Readers, like me, often have favorite writers. One of mine is a woman named Kate Atkinson. I’ve read several of Atkinson’s books and I always find I have to do so with a pen and paper in hand. She writes, what I call, “dense” books. By that I mean, she writes engaging stories that are intricately woven with great detail but which are intriguing rather than, off-putting. Her characters are so richly drawn that within just a very few opening words, she captures me. I start to care about not only the story but the persons within the story, so I have to keep track of them. Since there are so many of them, I also have to chart them on a sheet of paper and refer back to my list often. Getting into her stories happens quickly. Staying connected to her stories takes work but I want to work at it and I do.
At the moment, I’m reading Atkinson’s first novel, which is entitled “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”. The narrator is Ruby Lennox. Ruby begins her tale at the very moment of her conception. We get an inside look into what that moment is like for Ruby and imagine what it was like for us too. Before she is even born, Ruby sees her world. She knows her mother with an intimacy that can only exist when one human being carries another in the womb. As she floats in the amniotic fluid that cradles her, Ruby shares her impressions, what she senses around her and her small, unformed fears of what life will be like on the outside. We also get a very unattractive picture of Ruby’s mother and her less than enthusiastic appreciation for the young life she is carrying.
And here is where the similarity to God’s mothering role as described in Psalm 139 ends for us. As the Psalmist David describes, God is always enthusiastically and creatively forming us into something, “fearfully and wonderfully made”. We are God’s own children, children of the divine heart, created in love to share with our gracious Maker the blessings of this wondrous and fruitful universe. We don’t always do the optimum job at performing at our best but there is always a chance to try again; always an opportunity to be reworked and reformed into a closer image of God’s divine self.
The one certainty in life is that we are wanted and loved by the One who formed us. Our God knows us inside and out, knows our secret thoughts and holds us to a higher standard than we might imagine we could attain. On our own, we would fail to reach such heights, but by and through God’s love and knowledge of each one of us, we can achieve the seemingly impossible. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” It is David’s unique phrasing that gives us a hint of the infallible love holds for you and for me. Let me share a story of God’s tireless efforts to bring us back home to our best self, the self that God envisions.
The story begins with a Boy Scout who somehow became separated from his troop on a camping trip. The scoutmaster tried to find the boy but failing that sounded the alarm. Search and rescue teams were dispatched to find the boy. There was a prayer vigil held for his safety and return. Three days went by with no sign of the Boy Scout but on the third day, he was located. He was hungry, disoriented but not injured. A TV reporter, reporting the news of the rescue, asked the relieved father of the boy how the boy had gotten so lost.
It was a bit of a surprise to hear that the boy had walked away voluntarily hoping to find a highway and to hitchhike home. The reported asked the obvious question:
“And why was he doing that?”
To which the father responded: “He was homesick.”
We often wonder why our lives seem just a bit out of sync and we wander about feeling restless and unfulfilled. St. Augustine put it this way: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” As one commentator wrote; “Often, when we lose our way in life, it is a misguided attempt to find our way back home. Yet, God doesn’t just sit and wait for us to get back. God organizes a search party, sending others to call us back to the true way.”
As we begin this Church School year, we do so, as a church, recognizing that our God-education doesn’t begin with the first word we read or end with our confirmation into the community of faith. It is lifelong – from the moment of our conception when God breathed life into us and we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” to our very last breath when we are taken into God’s eternal presence and cradled again in God’s the divine essence, we are always learning more about our Creator and more about God’s hope and vision for each of us. As David said: “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast the sum of them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.” Thankfully, not only are we always with God but, God is always with us. Amen.