The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Well, you know the rest of the story. The first couple ate from the forbidden tree (which, most artistic renditions notwithstanding, was not depicted as an apple tree) and the ambiguous journey began. Life is full of ambiguities; faith is full of ambiguities; and this season of Lent is fraught with ambiguity. We begin the season in the desert wilderness where Jesus, the fully human one, the one who we so try to emulate in every way is tempted. Jesus, tempted? Are you kidding me? Then the ministry begins as he gathers this sort of wild and motley crew of followers who seem to be somewhat confused and completely inexperienced. They then spend a couple of years hanging around this lake in the region of Galilee essentially trying to get people to wake up and look at themselves and their lives and in the process, they continually antagonize the religious establishment. This would be the religious establishment of Jesus’ own religion, the one into which he was born. And then after years of ministry, the scene moves to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the place of the Temple. And there, there Jesus is tried, convicted, and put to death. Ambiguity doesn’t begin to describe it. The journey we take is not a straight and pre-paved pathway. It is fraught with questions and the perils of ambiguity that challenge us and call us to go deeper into the journey and, at the same time, to go deeper into ourselves.
But Ray Anderson says that “spirituality is the ability to live with ambiguity.” In other words, perhaps it’s MEANT to be this way. It is part of our faith journey. It is the way that we wind our way to God. Because, think about it, what if the story was different? What if the first couple had not eaten of the forbidden tree and had instead spent their lives living in some sort of utopian paradise we affectionately call “The Garden”? Sure, they would have been good children and all but they never would have grown. They never would have grown to understand God not as a rule-maker but as one who calls us forth into life, ambiguous though it may be. And if Jesus had not been tempted? Well, what good would that do us? We would never even understand the perils that humanity faces. And what if the disciples had been a group of impeccably well-trained rabbinical seminary professors who had no need to massage their own needs and egos? (No comment.) And what if the religious establishment had just accepted Jesus and his new way of seeing and the Passion would never have transpired and Jesus had died of old age sometime in his late 40’s. What if the journey were straight and predictable? Well, we wouldn’t need faith. We wouldn’t need to grow. We would be wonderful little rule-followers with no need for spirituality. Hey, we probably never really would have gotten out of the garden. And think what we would have missed! Maybe this is a good lesson to remember in this strange time in which our society and our politics seems to have landed. Maybe the ambiguities should prompt us to journey, to question, to change.
Lent (and life) is indeed ambiguous. There is wilderness and city, darkness and light, temptation and grace, repentance and forgiveness, anointing and betrayal, dust and wine, death and life. Maybe Lent is an ambiguous journey to teach us how to live, to teach us how to traverse the ambiguities that are part of our faith journey. Ambiguity is not bad. So many of us try to rid ourselves of it, try to “nail down” what life and what God means. Is that really what you want, a God that you can explain, can “nail down”? Do you really want a God that holds no mystery, no wonder, no awe? And what would you do if everything about this God was explained and understood? What if you DID have God all figured out? Where would you be then? You would miss this ambiguous journey, a journey of searching and questing, of broadening and growth, of corners and turns around which you will always find life anew. You would have no need for faith, no need for spirituality. You would have no need for God to lead you through this ambiguous journey.
Meaning does not come to us in finished form, ready-made; it must be found, created, received, constructed. We grow our way toward it.(Ann Bedford Ulanov)
On this ambiguous journey, think of those things that you have found anew. Think of the life that they give.
Grace and Peace,