We broke a bowling alley. A couple of weeks ago, ‘Mig’, ‘Edzster2000’ and I went bowling with some of their cousins on the first day of our trip to the States. Halfway through our game, the balls stopped rolling back.
We alerted the staff but nothing happened. We told them again. Perhaps because we were inexperienced, jet-lagged and young children were involved, we decided to just keep playing while we waited for things to be fixed. So we searched the bowling alley to find any balls that weren’t in use and just kept playing. And getting more balls. Finally, the staff switched us to different lanes where the balls magically returned and where we also had a perfect view of the horror we had created: the entire floor of the lanes where we had been playing was being taken up to fish out all our bowling balls one by one before they could fix the machine. It looked like it might take some time.
This week I thought of something a teenager said quite a few years ago. I wonder if I remember it because I have been subconsciously trying to figure out how I could have responded ever since. ‘I think God is like a teddy bear sat in the corner of my room,’ the young person said, ‘I know he’s always there if I want him.’ It was a warm fuzzy kind of thought that expressed an understanding of God as a comforter. And that’s good, in a way.
But I can’t help but think that this picture of God is as passive as a broken bowling alley. I knew at the time that the particular young person had real-life troubles and serious tensions at home. Would a teddy bear really make a difference in that situation?
What I couldn’t find the words for then, and still struggle to do now, was to say: I know what it’s like to feel as if your prayers are bowling balls going down a lane without anything coming back. Sometimes God asks us to wait and sometimes God doesn’t do what we want or expect; but that isn’t because God is flopped in the corner like a teddy bear or because God is somehow defective; it is because God rules over all in ways that we don’t always understand. Yes, God is with us, bringing comfort and peace when times are hard, but God also disturbs us, challenges us and intervenes in the world. God-who-is also-the-Spirit stirs our hearts and our lives into action. God-who-is also-Jesus, loves us enough to rip through galaxies and take on our pain.
The mummy of King Tutankhamun, I recently read*, after many years travelling around museums and exhibitions, was put back in his tomb in Egypt. The extraordinary story of Easter is that Jesus is not in a tomb anywhere. Like this song has been reminding me, he is alive among us, giving us vision, wisdom and strength. Hallelujah.