“Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God.”
Psalm 42:1 (Common English Bible)
On a recent vacation, my wife, daughter and I climbed the Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica. This world famous waterfall cascades 600 feet down a giant rock staircase to the Caribbean Sea. Visitors to the falls are divided into teams of eight, join hands, and follow a guide up the natural stepping platforms as they are showered with cool, clear water all the way up. There are various places on the way up that we stop, let go of one another’s hands and rest, splash each other, and take photos. But movement toward the top always requires holding onto one another to assist a secure footing on slippery stones. Naturally, each person experiences moments of awe at the tropical beauty around us and laughter as we struggle together toward the top, firmly holding onto each other. Yet, at a deeper level I experienced something of God’s Kingdom surrounding the whole experience. We were joined together – by hands – in a common quest to reach the top without any consideration of the other’s political, educational, or ethnic identity.
Similarly, all people are possessed by a common quest which has taken hold of the human heart. It is a quest that leaps across the borders of religious affiliations, races, and nations. It cuts across generations and continually challenges women and men. What I speak of is a deep and increasing desire to know God. Every person, atheists or religious, experiences a desire to connect with someone or power greater than their individual self. We may disagree on much and desire different things in life. But, in the last analysis, behind every search in life there is one, eternal, common quest. It is a quest driven by questions such as, “What are we here for?”, “What is it all about?”, and “Is there one, singular purpose in life”. Those who are honest admit to an inescapable yearning for fellowship with the one who is above and beyond this life.
This quest is driven by disillusionment – disillusionment with striving for more stuff, disillusionment with political activism to correct social ills, and disillusionment with charitable organizations’ ability to meet increasing human need. At one time believing that human power, intellect, and resourcefulness was sufficient for every need, all things spiritual were neglected. That abandonment of the spiritual has shown-up in the Christian pulpit. The pulpit is asked to support ministries that address homelessness, hunger, addiction, and broken relationships rather than proclaim the presence and power of God. What has been experienced is little contentment and even less peace of heart. What eventually dawns upon the church is that all alone, we are not sufficient. The revolt against God has not turned out very well. We need God
Episcopal pastor and author, Barbara Brown Taylor once heard from church members that they were hungry to know the Bible. She hired professors from a nearby seminary and offered regular courses on the Old and New Testaments. The classes were small and sporadically attended. After multiple starts and failures with various Bible studies Taylor finally realized that “Bible” was a code word for “God.” People were not hungry for information about the Bible; they were hungry for an experience of God.[i]Naturally, Bible study is important. Also important is housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, caring for the addicted, and helping people mend broken relationships. But these are on the circumference rather than the center. It’s like tinkering with a sprinkler system without watering the grass. Without water, the grass dies. Without God, our faith withers.
[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (London, Chicago, New York, Toronto, and Plymouth, UK: Cowley Publications, 1993), 49.