Thursday, April 30, 2009

Faulty connections

My power cord just arrived--in two boxes.  How efficiently green is that? she asks sarcastically.  It only took a week, which has meant I've been living an internet free zone for a while.  Remember the good old days before email and web browsing?  I do.  I remember my first emails.  My then-brother-in-law paid for it so I could communicate with my sister the year they lived in Uzbekistan.  That was practically the dark ages--15 years + years ago.  It was like magic, this computer mail.  Actual letters the Dump and I wrote to each other took seven weeks to arrive...if they arrived at all.  But with email, we had veritable conversations.  Then my parents got themselves hooked up, complete with that inimitable sound the phone dialing and the resquisite lengthy wait for it to actually work.  We thought we were so high-tech in those days.  My parents printed out and kept in a notebook all of our letters from that year.  Reading them a few months ago, I was struck by how many were along the lines of, "Is this working?  Let me know if you get this."  These days, we can't quite imagine something going wrong when we press the send button, but in prehistoric times, the whole system was annoyingly capricious.

But I was rather proud of the fact that we were such early pioneers at emailing.  It had nothing to do with the Beve or me, though.  If not for that trip beyond the reaches of telephone, and my computer-savvy former brother-in-law, we'd have been the last people on the block with a phone cord attached to our computer, rather than the first.

Yep, in general, Beve and I are only accidental trend setters.  We just don't think along the lines of the newest and the best.  We're too busy, trying to be faithful with our little to dream the American dream of bigger is better, crying "More, more, more."

I've really been thinking of this lately, not just because I've lived without blogging or net-surfing (which for me, primarily means researching random things I'm interested in learning).  The thing is, if our culture/society is doing the labeling, I am well-aware that I'd be labeled a failure.  And that's a definite struggle for me.  I've had plenty of education but never had a career, I have plenty of ambition but have no measurable goals.  I'm now in my fifties and the chances of beginning something that might define me as accomplished in the world's eyes grower slim and slimmer in this economy and age bracket.  And that sense of being a failure can be pretty pervasive.  It can cut through all that I know about God and His economy to slice me wide open.

And yet, every thing is not as it seems.  There is a veil across this world that keeps us from seeing things--especially people--from God's perspective.  If I believe--and I stake my life on this--that He lives and moves and works intentionally in every circumstance, then I cannot see my life as a failure.  My life is His.  My uselessness--in the eyes of this capitalistic society in which I dwell--is no more than a lie.  A faulty phone line connection to eternity.  If my heart is beating, and beating with the strong, ceaseless desire to be His, to become righteous, to be whoever, whatever He wants me to be, it is well with my soul.  Indeed, who am I to say what circumstances He will use for His purposes?  If my weakness, my alleged failures are what is needed to keep me surrendered and centered, I dare not eschew them as negative.  They are not interruptions to the connection with God, but the very line that keeps me kneeling at His feet.  Indeed, I should welcome them. I know I cannot live without Him, see. I don't have the luxury of thinking I'm strong.  And really, isn't that THE fundamental truth? 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Computer woes...again

Just a quick update:  You know those commercials with PC and Mac?  Well, in our house we're a 2/3 ratio.  J and I have PCs and the other three have macs.  And I have to say, the Macs really do have far fewer problems than the PCs.  I should be a testimonial.  My PC's power cord isn't working, so I had a lengthy conversation with a woman in India this afternoon...which is really one of my favorite things to do.  A new power cord is on its way, but in the meantime, I'm writing this quick post on Beve's powerbook.  I'll be back in business in a day or two.  Until then...keep on praying.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Falling on our faces

I continue to struggle with the 'doing/being balance of walking with Jesus.  Certainly part of this struggle comes with this specific season for me--short in a whole lifetime--of inactivity.  But there's a more long-lasting issue of not being bent toward giving myself to the poor, the needy, the lost.  I confess to NOT having a burden for the lost.  Not like many others I know who make it their life's aim to meet the needs, both spiritual and physical, of the poor and needy in this world. Over the years, I've realized that much of the time, the burden in me is for the lost within the organized church.  Those clothed in the right garments of the religious lost who are much harder to reach for the very fact that they cannot see their own lostness.  The most needy in this world realize their need and are steps away from the Kingdom because of it.  Those who populate the pews of many churches in this world can't imagine they're anything but 'good.'  I've sat in committee meetings, congregational meetings, fellowship halls and listened to people who don't seem to know Jesus, haven't a real clue of who He is, what He's done.  This is a heavy burden to me.  How can we fulfill our purpose in the world if we aren't even saved ourselves.  You know the people I'm talking about--they talk at length about what's wrong with church, how it isn't meeting their needs, why they don't like certain things.  But ask them about Jesus and they have very little to say.  It's almost like He's beside the point.

And I sometimes want to ask why they are members of the church.  Don't they realize that this is a scandalous thing we do when we gather together?  We're presumptuous enough to believe that our worship--our little songs, our old hymns, our handling of the Word and our taking of the bread and wine--invites GOD to join us.  Assumes that the ONE who created heaven and earth and everything between is present among us.  What a risky thing that is--to invite God Almighty to enter into a space where we sinful, failing humans stand. Why aren't we all tumbled to our faces at the thought?  How can anyone--any Son fo Adam or Daughter of Eve--stand and critique such moments?  Why, to even be able to put two coherent sentences together is pretty surprising--if God is really there.  If He really is...as I think He is, as He promises to be when we gather.

I think if those who don't know Him actually got it, actually thought for one moment that such is the reality, they'd run for their lives...or would fall on their faces, singing holy.  When I think about it so, I can't bear, I really can't bear, that people don't know Jesus.  That they do this amazing thing--worshipping the Living God--without knowing Him.  It just breaks my heart that He does enter in, that He dips low to earth every time we sing and pray and read and listen to His Word, and people miss the Holiness of the thing.  So I sit in my seat and pray for showers--not just sprinkles--of the Holy Spirit to rain down on us, to open the eyes of the blind.  I reach out my hand toward those who are hard of hearing and pray.  This is my action in this inactive moment in my life.  The most active thing I do.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If you think you can...

