the pursuit of Wisdom

DSC_0923I frequently get “stuck” in my Scripture reading. Sometimes this happens because it’s simply not “fun” to read (parts of Leviticus fall into this category). Sometimes it’s because I’m wrestling or struggling with the ideas (other parts of Leviticus fall into this category), but sometimes—like this time—it’s because what it is presenting is so good, so beautiful, and I want it so badly.

I’m often surprised by the passages that do this to me—like this one in Proverbs 2. I’ve never particularly been drawn to the Proverbs, but I was first captured by the fervent searching for Wisdom portrayed in the early verses of the chapter and then pulled up short by this verse that describes the result of finding it: “Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation]; yes, you will understand every good path.” (Amplified version)

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Isn’t it what we need? I know I am desperate for this as a mom. All these personalities living under one roof, different ages, dealing with friend issues and school issues and sibling issues, each needing to be trained and made ready for the time when they will leave home. I need a doctorate in psychology to keep up with all the mood swings alone.

Or I need Wisdom.

What about issues? Most days I read the news and get overwhelmed. I wonder, How should I, as a Christ follower, think about this or that? How should I respond when I talk with someone who thinks radically differently than I? What does it mean to “love my neighbor as myself” in my context?

I need Wisdom.

Organization. How do I balance family, work, a home, and life or interests outside all those? Throw out the word “balance”—how about “juggle,”  or just “somewhat manage”?

I need Wisdom.

So what is it? And how do I get it?

I began to do some studying and my head was soon swimming with ideas. Here are a few:

Proverbs 1:7 says the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge—which leads to wisdom. Then Proverbs 2:5 says wisdom leads to a worshipful fear of the Lord—so this is like a circle, with one leading to the other and vice versa. Hmm. Wisdom is also personified as a woman crying out in the city streets. Some scholars say it is the Law itself—all God’s instructions, which I would imagine would be the whole of Scripture for us. God gives Wisdom; in Proverbs 2:6 it is pictured as “coming from His mouth”—in other “words,” it IS His Word. That leads me to this thought: Christ is called the Word—and I Corinthians 1:30 says He became to us “wisdom from God.” *

The studying and resulting ideas were wonderful, but…

But how do I get Wisdom? How do I get what I so badly need?

James 1:5 tells me to ASK! To simply ask! Proverbs 2 shows me, though, that this asking is not half-hearted. The passage uses phrases like “treasure up my commands,” “make your ear attentive,” “incline and direct your heart,” and “seek (it) as for silver.”

So it’s a whole-hearted endeavor! But the end result is worth the pursuit!

I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week now, so when we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” on Sunday at church, I noticed the reference to Wisdom right away. It’s in the second verse: “O Come, thou Wisdom from on high,/Who orderest all things mightily;/To us the path of knowledge show,/And teach us in her ways to go.” Ah! Wisdom shows up even in my favorite Christmas hymns. (Here’s a link to an instrumental piano/cello rendition of it–beautiful!)

I’ve got a long, long way to go to become truly wise (and every day I understand I’m not nearly as far along on this journey as I thought I was!), but I’m asking today—and tomorrow—and the next day—and the next—for “skillful and godly Wisdom (to) enter into (my) heart…”

…so I will understand “righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation];” so I will “understand every good path.”

*Some of these ideas came straight from Scripture. Others came from a great article I found related to this question titled “Does Proverbs Speak of Jesus?

“Take, O Take Me As I Am”–followup to “Meanderings on BEING”

The last post I put up–with my questions and wonderings about individuality and how it relates to my being a creation of God–came from a journal entry I wrote over a year ago. It’s been sitting and sitting, but when I finally was able to post something (sorry for the gap), it came to my mind rather than something written more recently.

