Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Let it Bleed

Everybody gets them.
And what is our first reaction? "Quick! Put pressure on it! Get a bandage! Stop the bleeding!"
And, indeed, that reaction is often the appropriate one.
But not always.

Sometimes, when the hurt is shallow, an irritating scrape or narrow cut, wisdom says to leave it open to the air, even to let it bleed awhile and let it close on its own.
That's messy. And it takes time.
But it cleans out the wound and lets a scab form naturally
and, if we don't pick it off (admit do, too), it heals properly. It may leave a scar, but that is all.
But this is not a first aid lesson.
Well, come to think of it, maybe it is.
It's the psalms.
The psalms, with their in-your-face wounding, their constant oozing emotions. The psalms, weak and unapologetic. They are the child hanging on our legs, the weeping widow, the forsaken friend, the disappointed lover. They are tears running unwiped down cheeks. They are unabashed, aching loneliness.
The psalms bleed.

God says, in essence, "Yes, you're hurting. I know it. I've been there. Hurt awhile. You'll be OK."
And I'm starting to understand why.
There is an opportunity in the process of hurting, one that cannot be improved upon by binding up. And we have a name for it.

Compassion is the place where we meet one another in an icky place that we can't fix. Compassion is the hand we hold through pain. It is the ear that listens without interrupting. It is finding a rock willing to accept our beating of it.
It gets messy. Oh, yes.
And this is a hard place to be. No sane person enjoys watching another suffer.
It is our first reaction to rescue someone in trouble. But not always the right one.
And sometimes, we have no choice.
I'm thinking of sickness, or the process of childbirth, or mourning. There is no way out of these except through them to whatever end they bring.

Did you ever see a meat tenderizer?

Nasty thing, isn't it? But oh, the result! Well, that's us. We need tenderizing. We need to experience compassion that feels to us like being beaten along with the person suffering. Compassion allows us to suffer along with someone else. And yes--that is a privilege.

So, in the end, we fix what we can, but look out for the times when we can't, when we are borne along the waves with another, anticipating the comfort waiting for us both at a distance, someplace at the end. It makes us tender. And eventually, it heals.

So, when the occasion calls for it, don't struggle and flail:  Let it bleed.

God is a father who rocks us through our struggles, a mother who carries us beyond our pain...Many people are forgiving. A few are just. But compassionate people are rarer still. The people who simply stand by when we hurt--not trying to talk us out of it, not trying to convince us we're wrong, not demanding that we pretend to be something else--are is compassion that we ourselves must develop if we are ever to be worth anything to anyone at all--besides ourselves.
--Sr. Joan Chittister, the Psalms, Meditations for Every Day of the Year

Saturday, August 16, 2014

But It Looks So Good....
Have been thinking about sin lately. Sin, and how to recognize it.

The Bible has some specific information about that, of course--the Ten Commandments for starters. And later, Jesus expands on those first Hebrew laws in His Sermon on the Mount when He gives us a solid understanding that sin goes way beyond lying, cheating, or adultery. In fact, He is more concerned by then with our desire and ability to love and achieve holiness than to avoid sin.

But we do have to avoid sin, and in doing so, have to be able to see it coming. We have to figure out what sin looks like and I'm finding that I'm not nearly as good at that as I thought, at least not once we get beyond the obvious. I'm learning that I've made a much better Pharisee than a New Testament saint.


The problem appears to be this:
Sin doesn't always look like sin. 
It doesn't. That's why Eve was fooled. That's why the Pharisees were fooled. And that's why we're fooled.

This became obvious today while I was reading the only plain account of Jesus being tempted:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”--Matthew 4:5-6

Think for a minute that this was Jesus. He knew who He was. Satan knew who He was. He, and what He would do, had been predicted hundreds of years before. If anyone ever knew their 'spiritual gift', Jesus did. He was going to save the world.

On the face of it, all He had to do was exercise His gift. All He needed to do was show up, make sure everybody recognized Him for who He was, do what He had to do, and go home satisfied, brushing the dirt off His hands. There were a million ways He could have saved the world. Think about it. He could have snapped Satan out of existence at any moment.

Satan knew this. When they stood together, looking down at the city, Satan said essentially, "Go ahead. Declare yourself. Do what we both know you came to do. Why not? You were made for this." And Jesus may have considered it for a minute, nosed around that cheese--
The cheese already belonged to Him, after all. He would have it one way or the other. His name was on it. He would be the Savior of the World. "Just reach out," said the old tempter. "It's already yours."

