Last night, when I dropped lightly into the inner place, I found that I was alone.
I stood on the stone floor of the front room, the air heavy with light, sparkling like dust motes in the sun. There are ferns hanging between the pillars now and rugs over the stone. The grass was thick and green.
I wandered through the rooms, listening to the silence. Outside, I walked under the terrace hung with grape vines. Plucking a grape, I popped it in my mouth and went through this leafy tunnel to the orchard. The orchard is shady and green and mossy.
There is a narrow back door that opens to the woods and two narrow paths winding away into the foliage. One I haven't taken yet, the other leads to a green lake hidden further into the woods.
Instead of taking these paths, I went along the outside of the orchard and to the back of the house, where there's a garden pond surrounded by rhododendron bushes. Water spills down stone steps from the back room and into the pond.
My route took me all the way back to the front room. Closing my eyes, I let the light soak into my skin and bones, and then I knew where He was.
I enjoyed being by myself and I knew, if I wished, that I could be by myself for as long as I wished. His invitation is always open, perfectly free and besides, He was the light and the air and the earth and the growing things.
I went to where He was; He stood at the outer edge of the round courtyard where the olive tree grows in the center, drenched in the sun- that place is always full of light. It was peaceful and quiet.
He took my hand and led me into the stone room, which was deep with blue shade and cool. I sat cross legged on the padded bench, enjoying the cool of the room.
You've been thinking, He said.
"Yes," I said, leaning forward.
Tell Me, He said encouragingly.
I shrugged my shoulders. "Well, what do I know about these things... But there was this line in that version that I was reading..."
What about that line?
"Well, where You say that no one will be married in heaven, but will be like the messengers in heaven... and they put in an explanatory note, that said something about in heaven, everyone will be doing nothing praising God... I thought that was a somewhat unfortunate way of putting it. I liked the Message's way of putting it better- that all their intimacies and ecstasies will be with God. If I read that heaven was nothing but continuous praise years ago, I would have immediately thought of one long praise service and not ever being able to sit down!
"If heaven is going to be described that way, at lease put in the entire catechism- that man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. If they are going to bring up the praise, they should also include the enjoying, or it's lopsided. Especially in view of the loss of marriage, which is very important to our current ideas of happiness and satisfaction."
That's a difficult teaching, He said gently.
"Yes," I agreed. "Though it's explained more in letters later on. But in those letters, it's the practical instructions that seem to get all the attention and argued about."
Why do you think that is? He asked me.
I gave Him an exasperated, amused look. "Why are You asking me? You know perfectly well why."
He smiled. But tell Me what you think, He insisted.
I leaned back against the cool stone wall and tried to think about it. He settled back beside me. Through the open stone doorway I could see the sun drenched courtyard, crossed with shade from the pillars.
"Well, because the spiritual things can never be completely understood and mystery is uncomfortable- especially the mysteries of God. They require faith, and faith is much more difficult than clear instructions- faith is about something you don't know completely. Instructions on how to behave are more comfortable that open ended spiritual mysteries that talk about intimacy with God. Sometimes, in the short term, it feels more safe and more rewarding to stake a position on and to follow and to defend one's interpretation than it is to fall into the mystery of an intimate relationship with God."
He didn't say if I was right or wrong about any of this; He just seemed to enjoy talking with me about it. And it's not to say that practical application is not necessary. Jesus was practical so much of the time- He was often giving very specific, practical directions.
I sent this in a letter to my mom yesterday:
I'd been reading the gospels and also some commentary, and I was feeling overwhelmed by everything. We were sitting together in the room- He was eating something- I think they were cherries- and spitting the pits out on the ground.
At one point, I leaned over and looked at the floor- I was all, "Are You really spitting that on the ground?"
He smiled, with His dancing eyes and said, "Don't worry, the mice will eat them."
That was the first I heard of mice in our rooms!
Anyway. He suggested that maybe I shouldn't read the commentaries, that they were weighing me down. (I want to note, by the way, that this is not an absolute, general statement- simply that I might not want to read the ones that I was reading, because they were triggering my legalistic religious background. Commentaries can be very helpful.)
"Why?" I asked.
"They're written from a certain religious point of view," He explained.
"Is that so bad?" I asked.