I posted it on Friday, and that night I went to a church service and we sang the song “Take, O Take Me As I Am”. “This,” I thought, “relates so beautifully to that blog post.” I have found myself singing/praying it off-and-on ever since, and I want to share it with you. The link above (the title) takes you to Hymnary.org, which has information on the song’s author, Scotsman John Bell, and, when you scroll the bottom of the page, the actual music (so those of you who are musicians can play it), and this link is a Youtube video of a choir singing the song.

Hope you enjoy.

Meanderings on BEING

When I read the following post to my husband (he and my mother-in-law serve as a sounding board for nearly everything I put on the blog), he responded, “I’ve never ever asked myself the questions you wonder about in this piece, but I’m assuming that if you’ve wondered it, someone else has, so, yes, post it.” I then asked him, “Do you think I’m out on a theological limb in this one–just a bit?” At that he grinned, half-shrugged, and said, “Maybe a little, but not too much.” (I’ve done some adjusting since I first read it to him, and I think I’ve moved closer to the trunk.) SO, if you choose to read on, just know I am NOT claiming this is solid theology but simply, as titled, my mind’s meanderings on my being/personhood/individuality.

It all started with these questions: If I am accepted ONLY in Christ, then does God love ME? For that matter, who am I? If I am called to become more and more like Christ, then WHO am I becoming? How can I still be ME and yet be like Christ? And WHO, exactly, is God loving? Me or Christ in me?

Scripture tells me I have no “good” in me, but it also says I am made in the image of God. I have value as God’s creation in general (like the sparrows) and, to a greater extent, because of that image.

I still wonder, though, do I have value simply in being myself?

But, wait, without God, I do not exist.

Now my head is spinning!

In Him we live and move and have our being. So is there part of God’s being in me? Well, if there is no good in me, then, no, there is no “divine” in me. God is good to His core–no, that’s not strong enough. He IS good, so not only is He never unsure about what is right-wrong/good-evil, He is never tempted to do anything that disagrees with His pure nature. Well, that doesn’t describe me at all. So what does it mean that I am “made in His image”?

I go back to my earlier statement: without God I have no being. I am NOT.

Yet I am. Even in a state of alienation from God—my pre-redeemed state—I have been given being. I am able to think and reason and love and hate and feel pain and joy.

I certainly do not FEEL like a puppet.

Nor did Jesus Christ–very God/very man–treat people as puppets. That, right there, wows me. Each person He encountered was His own creation. He could have chosen NOT to create any of them. In one sense, they were nothing more than clay in His hands.

Yet He treated each person as an individual. He treated each with respect as a human, as an individual. Even when He came down hard on a person or a group of people, it was never belittling but related to the choice they had made to set or follow their own standard/to be their own god–and they were definitely faced with the option of choosing differently. (I think of Nicodemus as a particular example of this.)

We are not only treated as individuals; we ARE so individual—down to our fingerprints, as if God is saying, “I am so big I am able to put a unique image of myself in every single one of you, and I will never have to duplicate or repeat.” (We get a beautiful picture of this in Psalm 139, in which the writer, David, imagines God being present–right there–shaping him in utero uniquely and specifically–no cookie cutter “creation” going on.)

This brings me back to my original question: Who am I? But now I realize that there are two ways to ask that question, one good and one bad. The bad way is when I am wanting an individuality/personhood that is separate from God, from being His, from being linked to Him as the Source and the Sustainer.

And isn’t that the same desire Satan had?

Lucifer wanted to be Lucifer on His own. He didn’t want to maintain his being as an angel OF God. He wanted to be Lucifer, just Lucifer. He didn’t want God to be linked to his being.

God granted Lucifer’s request. I know Lucifer was cast out of heaven, but he wasn’t annihilated. Can anything that God creates ever by truly annihilated?

So Lucifer “won,” in the sense that a rebellious child “wins” autonomy. He was allowed to separate. We see the consequences. Lucifer has lost all good. He has NO good impulses. He never creates, only destroys. He destroyed Eve–and then Adam and all their offspring–with the same temptation.

