Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 19th

This section of my journal is out of chronological order- I wrote it last month.

It is one entire section- I wrote it out this way, because I knew at the time that I was writing it that I would be sharing it.

As I was working on it, I came across this version of the description of love in I Corinthians 13. The more time passes, the more I think this not just a description of love as a virtue, but also a description of Jesus Himself, how He is. I am fitting it in here, because it seems to compliment this particular journal section.

Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices in the truth.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful,
and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge
will become useless
But love will last forever.

Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete
and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture.
But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror,
but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.
All that we know now is partial and incomplete,
but then we will know everything completely, just as God now knows us completely.

Three things will last forever

—faith, hope, and love—

and the greatest of these is love.

Written December 22nd, 2013

We were in the inner room, which are open to the sky, broken only by the beams which stretch across the open space. It was warm and quiet and peaceful. Looking through the back door, I could see the shade of the grape arbor over the grass and the haze of the lawn further out. It was inviting.

“Let’s do something,” I suggested.

What do you want to do? Jesus asked.

“I don’t know… something.”

Maybe the garden? He suggested.

“Sure, the garden,” I agreed, thinking that might be fun.

We walked out under the grape arbor into the vegetable garden. I squatted down in the strong sunlight and thought pleasantly about what task to do. I thought of weeding- the soothing rhythm of pulling and tossing, and reached to pull one. As I did, I realized that I would be killing that weed and paused.

“If I pull the weed, they’ll die,” I said to Jesus, feeling troubled. I could see the weed wilting up on the grass, uprooted and withering away. “Maybe things shouldn’t die here…”

What if, by dying, it passes through a necessary and natural transformation? Jesus suggested.

I knew Jesus meant, that it would disintegrate and pass down into the soil and eventually be dispersed into other things.

“Yes, I can see how that would be,” I allowed, hesitantly. “But I thought things should never die here…”

Thinking about this, I remembered how there was bracken and fallen leaves, and my lesson on how, even where I was, things went through transformation and growth from one thing to another- that life is never a static, impervious perfection, but a process of growth into the light, and this living continues, and that death is not so much an end, as it is a necessary and natural transition that everything goes through, one especially important for us, and in this process, old things are shed and new things grow up.

I remembered how Jesus had said, all are alive to God. Because He is not the God of the dead, but of the living- but in what way and how is a mystery to me.

What would you prefer to do with it? Jesus asked gently.

“Well…” I felt irritated for a moment- all I’d wanted was some simple task, not a perplexing and thorny question. I wondered if maybe I should just leave the garden and try taking up knitting, instead. Surely there were no deep questions awaiting me with yarn.

With a sigh, I turned back to the garden. I had a feeling that if I did not wrestle with the question then, I would simply have to wrestle with it later.

“Well… if I leave it here, it might hurt the vegetable plants, because it might take nutrients away from them, and I don’t want the vegetable plants to be hurt, but if it’s possible, I would prefer them both to grow up together…”

My voice died away as I realized how familiar those words were. I looked up at Jesus, who was grinning at me from the other end of the row. I couldn't help but laugh. I made my way over to Jesus and settled myself in His lap. He welcomed me with the ease of habit.

“But what if the vegetables are harmed by the close presence of the weeds?” I asked Him, still worried.

What if, Jesus countered, the close presence of the weeds causes the vegetables to grow stronger roots and to bear richer fruit?

“That's a beautiful thought, if that were possible,” I agreed. “But I’m not sure that it really works that way in nature. I think it's pruning that causes that.”

Then I remembered not to take things so literally- that Jesus wasn’t giving me a botany lesson. I thought I should try to pay attention to the thing that He was really saying.

“Why must the weeds grow with the wheat?” I asked Jesus, returning to the central point. “Why can’t You just take all the chaff out now?” I meant- why must there be adversity, conflict, imperfection.

How else would you learn compassion, mercy and forgiveness? How else would you gain any depth or strength of spirit? Jesus asked.

Which, now that I think about it, is the same answer He had just given me before. Jesus tends to reframe and repeat the same answer until I understand it.

I knew, because of previous conversations, what the end of this conversation would be. Jesus would say, because He had said it before, that because I had learned to forgive and to bear in love and compassion with the imperfections of life- of myself first and then to extend that compassion and mercy to others, that I would be lovely on the inside, once those outer imperfections were removed, and that they would be- I would not have to bear with them forever. I would be free of them, but having grown deeper and richer and more golden, because of them.

This does not mean that God causes bad things to happen. I do not believe this. It does mean that there is nothing so terrible that He cannot redeem it to something even better than the original beauty would have been. This belief is very dear to me- it is part of how I live in hope.

I bear with myself love. This is difficult to do, but because Jesus loves me in this way, it becomes easier to love myself this way- and then it becomes more and more natural to love others similarly, because I am relating to them in a way that has become or is becoming authentic to myself.

Because I knew this, I accepted it. “We’ll leave the weeds where they are then, and they’ll grow up together,” I said, and decided instead of weeding, I would harvest.

So I bent down amid the tomato plants and started to pick the ripe ones. It was peaceful and warm in the garden and I could see small green tomatoes under the shade of the leaves and feel the warm, loose soil under my hand.

It hit me, the way it sometimes does, that I was with Jesus, and I looked up in wonder. Jesus was crouched down at the end of His row, the sun shining white and hot on His shoulders. He had already picked quite a few and had placed them on a shallow wicker basket that sat in the dirt between the vegetable beds.

As I watched, He picked a tomato and absentmindedly took a large bite out of it, instead of placing it in the basket. The growing and preparing of food is a new activity for us and I felt disappointed that Jesus was not doing things in the proper order, as I had undefined plans for those tomatoes.

“Jesus!” I protested “We haven’t even prepared those.”

Yes, but it’s delicious, He said, smiling. Jesus held the tomato out to me, invitingly.

“No thank You, I don’t like tomatoes like that,” I said politely, and then realized that I had just refused something from Jesus and added, very respectfully. “But thank You very much, anyway.”

Jesus, however, did not mind- He is a very peaceful person to be around and simply took another bite, sitting easily and contently in the sun. The tomato juice was running over His fingers and wrist, and getting in His beard. A certain possible revelation dawned on me.

“Are You are messy eater?” I asked, eyes wide.

Jesus gave me a bright and laughing glance. We can just go swimming later and it will all wash off, He said.

“Yes, that is true,” I agreed, thinking this a pleasant prospect.

I made my way back over to Jesus. Again, He generously offered me His tomato, so I took a small bite and chewed carefully. It was difficult to swallow it, but not because of the taste; I couldn’t taste anything.

“It’s mushy,” I told Jesus. “But I can’t taste anything.”

That will come, Jesus said, peacefully.

“Yes,” I agreed- because everything else had. I could see and hear and feel and even smell, sometimes, and I had become better at receiving those things over time.

Jesus flopped back down into the grass at the edge of the garden and I lay down beside Him, my head on His shoulder. The sky was full of light and everything was warm and quiet.

Eventually we took the tomatoes inside, up to the open front room. I put them on the wooden counter and began to slice a tomato. The slices fell neatly in a row of deep red with some glints of orange gold. I lifted a slice to the air and peered through it. I could see the almost star shaped pattern on the inside, with the light shining through.

“I like how You do that,” I said to Jesus. “I like how You give things one kind of beauty on the outside, and another kind- almost a better kind- on the inside, where sometimes it’s not even seen."

Jesus smiled at me, His eyes warm. He was standing at the counter on the other side of the sink from me. I took a bite of the slice; it was easier to eat that way. I could feel the juice in my mouth, but I still had trouble swallowing it. I spat it out on the floor, and immediately felt shame well up from inside me.

