An empty propane tank hangs from the eves of the church. It serves as the bell, and its harsh clanging reverberates through the village every dawn and sunset, calling the villagers to prayer. The services themselves are simple. They are repeated every day from the Melanesian Anglican Prayer Book With Hymns, with scripture readings and daily prayers the only variations from the script.
I used to go every evening. Our house sat right behind the church, and I'd answer the bell's summonings every day as dusk fell. The benches, little more than long planks, made day dreaming difficult since it was hard to get comfortable. Mostly I just followed along, repeating the 'Lord have mercies' and 'Hear our prayers', my voice just one among the many supplicants.
It all didn't really mean anything to me. I believed in Jesus, I knew the 'Gospel'. I'd grown up hearing it. I'd grown up hearing about God's love for me, and how Jesus had came and died. I believed it all. But I'm not sure what type of a faith that was. Was it faith in God? Or in the God-idea?
Miguel de Unamuno, an early 20th century philosopher, said,
"Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair ... believe only in the God-idea, not in God Himself."There came an evening, similar to all the rest, just a bead in the strand of the days of my childhood. I went to evening service, and sat in the slowly darkening church as we recited the prayers. Our Father. The Apostle's Creed. The Magnificat.
"O Lord, have mercy on us", the catechist said.
"... And give us your saving power," we answered.
"O Lord, save your people."
"... And bless those who belong to you."
"Give peace in our time, O Lord."
"... For there is none who rules the world, but only you, O God."
And then, as if the lights had dimmed all around me, a spotlight suddenly shone on my heart. Everything around me, the fidgeting kids, murmuring audience, clattering palm leaves outside, receded. I was suddenly alone, an audience of one to a great, heavenly unfurling. My heart, my soul, every cell in my being, quivered with awe, with reverence, with fear. I beheld God. Not all of Him. Not even part of Him. I saw just a hint, just a minute corner of His robe. It was all my small understanding could bear. It was as if, in His infinite understanding, God chose that moment to pull back the curtain of heaven just a fraction so that my soul could meet Him.
I read in the book of John this morning,
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was the life; and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it ... There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. (John 1: 4 - 9)It is true that we can believe that we believe in God. Our limited, human understanding is easily appeased with a list of rules or Godly attributes. God is love. God is light. But we cannot truly comprehend Him, not without His Light first shining to illuminate our hearts. That's grace, in that while we are still in the darkness, unable to even know that we don't know, God shines His Light.
I guess all that we can do, is to in faith pray,
"... having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints."