I sit in front of an icon of Christ the Bridegroom. In the reflection on the glass that covers the icon, my small son’s art project of the healing of the man born blind stares at me with eyes still muddy. My face, and Christ’s face, and the mud-eyed man’s face, shine in a circle. We are part of a quiet sect of hopers – you know it, too? You know Him, too? You know me, too? – who have ducked under cover like seeds about to burst up into the light. I see Him and him and me when I try to put a mystery into words.
We are not alone.
That line has been twisted into so many meanings of late: You are not alone. You’re one of us now. Accept our terms, or be alone again. We’re not alone. Every terror you feared is real and is bigger than you. Be afraid with us, because it’s the only way to not be alone in the frightening world. You’re not alone. Here is the product I will sell you so you can show everyone that you’re like them.
But the worst way that truth has been twisted is in the lie that our suffering sets us apart from everyone, from God. The lie that seems nice at first comes to us: God will come to be with you in your suffering.
What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t God enter our suffering?
What’s wrong is that it starts with a lie. We were never alone to start with. God became human so we might know Him, not because He wasn’t around before. We enter Christ’s suffering, not the other way around. He was always with us, and when we suffer, we are only tasting a little of His suffering.
In baptism, we imitate the suffering of Christ, but we receive the real salvation, not an imitation grace.
This matters to the man born blind, who did not receive his eyes from a God who became blind to enter his suffering but from a God who restored His own creation and opened to the man the path of life along with opening his eyes. This matters to me, because I have not been alone even when I was in despair or in the shadow of death or beaten or harmed in other ways. God was already there, is already here, is already wherever I go, seeking me, calling me, loving me, inviting me to enter into the sufferings of Christ so that I can be healed. With His stripes we are healed.
Maybe you have been looking for God. Maybe people have told you to interpret the discomfort in your life as an opportunity to join them to assuage the loneliness and isolation you feel. Maybe they offer you solutions – products, surgeries, group memberships, supplements, a thousand expensive options, street credit, victim status, moral high ground -that they promise will take away the pain of isolation you feel. But we have a word for that longing that fits better than the hollow hopes for sale. It’s homesickness. You feel it because you are already walking along beside the God you seek. You want it to be harder, to be more dramatic, but He’s already there. You only have to reach out, to breathe out, to seek for a moment with your whole heart.
We are not alone.
This post is part of a new project I am starting on reclaiming the conversion experience from popular culture. Conversion has come to be understood as a marketing term instead of a spiritual one. People are being sold a bill of goods in many spheres of life, all to assuage their isolation and loneliness. But conversion is a normal part of a life of faith. Let’s reclaim it so that we can rejoice that if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Join the conversation in the comments.