The snow falls softly, so softly I can feel the snowflakes as they rest gently on my nose and my face. My feet tread lightly over the freshly whitened landscape as I make my way to the path along the river. In the summer I like to run here, watch the kids splashing in the shallows with their parents, listen to the sounds of the teenagers playing over on the basketball courts, and smile at the people riding or running along the path. In the summer, the river is busy, but now, as I walk along the path, it is quiet and empty, the only sound coming from a chain dangling from one of the trees like a small wind chime.
It’s been difficult lately, these last few days my life has felt like I’m on endless treadmill of routine. Even worse, I can’t seem to find God. It’s not abandonment I feel so much as it feels like there are so many layers between God and I that I can’t seem to get through. The condition isn’t critical, and I understand that there are always times when God ‘disappears’, times when He is nowhere to be found. Even still, it doesn’t help me. I’m afraid that I’m losing sight of God, that my life has become an impediment to my faith somehow, and that I’m in danger of routinizing the most precious gift in the world.
I hear a scrabbling along a tree next to the path and I stop. The squirrel stops when he sees me. He’s a small, gray thing, with a worn looking tail. Nothing like those squirrels in those Pixar movies. It’s funny, I know he’s watching me, but he doesn’t look directly at me, keeping his body turned to the side so he can see me out of the corner of my eye. He reminds me of my elementary school principal.
I smile and keep walking, not wanting to scare him. I know that there are times when I make other Christians nervous, especially when I ask questions for which we have no answer. But the more I learn, it seems, the less I know. I’ve read countless books on theology (yes, I read them for fun) and philosophy. And in my grappling with these brilliant minds, there are times when it is the simple questions that don’t make sense. For example, if Jesus was the Son of God, why didn’t He appear to more than one culture at one time?
There’s a bend in the path, and when I turn the corner, I’m surprised by a family of ducks, honking along the riverbank. I hadn’t realized they spent the winter here. I watch them dive for food, as another few families come splashing in from farther down the river. I start thinking about our marvelous Creator, and wondering why He would be so specific about One Man in One culture in One time. And then I start thinking about the history of Jesus.
Jesus was born at a time when most of the world had coalesced under Roman rule, and His Story was written in the universal language of the day. All of this happened at a unique time in history when the Roman roads (a revolution at that time) connected the world, even more than technology has connected our world today. But still, for God to assume one incarnation along the great, wide swath of humanity seems… small. Not enough, somehow.
I shake my head as I watch one duck chase another through the shallows. More and more these days I understand why our society prefers Universalism. Why it prefers the idea that as long as “we’re good”, than we don’t have to worry. I understand why it finds Christians (and Muslims) intolerant, like a group of people in a lifeboat celebrating while the ones in the water drown. No, I understand it, but it strikes me that I could never agree with them.
I pause beside the tennis courts, now covered in snow. Maybe this summer I’ll take some lessons. It’s ridiculous, but I’ve never played tennis much, even though I love it. I played the major sports as a kid. Tennis was for rich people and geeks. I never realized how much I enjoyed it until a few summers ago. I turn and head back home. No, I could never agree with Universalists, because in terms of religion, I think they have it right, but in terms of following God, they have it wrong. If God was a Person, a Creator who loved and felt as we do, wouldn’t He want His Creation to seek after Him. I think about my parents and my friends and the romantic relationships I’ve had. And at the top of the list for those relationships is the knowledge that I was worthy of pursuit, worthy of effort and attention and affection. Not an intellectual nod like I was a pole.
God lives. He is alive like you and me. And that is what makes following Him so exciting. I do not follow a cause. I do not follow a set of rules or religion. I do not even follow a faith. Instead, I pursue the Living God, who longs for my company even as I long for His.
I stop at the end of the path, and look back to the river, watching the snow as it falls gracefully to the ground. I love this weather. For whatever reason, a gentle snowfall has always reassured me somehow. I wish I could say that my walk along the path has restored my faith, that I see God clearly once again. It hasn’t. It has reminded me however, that the One I seek is there, even when I don’t see Him.
It has reminded me that He longs for my company, my willingness to push through these times when He is quiet. And instead of anger or bitterness, I sense an overwhelming urge to reassure Him that I am still His, no matter how I empty I feel this week. I turn to head home, longing for a sign from the heavens, but understanding the silence. Through the years, God has always been there for me. And in my heart, I can almost sense His longing.
"You're worth the effort, Lord." I mutter, and as I walk, I begin to pray.