Sunday, January 30, 2011

Filled with God's Bounty

Remember, Seek, Surrender
My Testimony in Scripture


"For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem her from the hand of those stronger than she.
She will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
she will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord - the grain, the new wine and the oil,
the young of the flocks and the herds.
She will be like a well-watered garden and she will sorrow no more.
Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old men as well
I will turn her mourning into gladness;
I will give her comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty," declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:11-14

I was never really supposed to be a Jamie.  Mom had planned to name me Natalie, in fact, or even Mercedes, and I would have been more than happy to have been a "Nattie" or a "Mercy" (but not a "Sadie"). Honestly, I've always hated the name Jamie.  I mean, if I'm going to have a boy's name, it should be a good, strong boy's name, one that makes you perform a satisfactory double-take when you find that it is, in fact, a girl.  And if I'm going to have a girl's name it should be decidedly feminine and suitably inspirational.  My sisters all have beautiful, princess-like names, names that the heroine of any book would be proud to announce.  But the best that I can hope for is to be called James, which is one of my favorite nicknames.

In this year of my recovery I began to meet with a small prayer group once a week.  Two beautiful women organized it and the three of us were the most regular attenders that year.  One such Tuesday it was just the three of us when the pastor of the church for which we prayed came to join in.  After we laid hands on him and interceded for his calling, his family, his church, and the community, he did something that no one else had ever quite done before.  He got up and stood over us and prayed a priestly blessing on us.  I remember it distinctly not just because no one else had ever done that but because of what he said:

"I pray that each of these women would receive the eldest son's portion."

In a culture far removed from that of biblical times, this might seem an odd prayer.  But to three women who had experienced some of the more difficult circumstances of life, it was as if he offered a spring of water to thirsty souls.  One of us was a widow raising a teen-aged son on her own.  The other, I believe, was divorced and a survivor of abuse.  I was recently separated, living in a garage apartment while my husband's mistress lived in our home.  I would say that we each knew something salient about the frailties of being women, widows and orphans, feeling like "the least of these" and having little power to change it.  I am the youngest daughter of a youngest daughter, and my identification with the sparrow is not accidental; I had about as much power and significance in the world as a common, muddy bird sold for a penny to be sacrificed on an altar somewhere.

It was that same week that I discovered the meaning of the name Jamie.  It is the feminine form of Jacob and it means "supplanter."  In that moment it dawned on me that my name was not an accident.  The pastor's prayer was for me, Jacob, the youngest daughter of a youngest daughter who would receive the eldest son's portion.  Thus, it was particularly beautiful to be given this passage from Jeremiah where God seemed to whisper my own name...

For God will ransom Jacob...

That is why you will find the rest of the pronouns to be her in the section quoted above.  God is not actually speaking to a man in this passage, but to a people, and in this case, He was also making a promise to his daughter, Jacob, to me.

It is challenging to articulate all the beautiful facets of this passage, its promise and its fulfillment in my life that year.  God had already called me out of the darkness of betrayal, depression, and suicide.  We had already made a covenant of life, He and I, and in my healing He had given me the image of a garden...

You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.

Song of Solomon 4:12

Up until that point, I had been a garden without walls, trampled, used, discarded.  But my God wanted me for His own.  He rebuilt the walls and closed the gates and He and I stood together to assess the damage.  (It wasn't a pretty picture.  The fountain was dry and so was the ground; any flowers were dead.  The place was overrun with weeds and garbage and vines grew over stones marked with graffiti.  I had not known how to take ownership of this land that God had given me and it had been destroyed without the one God had created to take care of it.  Even the beautiful Tree of Life at its center was dead.  Just Jesus and I remained.)  He taught me how to take an inventory, taught me how to take the lies I had learned about myself to Him for truth.  He taught me how to steward anger and loss with forgiveness and grief.  He taught me how to tend the walls, to discern good from evil, by saying yes to love and light and life and no to the bad, to abuse, to lies and destruction.

