Tonight is the beginning of Colloquium 2012, the annual alumni continuing education and reunion event for my seminary. This year’s theme is “Standing in Awe: Reclaiming Wonder in Life and Ministry.” There will be worship and plenary sessions and small groups on faculty musings and panel discussions and prayer. There will also be times for small group process. I will be one of the alumni helping to lead small groups of participants in discussions and lectio divina. And as part of that role, I will have 5 minutes to speak to the ways in which I see “Awe” in my daily practice and ministry in light of the theme verse below. What follows is what I will say.
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ
and stewards of God’s mysteries.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1
I am an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and I am a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries. But these days, given my primary work as an ICU chaplain at a Level I trauma hospital, the mysteries that I steward seem a bit darker than the light-filled, awe-inspiring kind of mysteries that I think this verse often brings to mind. They are the mysteries that ask and beg the questions of the ages-old topic of theodicy.
Why are some children orphaned before they reach their teen years by the violent deaths of their parents? Why do some parents have to bury their young children? Why do some soldiers come back so hurt, so irreparably damaged, that they would do harm to their families and to themselves? Why is it that these things happen to people who are faithful, who in their last moments call upon God and whose faith is in the Lord? How could it be that a God who is good and a God who is sovereign, a God who loves freely and a God who is just allow such things to happen? These are the mysteries that I face in the eyes of patients and their families every day.
It’s hard to imagine that I am stewarding God’s mysteries in this kind of setting. And yet, there are days when I walk into a room of a patient, an older woman, who, being filled with the Holy Spirit and with the joy of the Lord, professes how much she loves God and how much she loves people, and her joy and her peace and her love for God and for her fellow human beings are so great that she cannot be kept down by her ventilator tubes or her illness. And there are days when I walk into a room filled by a family, who, while saying their last good-byes to their young adult child, says, “God has been faithful so far in our lives. God gives and God takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And there are days when I encounter family members and patients, who, bearing the scars of countless traumas, testify, “I was once so angry with God, but God and I have wrestled, and now I am at peace.”
It is in the story of these and in the enduring faith of those who suffer great trauma and loss, in their benediction of God’s presence in the world, that I see God’s mystery and I stand in awe.
For many of these patients and their families, God’s enduring story with God’s people throughout the ages continues to fuel their faith and give hope to those who are experiencing their own desert journeys and their own exiles and estrangement, sometimes even from themselves. It is the enduring narrative of Christ’s incarnate life, death, and resurrection that continues to fuel their faith and gives hope to those who are crying and sick and oppressed and shackled by the powers and principalities in their lives. It is the enduring promise and guidance of the Holy Spirit that continues to accompany them, and uplifts them, and holds them, and walks with them, and keeps them going long beyond the point where they might have crumbled.
And It is the mystery of a God who accompanies them in their darkest hours, the mystery of a God who knows what it is to suffer, what it is to lose, what it is to cry… it is the mystery of a God who is often unseen in their day-to-day lives, but who has promised never to forsake them and continues to walk with them… and it is the mystery of death not being the final word… this is what they cling to. And propelled by the Holy Spirit, they leave hoping in the God who has promised them something greater, both for them and for their loved ones. I am a steward of God’s unfolding story with these faithful witnesses. This is where I see awe.
Where do you see “Awe” in the world?