Friday, May 16, 2014

May 16th

He led me through a grove of trees. They were short and sturdy, almost silvery in the light, up stone steps and into a field of grain that grew on the flat of a hilltop. Around it, I could see the outline of other hilltops and the blurred, soft colors of other hillsides.

We walked through the field toward a fringe of green. It was a copse of trees. Inside, the light was blocked out by the leaf cover. The dirt floor was smooth, scattered with dry leaves. Small birds moved through the branches, hardly seen, but revealed in the dancing movement of the branches.

Jesus flung Himself down on the ground and put His hands under His head and crossed His ankles. I sat down cross legged beside Him and looked around me with interest, seeing how the bright sky was cut by the leaves into thin lines of curving light.

Tell Me our story, Jesus requested, affectionately.

I looked down at Him in surprise. The innocence of Jesus is unearthly.

“Our story?” I mused, happily. "Alright." I stopped to think about where it began. I assumed He meant from my point of view; from His point of view it went back before He began time.

I settled comfortably into His arm. “Well, when I was pretty young- in third grade, I was really passionately, fiercely in love with this boy- you know how I am.”

Fierce hearted, Jesus whispered, with such pleasure and love.

“Yes," I acknowledged. "And after that year he lived far away from me, so I could only see him briefly, so I had to treasure each little memory…”

We smiled at each other, because wasn’t that training for now? Such foreshadowing.

“I wrote them all down on pieces of paper and kept them in these stuffed envelopes in a special place,” I told him, remembering it, how it had been at that age of my life.

“That was all I had to get me through the long periods of time when I couldn’t see him.”

Again, we paused and looked at each other with such love- how like our own relationship! It was like I had been in training, it was like that was the shape of my heart, and I couldn't help loving that way.

"And then... I don't remember exactly how old I was, but it was the summer when I was moving from the younger summer convention to the older group... So maybe I was thirteen? Or fourteen? In any case, I knew that You were asking me to give up that first love and to love You that way instead."

I sat up, lost in thought. "I don't remember how I knew that," I told Him, looking down at His tender face. "I just knew it. I knew it so strongly that I confessed it to the man who was running the convention at the time, and he listened seriously and told me that God would do great things in my life because I was letting You in so deep. But something else had happened first... Or did it happen afterward? Honestly, Jesus, it was so long ago, I can't remember anymore."

It came before, Jesus assured me.

"That would make sense. That would explain why my heart was softened to You, because before that, it wasn't. So, okay..." I pulled my thoughts together, to go back to this other beginning. "When I was younger, I didn't love You..."

That seemed a horrible thing to say; I looked down at Jesus, filled with guilt. His complete understanding and tender love reassured me without Him saying anything.

"But that's because I didn't know You. I just knew the way You were taught to me. And I didn't love that You. I would have loved You," I ardently reassured Jesus, "if I had known You, but I didn't yet, and I love You now."

"But at that time," I continued, picking up the threads of the story, "I didn't and one day I realized it. I was riding the school bus in the early morning. Do You remember," I asked Him, my thoughts drifting away into another direction, "that road?"

I do, He whispered, smiling.

We were caught up in memory of that dirt road, the sharp turns and high banks twisted with roots, the large maple and oak trees, the pines, the cold undersides of the hill where the frost lingered, the glimpses of ponds and lakes behind the trees, the way the light shown down on layers and layers of green leaves in the early summer as the bus wound its way along the sharp side of a hill, over looking the forest that fell down the slope, so that I seemed to be looking across a sea of pale green and gold.

"Anyway," I said, pulling myself together and returning to the original story. "I was riding along that road on the school bus one morning and I realized that I didn't love You. Where love should have been was nothing but emptiness, a coldness. I was horrified to realize this and I was very scared.

"I thought it must be a great sin, not to love You. I was supposed to love You, because You had taken all the wrath and punishment that was meant for me. So I thought that the wrath must be twice as bad for me now, because I didn't love You, and I resented You instead. I didn't know how to make myself love You.

"This attitude in me horrified and frightened me, when I faced it. I figured mending this break was beyond my current powers and that I had better wait until I was reinforced with sufficient holy space and time before attempting to address this, so I offered a wordless prayer to You to have mercy until I had the right opportunity to fix it.

"Then that summer, my father was a cook for the High School girls' convention, and the whole family went with him. It was at the place where the church had begun- a very holy place, and it was quiet because I wasn't in the convention and I had a lot of free time, so I knew the time had come.

"I went up to the seven story prayer tower that remained from the high days of the church, when young people had offered up prayers night and day. It was quiet up there, with windows that looked out in all four directions. I sat on a spindly wooden chair and began to read through my Bible, looking for an answer."

Telling Jesus all this took hardly any time at all, and I was caught up in the memories. I could see my white Bible, outlined and underlined, passages highlighted, notes scribbled in the margins, pages turned down, slips of paper and dried leaves stuck in it, and stuffed in the front and the back.