That is where, at the close of 2004, God called me out of the sick relationship in which I lived.  Three days in December I fasted and prayed and three days the message was clear: I was clinging to a dead thing that could only make me sick and kill me in the end.  My only hope was deliverance and to invite my husband to deliverance, too.  But if he would not come out from his slavery then my call was to serve my God and not death.

Even so, what I had learned about the Bible, about marriage and divorce tied my hands.  So I confessed to God that I could not do what He asked.  I told Him that He would have to do it.

So He did.  Without a word spoken or any plan made, one Saturday morning in January - this week of January, in fact, 6 years ago - God prepared a place and then sent people to my home to gather all of my belongings and move me out.

She will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion...

I did shout for joy.  For though it was a sad day, waking up the next morning to a place free from darkness and deception, from depravity and abuse, was like waking to the sound of angels' singing in happy tones of blissful peace.

She will be like a well-watered garden...

The part that makes me most happy about this particular promise is the end of this passage - it is not just for me, it is for all of God's people.  In fact, the story of my deliverance is the story of my calling, to be ready to share the hope that I have, the relationship with a God who delivers, and to offer it to all who seek.  My testimony of mourning and gladness, of comfort and joy and sorrow, it is my anointing; it is the abundance from which I might serve others, that all of God's people might be filled with God's bounty.

That year I learned to receive.  And that year, the year of my 'widowhood,' I was loved beyond anything I have known before or since.  In the time of my greatest desolation I was cherished beyond all measure as God fought for me, provided for me, surrounded me with His people, and led me to this place in Kansas City where my greatest delights were made into classes and the secret meadow where I met with God in prayer was a real place called the Sanctuary of Hope.

It is hard to capture a year in words, let alone in one post online.  I could tell you about how God called me His rose and littered the path to KC with petals.  I could tell you about the crossing of Jordan and the 12 stones I collected along the way.  I could write more about the sweet, gentle way God calls me to minister one step at a time, one moment at a time.  But these are yet again stories for yet another post.  What I see as I look back on this promise from six years ago is the fact that it is still being fulfilled today.  It is a vision for my ministry as I seek to disciple and be discipled, my offering to God.

I close with this lovely irony.  As I write I realize that the anniversary of my widowhood, March 16th, is the day that God took me on a surprise trip to Israel.  It is also the day that I will leave for Rome. Just 45 more days!

"My people will be filled with my bounty," declares the Lord.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rendezvous with God

We interrupt this broadcast for a rendezvous with God...

I have been experiencing a growing tension as class has progressed this semester. I have fought it. I have pleaded with it. I have listened to it. I have argued with it. I have tried to give it space. Still I have had no idea what it is ... except a loneliness, a longing somehow, that translates into cheeky anxious compulsions and flippant displays of humor in the light of day. I sat in the classic florescent-lit room tonight, a lecture echoing off of the tables before and around me, fellows on my left and on my right in their various learned poses (largely involving laptops or netbooks tuned to Facebook and/or Farmville/Angry Birds).

Meanwhile I longed to be just about anywhere else. I longed for solitude. I longed for quiet. I longed for stillness ... a stillness on the inside.

Upon the conclusion of our session, I trudged to our small group time with some mixed feelings. I had nothing to give, nothing to offer, yet I hoped for something nonetheless. I wanted to connect but I was also ready to bolt.  Yet when we were free to leave, I was surprised to find my compatriots lingered.

"What shall we pray for?" was the question asked. The dear one who shares my personality piped up:

"Pray for a rendezvous with God."

He went on to say that if one were in love, one would wish and long for and find secret ways to spend time with the object of his or her affection.  One would be looking for a tryst, a cherished rendezvous, to reconnect.

"Pray for a rendezvous with God."

YES! That's it! My spirit stirred. That is my disquiet; that is my longing!  That is what seems to be pushed out and pushed away even as I embark on the very studies that are supposed to be my pursuit of God, my act of obedience, devotion, service and dedication. I miss the secret trysts that I have come to cherish with my Savior.  I need a rendezvous with the Lover of My Soul.