When I want to be MYSELF (and I am speaking here as one who is following Christ), am I trying to separate from Christ in me? Am I trying to fill the God-blank inside me with ME (pure self-focus). And in so doing, do I, like Satan, ironically, become capable only of destruction, never creation?

Hmm. I am imagining the “God-blank” as a sphere within our souls that has a beautiful, unique shape but which is un-filled. It is merely keeping a portion of my soul from being tainted with the selfishness/self-focus that permeates the rest of me. That empty sphere will either be filled with God or be overtaken by all the rest. In its empty state, it has no power to DO good, only to keep space for Good to enter in. When Christ enters it, His Good has power and begins its work in me, renewing me.

My mind returns to Nicodemus here: is this somehow related to “being born of the Spirit”? When I surrender and say, I am Yours, God. You work Your new creation in me, exactly as YOU want to, then am I born anew to be the ME He originally intended? So, though I am becoming more like Christ, with more of God filling me, yet He is filling me uniquely so that MY becoming like Christ is wholly different than my husband or my children or any other person becoming like Him. Together we are His body, but each cell within it is individual.

He is too great to simply duplicate Himself or even a small portion of Himself. There is TOO much of Him to ever be exhausted.

So perhaps God says to each of us: “You are YOU. Yes, you are from me, yet you are you, and the more you surrender to ME, the more you become the YOU I designed you to be. I take joy in your uniqueness because you display ME uniquely.

“When you are focused on self, you are not YOU—the real YOU is being overcome. The real YOU is completely at peace in your being my intricate masterpiece. You lose self-focus and, in so doing, become more YOU.”

All this is too big for me, but I end in awe rather than confusion because I have returned to my Creator. I place my weary, addled head on His chest; I feel His loving arms encircle me; and my spirit is reminded that He is for me.

I rest my whole being in that.

I’m grateful for Immutability

Immutability: a big word meaning changeless, not capable of or susceptible to change

I’ve been very grateful for that attribute of God lately. As if it’s not enough that I live in a culture in which change is constant (in fact, change is one of its few constants), in a home with so many personalities (six kids, three of them teenage girls), and in a schedule that is both crazy and fluctuating…

I also am crazy and fluctuating.

I can be happy and joyous one hour and overwhelmed by all the pain and injustice in the world the next. One moment I can be confident in the sovereignty of God; in the next I am doubting and fearful. I remember at times that my security and identity rest in God, but I forget that truth daily (okay, more like every hour–or more) and find myself swinging between insecurity and pride as I compare myself with others.

With all that, God’s immutability is a wonder, a blessing, a miracle.

So when I reached the end of Hebrews today and read these words, I found in them a treasure. I hope they are the same for you.

Jesus Christ (the Messiah) is [always] the same, yesterday, today, [yes] and forever (to the ages).*

And because that is true–that Jesus Christ is never swayed because HE IS the great I AM (never the “I was” or the “I will be,” always the “I AM”)–then the benediction that follows can also be constantly true.

20 Now may the God of peace [Who is the Author and the Giver of peace], Who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood [that sealed, ratified] the everlasting agreement (covenant, testament),

21 Strengthen (complete, perfect) and make you what you ought to be and equip you with everything good that you may carry out His will; [while He Himself] works in you and accomplishes that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ (the Messiah); to Whom be the glory forever and ever (to the ages of the ages). Amen (so be it).**

Amen!

*This link is to the entire chapter of Hebrews 13 in the Amplified version.

**This link is to Hebrews 13:20-21 in a parallel view of the AMP and the New Living Translation.

 

Communion: a refresher course in the Gospel

The past three Januarys, I've taught a breadmaking class to Wheaton Academy students. This is one of their jelly rolls (not quite Communion bread but perhaps symbolic of the sweetness and goodness of Christ's sacrifice for us).

The past three Januarys, I’ve taught a breadmaking class to Wheaton Academy students. This is one of their jelly rolls (not quite Communion bread but perhaps symbolic of the sweetness and goodness of Christ’s sacrifice for us).