"I'm sorry," I whispered. I glanced up at Jesus, swiftly, miserably.

He didn't even have to speak; simply looking the love in His face, in Him, dissolved all the shame, and my shoulders eased back down and my back eased up from the hunched posture I had unconsciously assumed.

“It’s like I can’t swallow it,” I explained to Him.

That’s because you’re having trouble believing that you can, He explained gently. There was no guilt or shame in His tone of voice and as usual, His explanation clicked in my head and made me feel better about the larger picture.

“That makes sense,” I replied, relieved.

Again, the knowledge that I was with Jesus went flowing into me, heady like wine. I remembered Him all over again; the beauty of His face and His whole person and how He relates to me.

I remembered how I had seen Jesus before- even a year ago, when I had seen Him first. He was the same, but deeper and richer, more present, more nuanced, full of history, His history and also our history together- it was as if He were even more fully Himself, but I knew that Jesus had always been that way- I had simply grown to know Him better. I had a glimpse then, of how eternity could never be boring.

I went flowing into His arms, carried as if on a wave of love that rose up out of me in a simple and natural way. I was hardly aware of myself, or if I was, I was aware of myself only in the way that Jesus saw me. Love with and without words rose up in me. It was as if this love was a kind of flame which had flared up all through me.

I knew my spirit was of His own spirit- that I was made by Him in His own image, but that I was also freely and uniquely myself and so also distinct from Jesus, and that it was this combination that makes us so irresistible to God- that we are like Him, so we can see Him face to face, and yet distinctly ourselves, unique in all the world and that we are free to come or not to come- so that when we do come, true and deep and intimate relationship with God is possible and this is so overwhelmingly moving to Him that it is as if He is undone by this gift of love.

I like to undo Jesus in this way. It’s another way in which eternity could never be boring. And also why shame is so insidious- how can we look at God even to give Him love if we are too ashamed to lift our head? There would be no eye contact; there would be no free unveiling of the soul.

So when Jesus says that it is finished, it is so freeing to believe Him. I know, because I used to disbelieve Him all the time, and reject His love. I still do sometimes. It takes courage to allow oneself to be loved by God; to look up and into His eyes. It’s such a risky choice, it requires so much vulnerability. It took me years to trust Him enough to do this, and He was nothing but patient with me all that time, and still is.

Where I became aware of the room again, I noticed the tomatoes; there was a large pile of them.

“We can’t possibly eat all those. They’ll go to waste,” I said to Jesus.

We can feed them to the pigs, Jesus replied.

I thought this a weird thing for Him to say. “What pigs?” I asked, startled. “We don’t have pigs.” And then I dismissed His suggestion, because it was so out of the blue.

“If we had bread, I could make a toasted tomato sandwich… those are delicious,” I informed Him. “But we would need bread.”

Someone else might have bread, Jesus suggested.

“Maybe…” But I did not like this idea, because I don’t like visiting other people.

We could grind our own bread, Jesus suggested.

I thought about this. The upper field sometimes seemed to be full of wildflowers and sometimes of grain. If it was grain, or it was both, I thought that we could possibly harvest some and grind the kernels.

But then that seemed like so much work.

“Or we could just have bread,” I suggested, looking at Jesus directly, and referencing the fact that if we need something, it’s usually just there.

That’s cheating, He replied, His eyes dancing, referencing my recent and growing lessons in doing things the slow way around, because the pleasure and satisfaction is inherently better that way.

“That’s not cheating- that’s just possible,” I replied, grinning.

This made Jesus laugh. Fine- how I can argue with that? We'll do it that way is the best way I can translate His answer into words.

So we had bread and I sliced it. However, even after this, looking at the tomatoes, I realized it was way too much for us to eat- in fact, it was worse now, because there was even more food than before.

We could give it to the pigs, Jesus suggested again.