"We are all asked to do more than we think we can..."  From my devotional today.

Well, that's the whole point, isn't it?  The counter-intuitive, radical, denying self nature of the gospel.  In the world, we do it ourselves, we are taught from our first steps to rely on ourselves, to decide what we're capable of, and go after it.  Maybe we push ourselves to the limits--some of us, anyway.  Some of us sky-dive, climb mountains, go spulunking, deep sea diving.  Some of us are over achievers by nature.  But it's always only ourselves the world tells us to rely on.  "Just do it," Nike says.  "If you think you can, you can."  "You've gotta believe to achieve."  I've seen those aphorisms...we all have (for those of you who don't know, that means a succinct saying that embodies a general truth).

But in the Kingdom, it's exactly because we cannot do it, can NEVER do really do what we were created to do, that anything makes sense.  We come to the cross, deny ourselves, then walk around walls that have no business falling, stand before seas that can't possibly become dry land, speak to the lame, the blind, the dying--walk! see! live!--and the world rocks on its axis.  Not because of anything in ourselves.  I mean seriously--SERIOUSLY--there is not one gene or cell different from any other human on this planet.  But we are filled--oh, what glory in that word; I close my eyes to savor it--FILLED with the One thing, the one WHO that makes the difference.  Of course we are called to do more than we can do ourselves.  It is God asking us to let Him do in us what He wants in this world.  That's all He's asking.

Let Him use us as vehicles of grace, and peace, and healing to this broken world.  Think of that.  He came as the Incarnate once, but that's not even close to the end of it.  When we become His, we become Incarnate as well.  We may walk around like every other human being, but we have very God inside.  No matter what you do, who you interact with this day, whether you worship in a wide hall full of believers or sit silently without a single other creature, you are not alone.  And He is able, exceedingly able to do more than we could ask or imagine.

But here's the kicker: Isaiah tells us exactly what that Spirit wants to do through us.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anoited me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
...to comfort all who mourn
and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty..."

I need to be reminded of this, I really do.  I need to be reminded that He doesn't want me to be about myself, but about His work, that He fills me for others, not just for myself, that it's not just so I'll 'be' a Christian, but so He and I together can 'do' for His Kingdom.  If I think I can...He can!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Feasting

I'm thinking of food tonight, of gastronomical delights that melt in your mouth and endure in your memories.  I'm not one of those live-to-eat people, the way Beve and our oldest daughter are.  Beve starts thinking about dinner when he's put his breakfast dishes in the dishwasher.  In the early days of our marriage, he used to call me early in the day to ask what I was planning for dinner.  I was almost always baffled by the question.  I'd barely gotten around to feeding the chublets their Honeynut Cheerios, still had Top-ramen to make for lunch and he was salivating at the idea of dinner.  I tell you, it was hard going in those days when I actually had to have dinner ready on schedule, with three hungry birds and one large hungry bear to feed.

I'm also not a person who eats by the clock.  My mother, pre-Alzheimers, was like this.  She could have a large breakfast at 10:30 am, be stuffed to the gills with food, but the clock striking noon always made her head to the kitchen.  And dinner, no matter what had come before, was always at 6 pm.  Many the battles I had with her because I just wasn't always hungry when the clock told her it was time to eat.  And Beve was just telling me today of a man who eats every day at 4:30 pm.  No matter what.  He might be going out to dinner with friends an hour later...it just doesn't matter.  His clock within is connected intimately with the clock on the wall. 

I haven't been a success in the kitchen, and I might completely forget the time, and therefore, not have a meal organized at a reasonable hours, but Beve and I have had some pretty sumptuous meals along the way in our lives.  Just this February in Mexico, we had a primerib dinner to die for, some very authentic Mexican (do you catch my tone when I write that?).  We've eaten Indian curry in India, and pico de gao homemade by an amazing cook in a Mexican lodge on a hill in the Baja. That same woman, Angela, also made us nopale tamales one night, and I'm here to tell you, I had no idea cactus was so delicious.  Reindeer in Finland, fish and chips in rainy London-town.  And the friets (otherwise known by Americans as fries) in Holland with the--wait for it--mayonnaise sauce.  I'm telling you it was muy lecher, as the Dutch say--or very tasty. We've had salmon that was swimming in an Alaskan bay just minutes before, and pig roasted in a pit in Hawaii.  And we've had great time and fellowship around all those tables, I can tell you that.

But the best meal Beve and I ever had came at the end of a long weekend of cooking for others. Maybe that was why it tasted so good.  Maybe it was the beautiful scenery out the windows--the setting sun out over the salt water of the Canadian gulf islands as we sipped our wine and ate.  I think it was both of those things and more.  While Beve and I sat on an upturned log on the beach, we watched our friend in high boots, take a large bucket and shovel and paddle his canoe out to his longboats anchored in the shelter of a small island.  When he returned, his bucket was full of mussels he'd dislodged from the sides of the wooden boats.  He simmered them in fine Scottish whiskey, made his own spinach pasta, and served them up together.  We sat at their large table under a candlelit chandelier and ate, and talked and enjoyed the simple bounty fresh from the sea.  Whenever I think of that, it epitomizes the banqueting table for me.  Extravagant because the food was created with such thoughtfulness.

At that humble, rich, glorious table, our friend read this blessing:

O Lord, refresh our sensibilities.  Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice.  Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put stache and substance in our limp modernity.  Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad with the oil that ran upon Aaron's beard.  Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations.  Above all, give us grace to live as true men--to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all comes to hand.  Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkenss; cast out the demons that possess us, deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou has blessed us--with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.

From The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

Friday, April 17, 2009

Out on a limb

Only after we have yielded to Him can we reflect the face of Christ."  Celtic Daily Prayer

Yielding and reflecting.  I have always had the sense of God providing/meeting us in proportion to our own risk.  If we stay near the trunk of the tree, grasping on for dear life, holding what we already have, He will meet us there, giving lightly.  But, if we step out to the edge of the branch, trust Him to hold us, or even further, yield the branch altogether, HE will grasp us, hold us provide right there.  Catch us when we jump.  And there, what will be seen of us is His glory.  The times that I have risked most have been the times when I've been most overcome by His graciousness, His power, His care.  And my response is overwhelming praise.  He shines in my face at such moments.

