There is something profoundly transforming about aloneness. I'm not speaking about those times when we voluntarily take a hike into the woods to sit by a stream and listen to the water rushing over the pebbles, the song of the birds in the tree tops, or the rustling of dried leaves dancing on the ground.

Instead I am thinking of those times say for a little child, standing in the middle of a huge department store having just emerged from amidst a rack of shirts and slacks yelling "Boo!" And mom's not to be seen. At first, it's still a game of hide and seek and the child runs from rack to rack looking for the familiar face and arms that will scoop her up into an embrace - but fails to appear. Slowly the glee turns to fear and fear to panic and panic to terror as reality sinks in. You know that feeling deep in the pit of your stomach? That everything that is familiar is lost, and the one who connects us to what is safe is missing. And all that child can do is cry out "Mom!"

Fortunately for most children, mom hears and mom comes running. She was only a step away, but from the pint sized point of view, she was adrift in a sea of unfamiliar legs and shoes. Mom carefully reviews the rules about what to do when mom gets lost again. Stay where you last saw me or enlist the aid of a store clerk. But the deep lesson comes in that moment when the child feels abandoned and alone. Suddenly, mom's value and worth are instantly calculated to the nth power. Mom, the source of security, comfort, and love is not accessible and the child must come to grips alone with a world that once seemed safe and controllable. Instantly the child calculates they can't do it alone and finding mom again is the only activity possible.

We as adults can smile knowingly. So many times we have reached out a hand to grasp securely a little playmate's hand. As long as that hand is outstretched our little friend feels secure enough to venture out and take small risks of adventure.

But what about us? We who have learned so much of the world. We who have high school diplomas, college degrees, and oh, so much life experience. Are we able to go it alone? Well, you could say that is a ludicrous question. Of course not. Our everyday experiences incorporate people. Students have teachers and other students to compare answers with, get homework assignments from. We purchase items from stores that require clerks, stockers, and factory workers to provide the goods. Our food doesn't just spring up in our refrigerators, we need farmers, dairy producers, and livestock owners. We are sick and need doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. After work we relax to the products of actors, athletes, and authors. Everything we participate in involves someone else whether we ever see them or talk with them. Everything we take for granted including our friendships and loves shout out to us we cannot go it alone.

Well, yes, there are some people who have done this. There are hermits, monks, recluses, and naturalists who have rejected the rat race and gone out to secluded places to eke out a living from the earth in virtual solitude. Fashioning tools from the resources around them they have carefully grown or caught their own food, tanned hides for clothing, and obtained their shelter from their environment. At one with nature, they have braved the capricious whims of the weather and the elements around them. Afterall, our earliest ancestors, the cave dwellers did just that and evolved into the complicated society that we have come to know.

Yet, as Tom Hanks has portrayed for us in the movie Castaway, there is more to life than making decisions about lifestyle and occupation. There is something about relationships that carry great influence on how we think and feel and act. As an important cog in the wheel that turns the massive delivery system, Federal Express, Hanks continued to make connections for and between people. While he no doubt viewed his job as efficiency expert as a means of increasing exposure and profit for the company, he was still streamlining relationships. His life was a whirlwind of worldwide business trips but what held it all together was his love for his wife. This he came to fully understand when he found himself castaway on that small uninhabited island after hours maybe days of being battered by storm and sea. Although he crudely managed to provide for his physical needs, his emotional and psychological needs were barely fueled by the picture of his wife and the conversations he had with Wilson the volleyball whose face was drawn with his own blood.

Needless to say that did not suffice. For at one point he contemplated ending his exile by jumping off the highest peak. After four years stranded far from all relationships, he decided to take his chances out at sea than remain another day isolated from the one he loved.

The intense desire for meaningful relationship draws us powerfully. Most of the time we seek to fulfill that desire in the embrace of a fellow human be it parent, friend, or loved one. Yet, if we draw our strength from another who is as weak and fallible as we are we will eventually meet disappointment and the quest continues for the one who will not abandon us.

King David knew God as the source of his strength as a great warrior, leader and king, yet David too was human and sought fulfillment in the embrace of Bathsheba. In so doing he violated his relationship with God abandoning his one sure love. One of the beautiful things about the people of Israel as a covenant partner with God is that God is part of the very fabric of their lives - not aloof and uncaring but involved and involving in the careful revelation of what a divine/human relationship can be. What has been gathered together as the Psalms are part of the constant conversation of the people with their creator - praises, adoration, petitions, laments, complaints and fears in this daily walk. Including God's very own response.

So, when David was confronted by Nathan with his sin, David turned to the Lord with his plea for mercy. He knew that God had every right to cast him away from his presence to teach him his need for utter reliance. He feared the consequences of a life devoid of God beside him. He prayed that God would not withdraw that presence. David's responsibility as king was to lead his people into that same kind of closeness and reliance.

David could turn to God with confidence because of the assurance offered to the people in the days of Saul that we read in 1 Samuel. Despite their demand to have a human king, and their desire to be like other nations, despite their sinfulness in having turned aside from following the Lord, Samuel assured them they could return again to the Lord because God would not cast them away. God had decided to form them into a people. It was God's good pleasure to make a nation out of them. not theirs.

So David asked the Lord for his life to belong to God. If you desire truth, Lord, then grant me wisdom to know it and speak it. Cleanse me -no - not just cleanse me, but purge me from my sins. Bring joy and gladness back into my life in the form of your daily presence. Don't hide from me - just hide your eyes from my sins.

We know what it is like to lose friends and loved ones to arguments, career moves, sickness and death. There is an emptiness and an unspeakable longing that pervades our days and nights. Can you imagine what it would be like if God actually turned away? Fortunately, we have Jesus' absolute promise to be with us always. Verse 6 of Psalm 12 tells us of the confidence we may have. "The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times." "You O Lord, will protect us; you will guard us forever."

A small child will expend every ounce of its emotions to find mom when she is lost. Tom Hanks was willing to pit his life against the elements to return to his beloved because of the emptiness of being cast away. What if we spent that same kind of emotion and energy in our conversations with Jesus? What if we totally immersed ourselves in the hope of the baptismal promise and sought and found Jesus in everything we did and said. What if we deepened our spiritual lives by spending more time listening to him in our quiet time? The promises are sure that Jesus is with us.

In this journey through Lent that we have undertaken together we have been challenged to look closely at our own lives to seek out those places where we have drawn farther away from God, to see our neglect of discipleship, and our participation in the sinfulness of the world. The challenge now is to realize that in all that, Jesus does not depart from us. Jesus seeks instead to enter in to our hearts and fill us. As we walk toward Easter may we not dismay of our sins, but remember that Jesus is with us and the sacrifice of that Friday was to draw us closer in. "Cast me not away from your presence" is a cry of utter trust in the faithfulness of the one who gave his life for us. Deepen that trust during the upcoming days. "When the woes of life o'er take me, hopes deceive and fears annoy, never shall the cross forsake me, lo, it glows with peace and joy."


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