Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gut Level God

Meditations on the Good News of Jesus
according to St. John 1:1-18 
                                                        --by Pastor Roger                        

            Several years ago, local performer Storm Large—yes, that’s always been her real name—did a one woman show called “Crazy Enough.”  It’s an autobiographical work of storytelling and song with only Storm and three musicians onstage for the occasional musical numbers that are all over the map.  
            I’ve never seen anything quite like it and probably will not again in life.  It’s the story of a family--Storm, her brother and her father--completely submerged in the mental illness of her mother who was in and out of more psychiatric offices and psych wards than anyone can name.  It’s the story of knowing that she, Storm, has the genetic defect of her mother and blood relatives, some of whom have developed the rare form of mental illnesses.   

It’s the story of a girl too big (Large is a fitting last name), too loud, and not pretty enough to be popular.  It’s the story of running away from herself, of looking for love in disastrous places including promiscuity, heroin addiction, verbal and physical abuse.   

It’s also the story of redemption as only Storm could tell it from her gut level experience.  In one scene onstage she writhes on the floor re-enacting the wrenching physical trauma of self-imposed heroin withdrawal and her last-ditch cries to God.  The audience is becoming physically ill with her. 

The theater is nearly dark and silent but for a few exhausted sobs from Storm who is in a fetal ball on the floor.  Then Storm begins to enact how the room she was in slowly began to fill with warmth and light and love.  Warmth and light and love.  As though life, and the ability to live, the desire to live, the hope to live, were slowly being transfused back into her soul.  No drug induced temporary high.  No hug from a mama bear caregiver.  No Hollywood exorcism by a priest wearing black.  No yoga meditation.  No soundtrack.  Instead, a physical and emotional resurrection that came from completely outside herself.  Warmth.  Light.  Love.  It came.  It stayed.  Gut level God.

 In early 2007, I had finished my parish internship and all the steps necessary for some kind of call to ministry.  What would that call be?  You might think that would be an exciting time of discovery and anticipation.  Instead, it was a horrible time of deadly spiritual warfare that nearly ended me.  Each day grew worse, and I finally called a couple of friends to ask them to pray for me.  It was a months-long battle to stay sane long enough to discern God’s call—which wasn’t going to be what the church thought should be my call at all.  You know the answer, of course, because here I am.  And I have grown to love this ministry in ways words cannot describe and which my extended family will never understand.   

I now get something at a gut level that I never did before.  It’s this:  if there is a hell it is separation from God.  Hell is not a furnace but a deepfreeze.  It is a place of utter cold.  Our best physics tell us that all molecular motion ceases at a temperature of -273 degrees on the Kelvin scale:  absolute zero.  At absolute zero, it is impossible to extract any more heat from anything.  Hell is absolute zero of the soul, the mind and the body.  Separation from God is a total absence of warmth and light and love.  You don’t ever want to go there.  God wants no one to ever go there, be there, or stay there.  Period.

             Christmas is a celebration of thanks for the birth of a child that his parents named Yeshua, meaning God (YHWH) is salvation:  Jesus, whom we confess to be Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ.  His birth probably happened in the spring of the year when there was grass on the hillsides for sheep to graze and when shepherds could endure nights outdoors without freezing.    
           It probably happened in a season of a lot more daylight than we experience now just after the winter solstice.  Yet it’s appropriate for us to celebrate this wondrous event in a time of darkness and cold.  Now the messages of warmth and light and love make the most sense to us.  We have a gut level need to understand these things that stay with us.   

Martin Luther wrote the poem of our Christmas song today as a way to remember the Christmas story in verse form.  It’s something we can learn as children and carry with us all our lives.  That’s a good thing.  Although we are born as children we don’t stay children.  The darknesses that may assault us in life are far more powerful and life- threatening than the mere shortness of daylight.  We need backup.   

God’s story is far more important than a baby’s birth with stars in the sky.  It’s about a gut level God who finds us in the darkest room, a God who drives away the utter separation of absolute zero with warmth and light and love. 
Storm Large may never give her testimony in church.  As she said once, her mouth cop got run over a long time ago.  But she told her story in the most important place:  out of and into the real world of darkness where people live and that God comes to with warmth and light and love.  Your story is just as important as hers or mine.  It’s a gut level story because Jesus is a gut level God for all the world.  Warmth.  Light.  Love.  Fantastic news!  Thank you, Jesus!  Thanks be to God!