In Martin Marty’s book on the non-summery sort of Christianity, he spends a chapter expounding on the value of texts during times of distance. He commends, among other textual pursuits, the Psalms, but it is only later—in chapter 5, “Bravado in the Dead of Winter,” that he suggests a few specifics: Psalm 56, 109, 7, and 17.
I experienced a deep resonance upon hearing the tones of this passage, from chapter 6, “January Thaw”:
. . . Winter unbroken is more than the heart can sustain. Emotional equivalents to cabin fever are deadening. Only so long can a person be spiritually confined without any pause, any surprise. God is ahead, a seeker is told; God is always ahead, always promising spring. She lives by hope, but is it to be a hope that never finds any sort of ratification? That seems like no hope at all. Why must God belong always and only to the future? When I move ahead in time will God always and only remain future? Waiting for God is creative, but has God never a motion or word for this day? In this wintry moment when I need God most, what point is there to mere waiting and hoping?
The relief January thaw brings comes in the form of promise. One corner of the heart and mind remains on guard, alert to the knowledge that this brighter moment will pass. From another corner come the questions: Is this relief, is this brighter? Or is it something cruel, like the narrow shaft of sun that breaks on the floor of a dungeon whose gates will never open, a prison whose bars will never yield?
from ch. 5, A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart
(c) 1983-1997 Martin E. Marty
As I read through this book, I am finding validation of some of my own feelings and experiences. In sharing some passages, I’m intending deeply to challenge the ubiquitous, “sunny” Christianity that so unnerves and annoys me. The 1st paragraph above deals with one area of difficulty for me: the timelessness of God vs. the time-bound human sphere. That God and His promises are outside time creates spiritual dissonance for me—a being confined in time. If I try to expand on this, I’ll get tangled up, so maybe you would re-read the 2nd half of the 1st paragraph above?
Some readers of the 2nd paragraph may have no interest—and no interest in developing an interest!—in that genre of despondent questioning. I judge that lack of interest fine on one hand: not everyone will, or should, look like Marty’s portrayal of the sense of wintry “absence.” On the other hand, I challenge the “God-is-good, and we got joy, so let’s celebrate Jesus” mentality that infests so much Christian rhetoric and so many Christian songs¹ and other products.
I would go so far as to say that every Christian ought to grow to the point that enables him/her to allow for, to understand those of us who live the Christian life differently, with more agonizing and questioning and darkness and distance.
B. Casey, 7/9/15
¹ One horrible song with which I was just re-connected is “I Keep Falling in Love with Him.” Not only is the patently human, western metaphor “fall in love” unworthy of the relationship between Jesus and a would-be disciple, but the expression “He gets sweeter and sweeter as the days go by” repels me on two levels. (And there’s more, but that’s enough.) The only phrase I opted to sing was “He keeps cleansing me over and over and over and over and over again.” Of course, by the 3rd “over and,” I was monotonized. The writer of those words surely felt them as reality on some level, but they don’t get it for me. You don’t have to feel as I feel, but I hope you will deeply accept that not everyone experiences sunshine constantly washing over us.