His hair has disappeared. His hair is just arriving. Strange that both ends of life can look so alike. The old forehead wrinkles in smiles uninhibited, recognizing and holding new life. The young forehead wrinkles in blurry concentration and follows the old one’s movements with jerky imitation. Catching sight of the forehead in between, the generation in between, the young one’s eyes widen and lock on. Synapses fire and his brain learns, never to unlearn this facial recognition. The connections deepen, unconsciously, beautifully, inexplicably, eternally.
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and He has become my salvation.”
With JOY you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
Water. Depths. Waves washing over. Caught up in the deep.
I am lost. My head goes under. I cannot swim. Strength is failing. I am surrounded. There is too much.
Water. Depths. Draw from the well. Deeper than the ocean.
Love never ends. Life comes from the roots beneath our feet. Heart swells with fullness. I am surrounded. There is too much.
No height nor depth can separate me from His love because His love IS so high and so deep. So why should I be afraid of the depths? There is no need to fear the vast darkness. “Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life. And there is no other way.”
Can I believe the gospel? Do I believe that everything good comes from God and that no “disaster comes to the city unless the Lord has planned it” (Amos 3:6)? Is it possible to believe that the only necessary answer to “WHY is this happening?” is….GRACE…
How can the picture of ocean depths represent opposites – my confusion, floundering, and lostness….AND the inescapable vastness of grace and goodness? I ponder this paradoxical analogy.
And I shake my head in disbelief.
God, I DON’T believe. I keep on asking why. I don’t understand. I don’t want to accept that this is possibly reality.
That “yes: It is dark suffering’s umbilical cord that alone can untether new life.
It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace.
And grace that chooses to bear the cross of suffering overcomes that suffering….
My pain, my dark—all the world’s pain, all the world’s dark—it might actually taste sweet to the tongue, be the genesis of new life?
Yes. And emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy.
So God transfigures all the world…”
I think I’ve underestimated God all my life. I gave lip service to “His ways are higher than my ways…” but in my head, I could still always explain Him and find reasons for everything that happened…reasons that made sense to ME. So God wasn’t too big for me to handle. In fact, He was QUITE containable and explainable.
I am lost.
I have nothing to hang on to anymore. No nice box that I can predict and measure where all the sides, top, and bottom should and will always be.
I am frightened.
The unknown is always frightening, but especially when it’s big. And when those you love are frightened by it too.
I am loved…?
Is that possible?
In my nice little contained and explained box of “God and How the World Works: A 10-Step Guide”…. NO.
In the crazy, gut-wrenching, blood-splattered, life-changing gospel given to a world of certain loss…..YES. A most resounding YES.
“Without God’s Word as a lens, the world warps…”
“Only the Word is the answer to rightly reading the world, because The Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, “I know. I know.”
(this and all previous quotes are from Ann Voscamp, “So All Is Grace” http://www.aholyexperience.com/2011/08/so-all-is-grace/ )
I’ve never needed Truth like I do now. I’ve never needed Truth that I couldn’t fully explain but could fully trust, until now. I’ve never needed Truth that I could stand deep into, instead of just holding it in my hand with a nice little bow.
My shame is deeper than the sea….
Your grace runs deeper still….
When my heart is far away…
Your love goes further still….
Reigning, enthroned, great, exalted, awesome, HOLY.
All of these attributes deserve honor and should cause fear and trembling. The God on whom I am relying for both justice and mercy is THIS kind of God. Of course, I am relying on Him for justice against those who do wrong TO me and conversely, for mercy when it’s me in the wrongdoing. But how can I expect this? If I worship Him for what He truly is, I would be quaking with the mountains of the earth. (Psalm 99:1)
So I tend to move quickly to His steadfast love and faithfulness – those are parts of God over which I can jump for joy and sigh with relief.
And yet…that refrain…holy. Holy. HOLY is He…
He loves….AND He is holy.
He brings peace and comfort…AND He is holy.
He rescues and sanctifies…AND He is holy.
He forgives…AND He is holy.
If the only way I can be saved is by Him being merciful to me in my hopeless sinfulness, then why does He also need to be a God of equity, justice, righteousness, and HOLINESS?
Because that isn’t the only way I’m saved. There would be no reason to save me, nothing to save me FROM, if it were not for His holiness. A loving, tolerant “god” with no standards doesn’t really do much good and is almost scarier because his actions would be unpredictable and subjective. My God is perfect and holy and is ruled by Himself because He IS truth. Everything on earth is controlled and contained by this holy God, and it’s a good thing too. (Hebrews 10:26-31; Psalm 99:1-5)
This is not like that card game, Fluxx, where the rules keep changing every time you twitch your eyebrow. This world is created, run and judged by a God who does not play games.
It’s His holiness that illuminates why I need redemption.
There is one standard and that is God, made manifest through Jesus Christ. So why do I care about God being holy? Why is it something to repeat over and agin with reverence? Because it is what I am looking for. IF the God who had the mercy to redeem me is so holy, righteous and just, then I have the greatest hope in the world of completion.
