It’s easy to find God in the beauty of the world; in sunsets, snowflakes, and when your favorite football team wins. What’s remarkable is not that sort-of-a god, what’s miraculous is to find God in the places you least expect, places like children’s hospitals, funerals, and tools of execution (like a Cross). Recently, Ross and I stumbled across this video on YouTube, that is a BBC documentary about the life of the chaplains at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in England. In the video, you discover that these chaplains are deeply aware of the sort of God that Lutherans love to talk about. You find that these chaplains, in the midst of a place often filled with sadness, grief and death, are keenly aware of God’s presence in their midst, and in the lives of these sick kids and the love of their families. It’s a really remarkable window into another world, a world that is constantly aware both of the fragility of life, and the miraculous presence of God in places we least expect.
What you might not know is that Ross and I both have hands in this world, and it’s a very different job and calling than to be a pastor. Ross has been an overnight chaplain at Children’s Hospital for many years and for the last few years, I have been a chaplain in level-one trauma centers, where the worst of the worst gets brought. Those experiences have shaped me, and healed me, but most of all taught me the importance of feeling helpless. That feeling of not being able to fix something, to encounter something that we can’t control, is a vital and deeply important experience to the life of faith.
It’s essential because those are the places where God is to be found hiding, at work the whole time. This is what Luther talks about when he asks us to be theologians of the cross, something Ross has been preaching about for the last few weeks. There has been some confusion about this, so I want to state it as simply as I can: to be a theologian of the cross is to have faith in the promise that where God most clearly can be seen, felt and heard is in these hard places, these “valleys of death.”
These are not places we can live forever, and neither does God desire that, but they are places where our lives are turned upside down and reoriented, and we can hear most clearly the call to return to God’s endless wells of grace, mercy, and love. Not everyone is called to be a chaplain, but we can all be attentive to the pain and suffering in the world, and God’s presence in those places. Because it is there we can find God once again. This was the original meaning of the word “repent,” to return, to return to God. And as we move through November and into Advent, and eventually Christmas, we begin to think about what kind of God this really is, a God of incarnation, resurrection, and the Cross.