Friday, April 29, 2016

The Way of Life

December 17, 2011

I rediscovered the 16th Psalm recently:

Keep me, O God, for I am safe in You.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord.
All the good things I have come from You.”

As for those in the land who belong to You,
they are the great ones in whom is all my joy.

Those who have traded for another god bring many troubles on themselves.
I will not take part in their altar gifts of blood.
And I will not take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is all that I am to receive,
and my cup.

My future is in Your hands.
The land given to me is good.
Yes, my share is beautiful to me.

I will give honor and thanks to the Lord,
Who has told me what to do.
Yes, even at night my mind teaches me.

I have placed the Lord always in front of me.
Because He is at my right hand,
I will not be moved.

And so my heart is glad.
My soul is full of joy.
My body also will rest without fear.

For You will not give me over to the grave.
And You will not allow Your Holy One
to return to dust.

You will show me the way of life.
Being with You is to be full of joy.
In Your right hand there is happiness forever.

December 18, 2011 Unpublished

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I had asked Jesus, almost desperately, why He was like He is with me- why I felt Him near, real and deeply entwined in my life. Why was it, I wanted to know, that I could feel His love and hear His voice so clearly?

His answer was that I was His and He wanted me close to Him. And I think that is the deepest answer. But lately, I have been considering other answers to this question, that are also true.

Here is the first thing that I have been considering: Jesus must be larger than our pain. I think that if pain has caused severe damage, then He will come in and fill us beyond that. In the end, Jesus' healing and presence will always be greater.

This is an incomplete answer though, because even those who haven't suffered devastating events can still have a profound relationship with Jesus. Suffering isn't the only gateway to a deep and authentic relationship with God, although I do sometimes wonder if it isn't one of the most direct routes.

The other thing I have considered is that fear, bitterness, un-forgiveness and shame can shut a heart right down. If we persistently hold onto these things, how can we receive Jesus' presence and voice? It's hard to hear Him if our spiritual posture is hunched down and turned away. We might miss or dismiss what Jesus is saying to us.

Fortunately, Christ comes anyway and never gives up on us, and His love teaches us and enables us to release more and more of those emotions and scars into His hands. As they melt away, we open ourselves up deeper and deeper to Him.

Those are some of the answers I’ve been thinking about. I’m sure there are more, and that my understanding is limited.

I have been asking for Jesus all my life- this is a truth I have begun more clearly to recognize. But what must be more true, is that I was calling for God because I belonged to Him all along.

This must be why, when Jesus came to me, I felt such a profound sense of recognition. I had belonged to Him all along- I had just forgotten it.

But even when we forget, He never does.

December 18, 2011 Unpublished

Even when I was a young girl, I used to love to go outside, by myself, and drink in the beauty around me. I used to love the wind, especially- I used to love to feel it through my hair and on my face.

One night, I was remembering this with Jesus and He said to me, I was in the wind.

I thought of the verses which speak of God riding on the wind. Wonder opened up in my heart, as a large piece of who I was fell into place.

The beauty and mystery that had so attracted me, that had drawn me, as a child, was actually a reflection of Christ Himself, because they were His own handiwork and revealed His character to me. He was in and all through His creation, and He Himself was the heart of what drew me.

"I knew it!" I declared, with joy. "I knew it was You!"

December 19, 2011

I read this in Christy:

“One of Miss Alice's Quaker sayings was apropos: 'Such and such a person is meant to be my bundle.'"

After I read that, I put the book down and thought about how few "bundles" I had in my life, in terms of people. Shouldn't there be more people that I was meant to love and carry?

Clearly, I'm still stuck on this idea that Christ doesn't take into account our nature, the very nature that He Himself created, when He leads us in our lives. I persist in having this idea of a universal Christian life that we must all mold ourselves to, instead of all being diverse parts of Christ's body, each with a different strength and calling, and each loving in our own way, in the way that we were created to love.

"How come I don't have many bundles?" I asked Jesus, feeling guilty.

Your writing is your bundle, He said.

