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ash wednesday 2020

"ash wednesday 2020: where is God?"
mixed media collage (acryclic paint, found papers, masking tape, glue on hardcover bookboard)
gregory a. milinovich
february 2020

where is God in all of this?  it's a question we've been asking for millenia.  just as we may look at intense beauty and see God as clear as the light of day, we may also look at tragedy and despair and see the absence of God like a dark fog.  in fact, it is this darkness like a fog that the prophet Joel writes about in Joel 2.  he writes of a darkness during the day.  like a blanket covering the land.  like an approaching army of death. 

it's a stark image, but don't act like you can't relate.  from the atrocities of our human history to the sense of impending doom in our world today (mass shootings, natural disasters, violence, racial hatred, pandemic virus worries, and more), we have all felt like the darkness is an approaching army, a falling fog of hazy hopelessness. 

and yet.  "yet, even now," says the voice of God in Joel 2.  "yet even now, return to me."  Joel seems to hold this incredible tension between the darkness of the day, and the mercy of God.  it's a tension we all walk and live in.  a tension between the hope we have, and the despair that haunts us.  a tension between the faith we cling to and the doubt that fills our anxious minds.  a tension between the unthinkable beauty of this world, and the terrible ugliness that can flow from it.  a tension between the incredible good of which humans are capable, and the heinous atrocities of which they are also capable, and not just them, but also us.  these are the tensions in which we live.  God is good, we would dare to believe at our best moments, and yet, in our dark nights (or days) of the soul we wonder, "where is God in all of this?" 

i don't know the answer to that question, in the end.  like martha in john 11, when Jesus shows up 4 days after her brother Lazarus has died, i want to join with her in grabbing ahold of Jesus' collar and say, "where were you?  if only you had been here!  why didn't you stop this?!?"  i suspect that you are not unlike me in that you, also, have these kinds of questions. maybe they stay under the surface in the day-to-day of your normal life, but they often arise from the depths in our darkest moments, when the bad news has descended like a fog, and despair approaches like an army of ash.  it is then, when we dare to ask our questions, with clenched fists, perhaps, or tear-streaked cheeks; it is then that we begin to find the answer to the questions, i think.  for it is in the asking that we find the answer.  it is in the humility of admitting that we don't know everything about God that we discover a bit of Truth.  "seek, and you will find," is the way Jesus put it.  that's not a promise about math-book-style easy answers, or encyclopedic knowledge or information.  it's a promise, as far as i can tell, about the fact that when we start asking the real questions, we discover that our questions are, after all, addressed to someone.  and that involves some kind of relationship, outside of our own knowledge, ideas, and presuppositions.  and is suspect that it's there, in relationship, where God's truth is revealed to us.  that even when we thought we were seeking clear answers, we discover that we were really longing for was a relationship (i-thou) that meets us in the valleys and the fogs and the dark nights of the soul with an unmistakable voice that says that says "you are my beloved...all will be well."  it may not be the answer we thought we wanted, but it it just may turn out to be the answer we so desperately need.  we may just discover that the darkness isn't in our unanswered questions, but in the questions we never dare to ask. 

so where is God in all of this?  maybe God is right there in your questions, waiting for you to ask them, longing to walk with you into the unknown places, where the power of love can (and will) lift the fog.  peace to you on your lenten journey this year.  may you ask big questions without easy answers.  and may you find life emerging from the brokenness. 


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