But Jesus didn't, and this is the part that struck me. Instead, He said:
 “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”--Matthew 4:7

Who was He kidding? Wasn't it God who gave Jesus this job in the first place? Didn't He say, 'Go, save the world for me.'? 

And that's when it hit. 
God gives us all jobs. And He gives the gifts to do them.
Just like Jesus, we pretty much all know what we're supposed to do.
One person is a teacher, another is a chef, another a teacher or a writer or musician.
Everybody is good at something and that talent came from God. And He gave it to be used. But, like Jesus, probably not in the most obvious way.
A teacher should teach, but not necessarily in a classroom. A leader should lead, but not necessarily from behind a national podium. A singer should sing, but not necessarily in front of an audience.

What is the temptation? 
Significance, I think.
We see the gift, get confirmation from other people who see it, too, and then say, 'By golly, now I'm going to use it for God's glory.' And immediately, we head up the hill, look out onto the city, and set out to show them the wonder of what God has done. 
That can't be sin, can it?

Think again.
Jesus didn't do that, did He?
Satan dangled His destiny before Him, acknowledged Him for who He was, and waited for Him to take the bait.
And He didn't.
When offered the chance to showcase His gift, His mission, and His glory, Jesus refused, turned around, and headed back down the hill. 
And we all know where His path led. Not where anybody expected, but to the exact place required to complete the job properly.
And that's us, too, I think. 

The place God wants to best use the gifts He gave us is probably not the most obvious one--not obvious to us, and not to the people around us. But, He will lead us to the proper place to use those gifts. He will provide the vision and the way, all at the proper time.

So, like always, we are not to look at the gift, but follow the Giver. 
I suspect that, if we're able to do that, we'll be able not only to eat our own cheese in peace, but have plenty to share.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Not Made to be Alone-Communion by Design

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be alone. 

It's scary and, well, lonely.
Fortunately, God says I don't have to be.
Remember that I will be with you always, until the end of time.--Matthew 28:20

In fact, He's been with us from the beginning of time, too. He was there, in Eden--
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.--Genesis 3:8

And not only in Eden, but at other times with other men:
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time, and God walked with Noah.--Genesis 6:10
And the Lord spoke to Abram.--Genesis 12:1
Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp and pitch it some distance away, calling it the 'tent of meeting'. Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. --Exodus 33:7

God wants to LIVE with men, to be intimately present to everyone. So, regardless of the continual sin of man, He literally moved in with us.
First, He settled into the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Israelites' desert tabernacle:
A cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.--Exodus 40-34

Then, later, He did the same in Solomon's temple:
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.--2Chronicles 7:1

And although between each encounter there was some kind of separation--the sin of Adam and Eve, the flood, times of idolatry and slavery, even outright destruction, God could not leave it alone. He could not leave US alone.
And He came again, this time into Herod's temple.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.--Luke 2:22

Jesus came. God returned to the temple, but not in cloud or flame like before. He came like a child. 

And He wasn't done yet.
He did more.
And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.--Ephesians 2:22

That's it. God's last stop. Us.
When Christ came as a man, He made a way men could be sanctified, a way we could join to Him.
Don't feel like a suitable habitation for the living God?
Think again.

God's original plan for His first tabernacle came in three parts--
First, a courtyard designated for sacrifice. A place of blood and moaning, a place of washing and preparation and repentance. A place of intense feeling. A place that looked and smelled and tasted and sounded constantly, full of suffering, supplication, and promised relief.
Second, a Holy Place designated for prayer. A place that housed sweet smells rather than visceral ones, new bread rather than raw meat and offal. A place that offered low, comforting light rather than the harsh, punishing, unrelenting sun.
Third, a Most Holy Place in which the God's Very Presence dwelt. A place of glory. A place of communion. A place of awe.

That was the first temple. But now that the temple has relocated from structures made of wood and animal skins, gold and silver, does it really look any different?
Not really.
First, God's current temple has a courtyard of flesh and blood. A place intense with feeling--easily hurt and constantly in need. A place that sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells. A place unrelentingly tainted. A place that pulses with constant blood.
Second, God's current temple has a Holy Place, a soul that stills the outer courtyard's cacophony and prepares itself. A place that quiets, still tasting and touching and seeing, but in contemplation and anticipation. A place where we taste the Living Bread, see the Light of the World, and where we pray.
Third, God's current temple also has a Most Holy Place, a spirit that communes with God.  A place of sweet fellowship and complete knowing. A place of both perfect rest and unremitting awe.

