Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Protected from Nothing; Sustained in All Things

I offered a Benediction today for some folks who had gathered together around some common soul-yearnings. Some in this particular gathering had come by themselves from many miles away in hopes of finding a moment's-worth of companionship for the inner journey. A few of them live and work on spiritual frontiers that cause them to feel a deep aloneness. Some were walking through difficult and dark days.

I was asked spur-of-the-moment to offer the final words that would send the group back out onto the next life-road, so I had not rehearsed an eloquent or challenging Benediction. I was caught a bit off-guard when I was called upon to offer the parting words of blessing.

Really, I'm not sure what all I said in that Benediction. I wanted to keep it simple, yet give something that the folks could carry onto the road that lay ahead. So I said a couple of rambling things.

Then, as I closed, I had one of those moments -- I suppose we all have them at various times -- when in a split second I decide whether I'm going to say a particular thing or not. In that fraction of a moment, I consider about two dozen really good reasons not to say what I had thought of saying, but also one or two really good reasons to leave those particular words with the group.

In that moment, I decided, "Yes, I need to say this." So the words jumped out.

They are words that have become a kind of personal mantra for me in recent months. I heard James Finley make a statement a year and a half ago, then I paraphrased his words for myself, and now almost daily use the words to remind me of how God is present to me and in me. With these words I ended my Benediction:

God's love protects us from nothing; but God's love sustains us in all things.

For today, this statement speaks to what I believe about God, God's love, and my life. (I say "for today" because I find that as the questions shift for me, so do the things I can say with assurance.) I believe this. It lines up true to my experience and to the experience of others with whom I walk.

I've come to this out of a religious system that believed if I did the right things and said the right things and lived the right way, then God would protect me from all the bad and hurtful things in life. That fantasy got shattered for me a number of years ago. A huge part of my personal pain through those years came from having the illusion shattered . . . the illusion that God would protect me from hurt, pain and the "bad things" of life.

Slowly I began to trade in my "worthiness-system", especially when I noticed the intensity with which many of the saints and major spiritual figures throughout history suffered. I've yet to find a single canonized "saint" who did not undergo intense suffering, physical maladies or persecutions.

I am not shielded from anything that is common to the human condition. Nor are you. At the same time, I have never been more convinced that despite the fact that I am and you are subject to everything that is a part of the human condition, we are sustained, upheld and given hope in all things. Nothing -- not a single thing -- stands outside God's care. The iconic image of the cross says in imaged form what words fall short at saying . . . that God takes even the worst that can happen in our human experience and sustain us in love. God sustains always.

I have to confess that while I believe this statement is true to the nature of God, and while I believe it is true for myself, it is sometimes very difficult to believe for someone I love. When I sit with a dear friend who feels devastated by news that has come and who faces an unknown future, everything within me wants to scream out, "God, protect him from this!!!"

When I talk with a friend who is sliding into a pit of depression, and it's clear that the hole is going to be deep and long-lasting, I want to yell my prayer, "God, don't let this happen!!"

In short, I want to suspend the laws of God's love for a moment all for the benefit of a friend. I don't want to see her suffer, I don't want him to experience this pain. But I really do know better. God's love protects us from nothing; but God's love sustains us in everything.

So today after that Benediction, a Quaker friend I had not seen in many years sought me out immediately. She's one of the wisest, most grounded women I've ever known, and in recent years has faced some challenges that have been extraordinary. She looked me squarely in the eyes and said slyly, "I heard what you prayed." I was a bit embarrassed. She continued, "And it's true. God didn't keep any of these challenges away from me, but I've been sustained through all of them."

So it is for all of us.

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