Friday, February 21, 2014

February 21st

There are only two windows in this house that capture the morning light, and one is by my desk. It looks out across the neighbor's side yard and it's so close to their house that if I stand and look out the window directly, I can see only their beige siding. If I want to see the sky, I have to stand at an angle.

At night, my husband closes the blinds so that no one can see in. In the morning, I wait until I see blue light glowing between the blinds before I open them. This has become a ritual.

I gravitate toward rituals. In the old house, I would throw open the French doors of our bedroom and stand on the threshold and look at the sky, glowing with light between the trees.

The first time I did it, it was a spontaneous gesture of love and joy, evoked by the presence of God. Eventually, this sequence was reversed and it became something I did to try to cause the love and joy to return.

There's quite a difference, but it took me months and a bad fall to figure this out- to learn that I cannot call God to me in the way that I want Him to appear, to learn that I remained my small and human self despite the demonstrations of His love and presence that I had begun to assume I was earning and could control.

I gave it up. I had become like a fallow field and I ceased to deny this, though it was painful and felt like spiritual failure. I began to let myself be exactly as I was, no more and no less. It was only after this- months after this- that my inner life blossomed out in the way it is now.

It is very easy to make a religion out of one's experiences. In fact, I think it may be an inevitable and necessary stage in the journey, and it's not a lesson that I have ever completely learned- I continue to be reminded that God is always greater, deeper and far beyond the way in which I know Him. This is what I mean when I say that I let Him be God.

There's a meditation I enjoy doing these days; it's simple and easy to do. I lay down on the carpet, open my arms and give up. I enjoy the carpet and the fact that the floor and the ground and gravity is holding me without any effort on my part. I watch the ceiling fan and I listen to the dryer and I notice that I am breathing without any effort on my part.

Sometimes I cannot make my thoughts quiet and they rattle around and I am compassionate with myself- the point of this meditation is to fail- to give up and know that I am still held, despite myself, despite everything. I can give up and rest.

This sharing of my inner life, when I was looking at it from a distance- when months ago He first made it clear, again and again, that this was what He wanted from me- it seemed smooth. Now that I'm on it, this road has unexpected turns and destinations.

Sometimes I just feel so strange.

Why is my inner life the way that it is? Sometimes I feel as if I would be better suited to the Middle Ages, to the Catholic religion and a nunnery. Then I might make sense.

I feel like my inner life is an affront to all kinds of sensibilities- it's centered around Jesus Christ, but it's shockingly unorthodox. In this way, I sometimes feel as if I please no one and fit in no where.

I was right in the middle of writing this post and paused, and checked my blog reader, mostly as a way to distract myself. A new one had popped up, from a blog called Illuminate, by Jamal Jivanjee. I have followed this blog for some time now, as he frequently has vivid, powerful and out of the box ways of presenting the love of Christ expressed within and to the organic church.

This blog was called "Divine Love and Raw Sewage" and he wrote about Jesus being outside the camp, in a place considered unclean:

"Brothers and sisters, I do not write these things to discourage you, but to encourage you.  Much time and discouraging effort is spent trying to live above reproach inside the camp.  I want to encourage you to openly accept the reproach (outside the camp) that comes with the giving and receiving of His extravagant divine love.  The greater the love you live by, the greater the reproach. You will even notice this reproach within yourself.  To live in the reproach of the world (including the religious world) is to live above reproach in His sight."

I simply sat there, staring at the screen, dumbfounded.

Reading that blog is not the first time that I have been hearing about the reproach that comes from being outside the camp- this has been a recurring theme lately.

Recently I ordered two books, both of them commentaries on the Song of Songs, one by Watchman Nee, a Chinese church leader and teacher born in 1903, and one by Madam Guyon, a French mystic born in 1648.

I devoured both of these relatively small books in about forty eight hours; I even read while I was standing by the stove cooking. I had so many "aha!" moments I wanted to raise my hands to the ceiling and shout.

These books explained so much to me! These are quotes from Madame Guyon's commentary:

"While thus asleep, the soul hears clearly the voice of the Well-beloved, who knocks at the door. He desires to make Himself heard...