But I am NOT holy. How can I be holy? What do I do with the command in 1Peter? “Be holy, as I am holy.” Justin Moat, in his 5-part serious on Leviticus from the At the Castle seminar in England a few years ago, points out that there are two purposes for this command from God. The first is that a holy God is taking up residence in us through His Spirit so naturally, we need to be holy temples. The second reason is that we mediate to the world what God is like. He has declared us a holy nation, His chosen people, so there should be no question as to how we choose to live.
“The purpose of holiness is evangelistic.” -Justin Moats
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” 1 Peter 2:12
And so I will continue to sing with the saints and angels of Revelation: “Holy, holy, holy! is the Lord God Almighty…” because it is FOR Him and THROUGH Him that I also am being made holy.
His scampering makes a light staccato crashing as the squirrel races for the nearest tree. Further up the path, a rabbit cocks his head sideways to look at me and wiggle before nonchalantly hopping into the brush under a tree. With an adrenaline-induced, mad dash for his life, a chipmunk sprints for the hollow of a fallen tree, no doubt panting to his mother once he got there that he narrowly escaped death. A typically random dorky monologue in my head, as I trek through trees and see a squirrel clinging to some bark and nibbling a dead leaf, might go like this: “That’s a leaf, honey, it’s not going to be very tasty. Unless you’re flossing; in which case, carry on.” I love being here alone. I stare around me, soaking in. Trees are seen by the entire forest as safe. Indeed, a haven in many forms.
I found the Mossy Ridge (Red) Trail in Percy Warner. I can’t believe I’ve lived in Nashville for 10 months and never hiked this trail. It’s only a 4 1/2 mile loop but add the mile hiking TO the trail and then the little wrong turns and detours I like to make, it was close to 6 (and 4 hours later) before I finished. Can you ever really be FINISHED hiking though? Do you hike to ARRIVE somewhere, to say, “That’s done, I did it.”? The warmth spreading inside my soul and the flood in my nostrils of rain on dirt and rain on green will not let me forget that there’s more joy in the journey. This is adding life to my years, I’m sure of it.
Do you remember your parents telling you not to run under a tree during a thunderstorm? That was obviously wise so you wouldn’t be under a tree that got struck by lightning or split and come crashing down. But trees have always been safe for me. It was under trees that I first fell in love with nature. It was in a tree that I overcame one of my first fears I remember. It was from a tree my dad hung a tire-swing where we spent hours with him, laughing to make him push us faster, higher, and egging him on by squealing “My eyes are saying Whee wheee!”
Steady as the mountains, trees live content. Growing happy in one place, they reach higher only for love of sunlight. Protective, even when life is lost and a tree lays its weary head on the ground, no oak, ash, pine, or willow refuses its job of providing shelter. Listening to their whispers and breathing in their heady fragrance like a summer wine, I tip my head back, eyes closed in perfect peace. Home.
Meditating on Psalm 23 today…
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
Does this mean I have everything I need and that’s why I will not want for anything? Or could it also mean that I deliberately do not desire something I don’t have because of Who my Shepherd is?
I think it could be both, but in a much greater sense, the latter. I dwell on the text. Later he says “…Even though I walk…” – in what he’s walking through, he obviously wants for light – it’s the valley of death and shadow. Light is a basic need and I would say it’s clear he doesn’t have it.
But…”I will fear no evil…’ –> “I shall not want…” It’s a choice! He is choosing not to pine after something he doesn’t have that maybe he might think he needs. Instead, he focuses on what the Lord is providing. He recognizes that the Lord is still with him, even when, according to some measures, he is lacking something crucial. But instead of placing his hope in what the Lord can provide, he places his hope simply on the Lord Himself. He could choose to question why they Lord is not providing release, or light, or freedom. Instead, it’s “I shall not want…for YOU are with me.”
Jehovah-Roi: the Shepherd. Not just a fountain of resources to blame when something is lacking, but the personal Presence to rest on and hide in when something is lacking. Not all paths on which a shepherd takes his sheep are safe and easy. But what makes him the shepherd is that when he chooses those paths, it’s for a reason, and HE is the one constantly present to protect and guide his flock.
“He leads me…for His name’s sake…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
His presence is unrelenting. Therefore, I will fear no evil.
Just kidding about the title. Eh, actually, no; I don’t apologize. It makes sense later.
I love being a human. Being. By the way, I’ve always wondered why they add “being” to the end of “human.” I mean, it’s true: we be. We are. We are good at being human; does that make us human beings? Why don’t we add “being” to the end of any other species name? You never hear anyone talk about training a bunch of ape beings, or swimming with a school of fish beings, or watching with fascination an inchworm being. Hey, if there was any creature that just IS, it’s the inchworm. His whole existence is about BEING; scrunching along. Endlessly. Being inchworm.
