Outstretched Hands, Inches Apart
by Kim Reisman
World Methodist Evangelism
It is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Counselor won’t come. If I do go away, he will come because I will send him to you. (John 16:7, NLT)
When my youngest daughter, Hannah, was 11 years old she mastered the skill of throwing an M&M into the air and catching it in her mouth. She was quite proud of her accomplishment and wanted me to see it. As you might expect each time she tried in my presence, she missed; but as soon as I would leave the room, she would be successful once again.
Hannah’s experience illustrates a basic human truth: Only on rare occasions are we able to perform at our best in the presence of those who are most important to us. Our young children throw tantrums when we drop them off at preschool; yet they are fine the minute we leave the room. Even the disciples were not spared this unpleasant reality – none of the miracles they were able to perform in their ministries took place in Jesus’ presence. It was only when he sent them out, and then again after he had left, that they were able to rise to the occasion. Our dilemma is that God has, in a very mysterious sense, “gone away,” while we remain to rise to the occasion.
Certainly we have been blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit, our Counselor, the one whom Jesus promised to send to us when he went away. Yet in a very real way we can feel alone, disconnected. Michelangelo’s famous depiction of Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a magnificent illustration of this feeling. God’s hand stretches toward Adam, while Adam’s hand extends back toward God – outstretched hands, with only inches to separate the fingers. How like our relationship with God: so close and yet so far away.
Our commitments can seem overwhelming; the hectic pace of our lives can leave us feeling chaotic and frazzled. The few inches that separate our fingers from God’s fingers can seem more like a huge gulf. It can be easy to ask, “Why? Why would Jesus leave us if he cared for us so much? Why must we be left on our own like this?”
The disciples help us with this question. While Jesus remained in human form, it was possible for the disciples’ faith to be grounded not within their hearts but on the concrete confirmation of their senses. They could have faith because Jesus was tangible; they could see him and touch him; they could eat with him and hear him speak.
While Jesus was on this earth, the disciples were just that – disciples, followers, students. Only after Jesus left them did they become apostles – messengers of the gospel, leaders of the church. Jesus left in part because he wanted the disciples to “grow up,” to become mature in their faith. God desires that for us as well. Jesus said, “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things.” (John 14:12, The Message) God wants us to grow up in our faith. Like Michelangelo’s God who lets Adam loose in the world, our God lets us loose as well so that our faith will be grounded not simply in the tangible soil of our senses, but in the depths of our heart and spirit.
Our prayer life is a channel through which we receive the Holy Spirit, the Counselor promised by Jesus. It’s one of the ways that “so close but yet so far” feeling is lessened. And yet the tempo of our lives can impinge on that closeness.
Brennan Manning tells a story of a stressed business executive who searched out a desert father complaining about his frustration with prayer, his flawed virtue, and his failed relationships. The hermit listened carefully and then disappeared into the darkness of his cave returning with a basin and a pitcher of water.
“Watch the water as I pour it into the basin,” he said. The water splashed against the bottom and sides of the basin, swirling and agitated. The businessman watched as the water churned and eddied but gradually began to settle, slowing until finally the surface became so smooth he could see his reflection. “That is the way it is when you live constantly in the midst of others,” said the old man. “You do not see yourself as you really are because of all the confusion and disturbance. You fail to recognize the divine presence in your life, and the consciousness of your belovedness slowly fades.” *
How is the pace of your life stirring up the waters of your soul and impinging on your closeness with God?
Just as it takes time for water to settle, so it takes time for us to connect with God, to feel God’s closeness, to come to interior stillness. As your prayer and fasting journey unfolds, I pray that you will continue to be deliberate about taking the time to focus on God and God’s place in your life. I pray that in that interior stillness you would become more and more aware of your belovedness, and experience the closeness of God’s outstretched hands, mere inches from your own.
*Brennan Manning, Reflections for Ragamuffins, HarperColllinsPublishers, 1998; page 38)