And that's it. 
Emmanuel--God with us.
Living in you and me. Three in one. God and man. Not perfected yet, but a perfect design.
We were not made to be alone. Ever.
Christ in you, the hope of glory.--Colossians 1:27

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Blackbird Must Fly

Every morning, a red winged blackbird perches on the branches of a mock orange bush just outside our bathroom window and every morning, does exactly the same thing. He looks at his reflection in the window, opens his mouth in a two-note loud, insistent song, and flies directly into the window, smacking himself in the head. Over and over. Every day.

He's been doing this consistently for four or five springs and although he abandons the behavior by the time midsummer comes around, it's peculiar behavior nevertheless, almost disturbing. On some level, though, I kind of get it. Who of us hasn't done the same? Faced the same circumstances every day, declared loud and clear its perfection of purpose, flown off to accomplish it, and hit our head repeatedly only to do it again the next day?

I have.
And, regarding this particular purpose, this particular window, I'm stopping. Today.

You see, I am a writer. And that is a lovely thing to be, but it also presents a problem.
Writing, I have found, is not living. It's not.
Writers are observers. Their craft demands a certain amount of detachment. One cannot both fully experience something and at the same time retain it for possible later inclusion in a work of literary art. At least I can't. So I have spent the last years, during which I have tried to concentrate more on craft, at arm's length from life. I have butted up against life with a mission, and have banged my head against its glare, but not entered in. And have decided that it's not worth it.

Life, after all, is the gift. Sure, the ability to write is a gift, too, but life.....well, life was given to be lived. I should have known this from the beginning. I named the blog after the concept, the overriding demand life makes to be experienced:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees...

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains...*

Breathing is not living. It's true. Neither is watching it, cataloging it, or reporting it. Little remains of this life to me but what does, I want to live, not just write about..

 —you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods...

’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die... 

 Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.*

I don't know yet what the striving might look like, but I know it doesn't look like this. This daily push to relate significance on a schedule. The blackbird must fly.

Thank you, though, for reading. I pray that you have gotten at least some word that encourages you on your way.
May we meet again in the seeking.

Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mary and Elizabeth: the Heart of Friendship

Hey, girlfriend!
A hug, sometimes a kiss, and smiles all around. We love our friends and love being with them. It doesn't get any better than this...or does it? We laugh, have fun, and enjoy each other, but  is there more? Are we missing the best of what our friendships can bring? 

Fun and affection sometimes relegate God to a back seat and our friendships are no exception. The sheer enjoyment we find in one another's company can leave us forgetting that these encounters, so often full of pleasure, have a higher purpose, too. We can get more than pleasure out of our friendships. We can dedicate them to God.

And we have an example.
At that time, Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women..."--Luke 1: 39-42

Wouldn't it be wonderful if our friendships brought not only a feeling of contentment and well being, but an encounter with the holy? I'm convinced that they can, and more. They should.

We come together, after all, from different places, different lives. We meet to share out stories, our songs. We come to laugh together, and to cry. God has afforded us a privilege unique to women. He has made us want strong bonds with close friends, but we don't often honor them as such. Like all of our life's encounters, our friends are intentional parts of our lives. God sent them to us for a purpose--the same purpose as He sends every other circumstance and person--to draw us nearer to Him.

So what does a godly friendship encounter look like? It looks like Mary and Elizabeth's. 

First, we enter one another's homes. We visit each other in the places we live our lives. These are our intimate places, the ones we breathe and eat and love in. They expose us just by the looking. But we share them with our friends.

Then we greet one another. Not just a Hi, or even an embrace, but a greeting heartfelt enough to make a baby leap in the womb. A greeting that acknowledges that we are special to one another. Not "Wassup, girlfriend" but more like a sincere "How wonderful to see you."

Then we share. We listen to one another. Casual friends are not very good at this. Casual acquaintances talk mostly about themselves. Have you listened to your conversations? Most relationships have a giver and a taker, an alpha and a beta. True friendships share equally. Friends listen to one another as often as they tell.

Then we bless one another. We hardly ever do this. I have one relationship in which a friend prays for me every time before we part. Every time. I can't tell you what this adds to my life. I feel blessed every time. Truly blessed. What more can we do for a friend than to bless them?*

Mary and Elizabeth's love for each other wasn't substantially different from the love I feel for my own friends. As women, we are given a heart to love with--husbands, children, and friends. We spend so much time learning to love husbands and children properly, but don't think nearly often enough about what a truly godly friendship can bring.

If I really care about my friends, I will do these things for them, and with them because, each in our own way, we are all truly
blessed among women.