Beve and I have owned 4 houses in 4 towns.  And these houses--both the buying and selling--have been moments of gigantic risk for us.  We bought land out on the Olympic Penninsula on the strength of a counseling opening in the Sequim School District, months before Beve even had an interview.  And once he actually got the job, we waited for God to sell our house.  Without a realtor.  We've only ever used the Holy Spirit as our realtor, either as buyer or seller. We stood way out on a limb to trust that He was in it, that He could do exceedingly abundantly, beyond all that we asked or even thought.  And you know the end of that story:  He sold that house about a minute before Beve had to move out to Sequim by himself.  And we rejoiced, we were humbled, we worshipped at His feet when He caught us.

This scenario has played out three more times as well.  But here's the thing: it's hard every time.  We always stumble on our way to faith, we always have to step gingerly out to the end of the limb.  I remember telling Beve once that I was a small island of faith in the midst of a swirling sea of doubt.  But you know what?  We risked it anyway.  And He catches us when we jump...every time.  Maybe not exactly as we expect, but always in such a way that we know it's Him.

"To hear with your heart,
 To see with your soul,
be guided by a hand you cannot hold,
To trust in a way you cannot see..that's what Faith must be."

This little chorus is what I'm talking about.  These words play repeatedly in my head when I step away from the trunk of that tree.  Step gingerly on to the end of the branch, and trust that His holy arms will catch me when I jump.  Not seeing with my blind, human eyes, not hearing with my deaf fleshly ears, but with my soul, my heart, my faith in the one who calls me onward. Further up and further in to faith, further in to risk! The proportion sounds just about right.

This is good news for me in this season of my life.  Once again I'm tentatively releasing my grip from the trunk of the tree of life, and am clawing my way to a small limb...and I trust that He'll be there at the end, holding on to my hand.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Sahara

I started a fascinating book last night, the account of a man and his brand new wife who attempted to cross the great Sahara desert on camels...in the 1980s.  The story of the desert, its extreme heat and lack of water, the long, long distance traveling through such unfriendly terrain, parallels the story of their relationship.  Both journeys began in great hope, extraordinary dreams, but very quickly the reality of the hardships made them question each other, their choices, life itself.  In some ways, you'd think, it would be a painful book to read, and so it is in places.  These two people, both very stubborn, speak whatever is on their minds, which means sometimes they play--as Beve calls it--dirty pool, hitting the other exactly where it hurts.

However, it really does intrigue me, this reading of the desert as a picture of marriage. Though I haven't experienced the 3500 mile desolate landscape of the Sahara in my marriage, I know of others who have.  Dear people who have lived months and years in a dearth of water, grasping for an oasis where there are nothing but mirages.  Time after time, they lean over to drink and come up with their faces full of sand.  It hurts deeply--even from the outside--that this should be so for people whom I know and love.  Yet, it is also true that anyone who pledges their life to another will, at one time or another, one way or another, meet the swirling sands and energy-depleting heat of a desert.  I wish I could say that this isn't so, but I've lived long enough to see it, to live it, and yes, even to trust it.

These are the facts of life, that it isn't fair, doesn't always run smoothly, and the process of becoming is also a journey through unknown lands, some of which are replete with water and food, and the deep shade of plenty, and other times which are dry and barren and empty of all but the smallest hope of survival.  Yes, marriage can be like this, but, of course, so can being single.  Or parenting, or wanting to parent and being unable to.  In fact, life without Christ certainly resembles a desert but so does life with Him.

So this book makes me lean in to listen to what the Sahara might teach me.  What are the lessons of the desert that God intends?  Can I see beauty in the bleakness, look for hope among the sands? Can I see the same specks of life in the crevasses of such terrain, the moments when a brief but heavy rain soaks the ground and almost before my eyes, green sprouts appear where days before there was only undulating sameness?

This is on my heart today because in a few days, my closest friend is returning to the edge of the Sahara, to a small village where people eke out their lives backed up to the sands.  She goes because she is in relationship with the women of this village, because she has a heart for their simple lives as women, their difficult lives in the midst of drought, their hungry lives in the midst of famine.  She goes as the heavy rain and the small sprigs of grass rising among the sands.  I think this is always what ministry is at its best.  Even when we are in the great Sahara in our own lives, God calls us to be rain in someone else's.  Sometimes the best (though not necessarily the quickest) way out of the desert is to lighten the load, to give water to someone else.   We do not always minister out of plenty--a lesson I must learn again and again.  To give living water, the Bread of Life, to draw another to the banqueting table is not dependent on our internal condition, but on the One who is always bread, always water, always holding out His hand to bring life where there was no life.

So I pray for my friend, K, that she will bring water and bread to that lovely village in the Sahara.  That she will see these words take hold:
"He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
He seats them with princes, with the princes of His peole.
He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children." Psalm 113:7-9

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Math

OK, so I'm NOT a math person, not that this fact was ever in doubt.  Math and I have had a rather hostile relationship since seventh grade when I encountered long division ala Mrs. Irwin who had terrible halitosis. Fortunately, when she stood at the front of the classroom, it wasn't an issue.  Unfortunately, my inablity in the subject meant she daily leaned over my shoulder to assist me in my struggle.  I think it was then that I started wearing turtlenecks--and realized that the name actually explained the best part of those sweaters.  I lived with my nose stuck in my sweater that year, and it took just about that long to conquer long division (OK, so I really think we did division in 6th grade, but it makes a good story--I can't even remember what we studied in 7th).