And so we prayed.  Simple enough.

But as we did, as these precious men prayed for me and for each other, my God gently whispered to me...

I bought you lunch this week, He said.

I know.  It's a funny thing for God to say. Well, actually, if I were to tell you what He actually said it would look more like HTML code for a memory of a very nice older gentleman who, taking pity on my jury-dutied, poor seminary-studented state, bought me lunch yesterday at the Power and Light Grill as we waited to be released from our civic responsibilities.

Tears immediately sprang to my eyes, not just at the memory of a simple act of kindness from a stranger, but at the then streaming memories of the acts of kindness I have been the recipient of for the last two weeks of class - at the hands of many. Another student scraped the ice off of my windshield on the eve of a blizzard. A random gentleman bought me a coke from the vending machine when he saw me scraping the bottom of my purse for change. Someone told me that my hair style perfectly complemented my beautiful eyes not knowing that I had only just gotten my hair cut and was feeling dreadfully self-conscious about it. And just tonight, dear friends coordinated their busy schedules to take me to one of my favorite places so that I could eat crab rangoon and egg noodles and drink this splendiferous coffee at the Vietnamese Cafe in celebration of my turning old. In the last couple of weeks a friend has even deemed to send me happy little text messages that have brought so much unexpected mirth ... I don't think I've giggled this much since ... I don't remember when.

And that is not even all! I have no groceries yet I've been fed. I have no money yet even my broken DVD player has been tended to with the upmost care.

My God has been rendezvousing with me, has been this whole time, this whole season of busyness. And though I had felt so grateful at each act of kindness, so very humbled at each unexpected show of generosity, I missed Him. I missed Him because, honestly, I have the hardest time receiving. And if I got even more honest than that, I missed him because I felt somehow ashamed, ashamed that, in each of these situations I might somehow be drawing attention to myself inappropriately. Somewhere along the way, being the object of attention was shamed for me, and at that moment a part of my heart went away, withdrew, so that it might never be the object of attention again, the object of affection.

Huh. That's not going to obstruct a rendezvous with a God who wants to meet with the object of His affection. Not at all.

"Remove any obstructions," my prayer partner said, "to her drawing close to you, God."

And there you go. My final rendezvous came in the form of a prayer through the words of someone who knew not what he prayed at the very moment that God was showing me a big fat obstruction to my communion with Him.

It appears that I have grown so accustomed to meeting with God in the quiet, to experiencing Him in private devotion or the secret disciplines of the heart, that I missed Him in the world around me.  I forgot that it's not all up to me; God is not confined to the personal, inner world.  In fact, I had been squirming when my prof posed a question at the end of class tonight: How can we continue to practice the sacred (prayer, the reading of scripture, the partaking of the sacraments) as the demands for our time and attention increase beyond that which we have to give - even for the service of Christ? I did not have an answer (only a yawn, for I'd been up before dawn every day for two weeks). I hadn't had time for those moments of quiet reflection as I would have liked.  And if I can't do it now, how am I going to fight for it as the demands and expectations increase?

But Christ had an answer that I did not anticipate. His answer was to rendezvous with me in this external place, this realm of life and action and relationship. I needed only the eyes to see it and the heart unobstructed to receive.

It helped that the class had provided me with a framework in which to conceive of such things, too - to conceive of other ways of seeing.  

Who am I that He is mindful of me?
That He would look upon this child and call her Beloved?
That He would find me in the midst of my every-day existence
and offer His affections so lavishly?
I am His sister, His bride, His beautiful one!
His dove in the cleft of the rocks.

I recounted a story today, as I am wont to do, of one of my most embarrassing moments. Much to my surprise, when I was done with my tale, my covenant sister responded in puzzlement, "Why were you ashamed?"

Well, isn't it obvious? I thought. I made an absolute spectacle of myself. I drew the attention of not just one person but like 30 people, and it was SUCH a spectacle that then I had to draw the attention of someone else to come and rescue me!

