Many times when I read the Scriptures, I have no idea what it is talking about. Or, to be more specific, I am certain that the idea I have is wrong. The more I read the Scriptures, the more I notice huge gaps where I had shut my mind down to what it was saying. I had just read over it, like a boat skimming over water, ignoring the choppy waves below as if it were all smooth sailing. And I did this when I was super religious!
Last night, I was reading in Luke, and I just wasn't getting it. I read a couple chapters and gave up. Even resting, I was troubled by my not getting it. The teachings of Jesus are immensely challenging, in my experience.
My reading had led up to this:
"And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more."
Every other time that I have read this passage, I committed myself to the grace of God and let go of trying to figure out what He meant, because it's terrifying to the point of helpless dread.
Even as I was reading it, I knew Jesus was telling me that it was not literal. He was not talking about someone being literally cut in two, or being literally beaten with stripes. I was able to understand that far; that He had been telling a parable, which is a figurative story that illustrates a deeper truth, but still, the deeper truth it was illustrating was just as terrifying.
Clearly, terrible unthinkable consequences awaited those who, knowing what to do, didn’t do it, and I knew what I was supposed to do, didn’t I? But in my past, I had completely failed to do it and it seemed every day, I still failed trying to do what Jesus wanted me to do- I failed at being loving and patient and full of faith and who knows how many other things.
I couldn't let it go, and I didn't feel Him near. I felt all alone, so I cried out to Him.
"What does it mean?" I cried out. "Jesus! Jesus! I can't separate my understanding of God from Your teachings; I can't worship You in any other context, by any other name. I know these are Your teachings- when You lived on earth, You spoke these things! What do You mean by them? What are You talking about?"
I have to say, as an aside, that there is something always a little spine tingling to cry out His name in spirit. I know that He is always near and always clued into me, but by calling out His name, it’s like connecting to a live wire.
You're only seeing half the picture, Jesus said, immediately.
In fact, it wasn't as though He said it at all, the understanding was simply dropped into my mind. If I described the understanding in picture form, it would look like a coin, and I had been staring at one side of the coin, thinking that in itself was a complete motif, but there was another side to this understand, like the other side of the coin.
And then a whole series of things were drawn up into my memory, all tumbling together into this larger picture.
I remembered Paul writing that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him.
And I remembered Jesus saying, I will show him how many things he must suffer for My sake.
And I remembered Paul saying how the incredible energy and vitality that allowed him to do the things he was doing came from Jesus and that without Him, Paul could do nothing.
And of course Paul was doing extraordinary things for God and was in fact given extraordinary gifts. Paul, in many ways, personified the idea that to whom much is given, much will be required, and yet everything that Paul achieved was done through the Spirit, not of himself.
And then I remembered that Jesus works in us both to will and to do, that we are His workmanship, that our faith is from Him and that it is incumbent upon Him to perfect that which He has begun.
So then I understood that on one side of the coin are the things that are required of us- that principle at work, and on the other side of the coin is the power that brings it to pass, which is the grace and saving work of Jesus Himself.
Then I flipped on the lamp and actually got out of bed, I was so full of energy, and wrote the whole thing down on my notepad.
April 3, 2012 Unpublished
This morning I was listening to a certain theologian. His views were challenging and fascinating, but I found myself unable to move on after I had read some of his work. I wasn't sure why this was, and as I was recognizing my anxious feeling, I felt the presence of Jesus.
You are not him, Jesus said to me, in His loving, simple way, and immediately, my spirit lifted.
Sometimes, when I encounter other people who have a strong experience or understanding of God, or faith, I find myself unconsciously feeling as though I must mold myself to them. This is because I was raised to do this; I was raised to adopt the beliefs of people in authority over me without judgment, without thinking, just accepting absolutely, so it is easy for me to do. It is second nature.
But God created us uniquely on purpose. We each find Him and grow in Him in our own way. Our story with Him is unique.
The purpose of community is not to try and compare and then find the one who is the most right, and then try and become that person. We don't become faith-clones. We come to God as ourselves.
April 4, 2012 Published
I came across a lovely passage last night.
This is Young's Literal Translation, which holds poetry in its ancient oddness:
"In that day, `A desirable vineyard,' respond ye to her,
I, Jehovah, am its keeper, every moment I water it,
Lest any lay a charge against it,
Night and day I keep it!
Fury is not in Me;
Who giveth Me a brier -- a thorn in battle?
I step into it, I burn it at once.
Or -- he doth take hold on My strength,
He doth make peace with Me,
Peace he doth make with Me."
-Isaiah 27:2-5, YLT
The Message makes the overall picture a little more clear, though it loses some of its poetry that way:
"At that same time, a fine vineyard will appear.