Like, surprise, Jenny! Christ did not make you an introverted, creative writer and then expect you to develop and carry scores of personal relationships as part of your calling. Calling me to do the very thing that He equipped me for- now that would just make too much sense!

Now I'd better wrap this up and go for a nice long walk, before my number one and best bundle returns, mud splattered and blue eyed.

December 19th, Later

On my walk, I was so thirsting for stillness that I didn't even take along my music. I wanted nothing but the sound of the wind, the dry scrape of leaves along the road, the rustle as squirrels darted from tree to tree and the chirp and burble of birds hidden in the bare branches.

The sky was a pale winter blue, banded by clouds that sometimes passed over the sun, casting the hillsides into shadow. But under the sun, all the fallen leaves glistened like polished bronze.

When my walk had taken me full circle, I clambered down the flat rocks that form a stream bed. The stream pours around the rocks, separating into three or four different thin sheets of water that join back together further downstream.

Usually, the water level is low enough that I can leap over each branch with ease. Sometimes it's not, and I must make my way further down, to an easier crossing point.

Today, I crossed over all but the last rivulet, the one which is the deepest and the fastest. It creates a little curl of water that spills into white foam. Bubbles of foam float on down, gliding over the rippling water.

The sound of the water falling was so lovely that I paused, and then knelt down with my hands dangling easily between my knees. I leaned forward a little, listening and watching the water run. It was hot, and I had tied my fleece around my waist; I could feel the sun on the back of my white shirt.

The endless quiet gurgle of water brought back an old memory. Until I was three, I lived with my parents in upstate New York- farming country. My grandfather had a dairy farm, and my father helped him run it.

Up the valley was a sheep farm owned by the church I grew up in, and church services were held there on Sunday mornings.

Above the church building was a pond banked by a stone wall, and water from the pond above trickled endlessly and brightly down the moss-green stones of this embankment.

It was a lovely, deep and soothing sound. The water itself was a mysterious golden green. Light glinted off the fall of water.

The grass was a rich, deep green and over shading the pond were trees- were they willow trees? I almost think they were, but I can't remember exactly.

The water disappeared under the dirt driveway and then reappeared in another little fall and then wound its way down the hillside, toward the sheep pasture.

All this sensory memory came back to me, as I knelt by a rill of water this morning, under the hot sun. With the memory came the strong and loving presence of Christ- He was all bound up with the memory itself.

I realized that He had been with me, even then, and rejoicing in the beauty of His creation, and deeply loving me. Christ had been there, seeing that place not only as it truly was, but as it was through my own child's eyes.

He tenderly knows and understands our point of view, our memories- everything, in fact, that go into making us who we are. There is no one else that will ever know us better than He does- because only Christ can see from the heart outward.

December 19, 2011

(I first wrote this unpublished, and held onto it until a few days later, when I finally posted it to my blog. What I’m sharing here is not a vision, it was the combined result of how much better I was coming to know Jesus, and the fact that I had been reading John over and over again.)

One of my favorite chapters in John is the third chapter.

I read it slowly, wondering about it, and as I do now, walls spring up around me, stone walls, dimly lit by a small, smoldering fire. There are dark shadows draping walls, floor, ceiling. It's warm and quiet in the room, and it seems to be full of people not clearly seen.

Some of them are asleep on mats. But two or three are awake, and sitting by the fire. They are talking quietly. There is the sound of their voices and of men breathing and the wind outside the walls.

It is late at night, but not so late that they are dizzy with exhaustion- just late enough to talk with hushed voices and long, peaceful pauses.

But there comes a knock on the door- heads lift and turn, the sleepers stir. Everyone looks at each other. Who could this be?

Someone pads over and opens the door, and leads in an unexpected visitor. His name is Nicodemus. He's a Pharisee- a leader among the Jews, and he is sneaking in under cover of night to speak face to face with Jesus, the Man who is creating such an uproar, stirring up such questions and hopes and fears.

Nicodemus settles himself cautiously down beside the fire and his eye search the face of Jesus, who sits across from him.