And then there was the kafuffle of my first year in high school, where the math block really grew.  I mean, I struggled with math when it was associated with numbers but suddenly, for no apparent reason that I could discern, some genius out there decided to use the alphabet.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  On top of that, I was placed in an independent study class.  UH-oh.  My sister, two years younger but only a year behind me in school, was also in that class, though she was only in 8th grade.  Everything I hate about math--er, and algebra, geometry, and don't get me started on calculus!--she loves.  And she soared in that independent study class.  Not me, baby.  Well, I enjoyed the class.  I mean, what's not to love?  No one was forcing me to actually study if I didn't want to, so I just sat around and talked with my friends.  By the end of the year, even my father had been to a conference with Mr. Ostetler, which was highly irregular in our family.  My parents lowered the boom, so to speak, and I squeaked out the work by the time school ended. My parents' tactics of rewards and even sheer bribery ruled the day and I moved on to geometry--but didn't take another independent study class until I was 40 years old and in my second stint in grad school.

OK, so the point is, it literally makes my head hurt to do anything other than simple math.  And this weakness raised its confounding head today.  I started a new quilt a couple of days ago and suddenly realized today that I completely messed up the math needed to cut the right number of squares for it.  I just tripled the number I needed...when I should have cubed it.  Sigh.

Are your eyes glazing over?  Yep, mine too.  Luckily for me, E came home from work about that time, and she got all the math genes from my family that clearly passed me by.  I was scribbling all over paper, trying to figure it out, but she just sat down at the other end of the couch, did a few calculations in her head, and came up with the right number.  So off I went to slit my wrists--er, make that my finger with the rotary blade.

It takes all kinds, I tell myself.  I don't have to be good at math in order to be a fully functioning human being. And by the same token, though it's a little hard for me to imagine, people live perfectly acceptable--even fulfilling--lives without reading a book a week (I was going to say 'a day' but thought that might sound unlikely, even if it is true in my family).  Yep, it takes all kinds.  The hand, the foot, the toenails of God's Body.  We're all something in His economy.  This makes me feel a jolt of joy to know that He made me this way--THIS very way.  In my earthly family, I might be a bundle of recessive genes, but in His economy, I am who He intends, so only need one simple equation: Jesus + me = resurrection life.

That's it.  That's all I've got today.  After expending my modicum of algebraic energy on quilting equations, I have little left to think theologically--or even think at all.  So I'll just lay down my pencil (and rotary cutter!) and thank God!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Control

Sorry about the lack of posts the last couple of days.  For the last two weeks I've been besieged by migraines.  It's been a long haul, and I'm not out of it yet.  Daily for a full fourteen days, by the time the sun passes due south and heads toward the horizon, my head is pounding, light begins to hurt and my stomach does a floor exercise worthy of the Olympics.  I'm a connoisseur of headaches, have been for almost 40 years. And I never quite get used to them. Each one hurts exactly as much as the last one.  Well, that might not be completely true.  Over the years I've had some doozies.

Once in college, I had such a bad headache, my roommates alerted my parents, who took me to the emergency room.  I lay writhing in pain, and the girl in the next cubicle didn't help. She'd been at a party, got a little (a lot?) plastered, and popped her jaw completely out of joint. I'm telling you that's toward that's definitely on the list with things I hope never happens to me (being bit by a rattlesnake, being in an airplane crash, and killing another human being are at the apex).  This girl was in so much pain, she was screaming incessantly, which made my headache seem like a paper cut.  However,the result of that (and other) headaches, I was run through the gauntlet of medical tests, including a spinal tap.  Unfortunately, after the tap, a nurse's aid came into my hospital room with dinner and pressed the button on my bed to help me sit up.  As a result, I got a spinal tap headache--excruciating pain when I was vertical and no pain at all when I was horizontal.  It lasted almost a week, and I've never forgotten!

Years and a thousand migraines later, I began having what are known as icepick headaches.  These are exactly what they sound like.  My doctor called it "equisite pain."  About every 30 seconds, I felt a jolt of pain through my skull.  If that sharp stab of pain had lasted longer than an instant, it would have killed me, I know it would have.  I had that headache 24-7 for seven straight weeks.  Finally I accidentally discovered that the medication I was taking to alleviate them actually prolonged the agony.

I realize this litany of head pains isn't nearly as fascinating to anyone reading this post.  It's not really all that interesting even for me.  But as always, I have a point.  And it is this:  In a very real way, migraines have helped defined me.  They created borders in my life during the long years of bearing and raising children.  Whereas other women might have experienced cramps, PMS, all sorts of personality changes, I had headaches.  And I thought--hoped and prayed--that those would dissipate with age and changes in my hormones.  This has not proved the case.

But it seems to me that we all have such borders, edges in our lives beyond which we cannot go.  Beve often says that the fundamental need and drive of humans is for control, control over their environment, their own lives, and the lives of those around them.  What headaches--well, all my physical pain, for that matter--have created is the realization that no matter what I do, I am not control of even my own body. When it comes to my health, I am weak.  And that weakness creates a dependency on God that is only good.  I cannot pretend I can do life on my own; shoot, a lot of the time, I can barely stand up and walk without His Holy assistance.

See, I know my own house would be built on sand, if I had it to do myself.  And I think all of us need to get to such a point.  In fact, I believe He uses many means to move us into a house built on the Rock.  We only fool ourselves when we think we are masters of our own domain, so to speak.  Or at least when we think that we are better at our own lives than He would be.  So--to be redundant--I thank Him that avenue isn't open to me.  It has made my life a whole lot easier to stand on the rock.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Barabbus

This is the post I intended to write yesterday, but my computer's been giving me fits that last couple of days, so sorry!  Years ago--37 or 38, in fact--when I was an eager young Christian, very involved in Young Life, I heard a particular message the week before Easter.  Honestly (though my many pastor friends will be discouraged to know this!), it's one of the few messages that has stayed with me, through lean seasons and times of plenty.  In fact, every Holy week, I think of it, feel it pull me into the drama in a unique but pertinent way.  So here is my ode to my former club leader, SA, with thankfulness and humility to his speaking and his profound impact on my life. Note: With a novelist's license, I add my own imagination to the sliver of details in the text.

