I read the following at Sam Eman’s blog, New Breed of Advertisers recently, and then let it percolate in my mind for a few days.
“Happier is good. So is buying stuff that we need and even an occasional item we don’t need. Most of these make us happier, but happier must not control us. Here’s a serious reason why.
In Waiting for God, Simone Weil wrote, “The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”
The ways we hunger and satisfy our hunger for happier are deeply spiritual matters, which is why Weil’s comment is a theological one.”
(go back and read the whole post here, as I left out the Best Buy ad references that first pulled me into it. It’s a neat post, and so are his readers’ comments afterward, too.)
Anyway, what percolated in my mind was the contrast in the quote from Weil. I was raised Roman Catholic, and converted to Episcopalianism as an adult. Neither of these denominations are known for the large-scale presence of people who would identify themselves as born-again with the usual culturally expected definition. Of course, the culturally expected definition is limited, and boxing-in, in my opinion, but I’m not in a position to expand it in the way it could use, so I digress slightly. But my point being, the usual deal with born-again Christians is that they can readily identify a transformative point of being saved. I’ve often wondered about what that might be like, as I can’t ever recall a time when I wasn’t held close in great love by the embrace of God. Oh, sure, I might have had varying levels of awareness of that knowledge. I might have been nonchalant about it during my youth/young adulthood, but really, from my earliest recollections I never worried in a significant way that God would turn away from me. My choice to turn away, walk away…sure. But whether I could have articulated it or not, I think I could say that I never believed that God would reject me.
But that brings up an interesting mental exercise then. If a person hasn’t hungered for bread (a single discrete salvation moment to top all others), the person can begin to believe that he/she is not hungry. I wouldn’t trade in my early assurances for anything, but sometimes I winsomely wonder what it would be like to have lived without it, and then struck gold and “found it.” But no matter. We’re all different, and one way or another, whether suddenly and thunder-bolt style or gradual awakening to things spiritual and faith-related, I think many Americans do not recognize or believe they are hungry. I think many of us can vaguely name an uneasiness, or dissatisfaction, but don’t recognize it as hunger for union with God…the bread of heaven himself. When folks don’t know how to fill the hole they stumble about in many ways, some heartbreaking, some amusing.
Some attempt to fill the void with things. Things make us happy. Happy doesn’t last.
Buy more things. Happy, but the peak effect is muted this time. Happy doesn’t last.
Buy more things. Buy things to protect those things. Scary. (Recognizable.)
Jim sits back one day and realize he’s not happy. Not really “injured” in any deep, significant way. I mean, he doesn’t need therapy, or anything, but he’s come to a realization that his life is blah as hell. Lifeless. One day to the next…go to work, come home, watch TV, go to bed. Do it again the next day. Maybe go out with the guys this night. Go to church, he surmises he’ll try doing, cuz he heard this God-thing makes people happy. Seems like Joe down the street looks happy. “He’s talking about his church at the water cooler all the time, and seems like a happy enough chap. Compared to me and my blah-as-hell life anyway. Yeah! I’ll try that,” Jim says. “Can’t hurt anything.”
“What the <**>? Church don’t make me happy (?!?),” Joe says. Maybe he heard rules. Maybe he heard guilt.
But just as likely he heard the good news. But he wasn’t “entertained.” He didn’t get a “fix” from his 1 or 2 Sunday morning stab at this religion-God thing. But he can’t recognize that it takes time to steep and brew in the recesses of his heart. He’s too full. Too satisfied to hunger for something more. He didn’t get happy.
You hear this in the church-shoppers too, I think, to a more limited degree. They didn’t “get anything” out of the service. Or less pitifully and more “nobly” (read American pseudo-self-sufficient here) I don’t “need” church. I can get God wherever, whenever I want.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a church lover. So you’ve got my bias on that one. All the same, I don’t think I “need” church to connect with God either, thank you very much. I don’t “get anything” out of church more weeks than not either.
God wants the church to survive, and in every generation, no matter what crap this or that church has pulled or done to itself, its members, or its enemies, it has bounced back and survived. It ain’t perfect, but it’s the learning laboratory God has given us to learn to be children of God with all the other fellow imperfect ones around us. We need to come together to learn to live as the body of Christ here on earth. God wants us to get a little practice in putting up with Jean Cranky and her penchant for traditional hymnody when I’d much prefer a little folk mass. That’s my spiritual lesson, on a tiny but not unimportant scale, of learning to get along with my brother. And, by the way, while I’m there, I’ll begin to absorb what the Good News really is – it’s about relationship and living with my brothers and sisters. Supporting them…putting up with them…praying with them…loving them.
I give to the church. (in various ways) And I do it because I can’t not give. I believe God makes us that way, if we can leave ourselves empty enough to recognize the joy in giving. (where joy is not always or necessarily happiness…there is a difference, even if there is frequently overlap)
Heavenly Father, we here in America, many of us, have been filled to overflowing with good things. Give us grateful and generous hearts, to worship and serve faithfully and joyfully and be open to your healing touches. Help us to recognize our need to give of our treasure (money and time!) to your work here on earth. And to recognize the importance that at least SOME of that work takes place in your churches. Keep us from a foolish self-sufficiency that fills us up as though blind fools, still aching for more trinkets and baubles that can never satisfy. Fill us up with you, Lord Jesus Christ. Keep us from numbing or pacifying the ache that we feel. Give us the wisdom to hunger and thirst for you, the only thing that can bring us to rest, as St. Augustine so wisely shared. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Fill us up with you, Lord Jesus Christ. Bring us to your heavenly rest. And keep us patient and cheerful to let you do your work in us, in and through our resistances and blindnesses. Amen.