Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - Alone and Afraid

Today's gospel reading contains the famous story of Peter denying Jesus. I've always marveled that the early church preserved this story about the abject failure of one of its key leaders. But there it is, prominently displayed in all four gospels. When Jesus had earlier told Peter this would happen, Peter was full of bravado, insisting he would never do so and, in some accounts, promising to die with Jesus. But when the moment comes, he curses and swears that he does not know Jesus, has never met him.

Much can be drawn from this story. Bold words don't necessarily lead to bold behavior. But on the flip side, colossal failures and even betrayals don't disqualify us from serving Jesus. It would seem that Jesus did not hold Peter's failure against him at all.

But I found myself pondering how it was Peter went so quickly from bravado to betrayal. Was it simply that he was all talk? I don't think so. Too many other episodes show a Peter who could act in bold ways. I wonder if Peter wasn't feeling terribly alone that night. He had been Jesus' constant companion for a very long time, but Jesus had been taken from him. All alone, Peter's fears overwhelmed him. He was all "fight or flight," and fight wasn't an option.

Being alone, really alone, can be terribly frightening. And we people of faith sometimes try to be faithful and religious all on our own. I'm not referring to individualism, though I suppose that is a problem as well. I'm talking about living our lives without much sense of Jesus' presence.

In one of his books, N. Graham Standish speaks of church meetings where we, in essence, pray at the beginning, then ask God to go get a cup of coffee while we do our work. Then when we're done, we ask God to come back in and bless our actions. As an individual, I often wrestle with issues facing my congregation, or struggle with what I am called to do, all by myself, with little sense of Jesus with me. But without Jesus there with us, our fears can bubble up, can frighten us and even overwhelm us. We become more reactionary and primal in our behaviors, and we often regret our actions or decisions later.

Give us some sure sense of your presence, God. Put your Spirit in us that we may never be alone.

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