With a cup of coffee in hand, Tara and I embarked on our Sunday morning ride to the train station. Today the cathedral would be a 1992 Pontiac Grand Am. The maroon captain’s chair, somehow, felt more right than the pews on which I have spent countless Sundays.
The morning was a five-sense worship event.
The aroma and sweet taste of coffee was finally beginning to awaken my sleep-deprived body and heighten my heart’s desire to worship. Benjamin Franklin said that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to enjoy life. I believe the same is true for coffee. Of course, that’s probably just my justification for my socially acceptable addiction.
The sound of 100 Portraits and Waterdeep’s Third Circle reminded me of God’s passion and forgiveness. The superb instrumental arrangement of the Third Circle is only surpassed by their intimate and ardent lyrics. Two lines struck me.
The first line is, “You give good gifts to me. I pray that I receive them well. So pass the cup of suffering, and let the oil of joy be poured.”
I am quick to ask for the oil of joy –- like good time in the Word, acing a test, health, wealth and everything else – but how often do I ask for the cup of suffering? I can’t remember the last time I prayed fervently for my girlfriend to cast me aside, to be misunderstood and ridiculed, to hear the deafening silence of God’s withdraw, for friends to abandon me, to have my dreams shattered or to struggle to make the grades and the bills. And yet the scripture continually shows from Job to James that the cup of suffering is a gift. I’d need a Ph.D., or at least an M Div, to explain suffering theology. I have neither, so I won’t try to explain what I don’t understand.
One thing I do understand is that the greatest need of humanity is to know that they are needy. To sense the depth of need and inability to fulfill it is to admit inadequacy, loneliness and hopelessness. These are all signs of a hungry soul. Perhaps, the point of the cup of suffering is that a taste awakens the hunger of the soul, and forces us to look to something to satiate it. And maybe, just maybe, this time we’ll seek out some real soul food, not the counterfeit.
The second line that struck me is, “You take away the pen, writing out my every sin and you burn the book of my rebellion. You tear the pages holding everything that I regret.”
The story of my sinful rebellion and ensuing regret, as that of all humanity, began at a tree in a garden where we doubted that God had our best interest in mind and decided that life would be better if we wrote our own story. The resulting volumes of human history have been tragic. The moment I entered this world I began to pen pages of pride, lust, fear, loneliness and regret over a life filled with selfish screw-ups. The story of reconciliation began at a tree on a hill where a perfect man suffered the rebel’s punishment – death and eternal separation from God – and then conquered it.
That forgiveness, true forgiveness, sets us free to write a different book in the ink of surprising love, self sacrifice and real community. Though there are few authors, the content is powerful.
I digress, back to the car ride.
The sight of the fresh sun set against the clear blue sky reflecting off the water as we crossed the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel reminded me that this was just a beginning. And the sight of Tara seated next to me made me grateful for the blessed necessity of sharing life – the joy and dejection – with people you care for and who care for you.
The feel of the train ticket in my hand – the one that is taking me to New York City to catch the flight to London to catch the flight to Berlin – brings with it anticipation and apprehension. I guess that’s the same feeling we all feel as we embark on a new adventure.
It just so happens, by coincidence or providence that I am reading Tolkien’s The Hobbit – a story of a humble hobbit named Bilbo Baggins that embarks on the adventure of a lifetime that changes him. Just a few days into the journey – after the excitement has worn off and the rain and cold have set in – Bilbo, trudging through the mud and muck, reflects, “adventures were not all pony rides in May sunshine.” I know from experience that this is true; I will face both the joy and the suffering. But today I certainly enjoyed the May (well, actually June) sunshine.
Looking through the spotted window of the train, I see waist high fields of corn. I know that the next time I set foot on American soil those plants will be shoulder high. I wonder to myself what else will change while I am living my adventure. I hope it will be me.