*Sister Fran Ferder, Enter the Story, Give Us This Day, May 31, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The God of No/The God of Yes

One God. 
That's what we have. One God. Unchangeable. Forever.
But which one is He?
Is He the God of the Old Testament--the one who punished and destroyed and slaughtered?
Or is He the God of the New Testament who saves and forgives and loves?

The simple answer is that He's both, but that's the problem. It's not simple. It doesn't make sense. Unless we toss out the Old Testament in the face of the New, our God does not appear unchangeable. He seems almost schizophrenic.
Let God be God, some say. Trust Him today and you will understand Him later. After all, He is the God who said to Moses,
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and compassion on whom I will have compassion.--Romans 9: 15
And it's true. He has that right. He's God.
Why, then, am I still not satisfied?

Take sacrifices, for instance.
In the Old Testament, God set up an complex system of sacrifice--a calf for this, a pair of doves for that, incense, grain--an unending stream of them so that the courts of His tabernacle ran red with blood and stank with entrails every day. And then, after Jesus, they stopped. Just like that.
Old Testament/New Testament.
One God....or two?

Was the coming of Jesus as revolutionary as all that? Really?
Well, as it turns out, yes, it was.
 As it turns out, I need to see both sides of our God, the old and the new testament sides. Otherwise, I will not know Him at all.

The God of the Old Testament is the God of No.
 After men sinned, He had to be. We lost our connection with Him. We would no longer walk with Him in the cool of the day. We could no longer share His heaven. We would die. From that day on, His answer would be No.
Do you hear me, God?
Can I satisfy you, God?
Can I properly worship you, God?
Can I draw near to you?
Will you forgive me?

All the sacrifices....they were never enough. The prayers...they could not pierce the veil.
Mankind needed the one thing they could not provide. They could follow all the rules, perform all the sacrifices, say every prayer, celebrate every feast day, but everything fell short.
In the Old Testament, men learned their hopelessness before a holy God
Nothing they could do was good enough. The answer was, and always would be, No.

Then Jesus came. And died. And rose. And established Himself as not only the perfect sacrifice, but as the perfect and eternal intercessor between sinful man and Holy God.
In that moment, God's No became Yes.
Do you year me, God?
Yes, through Christ.
Do you forgive me, God?
Yes, through Christ.
Will you take me into your eternal presence?
Yes, through Christ.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all--Ephesians 4:4-6
One God.
Old Testament and New. Not schizophrenic--just what God's perfection looks like with and without Christ. 

And that is why we have them both. Jesus may be our friend, but He will never be our buddy. He may be fully human, but He will never be like us. Never.
Christ Jesus is the only One who makes possible any rejoicing, who allows us hope in the face of our own corruption. Christ Jesus lived and died so that God would not have to destroy us, too. His own creation. The ones He loves.

Without the Old Testament, the New Testament has no real purpose. Jesus came to save us from the justifiable wrath of His Father. Without understanding of the coming wrath, His salvation has no meaning.

The temple sacrifices taught us that God meant business. And then He swept them away with the only sacrifice that could actually accomplish its purpose.
In Jesus, God's forever No became a forever Yes.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Creation Test

OK--Here's another test. (If you missed the first one, click here)
This is the creation test, and again consists of only one simple question:
What was the first thing God created?

Are they running through your mind? The plants, the animals, the cosmos?
Maybe you are thinking this:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.--Genesis 1:1
How can anyone argue about that?

Well, not so fast.
Have you ever seen this?
The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old.--Proverbs 8:22

Oh really? And what was this that God made before he made the rest? Go back a few verses:
I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment--Proverbs 8:12

It's Wisdom. God made Wisdom before anything else.
Wisdom. God begat His own Consciousness and Word. He gave them His sound and utterance.*
His own Consciousness. God's awareness of everything.
How great a gift is this? Well, you answer that.
By Wisdom we hear God's voice.
By Wisdom we can know right and wrong.
By Wisdom we have the capacity to discover.
By Wisdom we recognize justice and freedom.

Without Wisdom, God could have made the whole world and we would be completely clueless about it. We would know no inspiration, no curiosity, no wonder. Without Wisdom, we would never come to realization about the greater meaning of anything.
Look at your pet. That is creation without Wisdom. Sweet, loveable, and clueless.

Wisdom had to come first because, through it, God made a way to know Him.
And how did we figure this out?
By using God's gift of Wisdom.
Thank you, Lord.

*Tertullian, (c. 200), Adversus Praxean, 6