Communion during my childhood felt like the bridge challenge my brother and I gave ourselves whenever we were on road trips. We’d see a bridge a little ways ahead, breathe fast in-out, in-out, and then, as soon as the car was out over space rather than earth, try to hold our breath till we made it to the other side. Our faces turned pink with the effort; we stared at each other with wide eyes, daring the other to hold on just a little longer; and we sucked in fresh lungsful of air as soon as we were back on solid ground.

Communion in the churches I attended as a child and teen popped up like those bridges. On rare and random Sundays the silver towers of tiny crackers and grape-juice-filled cups betrayed its inclusion in the service.
And I would hold my breath—because “do not take communion in an unworthy manner” had been presented to me as a flagrant sin, and I was terrified of committing it.
First came the searching for past sins. I began at perhaps a week before and scoured my actions and thoughts up to that present moment. Discover-confess; discover-confess.
Then I held on. My main thought—prayer?—was “Don’t do anything. Please, God, don’t let me commit any new sins. Blank mind, blank mind. Don’t look at anyone.”
I simply had to make it till the two silver trays made their way past and the pastor said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Then the wafer was popped in the mouth. Hold it; try to be thankful in that moment—Remember, this is Christ’s sacrifice. A lot of pain went into my forgiveness!—don’t sin, don’t sin —then the juice—and a feeling of guilt at my enjoyment of the sweet taste.
Finally, the release of breath, the feeling that, if I were to sin at that point or thereafter, it wouldn’t be quite as big a deal.
Communion was not celebration; it was ordeal.
Not now.
First, Communion is no longer random—we participate in the Eucharist every Sunday at Church of the Resurrection—and, second, it no longer terrifies me.
This transformation began long before our change in churches. As I began to understand the Gospel more deeply, I understood there is no such thing as being “worthy to take communion,” just as there is no worthiness required or possible to receive salvation. My youthful fear of taking communion lightly actually pushed me into another unworthy way of taking it: as if I could earn it.
Communion at Rez (as attendees affectionately refer to our church) has fleshed this concept out even more. I cannot deny it was a shock to my fundamentally-brought-up soul to see tiny children taking the bread and cup my first Sunday. But week after week, as I watched little ones joyfully bounce up to accept the gifts, something began to resonate within me.
This, this, I wanted to shout one week, is the way to accept it. No pride, no self-awareness, in complete weakness, presenting nothing, simply ACCEPTING.
One Sunday this revelation became even more personal. I was processing a grudge during the sermon, and communion “popped up” for me like an unseen bridge. Suddenly the person next to me stood, and I realized it was our row’s turn to stand and go forward. A bit of the old panic struck. I’d done no preparation at all! How had this crept up on me?
But when I stepped up and the bread was pressed into my open palms, I understood it in yet another new, fresh way! Communion is like a refresher course in the Gospel: God saying, “Remember how helpless you were. Look at what I did to rescue you! You couldn’t prepare for it then. You can’t earn it now. Keep living in that truth! This is what leads to true gratitude and celebration!”
Like the children, I have nothing to offer, nothing to exchange, and I never will. I come forward, again and again, with a confidence that is based solely in Christ.
I simply accept the Gift.

