Silent retreats are like symphonies of God’s revelation of himself.
Each movement is different.
There are moments that are tearful, angry, peaceful, joyful and funny.
But at the end of the retreats, as I read through my journal, I always realize that when strung together, the movements are a masterpiece of God’s revelation in my life.
I also always exit retreats with little inside jokes with Jesus.
During my recent retreat, one of the funny moments of insight happened because of a Tom Waits song.
If you don’t know this eccentric, quirky musician, you should acquaint yourself with his music. I don’t think I went a day in high school without listening to a song from his first album, “Closing Time.”
Anyway, one day during my retreat I was riding the retreat house bike, an old pink Schwinn with mountain bike tires that muscle over the bumpy dirt roads. I was listening to music and a song came on that I had not listened to before.
Here’s Tom Wait’s original rendition of the song:
I was a little shocked by the lyrics:
I don’t go to church on Sunday
Don’t get on my knees to pray
Don’t memorize the books of the Bible
I got my own special way
But I know Jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more
I fall on my knees every Sunday
At Zerelda Lee’s candy store
Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied
At first I was offended, thinking the song was some kind of blasphemous insult to Christians, a variant of the “religion is the opium of the people” critique. But then I ran through the lyrics in my head again and I realized it actually could be understood as an apt criticism of Christians who objectify Jesus. For these Christians, Jesus is in their lives to give solace and peace. And in some cases, people expect God to dole out mansions, jets and piles of money to them like some kind of divine trust fund. But the moment suffering comes along they run, or get angry with God.
Then, a startling thought came to my mind, “I sometimes do this to Jesus.”
I started to laugh in surprise.
Over the next couple days I unpacked this surprising revelation with God. I realized that in the difficulties of life I often embrace Jesus’ consolations, his understanding, and his love for me. But I do not go as far as he invites me, which is to allow myself to be conformed to him precisely in the suffering, to meet him in the experience of suffering, rather than on the path running away from it.
I began to realize that I had been accepting and following Jesus, but on my terms. I wanted Jesus, but only the more palatable, comfortable aspects of him.
God was asking me, “Do you just want to know part of me, or do you want to know all of me?”
I wrestled with this question.
In the end this is one of the things I wrote about the experience:
God is complicated, strange, baffling, shocking, and piercing.
He is not a candy dispenser.
Jesus, I want every aspect of you and your truth: the soft, transfigured light gleaming from your face and the harsh glare like a naked light bulb that burns my eyes. I want the hard brilliance of your light, with rays that cut glass like the edge of a diamond. I do not want dull truth, I want your Truth that is sharper than a two-edged sword.
I want to be overcome by your truth—a dazzling, dangerous light.
I want to resist no aspect of you.
Smash into me with the ferocity of the opaque, concrete reality of a God who is living, a God who is more than what he does for me or what he can do for me,
a God who is real.