These past two days, I have been speaking about the convergence of three experiences I had last week. The first intersecting piece of that convergence was the experience of the awesome beauty of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, where I hiked and climbed last week.
The second intersecting piece, far removed from the first, was a performance of Ka by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas; there I was awed by the sheer creativity of the human mind.
The third and final piece was my own reading of Elie Wiesel's Night.
This book recounts in vivid detail Wiesel's account of his family being taken from their home and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis shortly before the end of World War II.
As I read, I thought of the grandeur of God's creation I was experiencing in the mountains of southern Utah. I also thought of what the creative spirit of the human mind can produce in something as stunning as the experience of seeing Ka. As I hiked the trails in Utah, I had noticed that the majority of people hiking those trails were folks from outside the United States, many of them German and French speakers. It struck me how different the world is seventy years after the experience recounted by Wiesel.
It is easy to find God in the mountains, at least for me. It is easy to find God when I hear inspiring music and behold the beauty of the human body dancing and interpreting that music. But, reading Night, I found myself struggling. Do I find God in the easiest of places for me precisely because it is so easy?
I remember back a little over fifteen years ago, sitting with my youngest sister, whose health was in serious decline; she would be dead within a few months. I had never asked her, or anyone else in my family, for that matter, if I could pray with them. I remember the moment as if it happened ten seconds ago. When I asked her if we could pray together, she just smiled and said "yes" so easily. I told her that in my entire life, I never knew the presence of Christ more than I did than when I was with her in her illness. I tried to pray with her, but my emotions were so raw that the words were difficult to get out.
After that visit, a friend of mine, who happened to be a Catholic priest, drove me to the airport to head back home to Chicago. I remember saying to him how angry I had become about my sister's illness. I said, "May God strike me dead for saying this, but Jesus only hung on that cross for three hours; my sister has been on that cross for sixteen years; where is God in this?"
It's easier to answer the question "Where is God in this?" when one is standing on a mountain ledge gazing out at indescribable beauty. It is easier to answer the question "Where is God in this?" when one is seated in a theater absolutely engrossed in the beauty of the human form at a take-your-breath-away performance. That question, "Where is God in this?" is not easy to answer at all when faced with illness and fear and death.
My life experience could never come close to what Wiesel and his family, and six million others, faced at the hands of the Nazis. Yet the same question was asked then. Here is a short excerpt, now famous, which addresses that very question. This recounts the hanging of two men and one child who had been condemned to die by the Nazis. Everyone in the camp was forced to march by them after they were killed, as a warning not to have contraband items or do anything to plot against the guards.
"Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing . . . And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
"Behind me I heard the same man asking: 'For God's sake, where is God?' And from within me, I heard a voice answer: 'Where He is? This is where--hanging here from this gallows . . .'
"That night, the soup tasted of corpses."
-- Night by Elie Wiesel. Copyright 1960 by MacGibbon and Kee, originally published in French by Les Editions de Minuit, copyright 1958.
This convergence stretched my very soul. Do I go for the easy ways, or the difficult ways? This Christian believing is so hard so often. I guess all I can do is keep my eyes open . . . continue to question where to find God . . . continue to not be afraid when doubt settles in . . . and just keep asking "Where is God in this?"
Read Night. If you already have, read it again.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.