Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Spirit of the Ruins

Now I can finally say with full assurance and all the gusto I can muster: It's the most wonderful time of the year!  

That's right!  Lent!  Ashes! Sorrow! Reflection and inventory! Fasting and contemplation! Sin and repentance! A grappling with death!

Who else wants to get in on this shindig?!?

*cue crickets*

But it is a wonderful time of year - a beautiful time even.  For if our story is an exodus story - one about slavery and deliverance - then we quickly discover that it is also a wilderness story, with questions and doubts, wanderings and failings, longings and long journeys we do not know if we will ever complete.  It is, in fact, a story of death - and new life, a story of taking the land and rebuilding the ruins of the past.

A friend of mine put it this way:
Some things present themselves as "an Everlasting Gobstopper ... deliciously sweet and yet there is never, ever an end.  And endings are such good-tasting things. But they may not package well or seem so novel to our whimsical, wonky wants."
It is the end of a thing that allows for a new beginning, and the beginning of a thing is always, eventually, followed by an end.  So let us not be dissuaded by death, sorrow, and ashes, but let us see where this exodus story - and the story of the cross - takes us...

*     *     *

While skimming through Ezra I was struck by obvious and yet hithertofore missed themes. God had declared through Jeremiah that His temple would be rebuilt.  I don't know how many years passed between that prophecy and King Cyrus of Persia - whose heart was moved by God to act - but the book of Ezra begins with chapters and chapters about how long it took for that promise to be fulfilled.  Kings came and went since Cyrus and they decided the temple was a threat.  Finally, Darius completed the assignment generations(?) later.

So  many attempts to build - stalled, thwarted, attacked, diverted - yet all along it was being rebuilt.  God was fulfilling His word, His promise.  It took lifetimes.  It was a pbrocess.  God called upon many to uproot and leave their homes to go and do the work.  He called the people to sacrifice, to give offerings, to give gifts for its building.  It was a burden and a joy that fell on everyone whose heart was moved by God.

It makes me think of the building of a new relationship - the way my friends and community are with me as I venture into this endeavor myself. They experience my hurts and they suffer their own hurts with me.  They are blessed when I am blessed.  And my relationship is a blessing to them - when we are doing the hard work of planting and sowing righteousness and life.  My community bears a responsibility even if they are not being sent into the fray themselves.  The burden is both a joy and a sadness.  In fact, Ezra 3:11-13 says:

"And all the people gave a shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.  One could not distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.  And the sound was heard far away."

Real life, true love, and authentic community is a combination of weeping and laughter.  It is remembering the past and honoring tragedy with grief - even while stretching out one's hand to the burden and the joy of the promise of new life and redemption.
Somewhere in Israel 2009

God woke me with visions and the whispers of His Spirit.  One of the many things he showed me was the image of a ruined city - crumbled walls and scattered stones, decayed by the wind and the rain and the sun, baked and barren.  He said:

"When I rebuild the ruins, I do not just build new walls on top of the old foundations, I pull out of the ruins the essence and beauty and grandeur and hope, the vision the land had before those things were destroyed, the promise that was trapped and buried within the ruins.  I call it out of its grave with crumbled walls as markers; I breathe new life into it like coals fanned into flame, and I dream with the very foundations about what it someday will be."

So as we observe this Lenten season, may we face with courage and conviction the death that has been a part of our story.  May we submit ourselves to the wilderness and to the rebuilding God calls us to in the hopes that we may be made faithful.  And may we live in the beautiful place where our shouts of joy are indistinguishable from the sound of our weeping.  For this is what it means to truly live.