Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Stuck in the Middle

As I read the gospel lesson for Trinity Sunday, I am struck by how unfinished things are when Jesus bids his disciples farewell. In the middle of his goodbye speech, he says to them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” I bet the disciples reaction is a little like my wife’s when I call her on the phone and say, “I have a surprise for you, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.” Seven years of marriage have taught me not to do that.

It’s hard to leave things unfinished. It’s hard for Jesus to say goodbye before he’s done saying what he needs to say, and it’s hard for the disciples to say goodbye before they’ve heard everything they need to hear. Yet right at the heart of the Jesus-disciple, divine-human relationship that is the Incarnation is the fact that things aren’t complete yet. And that’s where we are, too. And it’s a hard place to be.

I once heard a speaker talk to a congregation about liminality—that concept that conveys being on the threshold. In liminal places, we are neither here nor there. We’re in the middle. We’re in transition. And that speaker drove the point home that liminal places are hard to be—so hard that they can tear us apart. The human reaction to those transitions is to race as quickly as possible to one side of the threshold or the other—even if it means moving backwards. We aren’t made to stay in between.

That concept reminds me of music. I grew up listening to classical music. I went to a good number of concerts, and it didn’t take me long to learn that I prefer baroque and classical music over romantic and modern pieces. I like order. I like symmetry. I like the quickly resolved pattern of dissonance and harmony that are indicative of composers like Bach and Mozart. Well, I used to. I still like that music, but I’m learning to love the gut-wrenching unresolved angst that fills modern music by composers like Arvo Pärt. 

Instead of holding that musical tension for three or four beats, modern musicians sustain that dissonance for measure after measure—sometimes ending a piece without any real resolution. That’s more like the life I know. It’s painful, and takes a little more effort to enjoy, but it’s real.

Our religion isn’t neat and tidy. There isn’t some magic formula to enlightenment. We aren’t whisked away from this confusing world to a place of perfection without dwelling in that place of uncertainty for a while. Jesus tells his disciples that there’s more to learn, but he can’t tell them everything now. They have to wait. They have to let the Spirit guide them into all truth. It’s a process. It takes time. It takes experience. That a religion that reflects the truth of human experience. It’s a faith that offers real hope—not just a panacea. We don’t get to the end of the journey in a flash. We have to make our way there—sometimes trudgingly—or else the destination would seem false.

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