But I digress.
I love BEING a human for countless reasons, but today it’s because of something I know as “shared experience.” It’s an unwieldy, cold term for a very warm, embracing concept. On this concept, I present for consideration a vignette.
Sunday, April 21, 2013, 10:45pm. 11 beings piled into 3 cars and drove to the middle of a dark and dewy field to lie on their backs in the grass and shiver for a few hours. The only reasonable explanation for this strange behavior other than unprepared camping would be stargazing. Indeed, a meteor shower was forecast and the prospects were bright as a flaming meteor scorched the sky soon after arrival. So, supine bodies lined up in a row under measly beach towels and moving truck blankets, munching pita chips, melon, and dark chocolate. Many a sacred bedtime had been postponed for this event, while others thought nothing of the late hour, having made a recent habit of ignoring sleep for other activities (coffee-drinking, paper-writing, hair-pulling, just to name a few). But a single purpose can unite both ends of the spectrum and this was an experience made more meaningful by sharing with another person a gasp over a dying star. If a star falls and no one sees it, its light is lost. But if a star falls and only one sees it, does it shine as bright? Shared sight sees more light.
As night hours turned into wee morning hours, arms, legs, heads, and toes moved progressively, and with increasing speed, closer to each other, until all weak internal furnaces could draw on collective body heat. And suddenly, the shared experience of stargazing threads another connective stitch. “Do you remember that time when we went out to watch meteors…and we had to spoon like sardines to keep warm?” “Yeah…” “Yeah, that was crazy…” Not the most intelligent of exchanges, but meaningful nonetheless. Why? Shared. You don’t make many memories on your own.
A tangential extension of the vignette:
With my eyes nearly falling out of their sockets from exhaustion the next day, I stopped at the Med Center East, 8th floor Bistro for some coffee. I waltzed in and ordered with a little bounce and a smile, anticipating the barista’s return smile when I ordered the same thing I always do: “Grande Americano with a pump of cinnamon syrup and a little room.” My prediction was right, and with the smile came the comment, “You have some energy today.” I told her I was pretending and that the coffee was going to be what made it a reality. She chuckled and proceeded with a story about getting up too early that morning just to fit in a shower. And suddenly, I wanted to share my experience and I wanted to know if SHE shared the experience. “Did you see any of the meteor shower last night? I stayed up late but couldn’t stay awake for the peak at 4:30am.” No, she hadn’t even heard it was going on. Disappointment. Potential conversation-killer. Why? Because I’m a human being. I BE with other humans. BEING isn’t meant to be solitary. It’s meant to be shared.
Musings on this to be continued….
Green blowing over
Me like a kiss
From far away; it floats
Brushes and passes on.
Scent filling up
My nose my lungs my brain
My toes; my mouth turns up
And light filters in, heavy
With mowing, soil, joy.
Rushing its reach
Exploding cracks closed for cold
All sense ability startles awake
To hear the hum, see the green,
Touch the sun, taste the spice
Of life anew, renewed in season.
I’ve never tasted eel or octopus. I hope I never have to. But I have tasted bile, barium, and frog’s legs, and all three are pretty gross. I’ve also tasted rejection, failure, and disappointment, in varying amounts and textures. But I’ve never tasted the debilitating fear of the moment a foreign and dangerous medication will start coursing through my body and the 6 hours it will take. I’ve not tasted the confusion of my formerly healthy body rebelling against me. And I’ve certainly never tasted the jolting, stringent residue left by the reality of a life-threatening disease.
I know someone who IS tasting these, experiencing every nuance upon frightful nuance of flavor. There are not a lot of options for palate cleansers in this meal. But there IS one, and my mom has ordered it in faith and trust.
“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” And this is not just a palate cleanser, not just the sherbet between courses, oh no. It is the meat and the gravy and the spices, and the wine and cheese at the end. The other sordid side dishes are still there and must be eaten. But no flavor can overpower the goodness of the Redeemer and the Comforter when He is swallowed into the soul. Bite into a Stover’s chocolate without knowing what’s inside and you might not like it. But it is still coated in chocolate. Don’t settle for a bitter aftertaste. Instead, keep going. Discover…”TASTE and see…KNOW…that the Lord is good.”
Traveling is revealing. Traveling is touching. Traveling together is laughing, lamenting, and talking, while traveling alone is looking, listening, and taking in. But all travel is touch. Whether you mean to touch others or not, you do. For however brief a second, paths cross. Eyes meet. Elbows brush. Congruous seats are taken. Lives intersect.
I’ve always found interesting the choices people make on apparel when traveling. Softest, warmest, cushiest, wearable, touchable clothes make the most sense to me. High heels, short skirts, stiff coats…these baffle me. I would rather be touched than seen.
The sea lies beneath
from little cracks
you forgot to patch,
and you give yourself away.
of cold water thrown
the drip that reaches me
exudes wild warmth and
Spring speaks in peace while
Growth spreads and clings.