They shall know we are His…

Can I see God in pain?
In the eye-closing brilliance of a warm sun, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the sound of a child’s laughter: symbols of what is “well” in this world, I see God. His goodness, beauty, sweetness.
But in pain?
Do I see God when I contemplate—or actually see—those trapped in poverty or sex slavery or sweatshops or starvation?
Do I see God in someone struggling with mental illness, addiction, or great physical pain?
What about in grief? When a family loses a beloved child, a woman her spouse?
In natural disasters, birth defects, and broken relationships?
Do I see God then?
I know—He says it plain—that suffering was not part of His design for us. The garden was replete with purpose, goodness, wholeness.
But that is not the world we live in. So, does His beauty shine in pain? In the brokenness of this world and its people?
Or could it shine through?
When we look into heartache, what bears the most beauty is when those outside the deepest circle of pain enter in it. They open their hearts and arms; they give of their time and money, and they step into the trouble, into the mess, into the nitty-gritty.
We smile through our tears when we see this happen, or, in the deepest of grief, we nod in gratitude—that the brokenness is not reigning supreme, that an unselfish choice (or, more likely, a whole series of them) is beating back the insistent darkness. Selfishness is innate to all of us, so we know that to choose discomfort over comfort—when comfort is an option—is not natural.
It must come from above.
It must, just as it did when Christ did this for us, “stepping in” for us, bearing the full force of God’s justice.
His beauty shone through pain on the cross.
And when we follow Him in this act, bearing others’ “crosses,” stepping into the trouble of others, His beauty shines forth again.
How shall they know we are His?
By love.
His love.

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing--always a huge hit!

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing–always a huge hit!

The piece above was started a year ago, just after I returned from a trip to Africa. I begin a new journal every school year (a new Word document), and that piece has greeted me every time I opened my journal for the past twelve months. I’ve tinkered with it throughout the year, and it bears the influence of the events of those months.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

I’ve just returned from another trip, this time a journey by car to family in the Southeast, East Coast, and the Midwest. It’s been a wonderful trip, completely worth the 40 hours we spent in the car. Yesterday, when I opened my journal and looked at the piece above yet again, I realized that I saw evidence of that very kind of love in each of the homes I’ve visited on this trip. Each one does have interests in other countries, with the poorest of the poor, with those unreached by the Gospel. They give; they go; they send; they serve.

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

But the testimony that stood out most to me is the way they have allowed their very homes to be used. Each has set aside the American dream of the home being a castle: undisturbed, controlled, and, most importantly, “MINE and for my comfort.” The pattern of their lives and their homes are often in states of disruption because they’ve set aside this dream. The invasion of our family of six was only a minor blip of disturbance to them because they’ve had singles/couples/families settle in for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. And they do it over and over, whenever God brings a need to their attention and puts it on their hearts.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

I was talking with one of them about this, and she said, “I’m learning that disruption is good for me. Discomfort is good. It shakes me up. It makes me come face to face with my own issues and shortcomings and brings me to the end of myself. Stagnation and holding tight to what is ‘mine’ does no good for my soul.”
This kind of hospitality can be downright sticky. The outcomes often aren’t smooth-edged and wrapped with a bow. They’ve sometimes turned their lives—

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

and the lives of their families—upside down.
But they’ve stepped in and loved.
And it’s so very clear they are His.

Joy, Resurrected

*The audio link of my reading is at the bottom.

How do you lose joy? She must have failed to hold onto it. Perhaps she’d forgotten it completely, left it in a corner, and it had wandered off, hoping to find a home where it wouldn’t be neglected. “I’ve lost my joy,” she tells her husband, and he nods.

Oh dear, it’s noticeable! she thinks.

Where do you begin looking for joy?

She tries singing as she does the tasks that annoy her most. She hums as she packs the children’s lunches, warbles in the car, belts it out when she de-clutters the living room.

Where are you, joy? she wonders, I can’t sing any louder. Can’t you hear me?

She tries putting on a show of it. Didn’t she hear a pastor say once that the outward action of love can kindle the feeling?

Or was that her college drama director talking about action and emotion?

She’s not sure, but she tries it.

Smile, she tells herself.

Smile bigger!

She shoves grumpiness down. She swats selfish thoughts like pesky gnats.

Joy, come back! Please.

She is sitting, alone at her desk, absorbed in work, when she senses a presence nearby.

Joy? Are you there? I caught a glimpse of you.

Man, I wish my knees still bent like that!

Man, I wish my knees still bent like that!

But when the house bustles again, when children’s squabbles break the quiet—joy recedes.

