A God-Shaped Hole by gjjur4356


									Warren McDougall
Richmond Hill United Church
April 13/08

                                 A God-Shaped Hole
                        Psalm 43, Psalm 121, Matthew 11:28-30

      I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
      I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up in his arms
              and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
      I stood there shivering in my pajamas
              and watched the whole world go up in flames.
      And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

      Is that all there is, is that all there is?
      If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing.
      Let’s break out the booze and have a ball. If that’s all there is.

      And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus,
               the greatest show on earth.
      There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears,
               and a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
      And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
      I had the feeling that something was missing.
      I don’t know what, but when it was over,
      I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a circus?”

      Is that all there is, is that all there is…

      Then I fell in love, head over heels in love,
             with the most wonderful boy in the world.
      We would take long walks by the river
             or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
      We were so very much in love.
      Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t,
      and when I didn’t, I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”

      Is that all there is, is that all there is…

      I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
      If that’s the way she feels about it, why doesn’t she just end it all?
      Oh no, not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
               for I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
               when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath,

        I’ll be saying to myself:

        Is that all there is, is that all there is?
        If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing.
        Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
        If that’s all there is.
        I was about 18 years old when I first heard Peggy Lee sing this song, “Is That All
There Is?”, in 1969, and have always found to be one of the most plaintive and haunting
songs I know, filled with longing, angst, pain – and an incredible sense of sadness. I
can’t say that I actually “like” this song, but I do find it “evocative” and “moving”.
        In this song, Lee sings of a number of significant experiences in her life – a house
fire, going to the circus as a child, falling in love as an adult. And – [at the end of each
experience] – she expresses a great sense of emptiness, a feeling of disappointment – “is
that all there is?”
        Lee herself described the song in this way: “It’s about the experiences you go
through in life that are necessary for growth. In some ways, it has paralleled my own
life. (It) has a lot to do with how we survive.” We could probably all say something like
        This longing, this yearning for “je ne sait quoi” has been expressed in many ways
in the history of humanity – by other singers, by poets, artists, musicians, philosophers –
and even theologians!
        In Hebrew Scripture, the Psalmist often captures this sense of longing: “I lift my
eyes up to the hills; from whence does my help come (from where does my help
        2000 years ago, Jesus said: “Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest for your tired souls”.
        More than 1500 years ago, St. Augustine – [bishop, church father and theologian]
– diagnosed the human predicament when he said to God: “You have made us for
yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”.
        About a thousand years later, French philosopher and mathematician Blaise
Pascal, wrote: “What else does this craving and this helplessness proclaim but that
there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty
print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking – [in

things that are not there] – the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can
help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object,
in other words, by God”.
        Fast forward another 500 years or so to the present time, and we hear Bono – [of
U2 fame] – sing: “Looking for to save my soul, looking in the places where no flowers
grow, looking for to fill that God-shaped hole”.
        Bono is picking up here on a contemporary expression of – [or metaphor for] –
the yearning in the human heart which drives us on our spiritual quest: a God-shaped
hole in the human heart.

        Alan Jones, in his book “Re-imagining Christianity”, tells the story of a woman
by the name of Helene Aylon, an artist of Orthodox Jewish background in her 70’s living
in New York. She was responsible for a controversial installation at a Jewish centre in
New York on the subject of the “niddah” – the time of so-called “impurity” for a woman
during menstruation.      The installation was called “My Bridal Chamber”.               The
background to this exhibit was the memory of her husbands death (he was an Orthodox
Jewish rabbi) when she was only 29 years old. Because she was “impure” during her
husband’s final days, she says, “We never held hands, we never even touched.
Religious observance was more important than love”.
        It’s no wonder Aylon is ambivalent about her faith. She talks about her mother’s
faith and of her “faith tradition”, but says of herself, “But I, I have a hole in my soul”.
        I think she means two things by this. One, that there is still that “God-shaped
hole” in her soul/heart, waiting to be filled. But also – two - that she cannot allow it to
be filled by the God of her tradition, as she understands and has experienced that. The
hole in her heart has become a gaping wound.
        It was on reading this story that I thought of Psalm 43, a Psalm – [like many of
the others] – of lament, a complaint against God and the world and anybody else who
will listen!
        To God, the psalmist cries: “You are supposed to be my advocate and protector.
Why have you cast me off? Why have you abandoned me?”

