I watched my leg grow longer while it rested in Russ’ hand and thought to myself, “My God,this is real.”Christianity had been a ritual for most of my life: sit, stand, kneel, pray this, chew on a paper-life wafer, vote pro-life, and don’t use God’s name in vain unless you’re justifiably pissed. The spirit would could not be further from my mind even as the priest waved his hands over the paper-wafers to transubstantiate them into the body of Christ. The wine that became his blood was bitter and polluted by the old guy with the hacking cough in front of me. My religious system was entrenched and simple to follow, I made life easy on God. He didn’t have to do a whole lot.Thinking that everyone was either Jewish or Catholic for most of my elementary years, I assumed that my experience was the norm for the rest of Adam’s race. God kindly kept out of our way, we paid our dues on Saturday or Sunday, and things kept ticking right on schedule. Sure God was using the church to do his work, but he was too busy to actually intervene in my life or in the life of any one around me.Swapping one denomination for another in my teen years didn’t bring too much change to my views of God’s interest in myself or in this world. Even if he walked the earth, performed miracles, gave us the Bible, and did some amazing works through the Apostles, that was something altogether different from today. It was a different time, different place, and a different people group. They needed miracles to believe, but we were better. We believed based on hearing and not seeing. Stuff THAT in your pipe and smoke it Thomas.
Jim was a quiet guy with long chops, wavy hair, a taste for hard core music, and the accompanying black wardrobe. He sat next to me in Spanish while in Catholic high school. Celebrity status was rained down on Jim instantly because he had contacted spirits through some ritual. Chris and Matt were ravenously hungry for details. Nothing Jim said could creep them out enough. They bombarded him with questions about what the spirits looked like, what they said, and how he figured out the ritual in the first place. This was certainly the first time either of them had spoken to Jim.From time to time we are all overcome with a desire to encoutner someone or something bigger and wholly other than ourselves. Such an urge sends us on wild goose chases and makes us ridiculously reckless, grasping for anything bearing transcendance – message from another world. “Is that you Jim? How is grandma? Is Sparky up there too?” We take stabs at psychics, religion, UFO’s, anything that will make us feel small and vaguely out of control for just an instant. Like a child scampering a few steps into freezing water and then running for its life, we seek a moment witht he divine and then back off.We perceive the spiritual world to be a dry faucet witha creaky handle that we can crank for a sip. Just a sip, and then we can shut it off and move on. Rationing our intake of the spiritual provides a comfort. We are still in control, but life does not screetch to a halt with our last breath either. At the bare minimum, we need hope for the moment after we stop breathing. But how do we sip from this hope-giving fountain?The handy solution to this dilemna is provided by religion and any other spritual system with a regimen of rituals. The equation is simple:
YOU + PRESCRIBED RITE = HAPPY DEITY/SPIRIT
Keeping God out of the equation prevents messy situations that may foul up our lifestyles, views, and day-to-day choices. If the spiritual realm can only react to our relgious practices, then we have essentially made our god of choice a non-factor. We don’t have to change anything because no one bigger than us can tell us what to do. Besides, we reason, he can have his way during eternity. he owes us at least 75 years to call our own shots.
Whether attending mass or Bible study, my view of God’s intervention in this world remained unchecked. He just didn’t get involved in matter beyond opening our hearts to love him and our minds to read the Bible. The days of “hocus pocus” Christianity were no longer necessary or possible. Besides, our scientific age has provided many natural explanations for presumed miracles. Though I believed God had raised the dead, conceived in a virgin, and walked on water, it was easier for me to write off the possibility of modern miracles and anything else the evidenced God’s intervention in the present.
Over time my religious system began to give way. While the two factors remained, my final result began to look like an angry, frustrated, and disappointed God. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and my reserves were running dangerously low. I had just enough faith to pray, but not enough to expect an answer.
Moping in the living room, gazing down ont he red Persian rug, and favoring my right leg, I was at an all time spiritual low. I never felt so distant from God. While a group of Christian friends were having marvelous revelations from God, I was staring at them as if on the outside of a warm home.
Out of the blue, Russ pulled me aside and said, “I see that you don’t stand on both feet evenly. That is the result of a curvature in your spine. God wants to heal that.” I was blown away and tongue-tied. Sitting in a chair, I placed my feet in Russ’ open palms. My expectations were still pretty low and I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I was simultaneously strengthened by the thought that Russ had enough faith for the two of us.
Russ began to pray and things immediately got strange. He described my condition in minute, medical detail, employing a host of technical terms that communicated one thing to me: God was about to shake me up. A tingling feeling came over my body. I focused on my left foot that clearly fell short of my right, waiting with rising expectation. And then my left foot gently crept forward. It wasn’t a tug on my foot as much as a gradual lengthening of my entire leg. My left foot kindly ceased its momentary expansion when equal with my right foot, and my opinion of God has never been the same since.
When I was far away, God reached out to me. I realized that God is THE factor in the equation. He is the one who initiates and who has the power to intervene in any way that he sees fit. My small scrap of faith was the cracked open window that ripped open and used as a conduit to bring in his healing and a greater sense of his presence. Looking back on all of this, I realized that I had effectively bottled up God and set the terms for our relationship. Thank God I was wrong.