In the back, there had been a small reprint of Jesus- a European Jesus of gently noble aspect, with a bright blue eyes and soft brown beard, looking piously up to heaven with clasped hands.

This was nothing like Jesus as I knew Him now, with His calloused, rough looking hands and forearms covered with dark, curling hair and scarred not just from the iron nails of crucifixion, but from the hand held tools of His earlier trade.

But it wasn't just the darkness of His complexion that was different, it was in the depth of expression in His face- a mobility of emotion that moves transparently through His face and that is deep, stirring and eloquent especially in His eyes, but behind this, always His peace that isn't the absence of movement or disconnected spiritual elevation, but the solid fastening of Himself to His identity, a complete and perfect certainty that has no need to push or advertise or gasp.

"I stayed up there in that room for hours, pouring through my Bible," I mused, returning to the story. "I read a lot of compelling things, but none of them fit or fixed the situation. Some of them were contradictory. My confusion and feeling of urgency increased. Finally, it was approaching evening and the light was shining almost horizontally through the windows, golden and warm. I began to think that You might never answer me, that I might never be fixed.

"I put the Bible down. I had a headache and I couldn't read anymore. I sat in the silence, with the feeling of hopelessness. Almost I had forgotten what I had gone up there for- to try and make myself love You- to fix this hardness in me, this appalling lack.

"So I cried out to You, I think almost without words and then..." I paused in the telling of the story, remembering so clearly. "It was as though I saw into myself. And inside myself was an emptiness. It was a perfectly square emptiness," I told Jesus, looking at Him with puzzlement. "Like a cube. It didn't make sense to me- I felt as if all of myself were empty, in some way, so I didn't understand why my emptiness should look like a cube and I found it almost terrifying."

I looked at Jesus again, wondering if He would explain the cube to me, but He was simply watching me with His loving eyes, listening with His whole self to me. Jesus is an excellent listener. One is never worried that His attention is wandering; it never does.

(Although I didn't understand it at the time, or even at the time of my being with Jesus and retelling the story, a week or so after that I read in Jesus: a Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, that the Holy of Holies was shaped like a perfect cube- first in the tabernacle and then in Solomon's Temple and also in prophesy- always a cube.

I read it and sat perfectly still. For the first time, I began to understand why I had seen a squared space in me that was empty. Perhaps it is possible to say that, although I was like a temple dedicated to the Living God, He had not as yet filled me with His personal, intimate presence- there wasn't the inner communion.)

"Well," I sighed, continuing on, "I cried out to You to fill me, to fill the emptiness. I felt desperate about it and I felt certain that You were supposed to do that. For a few moments, nothing happened, and then something did."

I was lost in thoughts of that time. "It was as though something was being poured down over me," I said to Jesus. "It poured over my head and downward, all through me, even to my fingers and toes. It was love and warmth and it filled me with vibrant life and joy, but I can't describe... It was so long ago... I wish I could remember exactly what it was like..."

Suddenly my eyes lit up. "It was like You saw me. I was seen. I was a person in Your eyes, a beloved person. In the midst of everything in creation and the multitudes of everyone, You saw me, and You loved me. You poured Your personal love out on me. I wasn't lost in the midst."

"And then," I continued, leaning forward in excitement, "I had to move! I had to, for the joy. I got up from the chair and I ran down all seven flights of stairs and outside, which was dark by that time. And I was dancing barefoot on the damp grass, in the dark."

And I was there, Jesus reminded me, smiling.

"Yes, You were there, with me, and that is the first time I knew You as a Person. You loved me as a person, as Jenny, and You Yourself was a Person, who knew me and knew joy and was not above dancing on the grass, because You are like that."

We smiled at each other. "So it was sometime after that, that You asked me to stop loving and devoting my fierce heart to that boy, and devote it instead to You, which I did, even though my feeling for that boy had not naturally gone away. But I gave it up, which was easy to do, after that experience in the tower.

"And no matter what boy I loved after that, I always knew You were first, the deepest, the most moving, the One who claimed me at the deepest level of who I was... It was after that, when we lived in the red carriage house, that I read the Song of Songs and it was like a letter You had written to me, but most of it I couldn't understand with my head, but the symbols filled me with wonder. And that was the time I read that psalm that I love. I knew I was Yours. I wrote it in my journal and drew it on paper."

By this time, I was getting quite physically tired, as it was late at night, and my thoughts were growing hazy. I knew after that point, the story soured and turned torturous to tell, but I was too tired to tell it all, and I knew Jesus didn't mind, even preferred it this way. He doesn't like me to dwell on the mistakes and shame of the past. He Himself does not remember them or bring them to mind.

I curled up against His side, with my head on His shoulder and let my thoughts spiral away into sleep, but when I woke up on the morning, the pleasure of telling Him the story was the first thing I remembered.


Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

-Psalm 73:25-26