One of the toughest feelings in the world is abandonment—-feeling left orphaned. I reflected on this notion of being orphaned in my quiet time—the 3AM space I’d occupied between my MDIV “hooding” and the morning after, somewhere between the welcome embrace of a celebratory 2013 Caymus Special Selection and its spent bottle still fragrant with lingering celebration.
Sometimes orphaned spaces come from family. Back when I was far younger my father left our family. Mom, my brother, and I found ourselves in a series of orphaned spaces. You can always tell you’re in an orphaned space by the questions you find yourself asking.
I began asking orphan questions in the Summer of ’78 when Dad moved out. I asked things then like, “what is going to happen to us,” and, “where is dad now,” and, “are we still family.”
Sometimes orphaned spaces come from processes. Last night I graduated with my MDIV—a journey whose processes often left me feeling lost and abandoned. I realized I felt this way through the questions I was asking.
I began asking asking orphan questions in the Fall of 2011 when although I was ordained, the path to MDIV completion was obstructed and unclear. Questions similar to those in ’78 arose, “what is going to happen to me,” and, “where do I go now with the situation now,” and, “are we still family.”
When are those times that you have felt orphaned? When have your questions revealed your orphan feelings and fears?
These are lonely times and lonely feelings aren’t they? In such times, aren’t we needing to hear, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
And we aren’t the first to feel such things you know. The disciples, Thomas and Phillip in particular, felt similarly in this pericope:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to [Jesus], “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
15″If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18″I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25″I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (NRSV, John 14:8-27)
Listen for the orphan-voice:
- v.5 Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?
- v. 8 Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.
Can’t you hear the orphan-voice?
Doesn’t it sound like, “where are you going?” Doesn’t it sound like, “how can we get there?” And, doesn’t it sound like, “Show us so we’ll know.” I’ll bet they are even wondering, “Are we still family?”
These are orphan times for the disciples and they desperately need to hear, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
It’s a pretty sure bet that the disciples, who feel they are about to lose a loved one, join the ranks of any of us who have experienced great loss. That’s when we feel incredibly orphaned isn’t it? We fear being left all alone.
Per my enneagram results, I am a 9w1—the peacemaker—a peacemaker of the dreamer variety. One of the type descriptions says that we 9w1s “fear abandonment.” I think this is profoundly true–at least it is for me.
And I may be reaching a bit here, but I think fear of abandonment says that we are created to be in community, that we are more or less herd creatures, that we are perhaps more tribal than we’d care to let on. And Jesus showcases our communal identity in v. 20, “…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” No loners to be found there in that union.
We are created to live into one another’s lives, to experience the giving and receiving of love together, to share the transitions common to the human condition together, and to process the full range of human emotions and complications with one another.
It seems appropriate that the Greek verb being used in this text to denote “leaving” is ἔρχομαι. It means both coming and going. It is not an either/or word. It is a both/and word. It holds together at once both “coming” and “going.” And it serves well to illustrate at once both being present and absent.
Both the disciples of the past and disciples of the present are at once both being held together and facing both the presence and absence of Jesus and what together they both mean.
If it is a matter of “either/or,” then the questions for us are apparent.
Are we disciples of Jesus’ absence? Is Jesus our past tense story, a history, a once not future king, a “has-been?”
Are we disciples of Jesus’ presence? Is Jesus our present tense relative who saunters our way and says, “…I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…,” and continues to say, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
The disciples of absent Jesus are consigned to nostalgia. The disciples of present tense Jesus are compelled to do greater works, and live lives of love. It seems that the way to create opportunities for self and others to be orphaned is found in looking to only an absent Jesus. It also seems that the way to reduce the creation of opportunities for self and others to be orphaned is to follow the present Jesus.
But what if this is not an “either/or” but a “both/and” reality that holds both presence and absence together at once? And what would that look like?
Wouldn’t it look like people looking to what Jesus did even as they are about the business of what Jesus does? And wouldn’t that look like expanding the bounds of love, and pushing beyond the structures of isolation, and all of this being done in love, with Jesus? Aren’t these the doing of greater works?
The both/and business of “doing greater works,” and those works being a function of love, fall to those who discern what Jesus is doing in the here and now and what Jesus would have us do in the here and now. They fall to a people who look forward even as they reflect back to see if we’d played any part in the systems of orphan creation even as they look forward to seeing those systems taken down.
Isn’t that how we join Jesus in saying to our world, “We will not leave you orphaned; We are coming to you?” And then we start getting about the business of kicking down the systems than make orphans?
Isn’t that what doing amazing works and being amazing love is really about—-the coming and goings of Jesus clearly being made visible through his disciples kicking down those systems in a world hungering to be encountered by him?”
Isn’t that how we reduce the criminal acts of orphan creation? For isn’t it true that this world is only an orphanage when we make it so?
And isn’t it equally true that this world is only an ever-growing celebration of greater works done in boundless love if we make it so?
The choice is isolation or celebration. And for my part I’m for greater works and boundless love and more nights together spent between the welcome embrace of a celebratory 2013 Caymus Special Selection and its spent bottle still fragrant with lingering celebration.