“What is truth?”
That was the question posed to me this morning.
And no— I was not wake and baking. Do people still say wake and baking?
And no— I was not pondering the realities of our current political situation.
This question, "What is truth?" was being asked by the one and only Pontius Pilate. Remember him? The guy we talk about every Easter? Mr. Pilate was asking “What is truth” to the one and only Jesus, and this was all going down on the original Good Friday, nearly 2000 years ago.
Or so I assume. I don’t know for a fact that he asked Jesus this. I certainly wasn’t there. Neither was John, the person who wrote the Gospel version of the story I was reading. But I don’t think it matters if it really happened or not. The story is the thing. The words, “What is truth?” coming from a man who was trying to spare the life of the man in front of him, a man who was shaking the religious and social and political foundations of the time, a man who, depending on what you believe, is part of the Holy Trinity—the Alpha and the Omega of all existence—this gave the question all the resonance it needed.
I like to listen to this podcast called The Liturgists. I found it a year or so ago. It focuses on the intersection of faith and art and science. There was this one episode a few months back called “The God Question.” They had a Who’s Who of scholars and theologians and religious leaders, and the first question they asked was “Is God real?”
I leaned forward in my car and jacked up the volume. And by "jacked up the volume" I mean I put my phone in the cup holder to amplify the sound because I am not technologically advanced enough to have Bluetooth in my car.
“Is God Real?” These people were not messing around, and one of the answers rocked my world. I can’t remember who was speaking, but this person thought the question itself was wrong. Asking if God was real assumed that God was a thing. A noun. "God isn't an object. God is a verb."
I grabbed my phone and hit pause. The writer in me was very excited to hear God described in such terms.
God is a verb.
A verb is an action.
An action is something you can do.
Is that the point of Holy Thursday and the washing the feet?
I meditated on this idea for the next couple of days and it started to reshape my entire image of God.
Of course God was a verb. How could it not be?
Then life got busy. Activities got in my way. I probably took a week off of meditating and this concept of God as a verb drifted back into the recesses of my mind.
But the thing about the truth is that it never disappears. It hits me when I least expect it. And like a boomerang the idea of God as a verb came thwooping back around and hit me right when I needed it the most.
And thwooping is a word I believe I just invented. It's the sound a boomerang makes. Can we contact Merriam-Webster about that?
As readers of this blog know, Jaimie and I got married in the hospital last month. The reason Jaimie and I got married in the hospital and not the courthouse like we were planning is because of the Covid-19 virus had the world on lockdown.
But the reason I was in the hospital in the first place is because I was in the most intense pain, pain coming from my hip and lower back, that I have ever experienced in my life.
To be honest, that sentence does not do the pain justice. I don't think words can describe how I felt. And I'm a writer. I believe in words. In the power of language. But I couldn’t sit. Literally. The simple act of sitting was too painful for me to bear.
It reached its apex on Sunday night, March 15, 2020. The Ides of March. The night Caesar was stabbed. Which is poetic because based on how I felt, stabbing would have been sweet relief.
That night all I could do was lie in my bed. I had just gotten back from three weeks in Iowa. Adam Knight had driven me home, halfway across the country, and him and Jaimie and my parents were sitting in my room talking while I was under the covers, my face buried in the pillow.
I was glad they all were there. They're voices were soothing. The pain would have been worse if I was alone.
I slept that night in ten minute stints. Every time I thought the pain would hit its limit, it would go up another notch. There was no break, either. Just solid, constant, piercing pain. I was taking morphine and Dilauded but to no avail. I was also putting ice on where it hurt. I can’t tell if if helped or if I enjoyed the temporary numbness.
Mercifully the morning broke through the night. I called the doctor and they got me an appointment first thing. At the cancer center they tried to put me in a wheel chair, but as I said, sitting was impossible. I hopped to the lobby on my good leg and flung myself face first on the couch. I signed some forms, made it upstairs, and flung onto a couch once again. After twenty minutes they got me into an examining room. The triage nurse laid back the table, and I buried my face in the butcher paper. The nurse practitioner took one look said me I’d be getting a room at the hospital. They just had to wait for one to be ready.
For two hours I lied there and marveled that a person could hurt as much as I did. I kept asking Jaimie how much longer it would be. She didn't know. I can’t imagine how scared she must have been. Or what it was like, seeing the man she loved suffer like that? If the roles had been reversed, I don't think I would have been able to handle it. She must have felt like the most helpless person in the world.
After about two hours, we got news that the room was ready and we headed to the hospital.
Due to the virus, there was only one point of entry. That point of entry was, of course, on the opposite side of where I needed to be. Once again, they tried to get me into the wheel chair, but again, sitting, yes SITTING, was impossible. Luckily for me they had a bed that rolled and like I did on the waiting room couches I flung myself down, buried my face in the pillow, and we made our way to the room that would be our home for the next six days.
When we got to the room, we were met by a team of nurses. I can’t imagine their first impression of me. If agony had a face, it was the one I was wearing. Fortunately, these nurses were the most caring, loving people I possibly could have encountered.
It was like angels had descended upon me.
Nancy was the head nurse, and while I could barely open my eyes, I could feel the love radiating off of her. She assured me that they were going to get me comfortable just as soon as they could. I believed her. It was impossible not to.
Then there was the nurse tech, a woman named Jennifer, who really opened up something in my soul.
Do people still say opened up something in my soul? Well if we don’t, we should, because that is exactly what this beautiful woman did.
The question of “Is God Real” meant nothing to her. God was 100 percent real, and he was working directly through her. Before she even took my blood pressure she cut right to the quick. She touched my hips and my lower back and started to pray. She said the pain had no place inside of me. That it needed to leave and never come back.
And I am not here telling you that when she said those words the pain magically went away. It didn't. But I am saying that something inside of me cracked. Something cracked inside of Jaimie too, because when I looked at her she was crying. And I started crying too. It was the most incredible release. I remembered reading somewhere that tears were a sign of the Holy Spirit, and it was undeniable that the Holy Spirit was there with us, in the form of Jennifer. It was undeniable that God wasn’t a noun. That God wasn't an idea meant to be understood. God was a verb. And God was happening then.
One of the reasons I gave up church for lent last year was because of all the rules. The legalism. I’m divorced and just got remarried, so according to the Catholic Church, I shouldn’t be able to get communion. I shouldn’t be able to receive God. Joe Biden was denied communion because he is Pro-Choice. They have rules against gay marriage, rules against women not being able to be priests. There are so many rules, human rules, separating sinners from God that I could no longer handle it. Despite the fact that we are all sinners. Despite the fact that we are all broken. Despite the fact that we all fall short. In fact, the more separated we are, the more we need God. And that's the very moment the church has the most boundaries in the way from receiving God.
There was none of that with Jennifer. There was only her soft hands and her soothing words.
So maybe that was the truth Pontius Pilate was seeking. In fact, Jesus said the very thing earlier in the passage. They asked if he was Jesus the Nazarene, and his response was, “I AM.”
AM. Looks like a verb to me.
So that's my thought on this Good Friday. That God isn’t a thing. God IS. And my job is not to condemn anyone, but to love the people in front of me the best way I know how.
Because I'm here three weeks later and feel way better. I'm sitting, yes, sitting, writing this blog. And I'm not saying it was Jennifer who fixed me. There was a lot of heavy duty scientific medicine that medicine that has brought me to this point, on my couch, with the screen door open, feeling the cool spring air against my face. I'm not saying she fixed me, but after what she did, something inside me was healed.
What is truth?