What pigs?” I asked Him again, intrigued, now that He had said this twice. “We don’t have pigs. Shall we have pigs? Are we going to have a farm? Is this a farm? But if it’s going to be a farm, can’t we have a different kind of animal, a nicer one? How about goats or a milk cow?"

I was asking Him all this, and thinking to myself, “Yes, let’s have a milk cow and a little barn…” when it occurred to me that maybe I had better stay with Jesus’ suggestion and see where He was going with it, instead of heading off in my own direction.

“Okay, let’s give it to the pigs,” I said.

Jesus scooped up the tomatoes and bread in the shallow basket and headed out the back door. I followed Him, very curious now.

“Where is the pen?” I asked, thinking of the different places we could put a pen.

They don’t need a pen, Jesus said gently.

Light dawned- of course they didn’t need a pen, there was nothing for them to be afraid of here. They could roam as they would. It only occurred to me later on that the deeper truth was that they didn't need a pen, because they didn't belong to me. Having authority over something does not make them one's possession, like a slave or just a resource- it is something more- it makes them one's responsibility, something that you care for- like a garden. They were more my neighbors than my pets.

We went round the stone wall of the orchard and up into the woods. It seemed to be a beech wood forest- wide open spaces between the tall trees. The forest floor rose up a gentle slope and there was a lot of loose leaves underfoot.

“Oh, they’re wild pigs!” I exclaimed, thinking they must be boars. “That makes sense.”

Jesus placed the basket down on the ground and then we sat down at the foot of a tree, and we waited. Suddenly there was a whole bunch of undefined movement in front of me, which I found frightening, so I leapt to my feet. So did Jesus; He put His arm around my shoulders and whispered in my ear, they won’t hurt you.

I looked again and the movement coalesced into pigs- they were not boars at all, they were ordinary farm pigs, clean and pink and fat. One came close to me and I held my hand out. I saw her snout very clearly, so soft and sensitive and wrinkled looking. She was very gentle. She snuffed my hand and rejoined the group.

When they were gone, Jesus picked up the empty basket and we walked back down the hill. As we were walking along, Jesus tossed our container up into the air. It got caught high up in the branches of one of the trees.

After a moment of surprise, I felt a little irritated- I thought, we can still use that basket! Why would He throw it away like that? Then I remembered that we have no lack of anything- anything we need is always provided, over and above what we need.

That's for the birds, Jesus explained, putting His arm around my shoulders and looking down at me with His twinkling eyes.

I looked back over His shoulder and saw that there were birds already alighting on the branches near the basket, hopping and fluttering around and unraveling the wicket, and carrying away the strands- to build nests, I realized.

We came out of the woods at the lower field, where the brook runs slow and warm and amber brown in the sun. We followed it down and into the woods, where it grew swift and rocky and all the way to the edge of the cliff, where it tumbled down toward the sea.

By this time, it was evening and one half of the sky was layered with rose and gold, while behind us, the sky sank down into darker shades of blue. The rose and gold was reflected on the quiet waters of the ocean below, the colors moving slowly with the rise and fall of the waves.

We went down the cliff and into the water and swam out into the bay. We were floating there when I felt some kind of movement below or beside me, which frightened me for a moment.

Don't worry, she's as shy as you are, Jesus said.

I looked over and right beside me rose the smooth side of a whale, blue black and gleaming. I could see the blow hole. When I touched her, I could feel her slick marine skin. She was alive and aware, but she never came further out of the water; she sank slowly, gracefully back under the waves. The waves closed over her and it was as if the bay was empty, but I realized now that it was not. I thought it likely that nothing was empty- that it was all filled with life, as the glory of God fills the earth.

We came out of the water and made our slow way back up the path. Eventually we stood on the edge of the lawn. It was full evening and all the light was blue and dim. My hair was damp and I was tired, the kind of tired that is almost a pleasure of its own- certainly a pleasure to feel tired and see the lights of home near by, promising comfort and rest.