Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose it must be at an end,” writes H. J. Iwand. “Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it is must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.
(Image by Kendall Lankford, Jesusishigher.com)
What can you imagine this Ash Wednesday as the Church marks the beginning of Lent – a time to reflect on the journey Jesus took through our streets and avenues, over our country sides and by our streams – to the Cross, the Tomb, and the Resurrection? The whole spiritual enterprise is a invitation to imagination from beginning to end, and beyond. But there are no shortcuts to glory.
G.K. Chesterton resonates with this when he wrote,
Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all the creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point – and does not break.
Passing the Breaking Point without Breaking
This Ash Wednesday it is worth contemplating the Christ who passes the breaking point without breaking. Christ does not rise as the myth of the Phoenix from the ashes. Christ is not burned down and then metaphorically or allegorically risen to re-enter some poetic cycle.
Jesus meets us in ruthless reality; He meets us in our ash heap, as the Psalmist sings, with His unfailing love, and He walks with us through the whole ordeal that passes for life. Jesus meets us where our faith begins: in “the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be… given to taste [nothingness] in a way that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”
Who has the courage or the imagination to taste this? For it is a courage and an imagination borne out of outrageous emptiness and loving hope.
In one of the oldest Hebraic poems in the Psalms, Moses sang:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Hundreds of years later, King David would pick up this theme in Psalm 143:
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.
Why would ancients pray that God meet us in our beginnings with unfailing love? When we finally are honest before the One who made us for Himself, when we come to the end of our limited resources, or have fallen among the ashes of misplaced hope, we find the words already being sung, “I trust you… for I count on your unfailing love…”
Even the courage and imagination to trust comes from the One who seeks you. He but beckons you to come to know the never-ending path of His unfailing love. This is more enigma than dogma…