In Eugene Peterson’s book, he repeats this old rabbinic story as told to him by his friend Paul Ivrey. Here it is: “ ‘Shekinah’ is a Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence, bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be – a place.” God is not expected to show up at Starbuck’s on my day off. Confession is not supposed to happen between a stranger and a pastor over a worn table in a public place. Ivrey continues, “[‘Shekinah’] It’s not a public spectacle but more like a selective showing at God’s discretion to encourage or affirm, to reveal a reality of something that we do not yet have eyes to see. It is not a term found in the Bible but was frequently used in the mystical Judaism of the Middle Ages. That’s what it is, but here’s the story. The story is set in Jerusalem at a time when Jews were returning from their Babylonian captivity. Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and its magnificent Solomonic temple. Meanwhile the Persian king, Cyrus, had conquered Babylon and gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland. He also generously made provision for them to rebuild the destroyed temple. Hope was at high tide. The devastation and heartache of those long years of living in a pagan culture among foreign gods was over – they would be able to worship God again on their native soil, reenter the splendid sacred precincts, and begin again to serve God in the place redolent with storied memories… When the first people arrived they took one look at the restored temple and wept at what they saw. The Solomonic temple that for five hundred years had provided a glorious centering for their life as a people of God had been replaced by what looked to them like a tarpaper shack. The squalid replacement broke their hearts, and they wept. As they wept, a dazzling, light- resplendent presence descended, the Shekinah – God’s personal presence – and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory. They lifted their arms in praise. They were truly home. God was truly present. The shekinah faded out. The glory stayed. People like you and me need that Shekinah story. And our congregations need it. Most of what we do in getting our congregations going doesn’t look anything like what people expect it to.” (p. 100-101 The Pastor)
Here’s how it works for me. I am learning to trust God with place and time and talents and job descriptions. I am daring to dream that all of us, trusting God, are figuring out how to live sacred lives within the context of the human condition. It would be easier to believe that faith turns us all into saints who do not sin so none of us have to deal with the fallout and suffering of said sin. But it’s never worked that way, has it? Today, how can we all show up for one another in whatever condition we find ourselves?