"Why were you ashamed that you were seen as beautiful?" she asked.

Um. Excuse me but did you not hear the SPECTACLE part???

But now, as I write, it dawns on me, that's how I've seen them - always - the moments when someone shows me kindness, attention, affection; I think, Here I am making a spectacle of myself again.  

Um. Excuse me, Sparrow, but did YOU not hear the beautiful part?

Er. The beautiful part???

The beautiful part where God finds you beautiful and delights to rendezvous with you?

Huh. Why am I ashamed that God would see me as beautiful? Worthy of a kindness? As one so beloved that He would go out of His way to stage rendezvous upon rendezvous with me? That's kinda dumb.

I think I shall, perhaps, instead share my "spectacles" as a testimony to the beauty of my ardent Lover God.



Monday, January 24, 2011

Forgiveness and New Life

Remember, Seek, Surrender
My Testimony in Scripture


Forget the former things
Do not dwell on the past
See, I am doing a new thing!
Do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and
streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 54:18-19

This passage was offered to me by a woman whose marriage had survived an affair.  She spoke it when I came to her because my marriage was not surviving one - an ongoing affair - with sexual addiction.  In fact, I had very nearly not survived it, and the fact that I was alive to see 2004 was no small miracle in itself.  I know her hope was that we would come through as she had, marriage intact and with some sort of testimony of reconciliation and redemption for others.   Surely this was the "new thing" that we hoped and "looked" for.  Surely this was the promised oasis in the midst of a desert place.

But we looked and saw the symptoms.  God looked and saw the heart. As much as these passages were messages of hope in painful circumstances (that, coincidently, only got more painful, by the way), I could not have known then how God would use them over the year - and over the years - to teach me about something bigger, something vital, something about the stewardship of being human and about the fruit of His Spirit being born in my own.

You see, probably the greatest irony is that...

The only way to forget the former things, to be free in their influence and in authority among their patterns, is to remember them, to look them squarely in the face, to see and accept them as they are.  The only way to do not dwell on the past is to take an account of it, to grieve it, and to offer forgiveness and amends for what has happened, offer forgiveness to yourself as well as others, and then to live in a manner worthy of repentance.

Forget by remembering?  Move on by living in repentance?  What does that even mean?  Oh, my friends, ask not that question in idleness, for it is a lifetime's lesson and not carelessly learned.  I could describe for you the principles of a fearless and searching moral inventory.  I could fill pages about the process and theology of telling one's story as an act of confession and a vital spiritual discipline.  And I love doing them both, as anyone in my recovery church will tell you.  But it is actually about the bit on forgiveness that I want to write tonight, and specifically about the forgiveness of self.

See, as one who has been abused, as one who has been betrayed, I felt I was somehow at fault.  I constantly searched my heart and my mind for some signs, some indication that I could have prevented what happened or that I could prevent it from happening again.  Mind you, I worked diligently to forgive my offender; the woman who shared the Isaiah passage walked with me and taught me how to do that.  I understood that it was not only an act of obedience to do so, it was a way to stay in communion with the God I needed so desperately during that time.  It was my only hope for sanity, for moving forward out of the disorienting world of deception, pain and loss toward the possibility of reconciliation.  


Forgiving myself?  I didn't even know that there was such a thing as forgiving self.  Yet as soon as my mentor confronted me with the idea, I knew that it was born of truth; my inner response was, "Oh no. No. I can't do that. After all, if I forgave myself then, well, it might happen again."

