I have spent over a year now looking for him.
I have experienced his quiet care every three weeks, when my Kurdish barber cuts my hair. Years back, his family fled their home because ISIS was down the road, killing kids. Last December, he told me that, because I was a pastor, he would not permit me to preach on Christmas unless I got a haircut on December 23. He cares for me more than I care for myself.
I felt his embrace for longer than I expected after I officiated the wedding of an 80-something year-old Dutch woman in my congregation to a man she fell in love with at their nursing home. They had both lost a spouse over a decade ago and were amazed, even giddy, to have fallen in love again. She hugged me and said quietly, “Thank you for this. I am so happy now.” I had only done a small thing. He rejoiced over me.
I locked eyes with him for a moment when my Russian climbing partner and I fist-bumped after we both solved a difficult bouldering problem. He did it first, showing me the way. Just as, when I asked, he shared first about his current pain: facing evil in the country and people he loves so much. Only then did I share about my current pain and the evils my tribe perpetrates. He invited me to enter into my grief, because he willingly remained in his.
I heard him bellow with laughter across the room, as a Canadian dad playfully teased my wife about some piece of art magneted up on our fridge. We had invited a few people over to explore committing to one another to form a spiritual family. We had prepared to share our deep and painful longings. He knew what was coming and he filled our home with deep joy.
I flushed with embarrassment when he bent down to tie both of my shoelaces. I had walked into the church building after hastily throwing on shoes. It was a morning in which I was wildly late and everything had gone wrong. Until a staff member and good Greek mother heard me walk through the door, immediately came to greet me, lifted the hem of her dress, bent down on her knees, and double knotted both sets of laces so that I wouldn’t trip on my way to my office. His care for me overwhelms me.
In his Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis writes, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito.”
Less verbose and even less insightful authors than Charles Taylor have detailed western cultures’ trajectory toward an inescapably “immanent frame”, in which the only reality that counts is what is tangible, measurable, or repeatable. In every frame above, the person was very simply present, interacting with me as himself or herself. There was no flash of light; no visible glow. But the mystery, now covered over for generations again, is that there is more beyond our immanent frame.
We are compulsively drawn to mystery — not to solve it (this is what ruins magic tricks), but to experience it. Only a great fool, when looking into the radiant face of Moses, would wonder what material his veil was made from. Jesus waits just behind the veil; just beyond the immanent frame, which we have set up for ourselves as a blinder, a limit: the furthest we can reach, the last star we can see. Still we are drawn to the mystery who waits just beyond, just behind. A little further up and a little further in.
Paul presents the fullness of the gospel mystery: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) But Paul’s words will never move us. It is no use to have the mystery explained or see to the furthest limit of sight and mind. We need to encounter him.
After all, Reformed Christians have always said that he saw us first, he reached out first; that his reach is longer, his grip stronger; his sight is sharper and insight deeper.
I have spent over a year now looking for him. He has met me, held me, surprised me, laughed with me, comforted me, strengthened me, cared for me, cried over me. It has only taken time to see that it was him. His face is so radiant, so multifaceted. Even now I can’t fully describe it.
I can only admit that, for too long, I was busy looking at the veil.