The mysterious disappearance of the Teton Mountains was all the talk in Jackson Hole, Wyoming this summer. Off the plane we looked for the “Grand,” the tallest of the Teton peaks, soaring to an impressive 13,770 feet. Strange, it was missing for most of our ten-day visit. A tourist in town bemoaned that he had traveled across the country in his RV to see the biggest Teton, a natural wonder in North America, only to leave with just a postcard. The Tetons were there of course, just temporarily hidden behind a cloud veil, a result of the unprecedented Western Forest fires.
The experience of faith can be described in three words: wonder, patience, expectation. Wonder is knowing in your bones the reality of God in and around us. Patience is the spiritual discipline to accept seasons of divine silence and our human niggling doubt. Time spent in this “no man’s land” can feel like an eternity. We fear our earthly existence is our only reality, that there is no redemption for our suffering, and we are cursed to the dust. Expectation is anticipating—trusting—in the next moment God will show up and save the day. Wonder, patience and expectation: important experiences of faith.
The last two years of the Pandemic shutdown were compounded by the everyday realities of loss and grief, regular burdens of health issues and aging, parental stress, work pressures and ugly politics. It has been a real “spiritual wilderness.”
Where are the Tetons? Where is God?
Every human being will spend time, even seasons in the thicket of darkness and uncertainty. God feels absent, and life is not a parade of Alleluias and Amens. So the real work of faith is having the courage in this wilderness to dig in and double-down on hope until the clouds pass. Intellectually and spiritually, I know God would never pull an “Elvis” and leave the stage of my life, just as the Tetons have not moved in over nine million years! But what do you do when the fire is weak inside the inner chapel?
How do we pick back up the “bread crumb trail of hope?” Recently, one of the most faithful women I know, an eighty-year-old who “talks the talk and walks the walk” in her faith, surprised me with her request, “Teach me how to pray.” I asked the same of her. If only the spiritual life was something we could achieve once and for all. But we are “lifetime” novices in training. First, our prayer life must be more than a liturgy of petitions. There is an overwhelming need for prayers for people and situations, but those cannot supersede intimate “bearing your soul” conversations with God. Regularly I return to scriptures that have been “spiritual touchstones” for me in the past, especially the ones where God makes serious promises about my present and eternal wellbeing. I need to hear God say again and again: “I have plans for you, plans to give you hope and a future,” especially when I am anxious about the unknown path ahead (Jeremiah 29:11). Always reassuring are the spiritual luminaries in and outside the Bible who, come what may, kept hold of the sacred thread. One of these is Mary Magdalene. In recent theological scholarship, we have resurrected this feminine voice, near and dear to Jesus. Her words, “I have seen the Lord,” feel like a personal rallying call. I must do a better job looking for God and “the good” in my midst. I am invigorated to return to a church setting with its music, rituals and fellowship. Lucky I am to be a part of a church filled with singer/songwriters and musicians whose music is an elixir for my soul. Nature is also my chapel, a place where I feel closest to God. I go to the woods to reclaim the “quiet” in my life and hear God’s instructions.
The artist Vincent Van Gogh, certainly an unconventional, but also a devoted man of faith wrote beautiful letters to his brother Theo. In Letter 189, on November 23, 1881 he wrote, “proof of the reality of God is that great power of love deep within us—because there is God, there is love; because there is love, there is God. Although this may seem like an argument that goes round in a circle, nevertheless it is true because ‘that circle’ actually contains all things!”
Daily we find our way out of the wilderness, our cloud veil lifts, God is experienced as real and close—when we love and are loved. It is not polite, pretty or surface deep. No! It leaves us incredibly vulnerable, exposed, and—wondrously ALIVE! Van Gogh was right—the circle of love— contains all things.
Wherever you are right now—a place of wonder, practicing patience, or on the edge of your seat expecting God to enter the room—press on.
*photos taken by Farrell Mason, Summer, 2021