There's something to sing about!
I, God, tend it.
I keep it well-watered.
I keep careful watch over it.
so that no one can damage it.
I'm not angry. I care.
Even if it gives me thistles and thorn bushes,
I'll just pull them out
and burn them up.
Let that vine cling to Me for safety,
let it find a good and whole life with Me,
let it hold on for a good and whole life."
-Isaiah 27:1-5, The Message.
Isn't that beautiful? We are the vineyard, by the way. That's us.
At first, when I was reading this passage, as I was reading it, I pictured a man coming and taking hold of His strength aggressively, as though to pit himself against God.
And then the very next verse, it was as though God turned my picture upside down: that he may make peace with Me; and he shall make peace with Me.
Then I had to go back and reread the entire passage, more slowly. Even when I put out the lamp, the lovely phrases went on echoing in my mind.
It makes me think of this lovely verse, among many others:
"Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy;
No shadow of shame will darken their faces."
April 5, 2012 Published
“Peter symbolizes all of us as he protests, "You will never wash my feet!" (John 13:8). But Jesus answers, "If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me." That is strong! We all find it hard to receive undeserved love from another. For some reason it is very humiliating to the ego. We all want to think we have earned any love that we get by our worthiness or attractiveness. So Jesus has to insist on being the servant lover. Thank God, Peter surrenders, but it probably takes him the rest of his life to understand.”
This is so hard for me to grasp. I do think that it will take me the rest of my life to understand this. It's interesting to notice what Peter says next: "Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head as well!" It's as though Peter immediately identifies the act as one of ritual cleansing, and wishes to be completely cleansed.
How familiar that feeling is!
And what does Jesus say? He says that Peter is bathed and clean already.
Which is rather like His first miracle, which was to turn the vats of water used for ritual cleansing into fine wine.
It's as though He is insisting that the barrier to knowing Him has nothing to do with ritual purity, but simply with the ability to receive and express love.
This is a truly difficult thing to grasp, but I can't give it away if I'm not accepting it for myself.
Still, every day I say to Jesus, in horror and amazement: "You will never wash my feet!"
And each day, He insists. He is so persistent.
Eventually, Jesus will wear me down, and I will completely give up this outrageous and wrong-headed and seductive idea that I can earn anything.
But it's so easy to believe!
Look God, I read the Bible! Reward me by spending time with me.
Look God, I lost my patience! Punish me by abandoning me.
Jesus aims right over those thoughts, just passes them right by. His economy of love has nothing to do with these simple equations.
It's like I'm a child, scribbling something that I think requires urgent attention- either for praise or for punishment, and I bring it to His attention, and He puts His arm around my shoulder, and says tenderly, "Tell me about it."
And so I am gathered up in love, regardless of what it was I was scribbling.
It's funny to realize it, to realize that even in the moment when I am explaining to Him why I am unlovable, He has already embraced that entire moment and that experience with greater love.
His message is always: I love you, I created you, I alone am responsible for you- trust Me.
Or, this verse, which is often in my head:
"Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you."
-Isaiah 46:4 NKJV
April 6, 2012 Unpublished
I had a whole line of thinking to ponder, but then I realized it's Good Friday. I don't normally remember such days, but I'm reading so many different religious blogs that I'm sort of clued into this pattern now.
My verse today was: "You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of Your presence and the pleasures of living with You forever." (Psalm 16:11)
Which is so rich I almost can't take it in.
I've been thinking about belief, and how and what we believe. I saw an advertisement for a church on the local TV channel the other day. A nice grandfather type fellow was standing in a sun porch, holding a soft, leather bound Bible and inviting people to join their fellowship on Sunday.
In the course of speaking, he lifted the Bible up. He said that they believe the Bible to be God’s final and complete revelation to us.
He went right on to say other things, but I sat there, stunned. I mean, I was stunned. My head were spinning.
Ten years ago, I would have nodded my head outwardly, and inwardly felt religious guilt and shame for not reading it more. I would have seen nothing strange in that statement.
But if the Bible is God's final and complete revelation, then who on earth is Jesus? What role does He play, then? A much smaller and less complete and less effective revelation of God to us?
April 9, 2012 Published
On Easter morning, I got up to make pancakes, bacon and eggs for my husband and a friend of his who had stayed the night.
The irony of it struck me, as I quickly got dressed- just a week ago, I'd been day dreaming of making breakfast for my own children, and here I was, about to prepare it instead for a forty-some year old man, thin and wiry from hard living, and hung over.
But in that moment, I heard a certain loving and familiar voice.
He's My child, Jesus reminded me.
