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Friday, July 13, 2012

What We Mean When We Say, 'Amen'

The following is the last essay in my first book, "We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed." Although the book itself needs to be updated since the Church revised the wording of the creed this year, the message of this meditation remains intact. I hope you find it useful.

The last word of the Nicene Creed: Amen.

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2-3).

“We believe . . . We believe . . . We believe . . .” The ancient summary of Christian faith flows from my tongue like a poem’s comfortable and regular meter. I recite declaration of faith after declaration, each as important as the last, none more necessary than the next – not even (it would seem) the “Amen” at the end of the Creed.

But that should not be the case. I don’t think there is any word in the vocabulary of Christian faith more powerful than that “Amen – Yes. I believe.”

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that the recitation of the Creed, word after word, statement after statement, is like our walk through life. We move from day to week to year, year after year, in what might be compared to a melodious poetic meter. We hold jobs, sign agreements, build businesses, get married, make vows, have children, make promises . . .

But every now and then, something breaks the cadence. A tragedy bolds the font, underlines the memory, italicizes the sorrow. Our very being – body, soul and spirit – sees nothing, hears nothing, beyond the moment when time stands still. Our gut churns at the physician’s diagnosis. It writhes to the cacophony of, “I want a divorce.” It convulses at the fresh gravesite of a loved one.

I wish life always flowed in harmonious rhyme and meter. But it doesn’t. Desperate prayers go unanswered. Heaven sometimes seems so silent our stomachs threaten to heave.

Heartache always leaves a choice in its wake – What do we do with our affirmations and vows when life’s rhythm unravels and melody falls into disharmony? What happens to “Amen. Yes, I believe” when our foundations split apart? What shall we do with “the Father Almighty” when He seems oblivious to our tragedy? What shall we say to “He came down from heaven” when hell appears triumphant? Can we say amen to “the giver of life” when death rips a loved one from our arms? Do we believe in “the resurrection of the dead” when despair surrounds us?

Do we say, “Amen. Yes, I still believe” to our statements of faith; or do we turn and say nothing?

The prophet Isaiah urged, “Seek the Lord, while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). St. James encouraged, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

Christians with seasoned faith understand there is no shortcut to spiritual maturity, the kind that answers life’s agonies with a resounding, “Amen! Yes, I believe.” That depth of faith is possible only by God’s grace, nurtured as we seek the Lord – day by day – while He may be found; drawing near to Him – day by day – while we have opportunity.

Each time we recite, “Amen” at the end of the Creed, we have a choice. We can say it as part of our religious meter, or we can say it prayerfully, asking God’s grace to enfold us, to help us seek Christ above earthly pleasures, to draw closer to the Savior, to trust Him through variations of life’s meter so we might fully trust Him through its cacophony.

You wouldn’t think it so, but it’s often a difficult choice to make.

Prayer (from Romans 8): Father, I know nothing can separate me from Your love. Yet, I ask for Christ’s sake, that the confidence in my mind become confidence in my heart. I ask that I – that the Church – shout “Amen” with the apostle Paul’s declaration that neither death, nor life, angels, nor principalities, things present, nor things to come, powers, height, depth, nor any other created thing, will separate us from Your love, which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.

And, amen.

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