Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hunger for hunger

The year my father died, I shed so many tears my cheeks grew raw from the salt, and even aloe-filled tissues felt like sand paper on the dark-shadowed skin beneath my eyes. After a while, if I was alone, I let those tears fall unchecked down my face, to land on my shirt.I was certain in the dark of trying to sleep that if I got up and looked in a mirror I'd actually be able to see the tracks crisscrossing my flesh like those paths made by cattle along the sides of the hills down on the Snake.

I began seminary that fall in the surprisingly compact building that is Regent College in Vancouver, BC.  Twice a week I drove up from my home across the Washington border, and drug my body through what felt like pea soup thick fog. Grief settled on my shoulders like a dead animal pelt as I took notes in class or sat in a study booth in the basement library. Beneath all the words I read on the pages of the books was a silent scream reverberating in my head, "DADDY!", a name I hadn't called him since I was less than my full heighth, but which he instantly became again in death.  That scream was in my cells, passed down as a relief-giver from him, who once admitted that he opened his throat to also scream sometimes while driving alone in a car.

I usually kept it together well enough through those days, at least on the outside, though there were moments when someone said a few words to me that unplugged it all like a finger from a dike, and this terrible absence came pouring out, flooding that unsuspecting bystander asking some innocuous question.  But as I traveled home at night, the sky a navy blue glowing from the lights of the city, I allowed myself the freedom to scream aloud,and release the unshed tears of the day.  There was a particular place on that hour-and-a-half long slanted drive down Highway 1 in BC where the road bent right and was rimmed by a tall hedge of evergreens.  For no particular reason that I can tell, nightly when that spot came into view I thought of Dad and sobbed.  Like Pavlov's dogs, that hedged turn became the stimulus for a teary response, and even in the next years, when I went hours, then longer days without consciously thinking of him, when I reached that place on the road, my father filled my head. If I were to drive that road this very day, I'd feel a pit in my stomach remembering all those tears. See, after a while, that hedge became a memory of the memories of my grief, rather than the thing itself.  A hunger for the first aching hunger for him long after that hunger had passed.

Lately this idea of a hunger for the hunger has taken hold of me.  There have been moments in my life, even long seasons, where the very name of Jesus shook something loose in me, moved me to tears.  His very name as the culmination of all my joys and longings.  Periods when I was so hungry for Him my daily life felt like the shadow, the world only a rehearsal for the main event, Life with a capital L which would come after I'd practiced at it long enough in this mortal body.  There was a sweetness beyond the taste of honey in my life in those times, when I could smell His presence in every conversation, almost see Him in every room, definitely hear Him in every silence.

But now there is only silence in the silences in my life, now I'm in a season of His seeming absence, no aroma of His presence in the mundane acts of my days. Every morning when I walk out to my living room and plop down with Bible in hand, it's like I've come to that bend on Highway 1 in BC.  I'm flooded with the memory of the memories of Him.  What fills me most right now is that hunger for the hunger, a longing for the desire of heaven and His presence.  I can almost taste it, have the memory of that sweetness, but it's just beyond the the drifting sand of my present desert, I think.  Just out of reach.  But what strikes me, what I've been told by fellow travelers is that sometimes this hunger for the hunger is all we get in this life.  For me, right now, that longing for the longing of Jesus is enough to keep me diving into His Word, keeps me digging into prayer in the hopes that one day soon He'll come into the room again and speak.  I'll be waiting.  I am waiting. Come quickly, Lord.

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