It is a world-shattering disclosure that the stream of life is a single stream, though it takes various forms as it spills over into time and space. This disclosure is made to anyone whose discipline sends him on high adventure within his own spirit, his own inner life. By prayer, by the deep inward gaze which opens the eyes of the soul to behold the presence of God, a person feels the steady rhythm of life itself. We seem to be behind the scene of all persons, things and events. The deep hunger to be understood is at last seen to be one and the same with the hunger to understand.
Howard Thurman, with thanks to inward/outward
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jesus, in John 14.6)
Sometimes, I think, we underestimate the metaphysical element of our faith. If all we had was a social Gospel, or an ethical handbook, we would be blessed, certainly, but our faith would have no meaning beyond this little life we live in. Annie Dillard once wrote:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
(Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982)
We are not “sufficiently sensible of conditions.” This is a life and death thing we have embarked upon; the God we worship is the unseen, unheard source of all that is, yet he gave himself to be born of a young Jewish girl in a country province of an occupied nation, far away from anything or anyone that mattered. What part of this do we not understand? Our faith is nothing if not a desperate measure, a mad leap into the glory of a love unthought of, a hope unthinkable no matter how long, or deep, the thought.
Mercy. If it were not for his mercy, the mercy of that inconceivable sacrifice of the Cross, we would have no hope at all. As it is, we do have hope—and faith, and love, limitless, unending. And the greatest of these is love.