Thursday, August 17, 2006

"I Do Not Know This Man"

Rating: GT

Mark 14:66-71

"I do not know this man you are talking about."

I believe I may have said these words when I was in graduate school, taking an oral final exam for some history class or other. If I did not actually speak them aloud I was certainly shrieking them silently to myself. The experience was excruciating. I had studied REALLY HARD for this exam, and it wasn't all last minute cramming either. I enjoyed that class, I was engaged with the material, I knew this stuff. And I choked in the clutch.

Peter had spent three years learning from Jesus and we know he had a much better grasp of the material than his performance here indicates. We know this because earlier in the story, in the 8th chapter of this gospel account, Mark tells us that Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them, "But you, who do you say that I am?" and Peter answered him saying, "You are the Christ." Yet in that unexpected final exam in the courtyard, Peter choked in the clutch. And when he heard the cock crow for the second time, Peter broke down and wept.

Well. Peter got it wrong. He just got it wrong. That's the human condition, right? That's the experience that cuts across every conceivable line of class, race, age, sex, nationality, education, sexual orientation, political affiliation, Meyers-Briggs personality type....every human being who makes it past toddlerhood knows the horror of Getting It Wrong. It's a nightmare. Looking for the Single Unifying Principle of the human experience? Getting it wrong. Not Knowing that which You Should Know.

"I do not know this man you are talking about."

What if... What if these words were not a denial but a confession?
What if, standing in that courtyard with Jesus inside being slandered and mocked and spat on and beaten, standing in this cold, dark place surrounded by strangers and utterly powerless to do anything... What if, for Peter, standing there, in that moment, those words were true? and he was paralyzed by the devastating inescapable revelation that he did not know who Jesus was. That he had never known. At all. Ever.

Peter broke down and wept? You think?

It is an unspeakably terrible thing to realize that you do not know the One on whom you have based your entire life. To have all of your spiritual formation, all of your journey on the path toward God, all of your soul's life ripped away so you're left with nothing.

That unspeakably terrible moment was the beginning of Peter's ministry.

I want to take a moment to say that again, because I've been wrestling with this for a long time and it's still a challenge for me to get my head around, yet I am convinced of its importance for us: That unspeakably terrible moment was the beginning of Peter's ministry.

"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind [Hebrew, ruah] from God swept over the face of the waters." (Genesis 1)
In that moment, Peter's soul became a formless void. His soul became tohu va bohu, a place of no place and no time, no past and no comprehension, over which the spirit of God moved. Peter became the chaos out of which God calls forth light.

A while back, I got onto a chaos theory kick. It's the one about a butterfly flapping its wings in Malaysia which stirs up tiny air currents that 5 or 50 or 100 years later result in a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Basically it says that the entire universe is all interconnected throughout all time and space, and so there are processes-"chaotic" processes-for which we cannot predict outcomes. As I understand it (and if you're a physicist or mathematician reading this, tearing your hair out because I've gotten it COMPLETELY WRONG [see above re: The Human Condition], please post a comment and enlighten me), the defining principle of "chaos" is "that which cannot be reliably predicted through any analysis of all known factors." Chaotic processes are unpredictable, not because they are random, but because we cannot possibly know all the factors throughout the universe that may be in play at any given moment. Chaos theory is curiously well-organized and I find it oddly comforting.

However. Theory and practice are two completely different animals. The reality of chaos fills me and surrounds me and drowns me in a fear that goes way, way beyond any emotion or feeling of being afraid of something or anxious about anything. I do not experience the reality of chaos as "good news."

But here's the thing: my experience is real but it does not define reality. And chaos, however I feel about it, is what is in the beginning. That beginning is possible for each of us at the heart of Who We Are: the ones who get it wrong. The possibility of Beginning, of becoming the tohu va bohu out of which God calls forth life-that is good news.

The fact that this story-of what I imagine to be the worst moment of Peter's life up to that point-comes down through the centuries to speak a word of hope and possibility to me, blows my mind. The idea that through the power of The Word, the most abject human failure is transformed into something that speaks to me right this minute about God's infinite grace and boundless creativity-that is good news.

So. I try to follow my Lord and Savior and from time to time I find myself standing in the courtyard. It's cold and it's dark and it's utterly futile. There are only strangers around me and ultimately all I am able to realize is that after all of this-after everything-I do not know who God is.
And in the heart of that chaos is The Beginning.
The beginning in which dwells The Word.
The beginning that allows me to stand here in the full flower of my humanity, knowing that every word I speak or write could be completely and totally wrong, but trusting in the One who made me, the One who redeems my life and who sanctifies my efforts which always, always fall short, trusting in that One to make all sufficient.

If one definition of a miracle is an event that inspires or strengthens faith, then Peter's story is miraculous because it instills in me the faith by which I am able to respond to God's call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ-regardless of how awkward or ignorant or wrong or even ashamed I might sometimes feel. Peter's story awakens and renews my faith in The Word, through whom all things were made, who is incarnate in a carpenter from Nazareth and in the bread we break together when we gather in his Name.

The Word will not be silenced. Not by fear, not by shame, not by anything devised by the mind of humankind. The Word will not be silenced.
How's that for good news?

yours in the struggle,


At 7:45 AM, Blogger Kirstin said...

I never thought of this like that. Wow.

(And thanks for your comments at my place--what you wrote made my day.)

At 8:06 AM, Anonymous Max said...

making your day makes my day :D

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Swandive said...

ditto from Kirstin.
Your comments on my blog make my day, and this is simply mind bending and thought provoking. Bless you dear one.


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