Other disciples are close at hand, listening and watching. The room is so quiet that they can hear the soft sound of a burning log falling into the coals, sending up a little cloud of sparks.

The first thing Nicodemus says is a confession, one that had perhaps grown more and more heavy on his mind as time had passed. It is perhaps the very reason why he had come- why he had had to come, despite the risks.

"Teacher," he said, humbly, “we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

The Nazarene leans forward slightly, His eyes intent upon Nicodemus's face. Jesus' voice is resonate with grace, but it has a quiet and unshakable authority. He goes straight to the heart of the matter, knowing the heart of the man before Him.

Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

A puzzled look springs into Nicodemus's eyes. He frowns slightly, as he tries to think this unconventional thought through. Could the Teacher be speaking literally?

Every man in that room longs for the Kingdom of God to come. What their Teacher has to say about this is of utmost importance to them, and He has just thrown them a curve ball.

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asks at last, groping for meaning. "Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"

Jesus' voice is full of certainty when He answers - He is not expounding on a theory, or building a case.

“Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

Jesus sees the questioning, half disbelieving look in Nicodemus' face, and it makes Him smile. Jesus knows Nicodemus very well, and loves him.

"Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again," Jesus continues, His eyes twinkling.

As He so often does, He uses an illustration to help open their understanding- "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

As Jesus speaks, He gestures unconsciously with His hands; they are the roughened hands of a laborer. Every eye is on him, wondering and considering what He is saying. Unbidden, memories of the wind come to them, shaking the leaves of the olive trees silver before the rain and carrying the scent of water. They remember the wind splintering the surface of the lake into shimmering light and sometimes driving it up into terrifying billows of water, pelting them with hard drops of rain.

Nicodemus breaks the spell by his desperate need to understand something concrete, for an answer that he can make sense of. Why won't He just speak sense, Nicodemus wonders?

"How can these things be?" he asks Jesus, his eyes pleading.

“Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?" Jesus asks him gently. He leans forward, one hand on His knee. When He speaks, His voice reverberates with a mysterious depth; it causes the men to sit perfectly still, their eyes riveted on Him.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen," Jesus says, in that voice that causes their souls to wake and stir, "and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

Almost, the men have forgotten to breathe. The room is full of a kind of sacred stillness. Their minds are on the verge of some deep secret of God, some plan, some idea so wonderful, so unexpected, so extraordinary, that one no but God had ever dared consider it, or put it in motion. Almost, they can grasp it, but it eludes them.

"No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven," Jesus speaks quietly into the stillness, one hand gesturing towards Himself, "that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven."

In smooth motion, Jesus raises His hand into the air. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Jesus pauses, watching the faces of the men around Him, to be sure they have taken in what He has been saying. Everything that He is saying is of greatest importance to Him and to His Father. The disciples are watching Jesus of Nazareth with wondering eyes, hope dawning there with each word He speaks.

Jesus leans forward, His own eyes alight with the pleasure of speaking this truth out loud, to those that were given to Him, and to everyone else that would ever hear them.

"For God so loved the world," Jesus discloses, His voice full of unshakeable joy, "that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world," He continues, gesturing to emphasize the importance of the distinction, aware of the misconception He knows they harbor, "but that the world through Him might be saved."

Might be saved, they wonder? The world? The whole world? Weren't they just talking about the nation of Israel? Now, suddenly, their beloved Teacher is talking about God saving the whole world from death and judgment. This is far beyond anything they had ever considered.

“He who believes in Him," Jesus continues, gesturing to Himself, "is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

Jesus' voice grows soft with sorrow, with regret. He leans back. He looks tired, all of a sudden.

"And this is the condemnation," the Teacher explains- "that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."

He sighs deeply and the men stir, blinking and looking at one another. Jesus watches them fondly; He puts His hand on the shoulder of the man next to Him. He continues speaking to them now in a different tone of voice.

"But he who does the truth comes to the light," Jesus says, looking with love directly at Nicodemus, "that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Nicodemus must have left that house walking like a drunk man, unsteady on his feet. Wonder must have filled him- he wouldn't have known whether he wanted to cry or to shout for joy.