by keeping we are the losers … This is the Kingdom, the sense that we are free from possession.’ ie. from being possessed by our possessions. And in particular, from imprisoning eternal love in our own soul out of a grubby little desire to somehow hoard it.