Church Write-Up: Listening, and the Dark Night of the Soul

Here are some items from church this morning.

A. The theme of the service was “Listen to him,” taken from what God says in Matthew 17:5 at the Transfiguration. The youth pastor talked about the fictional town of Duckberg. The ducks hear a sermon about how they can fly, and they greet the sermon enthusiastically. But, when they depart from the church service, they do not fly but rather waddle out, as they usually do. Similarly, we can listen to sermons and fail to be impacted by them. The youth pastor shared that he was convicted from last week’s sermon about the need to be kind to others, yet he still finds it difficult to be kind. But church is not just about telling people to be kind (law), but also reassuring them with the message of God’s forgiveness (Gospel).

B. The pastor talked about how we hear so many voices in the world today. We even hear internal voices that bring feelings of shame and condemnation. He remembers when his parents yelled at him back when he was a child because he could not make change (he’s bad at math). The voice that we should hear is that of Jesus, who sits next to us, puts his arm around us, and tells us that he loves us. It is in that context that we should understand the commands of Jesus, which we will be studying over Lent.

C. The pastor told some stories about his mother. She continually went to bat for him when he was a child. She went to his gym teacher and told him that it was not her son’s fault that he was uncoordinated. When the pastor missed a Sunday school class because his family was out of state visiting relatives, the mother went to the Sunday school teacher and said that her son still deserved to receive a reward for perfect attendance, since he attended Sunday school while he was out of state. The mother persisted, and her son got the reward. Reminds me of my mother! All of that was setting the stage for the pastor to talk about the church’s red-letter project this coming Lent, since the pastor’s reward was a Bible with the words of Christ in red.

D. The Sunday school class completed John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping. Ortberg talked about St. John of the Cross, who described the dark night of the soul, a time when God seems silent, and the consolations of religious practice are not encouraging us. In those times, God is working, albeit passively, and we should wait for what God will do. People in class discussed whether God works passively. One person said that he is there for his children, even though he is not actively present with them at all times; when his child gets a bloody nose, he is not there when it happens, but he is there to comfort the child when he comes home and to bandage the nose. Someone else contrasted that with God, who is there when the child gets a bloody nose. She said that God never promised a trouble-free life but rather that he will be with us amidst those problems. Another person mentioned Jesus’s statement that he and the Father are at work at all times (John 5:17): the Jews saw him do that one miracle, but, actually, Jesus and his Father are always at work. People talked about how the world is broken, and one lady remarked that the world still has beauty even in its brokenness. Imagine what it was like without that brokenness? And yet, is such beauty still around, but we cannot see it amidst our little boxes?

E. As was mentioned in (D.), St. John of the Cross described a time when the consolations of religious practice do not work. That troubles me. Right now, it is a happy time for me. I live with people and my cat, so I am not alone. I attend a church where God’s love and grace are proclaimed, and where I learn things. I have books to read and things to hear on the Internet. I have a job, and I have not been fired yet. People there, overall, are polite. I have been getting a lot out of my time in Scripture, in terms of learning and spiritual edification. Yet, I remember times when things were not good, even though I read the Bible and attended church. I was lonely and had unsatisfied desires. When I read the Bible or attended church, most of what I heard was law and condemnation for my failures to obey it. To make myself feel better, I drank a lot. What could I have done differently then? Am I doing something right now, that I should have been doing then? Is there a formula that I can fall back on? There is the issue of the future. People in the group talked about the struggles of growing old—-of not being able to do what they could do ten years ago, of disease, of friends and relatives passing on. The teacher referred to a friend who remarked that she does not fear death but all of the things that we have to endure before we get to that point! I wonder: what will happen to me if I were to lack a social support network? The person driving me home said that we should learn from the past but live in the present, and take what comes in the future.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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