I’ve been haunted the last year. I’m beginning to feel like prey that is constantly and unexpectedly hunted by this haunt. It does not matter where I go, how I’ve tried to hide, or what I do to fight back, the haunting persists with surprising persistence and strength. I think I have begun to come to terms with this haunting, even befriended it. It is likely that as the years go on I will even find joy in this new friendship. I have been chased relentlessly for the past year by a phrase from Scripture: I am with you always.
There’s an episode of Doctor Who (the Peter Capaldi era) where a group of scientists find a crashed and abandoned spaceship that is empty inside. On one of the walls is inscribed an alien phrase that no one can read. Only after they die do they seem to understand the words. One by one they start to die, and their ghosts return repeating the alien phrase over and over for all of time. The words inscribed on the wall were inescapable, life changing, and even followed them into death. That’s been me with this phrase from Scripture: I am with you always. It is everywhere I look. It surprisingly comes out of my own mouth when I preach, leaving me unexpectedly taken aback. I see it in writing wherever I look. I hear it in music. I dream about it. It is inescapable.
I think I first saw it in the parable of the prodigal son as the father spoke to the older brother and said, “Son, you are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours.” I then saw it in Matt 28:20 at the ascension when Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I found it this Christmas as Gabriel spoke to Mary and announced, “The Lord is with you!” Like some self-fulfilling prophecy or manifest destiny, I find this phrase everywhere and in all things.
But why would I not celebrate such a persistent claim of eternal union with God? Why would I say I’m haunted, hunted, and relentlessly chased? To be honest, because for the longest time I don’t think I believed the validity of the claim. For much of my life I would not have described my relationship with God as always together. I’ve felt distance – real, prolonged separation. I’ve allowed guilt to drive wedges between us. So, to not only understand but to accept the validity of the claim means to also accept that if God is always with me, any moment of separation has been my own choosing (conscious or otherwise), and any separation or distance has been my own pushing away or rejecting God. After a year of haunting, I think I can say that I’m more terrified by that admission than anything else.
The truth of the matter, then, is that God is always with me. If I allow that truth to shape and form me then my life will never be the same. No death, calamity, desolation, tragedy, abandonment, guilt, or shame could ever separate me from God. I will never be alone to face the travesties and devastations of life. I will never be on my own, fending for myself. No matter what, God is with me always. There’s good news there; it just took me awhile to accept it. It’s been the best haunting of my life. I would gladly do it again, for now I know how inescapably and relentlessly loved I truly am.