The end of the Easter season, the Ascension story and then Pentecost invite us to consider a spiritual dilemma which Thomas Merton identifies in Thoughts in Solitude. He writes about our “hesitating between the world and God,” and how “we never quite give in to the authority of an invisible God.” In case we are tempted to get defensive and argue that our faith has taken us to a much higher spiritual plane than Merton was able to reach (I, for one, would not want to argue that!), his question will stop us in our tracks:
“What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?”
All I can say is “Ouch!”
As I’ve hung out this week with Luke’s two accounts of Jesus’ Ascension–the first in his Gospel, the second in his Book of Acts–I have noticed something that sounds similar to our own experience. In Luke, a Gospel about Jesus, during the last Master-Disciple conversation while the feet of Jesus are still on the earth, he says: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.” Luke adds that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”
Sounds great! What a breakthrough!
Then in Acts, the story of the Spirit-filled new church, just before Jesus vanishes from their sight for the last time, these disciples who had their minds opened by none other than Jesus, ask him: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
This is after 40 days of being in the company of the risen Jesus. He is about to depart, leaving them to carry on his work, and already they are working on a Plan B. To paraphrase Thomas Merton:
What is the use of spending all this time in the Presence of the risen Christ if at the very moment of his final departure, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to what our future should look like?
It was true then and it’s true now. We hesitate between the world we see every day and God Whom we do not see, and we never quite give in to the authority of an invisible God. Maybe Jesus with his feet on the ground says: “Trust in God; trust also in me.”
And maybe Jesus on his way home says: “Trust in me; trust also in God.”