"The whole of our life inside and out is to be absolutely haunted by the presence of God. A child's consciousness is so mother haunted that although the child is not consciously thinking of its mother, yet when calamity arises, the relationship that abides is that of the mother. So we are to live and move and have our being in God, because the abiding consciousness of God pushes itself to the front all the time." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)
Everyone is haunted by something or someone. There is no void, no absence of haunting. I met a woman once, a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit, who was haunted by her injury, by what it had done to her. Staring at me, the enemy, over a medical file so obviously dear to her, I could sense the meaning it gave her life even as bitterness disfigured her face and body. In it she lived and moved and had her being, such as it was.
Other people are haunted by memories, by traumas large and small, by perceived injustices that grow over time. They begin to shape their lives. It can become the thing they hold on to, even as an abused spouse holds on to their abuser.
But to hear Chambers use the word "haunted" in a positive sense is new to me and refreshing. It reminds me how we sometimes speak of the "Christ-Haunted South," particularly as given shape by Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy, the idea that everywhere we look in the South we see something of Christ, of Christianity --- Holy Ghost to some, just spook to others. And yet even that is merely descriptive of our culture. Chambers means far more. He means for us to embrace this haunting.
It's something like this: I am my parent's son. When they are both gone, they are still with me. They shape me. My actions and thoughts are stamped with their mark. Every move I make refers back to them. What Chambers is saying, however, is that our relationship with Christ is even more like that. His desire for us is that we "live and move and have our being in him," to be so haunted by his presence that He becomes our primary reference point, however mediated by parent, spouse, or child, by employer, friend, or homeland --- so much so, in fact, that all the haunts of this world are overshadowed by His haunting.
There are many things that haunt us in the world, but Flannery O'Connor nailed one big one that imbues much literature, film, and music, a creeping nihilism that we sometimes catch out of the corner of our eye just outside the darkened window. She named this pandemic haunting: "[I]f you live today you breathe in nihilism. In or out of the Church it's the gas you breathe. If I hadn't had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now." We have better air to breathe, a finer thing to be haunted by, a faith and hope and love that lies behind everything, one that murmurs just below the roar of nihilism.
When Christ said "abide in me," maybe what He called us to is a better haunting, a proper scaring, informed by a Ghost story that is true in the deepest sense: the Gospel of Life. I'm spooked by a God that is in the rose and in the thorn, in a sunrise and in a hurricane, in death as in life. And yet I'm not afraid of this good Ghost, of His gracious inhabitation of this world and me. I look for Him everywhere, as much in the face of a bitter woman and out a darkened window as in a flower and a hymn. He's the One on the other side of the door, the face in the window, the creak in the floor, and the rattle in our lungs. I'm spooked by Christ, haunted by His presence,and while I may be afraid at times and of some things, I'm not afraid of this haunting. I want it.