by Ruth Gee.
In the Methodist Conference in 2013 I introduced the theme that was the focus for my year of service as President of the Conference, “Waiting expectantly for glimpses of glory.” I believed then and believe now that the expectation that God is with them in every part of life and death is distinctive and foundational for followers of Jesus. Such an expectation can only exist when a person knows God so well that, in the best of times and in the worst of times, the presence of God can be discerned or sometimes is simply believed. This knowledge of God is rooted and grounded in scripture, tradition, reason and experience and is nourished through worship, prayer, bible study and fellowship.
It was my intention to unpack this theme through the year so that, by the opening of the Conference in 2014, we would have explored the deepest dimensions of waiting expectantly and glimpsing glory in the most unexpected places. There was some opportunity to explore this dimension as I reflected on walls in Jerusalem and Belfast, met people in the districts and overseas and challenged injustice. However, the presidential year is not linear and it is difficult to develop a theme when every encounter is new.
I now find myself drawn back to the theme of expectant waiting as we live through pandemic and face the acute question, where now do I glimpse the glory of God?
I am writing this whilst on leave and separated from my library so I am drawing on memory, lived experience and two books published as an immediate response to the pandemic: Virus and Summons to Faith (Walter Brueggemann), God and the Pandemic (Tom Wright).
Brueggemann points to Psalm 77 and identifies the progression of the psalmist from self-concern (vv1-9) through recognition of new questions (v10) to dependence on God (vv11-20). In the final verses of the psalm we are reminded of the ways in which God has been known in the past and of the inscrutability of God. I reflected further on the penultimate verse in which the psalmist declares,
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the mighty waters:
yet your footprint was unseen. (v.19)
The waters and the storm represent the chaos that threatens to overwhelm and annihilate, the void before God’s presence and creative work (Gen 1:1), even here the psalmist affirms that God is present, though unseen.
In Mark’s account of Jesus walking on the water (Mark 6:45-51) Jesus walked through the mighty waters of the storm and curiously “intended to pass them by” (Mk 6:48). They were struggling against an adverse wind, they were in danger from the storm, but the real danger was that they would fail to recognise that God was with them, would fail to glimpse the glory of God as Jesus passed by. The disciples needed to realise that God was with them even in the storm and even when it was difficult to recognise God.
In this time of pandemic, this time of mourning, fear and righteous anger, the glory of God is passing by, God is with us and can be seen in the glimpses of glory. Those glimpses though are not necessarily what we or those in our community can be tempted to expect. Divine intervention to dramatically end the pandemic so that it disappears one day like a miracle (as implied by Donald Trump) is unlikely not only because our reason and experience suggests this but because those who know Christ know that this is not the way in which God works.
God does not intervene from afar, picking times for dramatic effect. God moves among us and in and through us. God weeps with us as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus and in Gethsemane. Both Brueggemann and Wright remind us of the theme of groaning with particular reference to texts from Romans chapters 6 and 8. To summarise briefly and inadequately and offering my own reflection, groaning and travail is inescapable and cannot be explained away or glossed over with clichés about good that results from disaster. Pain and disaster are painful and disastrous, and this has to be recognised. We who follow Jesus are sent as he was sent (John 20:21). We are sent to suffer alongside, to be with others and in that suffering, sharing and companionship to be living examples of the love of God in Christ so that the world may glimpse the glory of God as it passes by. We are called to be alongside and we are called to challenge the many injustices that have become even more clear at this time. This is how God works, by being among us and with us, and through us working for all things to hold together for good.
I glimpse the glory of God in the midst of the pandemic in the prayers of others for me in my bereavement, in the daily lives of Christians working in their community, in those who weep with others and hold their hands, in those who challenge injustice because in all these things and others God comforts, consoles, weeps and challenges.
Sometimes the footprints are unseen but we can wait expectantly and with confidence for those glimpses of glory.
 One reference to the Glory of God passing by as an indication of the real presence of God is found in Exodus 33:17-23
3 thoughts on “Waiting expectantly and unseen footprints”
“I glimpse the glory of God in the midst of the pandemic in the prayers of others for me in my bereavement, in the daily lives of Christians working in their community, in those who weep with others and hold their hands, in those who challenge injustice because in all these things and others God comforts, consoles, weeps and challenges.” Wonderful images of God’s presence and care during this tragic time.
I agree completely with the sentiments expressed in this article. Love, hope and glimpses of glory do arise through waiting expectantly. My difficulty is with the motivation, particularly with the idea that God is revealed to us or relates to us as presence.
I have three reasons for this: Firstly presence is something we sense individually and is about self concern. It can even be used to justify competitive piety! In that it is a self-centred approach it cuts out the third person, the other, the stranger, and is therefore not ethical.
Secondly presence is achieved by cognitive intention. We sing “Be still for the presence of the Lord is moving in this place” as if we can by actions on our part achieve presence. I rather feel that there is something unintentional about the way we are affected by events and these unintended events are always ethical.
Thirdly this can be an exercise in power by which we assume we have achieved presence and therefore know God. For me God is mystery and therefore not about being, presence, glory, power, might (Paul in 1Cor. 1:25, 27-28). And yet God calls us and for me this calling is always to respond to the ethical needs of others.
You will recognise that this approach is phenomenological rather than an analytic and replaces presence with a calling or demand from God that is “written on our hearts”, where “our” means all humanity: A demand that we respond to the ethical needs of others as in Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”. Also of course in the demand that we love our neighbours.
This is of necessity a sketchy response to a complex subject, but I think I can encompass my argument with the statement that the presence of God, the God that calls us, only arises in the context of our ethical concern for others.
I have been drawn to MHB 167
Fierce raged the tempest o’er the deep over and over again
God is with us in all our anguish and those words ‘calm and still and peace be still’ have been a great comfort to me