Today, just a couple of days after Easter the gospel speaks about Jesus meeting two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus walks and talks with them. The disciples don’t recognize him until the last moment and then he is gone. This seems to be the stories of our lives. We look for God and get a glimpse, but then he seems to evade our view and we continue to search for him. It occurs to me that this is what it is like getting up every day during this pandemic. We wake up looking for profound answers, not finding them we look back to the past for guidance.
Today I held a short call with staff to share how we are working on “Transition and Renewal”. It was a talk about where we are at and what we are looking at in the future. Recognizing that so many of our CFCS staff are weary from the last four weeks of social distancing, I pointed out how the Holy Spirit has been guiding our work for many years, but that we have a lot of anxiety when we look to the coming weeks. After the call today, I received a wonderful meditation by Richard Rohr, a well-known contemplative Franciscan friar. It speaks to this mysterious road forward…
The “Backside” of God
Monday, April 13, 2020 (Richard Rohr)
I feel a deep solidarity with individuals throughout the world who are wrestling with health issues. In 2016, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent a complete prostatectomy. The wisdom lessons that God offered me before, during, and after the surgery were pretty much constant. The experiences were initially disempowering, sometimes scary in their immediacy, and only in hindsight were they in any way empowering. Prayer was both constant and impossible for much of this period.
About ten days after the surgery, during my attempt at some spiritual reading, I opened the Bible to an obscure passage in the Book of Exodus. Moses asks YHWH to “Show me your glory” (33:18), and YHWH shows it in a most unusual way: “I shall place you in the cleft of the rock and shield you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I shall take my hand away, and you will see my backside, but my face will not be seen” (33:22–23). In several sermons, I have used that verse to teach that our knowledge of God is indirect at best, and none of our knowledge is fully face-to-face. God is always and forever Mystery. All we see is the “backside” of God.
During that time, it was not the indirectness that hit me in this passage, but the directness! My best spiritual knowing almost always occurs after the fact, in the remembering—not seen “until God has passed by.” I realized that in the moments of diagnosis, doctor’s warnings, waiting, delays, and the surgery itself, I was as fragile, scared, and insecure as anybody would be. If I could stay with the full narrative all the way into and through, only afterward could I invariably see, trust, and enjoy the wonderful works of God (mirabilia Dei).