Young and fit, I set out in the dark of a frosty winter's morning on a two day pushbike ride from Adelaide to Mildura. About 7am, just short of Greenock, I was hit by the cyclist's curse-- the knock. The knock is when one's blood sugar level suddenly, and often inexplicably, plummets and reduces one to a sick and sorry state in the space of very few minutes. I hadn't yet learned the lesson of carrying a goodly supply of barley sugar with me at all times, so an elderly German farming couple- who seemed to come straight out of a Colin Thiele novel-had their 7.15 breakfast interrupted by a pale and panting young man, barely able to stand. He asked for a glass of water with half a dozen teaspoons of sugar mixed in- a certain, if strange remedy.
The woman, at first very puzzled by my request, (who could blame her!), soon decided "this young man has not enough breakfast had!" I was bundled into the kitchen to be warmed by an ancient but efficient wood stove, and despite my embarrassed protests fed an enormous breakfast, with lots of sugar! Then I was sent on my way with a kindly admonition to "look after yourself better." God is like that. Sometimes when we are in dire straits we are sat down and mothered gently but forcefully into health and wholeness.
Other times, God stands back. I was leaving to go `back bush' after holidays one year, having told my parents of my intention to candidate for the Ministry of the Word. My father came up to me just as I was climbing into the truck. "Well, if you think this is what you should do, I'll be with you all the way." It was one of the moments I have most truly felt his love for me. And he was true to his word. He stood back- quite unlike my German grandmother on the road, but whenever there was a need, he was there. And always I have felt a sense of care and concern.
More recently, I left my spiritual director's house, started the car, and was seized by a desire to do a 270 degree `wheelie'... the kind of thing you do up the back paddock when Dad is away, but never when you're a responsible minister driving down a respectable Fulham street. God burst into my life like I had mainlined on pure joy! I was a good boy and didn't do the wheelie... but I realised back in Marion that I had driven all the way home with my windscreen wipers on even though it was not raining- God protects us!
There are times, too, when God seems undeniably absent or powerless. Some trauma or distress leaves us with an unanswerable question. All attempts to explain the situation seem like empty platitudes: there is no answerable reason for a healthy child to die in her sleep. There are no answers to give to a little child whose friend lay dying in front of him. Surely at such times God has abandoned us. No, even then there is still God. Even though in hopelessness or anger, something in us cries out to God, knowing a presence in the absence. "God how could I leave you? You are all there is."
We meet God in many ways. There are different ways at different times. But God is always there here.
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