Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rock Bottom

This past weekend marked the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I remember where I was (as I'm sure we all do) when the news broke of the storm's landfall. I was a senior in college, living in an on-campus apartment, when one of my roommates called for us to come see.

In October 2005, only about six weeks after the storm devastated the Gulf, a large group of us college students went down to help clean up and rebuild some of the communities who had been most hard hit.

When we arrived, the homeowners had only just been allowed back into their neighborhoods and houses a few days prior. Though I'm sure they had been working tirelessly since they had returned, they hadn't made a dent in the debris and destruction.

We ripped out drywall. We roofed a church. But mostly we spent our time and energy hauling what were once valued possessions to a stretch of dumpsters lining the streets.

Any time we found a photograph, we would alert the homeowners to see if it belonged to them. If it wasn't theirs, they would find the neighbor whose it may have been. Neighbors caring for neighbors, even as their lives and homes were ripped apart.

A few years later, when I had moved to Nashville and begun divinity school, I was sitting in church on some Sunday. My pastor at my Nashville church had been a pastor in New Orleans at the time of Katrina. He was sharing a similar story, of helping neighbors who were more affected than he or his home had been. A lady he spoke to had this to say, reflecting on all she had experienced in the storm and its aftermath:  "I've been all the way to the bottom--and it held."

I've been all the way to the bottom--and it held.

Much like I remember where I was and how I felt in watching the news coverage of Katrina, I remember distinctly hearing the power of these words from my pew that Sunday morning.

So much of my time and energy is spent making sure I don't hit the bottom.
What I am doing is merely treading water.

But sometimes storms--be they figurative or meteorological--come with such force, their crashing waves knock us off our feet, displace us from our homes, disorient us with their darkness.

There is no treading water, no bobbing up and down on the surface. There is only sinking fast.

And we hit bottom. Rock bottom.

Throughout scripture, especially throughout the Hebrew Bible, God is referenced as the Rock--a symbol of protection, refuge, salvation. Throughout its history, Israel has looked to God for such assurances.

A wise man, Jesus says, builds his house upon rock.
The foundation holds, even in the harshest of storms.

I've been all the way to the bottom--and it held.

We spend our time and energy rising to the top, treading water, and never coming in contact with our foundation.

We fear what's at the bottom.
We don't want to be down there for long.
The bottom is murky and mysterious. We believe we would fare better up at the top.
We learned to swim for such occasions.

We place our faith in our backstroke, not in our foundation of rock.

We think that God must be at the top--up and out there.

But what would it mean if God was, in fact, at the bottom.

If God is rock bottom.

God is the Rock that will not give way or shatter regardless of the storm that rages overhead.
The bottom--the foundation of rock--is not touched.

When we sink further and further, deeper and deeper, we are tempted to believe that we have failed.
We see our journey to the bottom as one of defeat.

I've been all the way to the bottom--and it held.

The bottom holds because it is Rock.
The bottom holds because it is God.

When we hit rock bottom, we are held.

It is at rock bottom that we can rest assured.
However counter-intuitive it reads and feels, I believe it to be true.

Life and all its games and traps lead us to believe that we must keep fighting, must keep swimming, must keep our heads above water in order to survive.

But those who have been to the bottom--whether willingly or completely out of their control--have found the opposite to be true.

Life is not to be survived on the surface of things.
Life is to be lived at the bottom--rock bottom.

It is from such a foundation that we find shelter, hope, refuge, and healing.

Perhaps this is why Jesus told the rich man that he must sell everything he had in order to follow him.
The man had to reach rock bottom (in his instance, material poverty) in order to find God.

Many days, I am unwilling to leave it all behind. I refuse to give up treading water, convinced that my efforts are not in vain.
But it is when I take the plunge, when I let go of my fears and of my sense of control that I sink into and am held by the Foundation of life itself.

It is when I allow myself to dive deeper into the Mystery that I am led "to the rock that is higher than I." (Psalm 61:2)

Can you allow yourself, even now, to sink down?
To descend to the depths, all the way to rock bottom, to your very Foundation?
Can you feel yourself land?
Can you feel yourself being held by God, by the Rock of your salvation?

Remind me, oh God, that you are always to be found at the bottom of things. Give me the strength and courage to meet you there. Amen.

I am leaving for spiritual direction training today. I am eager (in every sense) to begin this season of learning and growing and sinking deeply. I hope you will keep me in your prayers. I will return to the blogosphere next week. All shall be well.

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