This is a colorful, bewildering and mysterious story.
What the story really is or if it's real or in what way it's real, I can't say. I myself do not know.
I will tell it because of the peace and beauty in it, and because it helped me understand certain things.
There was a girl who lay down to sleep but woke in a place where the Beloved likes to rest, and they were resting there.
The girl was on the couch, the Beloved's head resting on her shoulder. Above her was the ceiling, which she noticed for the first time, was crossed with beautiful black wooden beams.
There was peace all through the room- peace within and peace without- and in the peace, the girl's thoughts drifted.
She thought about Mary smashing the alabaster jar and how we are like jars of clay, cracked through and frail.
The girl felt her own human frailty, a fragile piece of pottery with a webbing of cracks running all through her, hardly able to hold any weight and feeling as if she is always failing and never doing anything that matters- not loving enough, not strong enough, not clear enough.
"I'm a cracked pot," she confessed sadly.
Perfect, the Beloved murmured peacefully.
Released from guilt by His response, the girl was filled with a playful joy.
"You are a Man of few words, aren't You?" she teased.
With you, He replied.
The girl wondered what He meant by that, so He explained that her character reflected a part of His own character- she was, in a part or in some way, one expression of who He is.
This was not the first time the girl had heard this lesson; it helped her see God in others very different from her, to let their differences teach her about another side of God.
It always made her think of this scrap of verse:
"[The purpose is] that through the church the complicated, many-sided wisdom of God in all its infinite variety and innumerable aspects might now be made known to the angelic rulers and authorities (principalities and powers) in the heavenly sphere." (Ephesians 3:10, Amplified)
Which is somewhat easier to understand in The Message version:
"And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!"
The girl was trying to think if there was anything in the Scriptures that talked about if God is talkative or not. It seemed inconclusive, and frankly, there didn't seem to be much material on the subject at all. In general it seemed that sometimes He was at dinner parties and sometimes He was going off on His own.
"So, with extroverts, are You extroverted?" the girl asked, mulling this over.
He sat up and looked at her, His eyes bright. Would you like to see? He offered.
"What, now? You mean, like, right this moment?" the girl asked, taken aback.
The Beloved caused her to know that there was something like a dinner party that was happening right then, that they could attend, if she wished. In fact, she could see it, a warm grouping of rooms set in the woods, some distance from where they were, with lots of glowing lights.
This was overwhelming to the girl, but she had been overwhelmed so many times before in that place that she said, "Okay! Why not. Sure."
Then they were standing in the front room of some other house- a very Eastern house, of wood and colorful pillows and fringed silks and lanterns and it was confusing, as it always is, to go somewhere new. It was as if she was having trouble seeing.
She could see people moving around and could feel that they were full of joy and good humor, but she could not see them very well. She had to keep telling herself to remain in the present moment, to remain open to the present moment.
One person came and greeted her by taking her hand. She shook his hand and then he suddenly leaned forward and kissed her forehead, which caused the girl to recoil in surprise, even though she felt nothing but the loving acceptance and joyful recognition of this other person. It was as though he knew her, though she did not know him and had a hard time seeing him.
She was drawn up some stairs into a dinning room with a low table and floor cushions. The walls were polished wood. It had a very Indian or south Asian feel. There seemed to be a lot of jewel colored fabrics every where.
The girl was placed at the foot of the table, the Beloved was placed opposite her, down the long, narrow table, at its head. She could look down the table at Him and catch His eye, which filled her with a secret thrill, each time.
Looking down, she could see her gold plate, rimmed with bands of color and the utensils and goblets and napkins- just a jumble of colorful confusion. On the plate, she saw there seemed to be red pomegranate seeds.
She ate one, just to see if she could and then she said to herself- a small private joke- oh no! Now I will be stuck here...
This was mainly to entertain herself, because she either could not hear or could not understand the conversation, though she could watch the gestures of the other dinner guest. The Beloved, for example, did seem to be enjoying Himself very much, looking right at home, often laughing and gesturing freely with His hands. Every time she caught His eye, it was full of laughter.
The girl could clearly see the guest seated at the right corner of the table. This guest was dressed like an Indian princess, in swathed from head to toe in turquoise silk, with gold embroidery, her eyes outlined with kohl. Looking at her, the girl heard the word, bride, and immediately the girl thought, ah, she is a sister of mine.
Next to this woman was an Asian man, dignified and self contained, also dressed in silk, and further down there seemed to be other people, but the girl could not see them very well.
On the left side of the table, the girl was startled to see a perfectly ordinary looking man- like a farmer from Idaho, with an open, generous, simple face, dressed in perfectly ordinary clothing. He seemed to radiate love and simple good will and patience.