I am going to insert here that God does, in fact, call us to right relationship with self, and perhaps a future blog post (or series, for that matter) might do this concept justice.  But for the sake of brevity and focus I will say only that there is theological as well as psychological study behind this, born of the Word and of the Spirit and of the communion of saints.  I do not offer idle words.  If we have the capacity to "think of ourselves more highly than we ought" or to deceive ourselves, then we are in relationship with ourselves much in the same way that we are in relationship with God and others.  And if we hurt ourselves we need the capacity to forgive ourselves, too.  Lack of forgiveness for self may not be everyone's sin, but looking back now I see that it was mine, and mine from the very beginning.  Just this semester I wrote a "spiritual autobiography" that, as the story of my first experience of God drained from my heart through my fingers onto page, depicted a breakdown in my understanding and acceptance of forgiveness.  As I said, God was concerned about matters of my heart, my spirit, and my relationship with Him.  He had known all along that I was broken in my ability to accept forgiveness or to forgive self.  He had no intention of leaving me broken.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Praise God, my mentor was one who held no punches.  I think God gave her just the words to say because, approached any other way I don't know that I would have been able to hear or understand that I was in a state of inhibiting my own fellowship with God.  She told me that I could only forgive another inasmuch as I had forgiven myself.  

Think about THAT one for a moment.

It put me in a pickle.  I wanted to hold things over my own head and beat myself up with them because it made me feel like I could control things I couldn't really control.  It also kept me from experiencing the full impact of my grief because it kept me in fear and denial.  But apparently beating myself up over things was not really repentance, not really helpful, and not going to help me obey and be reconciled to God.  And it meant that, despite all the rigorous and emotionally challenging work I had put into forgiving my abuser, it was only as good as the forgiveness I offered myself.  

She told me that any reasons I might pose against such an act, whether they be rational, rhetorical, theological, or otherwise, were all just great big distractions.  Forgiveness starts as an act of obedience.  I had chosen to forgive the one who hurt me.  I had only to choose to forgive myself.

I knew she was right.  So as I drove home from our meeting that night I prayed aloud a simple prayer: "God, I forgive me for ..." and I filled in the blank ... until  words were tumbling from my mouth and tears pouring from my eyes to the point that I had to pull the car over because I couldn't see and couldn't drive anymore.  Every fear, every failure to fight for myself, every decision to give up, every weakness real or perceived, was confessed and forgiven that night by me.  God had already forgiven me.  But I don't think I was fully able to receive that forgiveness until I had forgiven myself.  And as I did, the most amazing thing happened. I saw a vision of two children, two naive kids who made naive and immature choices and hurt each other terribly.  Those two children were my husband and I.  In that moment of forgiveness I was able to see us as we were rather than the two monsters we seemed to be.  And it was as if God returned me to that place when I first made those childish decisions and gave me the chance to choose something different.

See, I have made you a new creation.  The old is gone, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

I can't tell you what it is like to be given your choice back, to be given your life back, to be made a new creation.  But I can tell you that it is glorious.  That is when I came to understand that God doesn't just make a way through the desert, the way IS the desert, the streams are IN the wasteland.  God doesn't lead us through difficult things so much as he leads us TO them to transform them - and transform us - for they ARE our source of beauty, our wellspring, our gateway of hope. 

As is my wont, I could fill pages more about how forgiveness and the experience of being God's new creation led me to further remembering, to further repentance, to further desert places and greater springs - and ultimately to love, for it was because of my experience of this passage from Isaiah that I was able to show the greatest act of love to the man who hurt me.  But that is another story for another day.  I will close by saying that this was the year that I began to forget by remembering, to move forward by forgiving, and ultimately to love by living in the desert. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Alone and in Community

Let him who cannot be alone beware community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. "The challenge of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone ... I will not be with you then, nor you with me" (Luther).
But the reverse is also true:
Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you. "If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me" (Luther).
We recognize, then that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remember, Seek, Surrender