"Religion did not play a large part in My life," He said- He said this tongue in cheek, by the way! "You need a living connection to Me, not a religious paradigm."
"But You sometimes sent people back to the temple to make the appropriate offering and You celebrated the feasts and whatnot," I said.
"I didn't come for a public revolution," He said. "And that age hadn't come to a close, so I worked within it. But I came to free people from religious bondage, not create a new one. You need a living, intimate connection with Me- to learn from being with Me, not from religious ideas about Me. Stay close to the Source."
(Later on, I thought of this verse: "You have an anointing. You received it from Him, and His anointing remains on you. You do not need any other teacher. But as His anointing instructs you in all the essentials (all the truth uncontaminated by darkness and lies), it teaches you this: “Remain connected to Him.” (I John 2:27, The Voice)
"Yes," I mused, still thinking about religious, "Like how it says, in whatever letter, that true religion is to care for the widows and orphans and to not get entangled in the systems of power, privilege and possessions of the world..."
"Yes! Which is exactly how I lived My life," He pointed out.
And I thought, my goodness, how true! That is exactly how Jesus lived His life- He had so much care for orphans and widows- for the least, the most vulnerable, the poor and He consistently refused power, possessions and privilege.
"Besides," He explains, "those gospels were written for a specific purpose in mind."
"That's true!" I said, catching on.
"What purpose?" He asked, His eyes twinkling. He is sometimes quizzing me like this- not for the purpose of getting the "right" answer, but so that I should think it through.
"Well... they were written by Your disciples for the early church- to prove that You were the Anointed, vindicated by God by Your resurrection..."
"Because...?" He asked.
"So they would believe Your message- Your gospel."
"What is the gospel?" He asked.
"That's such a good question!" I exclaimed. "Sometimes I wonder that, myself. I've heard it so many times that's like it has no meaning and now I'm not sure what it means."
He waited, while I thought about it. In fact, at some point, He put the fruit aside and pulled me onto His lap. I put my head on His shoulder and breathed in deeply of all that peace that suffuses Him.
"Your gospel is all tied up with this phrase, the kingdom of God. You're talking about that all the time. And the kingdom of God means that You are Lord, not Caesar- that we don't belong to the systems of the world anymore..."
"And that sins are forgiven," He reminded me.
"Yes! That's very important. That's what You said at the end- that they should preach the forgiveness of sins- which You were able to do before You even died- You forgave that paralytic man on the mat his sins... Forgiveness is already freely and fully given...
"...and we should repent," I continued, thinking about it, "which means simply changing one's mind- metanoia, leading to a changed life. But the changed mind comes first."
"A change of identity," He reminded me.
"Yes! So the gospel is the good news to help people change their thinking- their identity from slaves of law and sin to children of God, fully forgiven and included within the reign of God, which is lived out by generous acts of love, service, forgiveness... by giving one's life away in love, back to God and others."
"Yes," Jesus said. Then He went back to the gospel's impact on me. "They couldn't include all their experiences with Me in those gospels- they're condensed, focused, because they were written with such a single minded goal. But in their three years of being with Me, there were many, many moments of simply being with Me. So, when you read those gospels and feel overwhelmed, know that it's because of their focused message, not because I am, in Myself, an intense, exhausting Person- which you know perfectly well, from your own personal experience of Me," He pointed out, with His loving good humor.
Another time, we were walking down a grassy hill toward a valley and as we were walking along, I was talking to Him about the three temptations.
It seemed that they had to do with privilege. Essentially, the thought is, if you are the beloved of God, then you won't have to suffer lack, you won't ever get hurt because God will coddle you, and if you just bend a little- yield, bow down to the systems of this world, you will have prestige and power, wealth and position.
And each time, it seemed that Jesus said, in essence- No. That is not how it is and I reject that expectation.
It seemed to be important that He should draw these clear lines just after receiving the Spirit and just before beginning His ministry. He was defining what His life would be about- what the life of the beloved will be like.
"But instead..." I mused, trying to remember, "...one should live by every word of God...What does that mean? I don't know what that means but it seems very powerful... and that one should not relate to the Father as if He were only a high risk insurance policy? Is that what You meant? And that one should serve and worship God only... that I understand."
He swept me up into His arms; I felt His love burning all through Him. You're Mine, He whispered.