Next to him was a taller, thinner man wearing a cowboy hat. He seemed to be full of down to earth insight, earthy good humor. He seemed to have a lined face; he looked older. Further down the table, the girl could not see.
The girl felt a strange sensation, as though the atmosphere around her were rippling up. She looked around, but she could not see very well. The sensation came again, and the girl almost caught words. She began to wonder if maybe someone was speaking to her.
She tried to focus her eyes on the source of the possible sound, down the other end of the table, and suddenly, a young woman with dark curly hair came into focus, and this young woman did seem to be speaking to the girl.
The girl looked at the Beloved, and her look said, this is so frustrating and I don't understand what's happening or what this is all about.
And His gentle eyes said, I understand. I love you.
The girl leaned forward, cupping her hand around her ear and said, "I'm sorry, I'm not good at this, could you say that again?" and she strained to hear.
How are you? the young woman said, suddenly, very clearly
"How am I?" repeated the girl, stunned by the banality of the question, after all that effort.
And suddenly, all the guests and the Beloved just burst out laughing. The laughter swallowed the girl up. She knew she was the object of their merriment, but she did not feel bad or embarrassed.
"I've overwhelmed, that's how I am!" the girl declared, throwing her hands in the air and grinning. "I have no idea what's going on!"
Soon after, the dinner was over and the guests began to stand up, so the girl stood up as well. They went down into another room, which seemed to be a living room, with rugs and floor cushions and out through open doors to a green lawn and it seemed to be at night, which was the first time the girl had experienced night in that place.
The girl thought to herself, oh, they have a lawn like ours, only it looks out into a jungle. She went to the edge of the jungle and looked into the velvet shadows behind the vines and trees. It was very peaceful.
There were stars in the sky above and a bonfire and chairs. The girl went to sit in one and suddenly saw that it was an ordinary camp chair, with striped canvass. Such small, unexpected details like this were constantly delighting her.
She sat down in the chair, which was next to the Beloved, but then she pushed her chair back, so she could see the whole scene of the fire and the starry sky and the velvet darkness of the jungle and people talking so quietly and peacefully around the fire.
Then the Beloved began to tell a story, so the girl came back and sat on the grass beside His chair. He put His hand on her head for a moment and then went on talking. By this one gesture, and by the fact that His hand remained close to her, she heard His quiet message just to her- I love you. you are Mine.
She could not hear what He was saying, but she did not mind, because it was so peaceful just to be there. In fact, it seemed as though she fell asleep. When she woke, it seemed as though hours had passed and the night had deepened and it was time to go.
The girl found herself standing barefoot on the clean stone floor of the place she had woken in and it was familiar and home.
I wrote this blog and then I went shopping. Keith has been away on a fishing trip with the some of the wounded warriors, but he is returning tomorrow, so I definitely needed to refill the pantry- I've been living happily on oatmeal and tuna fish salad.
At the check out line, the cashier was an Indian woman and as soon as I saw her, it was as though I recognized her and when she looked at me, it was as if she knew me. We smiled. It was as if I had known her a long time.
Her eyes were soft brown and beautiful and often crinkling up into smiles. We talked easily about nothing profound, but I felt as if I were in a lovely, easily space of simply being.
Sometimes I think this is what love does, at a certain level- it recognizes the inherent and simple value of the other person. It sees them as they are and greets them as a friend. It creates a space for them just to be.
It seems that even God enjoys resting in the peaceful, easy space of love- not because the vessel that receives Him is perfect, but because it is surrendered to Him in its imperfections.
Or, at Richard Rohr put it, in his daily meditation today:
"I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever, and revealing them to the little ones. (Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25)If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection (like God does)..."
-Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
This is what I first learned when I cared for small children and disabled children and the elderly, and I continue to learn this lesson, deeper and deeper.
There moments where I am looking at someone and I understand, with this sudden clarity, that I am looking at Jesus- at one of His least ones. It is God who is looking at me out of that broken face, those lost eyes, the body worn out from a life long struggle with too little resources and too much pain.
Then I reach inward to the Beloved, I ask Him- what shall I do? What shall I say to this person?
And the answer is always: Be present. Be here with them. Listen.
It's such a small gesture, but I have had complete strangers suddenly pour out their pain to me in odd moments. I have no words for them, all I can do is to be there with them, giving them a space to be, and listening.
I suspect that my own child, when he or she comes home, will teach me this lesson best of all.
It doesn't have to be profound, we just have to be present in love. It helps, sometimes, to remember that when we look at another person, we are seeing God. There are all kinds of guests at the table.