I’m intrigued by the gaps in the Bible.
You know what I’m talking about? The time between Jesus being left at the temple by his parents, and his appearance at a wedding, making wine. The time in the desert that wasn’t Jesus talking to the devil. Paul’s activities between his conversion and his first missionary journey. Stuff that didn’t make it into the documentation, but undoubtedly contained activity. The stuff that brought those guys to the point where they did the things that we remember.
We certainly can’t assume nothing was happening. Jesus was memorizing scripture, ironically. He was learning to make things out of lumber. He was doing manual labor at Joseph’s side. He was doing common things, being human.
Paul was relearning his entire system of beliefs in light of Jesus being the Messiah. He was probably spending a lot of time saying things like, “Yes, I’m THAT Saul. But then Jesus appeared to me in a blinding light and changed my mind. Yes, I’m serious.” It’s likely that he was talking to people whom he had previously encountered, had chased down in marketplaces. Maybe they escaped. Maybe what he really spent a lot of time saying was, “wait, don’t run!” and the reason he went into tentmaking was because it gave him something to do so he could be approachable by his new brothers and sisters. Perhaps the reason that there is almost no record of that time is because everyone was positive he was going to be exposed as a spy for the Pharisees, and why would we waste our time writing about that guy? Maybe the reason he didn’t write about it himself is that he was both at a loss for words, not sure of what was true at all anymore other than Jesus.
Whatever the reasons, those moments didn’t make the final draft of the story. We have many of the same times in our own history.
We’re afraid of those moments, aren’t we? The fear that the reason that nothing is going on is because nothing is going to happen to us anymore. Looking to sensationalize our lunch on social media because we just HAVE to have a story to tell. Fear of forgetting where we’ve been and what we’ve done.
I’m not against good stories. Don Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” spoke deeply to me when it suggested that we should be trying our best to live out better stories. God made us, he made us to live lives that matter, and to live otherwise is genuinely out of step with out Creator.
Still, it takes faith to do what feels like nothing. It takes listening to the Holy Spirit to realize it actually ISN’T nothing, that it could very well be an important part of our story. Could Paul have become the missionary that he was without being formed in a time of blank pages? Could Jesus have been so focused in his ministry without the desert period and growing to adulthood under the very set of laws he would later point to as the road to death?
Richard Rohr calls these periods, “liminal time.” A time of being transformed. A time of changing from what we were to what God wants us to be. It can be a time of learning, adding new things to our life which help us become something new. I tend to side more with Thomas Merton on this one, though. More often, I think that to be who we truly are in God, the lion’s share of the experience is the stripping away of the false self. Putting a cork in our need to possess and control, and allowing ourselves to be fully known by God.
I wonder if I’m that comfortable waiting on God. I wonder if a blank page is an uncomfortable silence to me, something I feel like I need to feel with activity and words. That has been my first response for so long, it takes active thinking to stop myself from doing it. It’s blank only to our human eyes, though. If we could see with God’s eyes, see what he has happening in the times we see nothing, I believe we’d be amazed at the times in our lives where the biggest things really are happening.