I've been sitting in this dark cave for weeks.  Or maybe it's been months.  Time has a way of slipping when the only light comes through one small unreachable hole far up the rocky walls.  Sometimes I stand on my toes to try and catch a long draught of fresh air into my lungs, but maybe I only imagine clear, sweet air.  Maybe this is the only life I've ever had.  As the shadows darken until the night is so inky around me I cannot see my fingers waving in front of my face, I lay on the lumpy pile of hay that substitutes for a bed, and I try to sleep.  When I close my eyes, the images of someone's former life pass through my head.  It's difficult to get from those passionate, sunlit days to this dark emptiness, where I've been told my execution is only hours away.
I knew what I was doing was dangerous.  Pushing past the limits of the law to thwart the Roman occupation of our land, the inposition of their government on our people.  It is wrong, I say, even now.  This is our land, the land the fathers were given by promise.  Yes, I wanted rebellion.  Yes, I incited riots. But I believed what I was doing.  I believed it was a God-given task set before me. 
But there came that day, that life-changing day, when a riot escalated.  Many of my friends were hurt that day, others taken to this very prison where I sit.  And though I got away, a burning anger grew in me.  There was one particular man who did not value life, especially the lives of Jews.  I looked at the wounds on my friends that his club had inflicted, and my fists clenched, my jaw tightened, and a vision of eye for eye began to swim in front of my eyes.  In the end, my plans became reality.  I took his life in cold blood as he stepped from the door of his very home where his wife and children awaited his return.  I felt no remorse when I slit his throat.
But since my arrest, I've come to regret that taken life. Death comes swiftly toward me now.  I watch the change in light in this hole, and wait for it.  That death now also rises up to haunt me.  Like a spectre, the man stands in his doorway, his hands outstretched.  I, who thought I was a good man, with a love for freedom, and truth, now face the truth that my hands are slick with another's blood. I hold them out and feel the weight of my sin, expanding to hold even the smallest wrongs I did others.
So here I sit, waiting for the death that comes today--for the out of the pain of my own making. 
Prisons are not silent places, for all their isolation.  In the last while, I've heard rumors of another instigator.  My information comes primarily from guards, who talk in low awed whispers of this man, this Jesus, who is a different kind of rebel.  Different than me.  His words, they say, are smooth as honey and as sharp as a sword, and when he looks a a person, his eyes pierce so deeply, they seem to divide bone from marrow. 
I can't imagine such a man, such authority in his speech as this one.  They say he can touch the sick with a hand, or words, or even mud from the ground.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk.  I remember a man, the old beggar by Bethesda's pool.  He lay there for years, waiting for that water to ripple.  I should have given him a denari or two, but I was always hurrying by.  That man, that very man, now walks upright, like a real man.  They say this Jesus told him to stand up, and he did--no waves in the pool were ever that effective.  I wish I had seen this man--just once--though I'd be afraid of what he'd see in my eyes.  I know what I am, finally.
Last evening, when the guard brought me food, he reminded me that this is Passover.  "If you're lucky," he said.  "You might be even be the prisoner who's released."  Then he laughed a mirthless laugh, and pulled the door shut behind him.  Paralyzed, I held my bowl, imagining my name was called and the door unlocked.  A freed prisoner at Passover.  I'd forgotten this possibility.  But I shook my head.  They'd never set me free. A murderer, a insurrectionist.  I flung the bowl against the wall, watched it slide down onto the dirt floor.  Then, as my stomach growled, I  rushed over and planted my face in the muddy gruel.
Hours later, a commotion arose out of my window, awakening me.  Dawn was slowly lightening the dimness of the room.  Then, suddenly, I thought I heard my name.  Slowly the volume grew, "Barabbus! Free Barabus!" they cried. "Away with this man.  Crucify him!"  My heart began to pound.  Then the door swung open and two guards pulled me to my feet and drug me out of the prison into the open courtyard where a huge crowd had gathered, all yelling loudly, "Crucify him."  Pilate, the Roman governor who I'd spent my life trying to overthrow, stood in front of me.  Beside him was a rather ordinary man, whose hair was lank against his sweaty face.  "Again, I ask you," Pilate said, "who will you free?  Barabbus or Jesus."  My head jerked toward the man.  This man, this ordinary, hurting man, was Jesus?"  Then my wish came true for Jesus lifted His head and looked into my eyes.  His eyes were deep chocolate, but flooded with so much light, it was like they were fire, warming something in me I didn't know was cold.  Flooding me with...was this love He gave me?  Even now?  In this moment, when the balance of death hung between us?  One way or another, it would tip. 
The crowd yelled again. "Free Barabbus!" and "Crucify him, crucify him."  Louder and louder, while Pilate, who clearly wished they'd make the other choice, stood quietly for a moment.  "What crime has this man committed?  Nothing that warrants the death penalty...like Barabbus here," He didn't say those words, but I heard them just the same. "I'll have him punished then release him."  But the unruly crowd wouldn't calm down.  They pressed and pressed for Jesus' crucifixion.
Pilate finally shrugged his shoulders and nodded to the guards.  The ones holding me untied my hands and shoved me down the steps into the crowd.  I stumbled, then turned and looked at Jesus. "This is for you," His eyes seemed to say.  We both knew it.  He had done nothing wrong--and I deserved to die.  I turned and fled through the crowd, and stood in the shadows where I could watch.
A short while later, the crowd began to move through the streets, out toward the place of the death, where two crosses already rose in the sky.  Like the one that should have had my name on it.  As the crowd thinned, and the hill grew steep, I saw Jesus trip and fall, the heavy wood painful on his mutilated back.  A young father was pulled from the crowd to carry it--if I'd been close enough, it might have been me--carrying the cross for the man who would die in my place.
At the top of the hill, Jesus was thrown down, and nails were driven straight through the flesh of his hands, and the bony tops of his feet.  I felt each pound of the nail, and a scream rose in my throat.  This man's pain is my fault, I thought.  It should have been me.  Pilate's words came back, "This man has done nothing that warrants death."  And I have done everything.  The cross rose with its burden of man, and then Jesus looked down on us.  Looked around the crowd as He lifted up against the nails to try and draw breath into his lungs, just as I had so often in my cell.  Only he lifted up against bleeding hands and nailed feet, and agony distorted his face.  But not His eyes.  They still looked down from that heighth, love blazing in them.
Two other criminals hung beside Him, less fortunate than substituted me.  One mocked and scorned Him, but the other spoke words I might have said myself, "We deserve to die. Remember me," he told Jesus, also words I wished to say to Him.
"I tell you the truth, this very day you'll be with me in Paradise."  And me?  I wondered, will I be with you, too?
As if I'd spoken aloud, He answered.
"Forgive them, Father." He whispered. "For they don't know what they are doing."
"I am thirsty." 
Looking intently toward a young man standing with some women, holding one who seemed ready to faint, "Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother."
 And then a Psalm rose from His lips: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" 
 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  I listened to the words of that Psalm, and lowered me head.  For me, I thought.  God forsook Him for me.  The love I'd seen in His eyes built in mine for this man, this Savior, this Jesus.
"Into your hands I commit my Spirit." His voice was now almost gone.  With great effort He looked around once more, then His head dropped and it was over.
I stood on that hillside until the crosses were empty. 
Then turned, and went on my way, ready to live and die for this man, this man who died in my place.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rosemary smells like...rosemary