It makes me want to cry each time I remember it, but at the time it filled me with wonder and recognition. Of course. Of course he is.
I saw it clearly when the fellow came out of the spare room and stood for a moment by the fireplace, too shy even to get his breakfast. All the bravado and loudness of the night before was gone.
The hard years that had been etched into his face fell away, and I could see him as a young boy, not sure of his welcome and pushed off to the side. My years of being a big sister to three brothers immediately came to the fore. I called him by his name and led him into the kitchen, where I piled the food onto his plate and showed him the coffee.
I picked up Keith from the airport on Friday afternoon. The anxiety of it pressed down on me the entire day. Anxiety is a grinding thing to experience. It's not logical- logic can't touch it.
I kept reaching out for Jesus and finding Him there, but still the anxiety remained. I remembered that when we see hard things ahead, our Shepherd does not take us on a nice little scenic detour around it. We go through it, and we fear no evil simply because He's with us. He has the tools to deal with the challenges that come up.
The heart of my particular dread that Friday was this one place where the interstate highway ramp merges with another ramp, and the ramp to the airport exit comes right up after the merge. I hate that sort of thing- all that coming and going and lane-changing. And it would be nearly five o'clock on a Friday! And I would be heading nearly into Atlanta!
The entire drive, I dreaded that particular bit of highway. As the interstate got more and more clogged with Friday afternoon traffic, my anxiety rose and tightened around my neck and shoulders. I kept flexing my hands on the steering wheel and rolling my shoulders, to ease the tension.
Then, just as the airport signs began popping up along the highway, out of the blue, a bit of music came on the radio- lovely music with trills and feathery back beats.
All my tension lifted, and as I took the ramp and rounded the corner, I saw that entire stretch of highway- that very stretch that I had so dreaded- and there were on it a total of two cars, far ahead of me, and taking another route.
No one else was coming. No one else was going. I had the entire expanse of pavement to myself, with lovely music to set the mood. High on worship and adoration, I cruised right into the airport, located the cell phone parking lot and sat there, limp with wonder.
When I got the call from Keith, even the incredibly clogged pick up curb could not touch my peace. Even when airport security and police cars cruised by, lights flashing, loud speakers blaring, because of cars parked right in the middle of the road, my peace was not disturbed.
I just inched slowly along, caught up in the massive traffic jam, looking for my passenger, and staying as far to the right as I could.
When I saw this tall, broad shouldered soldier standing with one booted foot crossed casually over the other and leaning against his suitcase, I almost didn't recognize him, except he was grinning at me as if he knew me very well. He walked right to the curb, where there was -miraculously again- an empty space, and pointed commandingly to the spot.
Now he is back at work and life is back to normal, and I love this life that I've been given.
April 11, 2012 Published
I am mailing off the application to the home study program today.
I went through so many emotions yesterday, thinking about this. I still am.
I got angry, for one. I have to fill out this questionnaire, in order for strangers to read it, in order for these strangers to determine if I can become a parent. I am paying them to decide this for me.
What other people understand to be their birthright, what is the natural result of their intimate relationship and is theirs from the beginning, is instead granted to me by official clearance, through strangers, by a large pile of papers, after a long time of uncertainty.
I got sad. Grief filled me from time to time, this gut wrenching grief that was so deep I simply pushed it away. I was not about to break down and sob on the side of the road, while walking.
I thought, God is playing a cruel game with me. Instead of granting me my own little children, He's sending me His own, broken hurting children. They keep passing through my otherwise childless house.
It's like He keeps calling me out deeper, and I get angry at Him. I can't see what's ahead. I don't know what's coming, and He keeps calling me out anyway.
It's as though mailing out that application is the official seal on it- my body is officially barren, it's broken, it won't work. It felt like giving up on it and moving on, into something far more complicated.
I don't even know now what it was I used to imagine. Did I used to imagine that I would nurse my children? Did I imagine myself big bellied and sitting in the sun with a bowl of ice cream? Did I imagine that I would see in them my own eyes looking back at me?
In the middle of all this emotion, there is a peaceful center. That is the mystery, the mystery of knowing that Christ is with me, that I rest in Him, in the mystery of His purpose.
There is the understanding that He feels everything with me. Last night, I let go and let myself just rest in the peaceful mystery of His love and purpose and presence.
I cannot know; it is enough that He knows. I can bang my head against the wall of my fears, and give myself a headache trying to see the way clear, or I can fall back into His arms and let it go.
Mailing that application off is like dropping a little seed into the ground, ground that has been thoroughly ploughed and broken up and watered. I don't know what that seed will grow into, or how, or when.
But I have to let it fall. Something has to die in order for a new life to spring up. This is at the heart of life.