Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God…Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:26-39, selected verses)
He put before them another parable; “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
These were the lectionary texts a couple of weeks ago. The Romans text begins by speaking of our weakness. Weakness sometimes so profound we cannot find words to express our misery and concerns in our prayers. The text ends by noting some of the difficulties (some pretty dreadful!) we might have to face in our lives. Weakness. Difficulties. Things that can so easily obscure God’s presence in our lives. Make it seem as though God is hiding and unavailable to us.
The Matthew text speaks quite directly of God’s hiddenness. Tells of a God who chooses the tiniest of seeds, the hardly visible mustard seed, as the seed just right for the planting of God’s kingdom. Of a God who takes her yeast and kneads it into flour where it is completely covered up and hidden.
As I was driving home from worship and thinking about these two texts, suddenly the words from one of my husband’s favorite poems from his childhood came to mind:
I’m hiding, I’m hiding, and no one knows where,
For all they can see are my toes and my hair;
And I just heard my Father say to my Mother
But, Darling he must be somewhere or other.
“You’re hiding, you’re hiding, God, and I simply cannot find you.” So often this is the cry of my heart. Where are you, God, in all the weaknesses and woes of our world? Where are you when children by the scores are being killed in Gaza? Where are you in the painful cancer of my neighbor? In the deep clinical depression weighing down the life of a friend?
God can be so hard to see at times, so hard to find. In A Prayer Journal, written when she was an aspiring young writer, Flannery O’Connor speaks of this difficulty. “Dear God,” she cries out, “I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim cresent (sic) of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon.” Devout Roman Catholic that she was, O’Connor was doubtless referring to her sinfulness when she wrote of her self as the earth’s shadow, but I think her words speak beyond her personal sinfulness; speak to all the dark shadows of sinfulness and misery and weakness that cloud our lives and our world. These shadows so often reduce God to a mere crescent of shining—if we’re able to see any shining at all.
I want to believe, and I do believe, albeit sometimes with a rather shaky faith, that God is truly “somewhere or other” in all the mess and sadness of our world. That God’s tiny mustard seed and hidden yeast really are at work beneath the surfaces of our lives and of the life of our world. That the slim crescent of the God-moon we catch glimpses of is really shining full through the history of our lives and of our world.
And so I pray for eyes to see “those toes and that hair”—those evidences of God’s hidden, but real, presence among us. And yes, with time, with practice, with persistence, I do begin to see. Over here, tiny mustard stems and leaves breaking through the ground. Over there, that lump of flour rising ever so slowly. In many places, many lives, the kindness and the patience and the love that are moon-flowering in the very lives that are so beset with all the pain that life inflicts.
And faint as my eyesight is, as I see these tiny glimpses of our hiding God, I do begin to know, deep in the recesses of my hungry, questioning soul, know, as St. Paul writes, that God’s Spirit is holding me and all of us in a web of prayer that weaves through every fiber of our beings, holding us in sighs that speak a language too profound for any human words. Know as well that I, that we, are so deeply entwined in God’s eternal love that there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to pull us away from that “love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” a love that may shine only as a crescent moon for now, but a love that one day will shine as a full moon, under which all of life, leavened by God’s grace, will rest in the great mustard tree of God’s kingdom.