Come, let us return to the Lord
who has torn us and will heal us.
God has stricken us
and will bind up our wounds.
After two days, he will revive us,
and on the third day will raise us up,
that we may live in his presence.
Let us strive to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the sunrise.
He will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.
This is the Old Testament Canticle for Morning Prayer during Passiontide in my Office Book. This passage consoles me. I feel cared for. There is hope in the imagery of the sunrise and the spring rains.
But friends to whom I have shown this passage recoil at the idea of a God who tears and strikes. We want healing but we want it without the tearing.
How then to make sense of a God who tears and strikes you?
Some would say that God is punishing you for your sins but I baulk at this. People punish. It is abhorrent to think that God has any need to punish. It is utterly at odds with the parable of the Prodigal Son and his older brother.
What feels more palatable is that God is correcting and teaching you. You have gone off track and God is doing what is necessary to bring you back to him. Like my back, you have the option to embrace pain as a gift that brings you back to yourself.
Both of these ideas rely on an idea of God as a being that is outside and beyond yourself – a God who tears and strikes, and who consoles and heals.
There is another experience of God that complements this idea: the God from whom you are not separate, from whom you are inseparable. If God is what you are, what the whole world is, then God is torn, God is stricken.
And there is so much tearing!
- the personal injuries “and the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to”;
- the misery meted out in disaster, poverty and war;
- and the dying earth/Earth.
While some of this is simply and unavoidably what it is to be a creature, much is the consequence of our choices. We don’t live well, or with consideration and responsibility. Unable to find the understanding or the will to change, we support unjust social conditions inimical to the flourishing of life. And we trash our planet, our home – this earth/Earth that is also what you are.
There is another tearing – or perhaps it is the fundamental one from which the others flow. We are disconnected from our true nature, the depth of self, dwelling at the centre of this body. It is the place out of which Julian speaks when she says, “All shall be well.”
What if each tearing or striking in this body / this earth is a message from God, not for punishment or even for learning, but of anguish? God is torn. God is stricken. How might you approach yourself – and even the final tearing of death-into-God – now?
The clue is in the first line. The invitation, indeed your only option, is to “return to the Lord”, which is to come home to this body and to this earth. Feel yourself being torn, and know that this is God, as you, being torn, being your only refuge and hope.