Newcastle Diocese Link Article – October 2017

Playing Hide and Seek with God

Have you ever seen a Godly Play presentation of the Parable of the Good Shepherd?

In it (as I remember it told), the parable is slightly expanded to provide more opportunity for reflection and identification with the flock rather than the shepherd, who is is presented quite faithfully in terms of the original Gospel story – more or less strictly in terms of what he does and says. We see one sheep gradually fall behind, get lost, trapped and eventually rescued when the shepherd realises that it’s missing. Reflective questions are asked about how both the ninety-nine non-lost sheep and the single lost sheep might feel, what they’d be thinking, and what may have led the individual sheep to become lost in the first place.

I sat and watched and listened as the single sheep fell behind and found myself identifying a desire to have a bit of space to myself and dreading the impending “being found”. The idea of an inescapable God became terrifying – and the identification quickly went from “gone astray sheep” to “criminal miscreant, on the run from an inexorable, hard boiled gum shoe”. Old, comforting standards like Psalm 139 (“If I make my bed in the depths, you are there”) now added to the claustrophobia and, rather than coming away with a fresh appreciation of the titular Good Shepherd, I left the session a scared and shaken sheep on the run.

Putting the boot on the other foot…

In the first book of Kings, a scared, shaken, and on-the-run Elijah encounters God on Mount Horeb. The Lord has already spoken to him and told him to look out for a further encounter. As God is approaching, in quick succession, a mighty wind, an earthquake, and an impressive-looking fire go before the terrified prophet. But God isn’t in any of these phenomena – choosing instead to reveal himself in a gentle whisper. Admittedly, the gentle whisper says some terrifying things.

Following the resurrection, Jesus revealed himself in several surprising situations: in the Garden of Gethsemane, to Mary who had mistaken him for the gardener; on the Emmaus Road, to Cleopas and his travelling companion who failed to recognise him until he shared a meal and broke bread with them; and to a locked room full of disciples, hiding from the authorities.

More recently, one Maundy Thursday, following the stripping of the altar (and indeed the whole of the front of the church, including the host from the aumbry – leaving it bare and dark with no visible signs of God’s presence), I went to the front, to the place where God no longer was meant to be and knelt at the rail, expecting and hoping to experience some of the emptiness and desolation felt by Jesus. Instead there was a sense of God being there already, welcoming me, and a feeling that the desperate, long forgotten game of hide and seek was over. For now.