for the new year ... continued

The dawn of a new decade is an excellent time for reflection.  I consider, for example, that it was the dawn of the last decade that I started an interesting journey.  There were many points of beginning on that path, but this time I will tell you about how it began in 2003 with a beautiful lady who was prompted by God to take me under her wing.  Though she did not know me, she invited me to be a part of her small group.  Because she did not know me, she could not have known the impact that this invitation would have or how that small group would forever change my life.  It was called simply Boundariesand the things that I learned there and the fellowship that I experienced invited me into a relationship with the body of Christ that I hadn't dreamed possible before, a relationship of knowing and being known.  It was there that I first experienced discipleship; there that I came to thrive in the practice of accountability.  Furthermore, it was in that group that God gently called me to recovery and to ministry in one unmistakable revelation of Himself.  God used Boundaries to open my eyes to the slavery in which I lived - and to call me out.  I have since been involved in a 12 step program - for almost 8 years now - and I will always be involved in offering Boundaries and the hope of recovery to others, in some form or fashion.  It saved my life.  Literally.  And it offered me hope.

That is a very shortened version of my story because tonight I want to write about something else.  My reflections have brought me back to one of our group traditions, a tradition for the new year.  Around October and through the holidays we would begin to pray and to ask God for, and to focus our devotional study in search of, a particular verse or passage, God's vision for the upcoming year.  My mentor had been practicing this tradition for some time, and many were the stories she could share as to how God spoke to her in this simple act of seeking, study and meditation.  As a group she encouraged us to participate with her and now, nearly 8 years later, though I have moved over 3,000 miles away, this is a tradition I continue and adore.  Now, many are the stories I can share about God and the ways He has spoken to me through this simple act of seeking.  He has been faithful to offer His vision for me and over my year, a focus, a message, a promise or a lesson, for nearly each of the last 8 years.

The title of this blog is actually the title of a "sermon" that God gave me as I studied the passages for 2010, verses from Deuteronomy.  But before I get ahead of myself, I confess that I got a late start this year; I am still seeking the passage that will shape and form me and cast vision for this gift He has given me in life circa 2011.  As I do, and in keeping with what I have learned - to remember, seek, and surrender - I thought I would take the time to write a series of blogs that reflect on each of the passages that have come before.  I hope to find this discipline helpful for establishing the mindset of a new year and a new decade, but perhaps it will also encourage those around me to take advantage of such an opportunity as well.

I may make these posts here or I may put them up on The Crimson Sparrow.  I haven't decided yet.  But one thing I have decided, in the year and decade to come, I am committed to Remembering what God has done and the covenant He has called me to; Seeking Him, His heart, His purposes, His vision for my life; and Surrendering myself to His plan, His will, and His presence.  Remember, Seek, Surrender - that is how you take the land, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

to see, to know, to walk with God

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
for the new year

I met a lion once ... in a dream.

I sat in a crowded room among people of the faith when a light came down from heaven, shining in that dark place, alighting from the night sky.  It hovered among us like the Spirit of God hovered among the waters of creation.  Then it descended upon me and I was filled with it, with life and warmth and brightness - so bright that I was rendered completely blind.  I thought that, should I never see again, it would be worth losing my sight forever to look upon and be filled with this light.  For this blindness was not a darkness, but a blindness of pure light.

That is when I saw them: Two great eyes.  They were larger than I had ever seen or known before, like two great cities.  Only the eyes, they weren't ... human.  They were like the eyes of a great beast, like the eyes of a cat, a great and terrifying cat: A lion.  They were so fearsome and so golden-green that I was afraid - suddenly very afraid.

Then I recognized those eyes; they were not the eyes of a monster come to torment me.  I looked upon the very eyes of the Lion of Judah, the eyes of God.

"Do not be afraid," they said, in the way that eyes have of speaking.  And in those eyes I was given ... a view of myself.

I am convinced that, if we were to look into the eyes of God we would find that they aren't human.  They aren't human eyes at all.  We think that we are created in His image and we are, but what if all creation is in His image?  Is he not called the Lion of Judah?   The lamb who was slain?  Did He not appear as a pillar of cloud, a tower of fire?  Was his wrath not visited upon Pharaoh as plagues?  Maybe God isn't just like a lion, a pretty simile, a vivid metaphor.  Maybe a lion is like God.  Maybe it was created that way to reflect a part of him of which we can only dream?  Who says that God's face looks like our faces?  Maybe it looks like the face of creation.  It is not an attempt to minimize the uniqueness of humanity and our divine relationship with the creator, but maybe all of creation is made in the image of God, a reflection of His many facets, an image of his hugeness and His complexity.  We stare into space and see a nebula so massive and so far away - it looks like a human eye.  We call it the Eye of God.  But I wonder if it isn't the eye of His creation, and we, the earth, are but a brain cell...