"Reflect that My head is fitted with what I suffered for thee during the darkness of My mortal life, and that for thy sake I have been saturated with the drops of the night of most cruel persecutions. I come now to thee, to make thee partaker of My reproaches, My ignominy, and My confusion. (25)"

Footnote 25:
"There are many persons who abandon themselves to certain crosses, but not to all; who can never prevail upon themselves to be willing that their reputation in the sight of men should be taken away; this the very point God here is aiming at. The soul, too, feels an extreme repugnance to obeying the command of God to apply herself without; she has become fond of her inward retreat. Nevertheless, it is quite certain that she will not have to bear these crosses unless she leave her solitude. When God intends that a soul shall really die to self, He sometimes permits in it certain apparent, but not real, false steps, by the effect of which its reputation among men is destroyed."
-Commentary on chapter 5, verse 2


"Those who judge by the outward appearance alone would believe them very ordinary persons, through they are the delight of God.

"God hides them for Himself, and is so jealous of them that He will not expose them to the eyes of men, but, on the contrary, He seals them with His seal, as He Himself declares that His bride is a fountain sealed, whereof He Himself is the seal...

"I shall be reminded, perhaps, that this soul cannot be so hidden, inasmuch as she is a help to her neighbor. But I reply, that this is the very thing that most subjects her to humiliation, God making use of it to render the soul more contemptible because of the contradictions which she must experience...

"These souls frequently, in their simplicity, offend those who are rather attached to legal forms than to the simplicity of the Gospel..."
-Commentary on chapter 6, verse 7


And then from Watchman Nee:

"Children" is translated "sons" in the American Standard Version. "Sons" signifies something objective. These sons of the mother are strong in doctrine and in objective things and they are somewhat authoritative. Because of the maiden's love for God and the discipline of the chambers, there is a change in her work. Her mother's sons begin to despise her and even become angry with her."
-The Initial Pursuit and Satisfaction, The Revelation in the Inner Chambers (1:5-7)

"The call in verse 2 is beyond many believers' expectation. They do not realize that there is an aspect of shame to the cross. They are not inexperienced as to the cross. They may have had deep experiences of the cross already. Although they have suffered a little for the cross and met some persecution and shame, they have always felt the cross was their glory, their life and their power. It never occurred to them that the cross would become their shame, that they would not only lose worldly fame, but also their spiritual renown, that others would consider that God has rejected them, and that God would put them through trials and strip them of comfort and sympathy from those whom they know, who would think them smitten of God. They may have suffered shame from the world, but spiritual shame is something new to them."

-The Cross After the Resurrection and the Maiden's Failure, Excuses (5:3)


In addition to these books, I have been devouring books by Kenneth Bailey- Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, The Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke.

I was introduced to him through Lois Tverberg's book Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, which is also an excellent book.

Dr. Kenneth Bailey's books, though full of scholarly research, are easy to understand. He sheds so much light on the parables of Jesus through his experience of living for twenty years amid Christians in the Middle East- add to that all his studies and his clear language and it has had a huge impact on my understanding of the Gospels.

As a simple example, consider the parable of the eye full of light vs the eye being full of darkness. This parable always scared the crap out of me. It was so mysterious! What could Jesus be saying? What if what I thought was light in myself was actually darkness? What could be more frightening?

However, this phrase is a Hebrew idiom. If a person had an "eye full of light,"  or "a good eye," it meant that they saw the poverty and need around them and did something about it. If they saw the need and did nothing, they had a dark eye or an unhealthy eye.

In any case, amid the many excellent things I learned, Dr. Bailey's work on the Parable of the Pounds (Talents), has remained with me lately.

He points out:

"As Westerners, one of our lenses is capitalism. Does the parable of the pounds need to be liberated from the presuppositions of capitalism that perhaps have unconsciously influenced our translations and interpretations of this story?"

He goes on to say:

"The master commends both servants for being faithful, not successful."

-Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, Part 6: Parables of Jesus, 31. The Parable of the Pounds

This is one small sentence in the midst of Dr. Bailey's entire chapter on this parable, but that sentence helped me understand what I am doing. Because why is Jesus asking me to share these things on my tiny blog that very few people read? And at the same time, thank goodness that is all He is asking me to do!

I am asked to be faithful, taking one step at a time, because I am walking with Him, leaning on Him, being held up. Being with Jesus means that I am with Him where He is- outside the camp, bearing with Him His reproach, giving and receiving His extravagant love.

Being faithful is simply to take the next step.