        And as if to himself the psalmist moans: “Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?”
        It’s as if the psalmist has recognized for the first time a hole in his heart, a hole
that is supposed to be filled by God. But God is nowhere to be found. God is absent.
        When religious observance becomes more important than love, then religion
begins to die from within. And it deserves to die! That so-called “God” needs to be
        For some people, the word “God” has become so contaminated that it is no
longer usable. The church – [in God’s name] – has done much to contribute to this loss.
Many people are not so much “lapsed Christians” as they are “disappointed lovers”,
alternating between anger and sadness at the loss of – [or betrayal by] – a loved one (the
“loved one” being the church).
        But there’s something sad – [even tragic] – about how we deprive ourselves of the
reminders and structures we need – [the symbols and rituals that still have meaning] –
because we allow the worst of our traditions to set the agenda.
        On the one hand, religion (at its best) keeps us rooted and grounded – which we
need. On the other hand, its powerful roots can engulf and choke the life out of us!
Religion both includes and excludes, inspires and “dumbs down”, gives life and kills.
        It seems to me that, as crazy as religion makes us sometimes, it is here to stay!
Human beings seem to be “hard-wired” for it! And God isn’t going away either. The
divine presence/absence is felt all over the world, and it drives people crazy!
        So simply “believing in God” is no big deal! I know lots of people who
“believe in God” - and their belief makes them judgmental and callous, hard-hearted and
just plain mean! And I know many other people who profess no belief, yet practice
“godly” lives of warmth and compassion.
        I don’t think we need to be worried about the survival of Christianity.
Christianity doesn’t need anyone to “save” it. If it has any truth, if it is worth saving,
then it will survive. If it hasn’t any truth, then it deserves to die. We’d be better off
without it.

        At the risk of sounding trite – [well, at the risk of two things, actually] – 1) at the
risk of sounding trite; and 2) at the risk of sounding like a “grumpy old man” – it needs to
be said that if that analogy that “nature abhors a vacuum” can be applied to our spiritual
lives as well as to science, then we know that if that “God-shaped hole in our hearts” is
not filled by “God” – or by something whole, healing and life-giving that some might call
“God” – then it will be filled by something else – and that “something else” may be an
infatuation with material things, workaholism, substance abuse, destructive sexual
activity, addictions of all kinds – things that are definitely not “life-giving”, but life-

        So what happens in our lives when this “God-shaped hole in our heart” is
filled by something that makes us feel truly alive? It doesn’t really matter what we
call it, and it may be different for different people.
        It’s what Viktor Frankl described in his account of his concentration camp
experiences. He speaks of the “intensification of the inner life” that some prisoners
experienced, so that sunsets, remembered lines of verse, or even the most ordinary
actions of the past (riding on a bus, answering the telephone, turning on the lights)
become filled with beauty and longing.
        And so the “operative” word is not so much the word “God”, but what that
idea/word represents to people: authenticity, honesty, gratitude, integrity,
transformation and love.
        We fill the “God-shaped hole in our hearts” in a variety of ways, suited to our
own experiences, traditions and personalities – and often it is only in retrospect that
we recognize it at all! For some people, meditation and prayer fill that God-shaped
hole…for others, it is through engaging in acts of justice and social action…participating
in a faith community with people who have similar values…participating in
nature…celebrating relationships of all kinds, with lovers, family and friends…joining in
acts of corporate worship as we are here today...engaging in ritual, symbol, metaphor, art,
music, dance, myth.

This “need” is underlined for me every time I preside at a funeral, a wedding or a baptism
for people who haven’t warmed a church pew for 25 years! They may not always be able
to articulate why, but in their life-transitions – [with all of the anxiety and fear and
uncertainty that go with those transitions] – people still seem to need the security, the
“grounded-ness” of those rituals and symbols.
         Truth be told, I guess the “God-shaped hole in the heart” is never totally and
permanently filled. Even my friends who would call themselves “atheists” are kind of
like the Dublin taxi-driver who, when asked if he believed in leprechauns, replied: “No,
of course not, but they’re there just the same!”
         Someone has said that “love is the highest form of knowledge”. The writer of I
John says: “God is love”. St. John of the Cross said: “In the end, we shall be examined
in love”. There seems to be a thread here!
         What most people seem to need is less talk and more action. We don’t want to be
told. We want to be shown. We want to be able to taste, touch, hear, smell and see the
love for which we long, and of which the Gospel speaks. Experience first. Explanations
later - if at all.
         As Eliza Dolittle sings in “My Fair Lady”, “Don’t talk of love…show me!”
Maybe then we can tend to the God-shaped hole in our hearts.


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