*    *    *

I saw the universe once ... in a dream.

I was standing in an open place, a desert place, and a man stood before me.  He was bare-chested; his muscles were sinewy from manual labor, his skin was smooth and brown.  I knew him immediately; he was Christ the man, a carpenter by trade, a Middle Eastern by birth, a Jew.  I recognized him, however, not by his description but by his presence; he was my friend, my lover.  I knew this man, though we had never met this way, though I had never seen him before.  I went to him, my hand out-stretched, longing to touch him and to feel his embrace.  I placed that hand on his chest, on his heart, a heart I had seen and heard so many times before, a heart that I had sought and had had the privilege finding upon occasion.  I sought it now.  I touched his skin and I felt the flesh and blood of his body ... and then my hand passed through as if passing through water.  I looked at him in surprise and wonder as he drew me in - but not into his arms - into himself.  

I stepped into Christ and inside I found ... the sun, a sun and stars and planets, a universe.  The sun was at the center like it was his heart and everything else revolved around it and from it got its life.  It was like I stood with him, in him, on the edge of time, and I saw the universe.

It was beautiful. It was wondrous!  The planets, the constellations, the movement of the heavens, it was like his circulatory system, his heart-beat, his breath.

I wonder if we looked into the heart of God if we would find that it isn't ... human.  It is the heart of creation, a sun of fire and love and light and passion such that it sustains all life, yet its power and heat and intensity, its holiness, is more than we can bear; it would consume us.  It would destroy us.  

This is the glory of God!

*     *     *

I had a vision of God once ... in a dream while I was still awake.  Later I would write...

March 23, 2008

God is so gentle.

I was in the chapel, nested in one of the simple, wooden pews.  The light filtered in through the stained glass in soft shafts that made the ceiling seem grander and the room itself simpler, like a tiny, country church tucked in the woods somewhere.  I looked and it was as if Christ himself stood inside the doorway.  Then a presence, very like a mist, filled the air.  Suddenly I recognized that God the Almighty was there, and His majesty and splendour and HUGENESS caused the very atoms of the place to fly apart; yet His very nature as Creator caused them all to come back together again simultaneously. (Thus the constant flux of atoms in matter in motion.)

That is God.  He cannot be contained by space and time ~ it bursts apart at His glory.  The people of the old testament heard from Him and were so afraid they begged Him not to speak.  They saw Him and His brilliance blinded them and they could not stand to behold Him face-to-face.  He is overwhelming, to say the least.  His wrath is beyond our comprehension.

Yet He is gentle.  He weaves the delicate patterns of the universe and the fragile threads of time together for our sake, to be in relationship with us.  This awesome God, this Almighty I Am, He chooses to offer Himself gently to His Bride.  He always has.  Even in the days of the earthquakes and pillars of fire and cloud, He was gentle.  With Moses He spoke intimately in the tent of meeting.  To Elijah He came in a whisper at the entrance of his cave.  But my favorite example is Enoch.

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
Genesis 5:24

Enoch walked with God.  And one day, as they walked together, it was as if they looked and saw that they were a little closer to God’s house than to Enoch’s.  And God invited him Home.

I love walks. I always have.  Perhaps it’s because my mom loved to go for walks and to go hiking and that was our only real family time.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a quality time person and taking walks together is a glorious opportunity to talk and just be with each other for a while.  Whatever the reason, it was God’s gentleness that made me think of this passage in Genesis and imagine what it would be like to walk with God. 

