My project to, by the grace of God, die of old age, has recently suffered a significant setback. Three months ago, just after my sixtieth birthday, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
For reasons unknown my T-cells saw my poor pancreas as an invader, and killed off most of the cells that produce insulin. My ability to metabolise carbohydrates and glucose is severely impaired. Needless to say, life is different now. The learning curve of how to deal with this condition has been steep. There is much conflicting advice out there, and the science isn’t settled. One way we humans deal with the unknown is to construct a controlling story or meta-narrative. We turn to this story to fill in the gaps, and to provide some semblance of certainty and guidance.
The Church is no different. A popular meta-narrative describes how God created a good earth with humans as stewards. Humans preferred to be gods themselves and things took a turn for the worse. God selected a family who would have a proper relationship with God, and through this nation the entire earth would be put to rights. This didn’t quite work out either, and God sent his son Jesus to sort out the mess. His resurrection is proof of mission accomplished, and now we are waiting and working for the grand implementation of the Kingdom. It is not about our personal relationship with God or Jesus, it is not about going to heaven when we die, heaven can wait, there won’t be a cosmic reset, the beta release of the new heaven and earth has been installed with the resurrection, it is all about ironing out the bugs before Kingdom 3.0 is released, here on earth. St Paul said to the Corinthians in that famous resurrection chapter, whatever you do now in the Lord, it will not be in vain. So therefore we thump our social justice fists on the pulpits and condemn business leaders, politicians, Americans, those who uphold national sovereignty and especially those who are involved with fossil fuels.
I am sometimes envious of so much certainty.
I go to church to seek and worship the mystery that is God. Like the magi, I have seen the vestiges of His presence rising all over creation and am now seeking Him to worship Him. To me the Kingdom does not admit of observation, and the mystery of the Kingdom comes in parables. I guess I am on the outer then. To the mission-shaped disciples the parable of the sower in Mark 4 becomes a crystal-clear allegorical and agricultural imperative to bring on the Kingdom. To me it is a pointer to the passionate profligacy of the Sower and to the mysterious yet unstoppable power of the in-breaking Kingdom: it happens of it’s own accord, and I don’t know how. I don’t need to.
In some of the Anglican churches I have attended, the seeking and worship of the mystery that is God is still understood and nurtured. Examples are St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane, and Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney. The silence, the music, the soaring space, the solemn ritual, the Word, the incense, the actions, the shared meal are to me parables of and pointers to the incomprehensible mystery. The very stones sing of it. Sometimes a tip of the veil is lifted. To me the highlight of the Liturgy is the Sanctus – Holy, holy, holy, YHVH Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Or, heaven and earth are the fullness of your glory. I don’t want to leave then. It is like having found a pearl of great price, or a field full of treasure.
My daily life is much occupied with keeping my blood sugar between 4.0 and 6.8 mmol/L. To put this in perspective, 1 slice of bread affects blood sugar by 3 mmol/L. Weapons of choice in this battle are exercise, diet and insulin encompassed by a framework of Grace. My beloved Kettwiesel recumbent trike “Tijgen Tert” and I go for a daily 50km jaunt over Muswellbrook’s hills and dales. That keeps the sugar down! Our favourite route is up Sandy Creek valley. We gain 300 metres of altitude winding our way up the narrow road. There are vistas of rolling hills, sandstone crags, cows with grass tufts hanging from their blunt faces stare at this odd vehicle, a mare stands guard over her sleeping foal, a startled kangaroo bounds away, magpies chortle and blue wrens flit between the weeds along the road. Sometimes I have to stop the trike, prick my finger and let the blood sugar do what it needs to do. The silence is palpable. Above in the blue sky a hawk praying like a priest pronouncing the blessing is silhouetted against the wispy cirrus.
The certainty provided by a well-designed theological meta-narrative is then obsolete.