Beve has spent many hours in our garden this week. He finished siding the compost bins, we added a section to our lattice for our wisteria on the Plexes' timbered fence, and he tackled lots of new spring weeds around the perimeter of our slate patio in front. Our front flower beds have already begun sprouting, so he dug out all the pesky dandelion sprouts, cut down the trailing rosemary and two heavenly bamboo plants that froze in our unnaturally frigid winter.  I collected the dead rosemary branches as he cut them, and was quite intoxicated by the fragrance of dead gray brambles.  It's an odd thing, I think that even dead, they are so pungent.  And it made me think about the fragrance of dying.

I remember having a conversation with my dad many years ago, when he was complaining about his mother and her mean-spiritedness.  He worried that as he aged he might become like her, petty, judgmental, manipulative.  But I told him I didn't believe that was possible.  I think that the older we get the more we become like ourselves.  When we are old and probably hurting physically, we don't have the capacity for masks we have when we're young.  So whatever we really are, whatever our essential self is ( our ousia, I might say, which means the essence of being!), that is what we'll be.  My dad didn't live long enough to be old, but I know who He was: sweet and kind and giving.  He could no more have become like his mother than a leopard could become a zebra. Rosemary, even dead, can only smell like rosemary.  There is no other option.

The fragrance of our lives when we're dying will be whatever it most was all along.  That's my point.  If we're walking toward holiness, living with our countenances turned toward God, and Good and all that is lovely, so will our aromas be in the end.  As I said, rosemary smells like rosemary. And, I think, only God can make us smell the way we're really meant to smell.  As pleasing to Him as rosemary is to me..

So what will your aroma be?  Will you stink of heaven, or only--regrettably--stink to high heaven?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A father's genes

One of my favorite people has made his appearance the last couple of days.  Let me illustrate via these texts between SK and me this morning:
SK: So Dad is only responding to texts today with song lyrics.
me: Two words for you--Vacation Beve!
SK: Oh Daddy! Wait, is it spring break?

That's right, folks.  Beve's on break this week, just when the weather warmed and the hyacinths are blooming, and the soft green needles of the weeping western lark are clustered on the branches, bringing a spring to our steps, and--apparently--music to our souls.  I love, love, love Vacation Beve.  He's the most fun, funniest person I know.  And after the long, gray dismal winter, I desperately needed to spend some time with this man.

Sometimes, though, I have to admit, I don't always get his subtle illusions.  But also living with us is our oldest child.  He'll say something, and I'll tip my head quizzically, like I'm one of our dogs, trying to understand human speak, and E will tell me what he meant by his, "You have to think like a bungee cord," so some other esoteric statement. "Wow," I told her this afternoon. "You speak good Dad." And she does--see, E's her father's child.  Body, mind and spirit, she gets him. When E was a little girl, one day I was driving her home from pre-school when she asked me, "Where did my hands come from?"  I went into a long, rather elaborate explanation of how God makes us in our mother's wombs, how he fashions hands, feet, eye-lashes, etc.  She listened patiently, then said, "OK, but whose hands are mine like?"  Oh, I thought.  "You have your daddy's hands," I told her. "I knew it!" she answered gleefully.  "I have the biggest hands in my class."  Her father's hands, her grandfather's.  Wide palms, long, fingers, square nails.  I'd know them anywhere.  Gosh, I love hands.   Always have...but I digress.

The point is, E came by her hands genetically.  Just as she came by her keen mind, and quirky sense of humor.  We are all a blender-full of genes, blended up just so so that only us could come out.  I don't have much of a biology background, but I know enough to know that brown eyes are dominant, as is right-handedness.  And a host of other things--baldness, tendency to fat, to heart problems, to breast and colon cancer--also genetically linked.

And as nothing delighted her more way back then that she had her father's hands, so she grins widely to be reminded today that she has Beve stamped loud and clear all over her DNA.

So it is for us, when someone tells us we have the tint of our Father on our skin, or that our eyes have the color of His in them.  When we do something for someone, and they say, "You were Christ to me."  To have our Father's eyes, hands, voice.  No better compliment in the whole wide created universe.  It hit me today that when I go into default mode in my prayers--you know, the kinds you whisper when you're falling asleep, or doing the dishes or driving, when you're not really thinking, just reflexively praying--that what I most often pray, is "Reveal yourself in me, Lord."  That's it.  Be more visible in my life than my very self is.  It's the default setting in my soul, to want to be known, seen, heard as His.  Please, Lord, write yourself boldly on my DNA.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The ticking clock

Holy week.  While most of the known (and unknown) world was going about its business, Jesus must have been wholly aware of the ticking clock.  Everything He did, touched, said had the scent of "last time" to it.  I've lived through several endings myself, so I know how it feels.  The end of high school, college, leaving a job to go to Europe, leaving my single life to become Mrs. Beve (I NEVER call myself this, but what the heck!).  Moving from one town to another around this great state of ours.

