Hangs My Helpless Soul on Thee

Hangs My Helpless Soul on Thee April 26, 2017


It is a mystery, unsolved and unsolvable, why some people believe and others do not, why some hear an odd echo of a forgotten voice within and some do not, why some see Jesus and others do not. “Why do you reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” asked one of his disciples. Yes, indeed, why?

Jesus rarely answers questions with “Because ….” In fact, does he ever give a because? Does he ever make clear such mysteries? “Why was this man born blind?” “Should we pay taxes?” “Why did the tower of Siloam fall on those doomed eighteen?” Jesus seems remarkably uninterested in what we would call “the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” He seems to think our response to “the facts” is what really matters. Our response says everything. “Why are you so afraid? Where is your faith?”

It seems patently unfair that Thomas gets the “doubting” label. As though the other disciples didn’t doubt. As though their whole time with Jesus wasn’t shot through with doubting. As though they believed Mary’s testimony before they saw Jesus’ hands and side. They’re all doubters. We’re all doubters, riddled with fear—half afraid it is all true, half afraid it isn’t. Life comes at us without reprieve, and we have to make judgment calls on the spot. Is it or isn’t it? Yes or no? Trust or verify?

If we could calculate the eternal meaning of an event or a situation, we could calibrate a proper response and muster it up, at least much of the time. It’s the not knowing, the groping forward in darkness, alone, that eliminates all calculations and calibrations and makes our responses so very true. And because in the grey mists of life answers are few and far between, we are all too often stripped down to inchoate desires for that Theory of Everything, that Truth which deciphers all these cryptic clues of our lives.

Or, we have no such desires and couldn’t care less; we push forward into a life shaped by our own meaning; we wrestle the realities of life and our estimation of them into the shape of our own virtues and values—and we often do this magnificently, heroically even. I’m sure Simon the Zealot was an excellent Zealot. Jesus didn’t seem to mind his political affiliations, but he didn’t seem to think they mattered much either.

What makes us one or the other? What made Simon transfer his zealotry from Jewish nationalism to the kingdom of God? What made Judas Iscariot exchange his place near to the very presence of God for thirty pieces of silver? “In vast, cold, empty space, alone,” Rilke knows. Each of us is there, alone. And either the longing arises out of the deep or it doesn’t.

“… And now in vast, cold, empty space, alone.
Yet hidden deep within the grown-up heart,
A longing for the first world, the ancient one …
Then, from His place of ambush, God leapt out.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

That’s the mystery of us. But then there’s the mystery of God, lying in ambush, watching, waiting, waiting for the fulfillment of time, the nexus of his grace and our vulnerability. Maybe today.


Image: albatross in flight, 1837 woodcut from the journal “O Panorama,” public domain

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