God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, in the cool of the evening.  Those kind of walks, they’re not power-walks.  They’re not hurry-up-and-get-where-we’re-going walks.  They’re a physical representation of relationship.  Wherever you’re going, you’re going together, and that’s probably more important than the getting there.  Sometimes it’s fast.  Sometimes it’s slow.  There is no power struggle, no perfect way, just together, and you explore whatever you come to, and you deal with whatever obstacles appear in your path.

I haven’t been walking that way.  In the last four years I have been walking to find something, to get somewhere, to accomplish something, almost like I’m looking for the point.  And somewhere along the line I forgot how to be grateful.

I have pursued intimacy like a beggar, freedom like one starved, understanding like one desperate for a drink.  I have demanded perfection, lost grace, and found bits of myself in the process.  And in my greatest failure I experienced the greatest love ~ literally.  God lavished me with adoration when I least deserved it.  I remember it well.  It was the moment that I finally gave up control.

I suppose the point is this:  The gentle revelation of God’s heart invites me to walk with Him, just walk with Him, to give up my striving and any desire to control.  And in that gentle place of sweet release I can laugh and I can cry, I can see and receive and overcome whatever comes without trying to accomplish or possess, without blaming or even needing to understand, without knowledge of the future but with hope.

And so that is what I ask as I venture once again into resurrection life.

What would it be like to walk with God?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Honeymooning in Italy?

It is with some trepidation that the single, independent, actualized feminist in me announces: I am going on a honeymoon with God.

Though it may sound like a pre-teen girl's flight of romantic fancy; though it expose some sort of girlish wiles hidden in the analytical, sarcastic, ISTJ rough; it's true.  And tomboys are girls too, you know.

Two years ago, God surprised me with a Trip to Israel.  In fact, it was the very week that I began this blog that I learned of the opportunity, and five short days later, I was quite literally whisked away...

I wandered the shores of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem feeling like I was catching a glimpse of Jesus I had never been privy to before.  In fact, I felt a little like the girlfriend who has been brought home to meet the family, to see the place where he grew up, to meet his "people."  Indeed, I came to experience this trip as my opportunity to know Jesus - as a man, a flesh-and-blood person.  It was as if Christ opened his heart to me and shared his world, his life, his joys - and his sorrows.  It was like an engagement trip, a time of learning more about my dearest friend - and falling more deeply in love.

Now we leave for Italy in just 63 short days - but not just Italy, Turkey, Greece and all along the Mediterranean.  And I must confess that I'm just a little freaked out.

Personally, I liked it better when I had just a couple days notice and God did all the planning.  Two months is two months more for me to get anxious, to anticipate, to wiggle and squirm and wonder.

My head is spinning.

My heart is beating wildly in my chest.

It's one thing to have the crazy spontaneity to jump when God says jump, to fly across the globe at a moment's notice for the mere adventure of it, for the mere opportunity to see God do whatever it is that He does and enjoy Him in it.  It's another thing entirely to be invited to conspire with God as a partner, to ask, to offer, to risk, and to co-create with Him.  Yes, it was my willing heart that was ready to follow Him to the ends of the earth the first time - well, again - but our excursion to Israel, that was all God.  This, this is me taking a little bit more of a risk; this is me not just responding but also initiating, planning with God, inviting Him.  This is God and I together, a reflection of both of us - and when the two of us get together, well, who knows what could happen?

I mean, all pretense aside, this is also like the most awesome honeymoon EVER.  Who wants to go to some random volcano where people wander around half-dressed and I end up worrying about my tan and my figure?  Not that I'm saying I wouldn't have fond affections for the Galapagos - I am a lover of all things Ocean.  But this, this is the kind of thing God and I would do together, you know?  And that's what real relationship is about, creating something completely unique together because it's a little bit you and a little bit someone else.

It amazes me that THAT is the kind of relationship God invites us into, or has invited me into, with Him.  He invites us to be his bride, His beloved.  He invites us to honeymoon with Him, for He delights to give us good things.  I, for one, will say yes.  I, for one, will go with Him.

As long as I don't come back pregnant.