But my measly endings were all mixed bags--the sadness of one life ending, combined with the joy of the new life ahead.  There's always been something wonderful just around the corner. And let's be honest, I've never had to face my own mortality.  I've awakened in a morning wondering if it would be the last one I ever see.  So I have paltry first-hand experience with what Jesus faced that Passover week, when the streets of Jerusalem were flooded with people on holiday.  Imagine that.  Imagine the increasing weight on Him as He walked among them, knowing how little time was left.

It occurs to me that the last week of Jesus' life most resembles that of a prisoner on death row who knows the date of execution.  Their realm of life is puny by then, and they've already had most of their 'last things' before they committed the crime that put them in this small space.  Still, the knowing, the terrible haunting that death is coming, that a man-made, witnessed death awaits must be a terrible burden--even if they deserve it.  Maybe that makes it worse.  But maybe not.

All I know is that for Jesus, who knew the hour was upon Him, that approaching death made Him get to the heart of the matter, in a way.  To cry and pray over Jerusalem, to demonstrate those prayers by clearing the temple.  It made Him wash His disciples' feet to prepare them for what lay ahead.  And when a woman annointed His feet, He saw it for what it was, a picture of burial annointing.  In every conversation, every prayer, every touch, death was the nuance behind His tone.

I think it made Him unusually serious, burdened with another weight He'd never carried before, either.  Jesus anticipated, not merely the loss of His human life--the execution of it!--but the far larger loss of His Father.  "I and my Father are one," He'd often said.  But now He faced the ripping of the fabric of that unity.  Imagine facing the first moments EVER--in your life, in your pre-Incarnation, in the whole history of creation--where You weren't in communion with God.  Imagine the moment when God turned His face from you for the first time.  No wonder there was deep and terrible sorrow. In a sense, it was then--in His last/first separated moments from God--that He was most like us.  Separated by sin, the One who'd known no sin.  And it killed Him.

And it kills me to think of it, frankly.  That my sin-filled, natural existence is the one thing that killed God.  Had to kill Him, of course, but also just did so by the dirt and filth and infected sin of it put on His wholly Holy self.  To think of moving from union with God to union with sin.  Volitionally.

So that I can make the opposite move.  His death so that I can move from union with sin to union with God.  Think of that.  My journey the mirror of His.  His journey the weighty antecedent of mine.  He came my direction so that I could go His.  And I do.  I take one step closer today, and one more tomorrow.  Closer and closer to the One-ness He gave up for me.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Strength

"Go into the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey and her colt by her.  Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them..." Matthew 21:2-3a

We don't usually think of Jesus as a boss, asking his subordinates to get his dry cleaning, pick up his mail, run and get a skinny double shot vente sugar-free latte (I doubt he counted calories, for one thing!).  His disciples weren't his errand boys, for the most part.  But Jesus did have a pretty direct approach with them from the very beginning. "Follow me," He tells them.  "Cast your nets on the other side."  "Pick up all the food from the crowd."  "Go into all the world."  Not so much as a please and thank you among those words, there was command in His voice.  The very voice of God in it, one might go so far as to say. 

Jesus' softness, such as it was, was reserved for children, widows, the broken and needy.  And even then, sometimes He seemed pretty stern. "Who touched me?" He once asked in a mosh-pit-like crowd, feeling the press of something more than simple human flesh against Him. That poor, bleeding but now healed woman who'd had the audacity to touch His cloak must have shrunk against herself a little at His tone.  But her faith moved Him, even more than her touch had.  Because He loved her.  That's the thing--even in His firmest tones, there was love.

Maybe we miss that.  Maybe we think that love must be soft and gentle, meek and mild.  Maybe we think we aren't loved unless we've been handled with kid-gloves, candlelight and quiet music. And maybe we miss the mark all together with such ideas.  Because the best love that ever lived in a human body walked around with dirty feet, stringy hair and a voice of command.  This love judged behavior so harshly, He overturned tables at the temple and was harsh with those closest to Him for not getting it.  He was more concerned with their best than tickling their ears and soothing their feelings.  He had long distance vision where we are congenitally myopic.

Jesus, whose disciples found a donkey and its colt exactly where He said they would, could see that what would begin with a ride on an unbroken foal and crowds shouting, "Hallelujah!" would end with those same crowds shouting, "Crucify Him," to His beaten and bloodied face.  Yet still He sent those disciples to fetch that donkey.  Still He miraculously got up on a beast that had never felt the weight of a human on its back---He's like the original horse whisperer, if you think about it!  With love shining in His strong eyes, He rode into Jerusalem.  The people waved at Him with palm fronds, crowning Him king by their words, and He loved them for it.  Exactly how He'd love them five days later, when He cried, "Forgive them," from the cross.  They knew not what they did at either end of the week, you see.  Neither in the crowning nor the crucifying, did they have the faintest idea. 

But He did.  It was the strength in that Incarnate Love that tamed the donkey, cleared the temple, and surrendered His life.  The strength of command and the strength of surrender.  The strength of Love. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

This date

I'm a date person.  As I've said before, due to some quirk in my brain, I can retain birthdays, anniversaries and other far less important dates in ever expanding file cabinets in my dusty head.  When I think of all the important things that could fill my mind, I'm aware of how superficial this 'gift' really is.  Nevertheless, it's part of me, and makes me interested in dates.  And there's a wonderful side-effect of this knowing: many days, when I jot down the date at the beginning of a journal entry, my brain moves to a person who celebrates a birthday, or an anniversary, or, sometimes even a home-going to heaven. Today is no different.  From the time I awakened this morning, I've been aware of this date, especially because today is also a Friday, just as it was in April of 33 AD.


See, this is one of two dates most historians and astronomists believe that Jesus died.  The other date is April 7, 30 AD. These dates are based on when Passover was, which can be conclusively discovered via Jewish calendars.  There's some controversy based on the actual number of Passovers in the gospels (John puts it at 3), and when Jesus was born, which was sometime between 7 and 4 BC.  It grounds the gospel in history for me to understand that the crucifixion happened on a specific date. I understand the rhythm of celebrating this holy moment on a Friday so that we can also celebrate the holy moment that comes on the third day, the first day of the week.  But knowing the date, living with it as a real moment in real time, sends shivers up and down my spine.  Jesus isn't myth, he lived and breathed and had a birthday (though there's no way of knowing when that actual day was--some say October, others claim it couldn't have been in winter because the shepherds were in the fields, which they wouldn't have been in the cold of December), and he died on one date, not a fluctuating  Friday related to a pagan celebration of the spring's equinox. 

But I also like that this year, April 3rd is on a Friday, that one of the two possible darkest, best days of the year happens the day before the Sabbath, just as it did when He let out His last breath and commended His Spirit to God.  On this very day, 1976 years ago (or four days hence, 1979 years ago), at this exact time of day, He had already been taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea, and taken to a tomb some place in Jerusalem.  His body was bloody and limp, though rigamortis may have begun to set in in the spring heat.  Seriously, think of that--His body stiffening in death, blood no longer flowing, He was really and truly dead.  As dead as anyone can be. Think of His bruised and beaten body, with the gaping holes in palms, feet, the gash on his side.  A thorny crown still puncturing the skin of his forehead.  A real man, real suffering, real death.

Many--MANY--over these 1976 + years, have insisted that He wasn't really dead when taken from the cross, that His disciples made up the whole thing.  But it doesn't hold water, anymore than His sword-punctured-hip held water.  The man lived, and then He died.

The end.

Except not the end.  April 3 happened.  But so did April 5.  Or April 9th, if you'd like.  I earnestly, seriously, thank God for this day, but if Sunday wasn't coming, if this was the end of the story, we would never have heard of the man Jesus.  He'd have been only another in a long line of would-be prophets, madmen with messiah-complexes.  I wonder how many others the Jews had put to death over their long history, people who believed they spoke from God, who told uncomfortable truths.  But when their lives were cut off, it was the end of the story, the end of the movement.  The end. 

Only this once, only this Man, only God could die on a Friday, live again on a Sunday and the whole world was changed forever. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Backwards promise

From March 6, 2006

James and John came to Him.  Rather audaciously. "We want you to do for us whateer we ask." Can you imagine the nerve?
"What do you want me to do?" Jesus asked, warily.
"Let us sit each on either side of you in glory. Right and left."
"You don't know what you're asking," He answered.  The cross was still before Him.  The pain of the world's sin still to be taken upon Him.  They only saw the glory, not the cost.

The punchline may be that we also don't know what we ask, most of the time.  We ask Him for so much without a notion of the price of it.  Make me an instrument, I pray.  But don't let me suffer for your sake, is the unspoken words behind them.  Allow me to do great and mighty things for you, but don't ask me to be faithful in the rooms of my own mind.  It's all backwards, I think.

Help me be faithful in little, to do whatever small thing You've given me, then multiply that, we should be saying.  No matter what the cost.  It's what Jesus told them.

"Don't worry," Jesus tells John and James. "You'll drink the cup I drink, be baptized with my baptism--that is, you'll suffer with me, for my Name.  But as for glory, that's up to the Father.  You serve here and now!" Wow, they asked for His word and He gave it.  Imagine the sting of such a backward promise to this arrogant young men, wanting fame and glory.  But...if I'm honest, I stand right beside them, wanting His reassurance that my life will count, that it will be noticed.  That there will be fame and honor and glory ahead. But He's busy promising something else.  Something backwards, in our heirarchy of ambition.  Not glory, but suffering is the highest calling.  Participating with Him, fellowship-ping with His sufferings, as Paul puts it. 

It's not about future glory, not about what He might do for us to honor us! It's about service, obedience, being a slave.  Wherever He puts us.  And give Him the honor, any which way He pulls us to serve. And if we're lucky, we might get to be baptized with His baptism--Suffering.

The honor, the glory ahead of us IS getting to drink His cup, even suffer with Him.  That is the greatest honor.  It was His highest moment, and might be ours as well.  Suffering as honor.  Glorified in suffering.  This is the backwards promise of the gospel.  Hard to imagine in the easy life most of us live. But, (for Christ--and for those who would be His) for the joy set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame, and (only after that) is now seated at the Father's right hand. The cross comes before the crown, as CS Lewis put it.  And so for me: 

"I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, ataining to the resurrection from the dead."  Philippians 3:10-11

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Just the way I am

I've been looking through old journals, thinking I'd share some things I've written over the years about the cross, resurrection, as we approach them this year.  This is an entry from April 3, 2003:

"...Grace cannot prevail until law is dead, until moralizing is out of the game.  The precise phrase should be, until our fatal love affair with the law is over--until finally and for good, our life-long certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed."       Robert Farrar Capon,  Between Noon and Three

What a powerful way to put it.  It's true--we want it all to be fair, to have 'what goes around comes around.' We want--even those of us who profess to be Pauline, Luther-loving, grace-believing evangelicals--we want our efforts to count for something.  We want our good works, our 'trying', to tip the scale in our favor.  We can't get it through our work-ethic, Puritanical skulls that we absolutely CANNOT earn it.  It doesn't matter what we do, how much we fail--or don't. The price was paid. PERIOD.
"There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."   Romans 3:23-24

Capon finishes this thought with this prayer: "Restore to us the comfort of merit and demarit. Prove to us that there is still something we can do, that we are still...the masters of our relationships. But do not preach us grace.  We insist on being reckoned with.  Give us something, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance."

This is, in part, why Paul speaks of 'the scandal of the cross.'  It goes against the grain of our score-keeping flesh that we don't have to--cannot, actually--Do anything to earn our way to heaven.  We are so used to doing in order to get.  To working for it.  But He loves us before we do anything.  He died for us eons before we were thoughts in any mind but His.  That's what this High holy season is about. 

But if I can't be holy so He'll love me, I definitely want to be holy because He loves me.  It's like Jack Nickolson telling Helen Hunt in "As Good as It Gets": "You make me want to be a better man." Jesus--His Life, His death for me, His resurrection--make me want to be a better human being.  Exactly because He loves me just as I am, right here, right here on my couch in my pjs, tired body, migraine-throbbing head, tingling limbs, lazy flesh.  He loves me.  Purely, wholly, full of grace, He loves me to death.  To His very death.