Oh, she realizes, I am allowing the noise to drive joy away. But joy doesn’t have to have peace and quiet. Joy doesn’t mind chaos, excitement.

I haven’t lost joy.

I’ve sent it away.

I am telling it when it can be present, and when it can’t.

How do I invite joy into my full life—all of it? How do I keep from shutting it out?

Still missing joy, she goes to the Good Friday service.

It is good to reflect, to be with others, all reflecting together.

They sing, they read, they listen.

But she is waiting, though she doesn’t know what she is waiting for.

There is something here for me tonight, she thinks. I’m not sure how I know this, but I do.

The sermon is finished. They have taken communion. Her shoulders slump. It was good, but…

The pastor speaks again. “Some of you have lost your joy,” he says. “You’ve lost the joy of your salvation, your redemption. Come to the cross.”

Her hands tremble.

Her body feels light.

She knows this is for her.

It may be for others as well, but it is clearly for her.

But she will have to get up, cross the room, walk in front of so many sets of eyes.

He is still speaking. “Come. We will pray for you, that here at the cross you will remember your source of joy.”

She gets up, quick.

Her husband, beside her, stands, too.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

She nods.

By the time they reach the cross, there are others.

I am not the only one, she thinks. We have all lost joy.

Pastors pray. She hears only snatches of their words over the music.

But that is all right, because it is the song she needs to hear.

“Behold the man upon the cross,

My sin upon his shoulders;

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

Call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held him there…”

Somehow, in the second of space before the next line of the song, she experiences guilt, sorrow, despair. I did send you there. It was my sin. It was my selfishness. Oh God, I love You, but I don’t know how to stop hurting You. I am unable to pull my thoughts away from myself, away from what I am feeling or not feeling.

All this in a God-stretched moment.

And then…

“Until it was accomplished;

His dying breath has brought me life—

I know that it is finished.”

Stop, she commands herself. See truth. Christ does not have to die again. He has done it! I AM redeemed. It is not the chaos that is driving joy away; it is my fear that when I sink into moodiness, into selfishness, that I have stepped out of redemption. But that can never be. He finished it.

“I will not boast in anything,

No gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom;

But I will boast in Jesus Christ,

His death and resurrection.

But this I know with all my heart,

His wounds have paid my ransom.”

Paid, accomplished, finished—in a transaction that is outside the scope of time. It is not undone when she grows grumpy yet again, not taken back when she fails or is petty. She looks up at the Christ figure on the cross. Through that finished work, she tellsherself, I am redeemed. My sin does not for one single moment make that untrue. It is present and ongoing, without conditions. Without resting at all on me. I can have joy IN my grumpiness. It is not limited only to when I am feeling peaceful and good but is a reality even when I am fully aware of my own sinful nature.

She feels her husband’s hands on her shoulders. They have been there all along. She just now senses their gentle weight.

“Behold the man upon a cross,

My sin upon His shoulders”

He took it from me—and He abolished it. Why do I try to carry what He has already taken?

The load rolls off.

And joy resurrects.

 

Take and Eat

NOTE: The audio of my reading of this post is at the bottom. Thanks for reading (or listening).

It is whole, not a tooth mark on it. This is some kind of magic—because I ate from the fruit yesterday—and every day before. Yet it re-appears, beautiful and enticing, just as it was when Eve first considered it.

She ate it to the core. Why is it still here?

And why do I keep eating it?

It is sweet to the taste, that first bite, exploding with flavor in my mouth, but then it sits, acidic and heavy in my gut, and I regret my choice every time.

Yet, like Eve, I daily eat the fruit. The desire to set my own standards, to be MYSELF (separate from God) and for everything to be about ME, to be in control… oh, it lures me in.

It sounds like it’s promising LIFE, doesn’t it?

False advertising. LIFE would not burn so. LIFE would not eat away at my gut, eat away at me.

Yet I cannot stop myself.

I hunger!

I need. I am not complete.

I am empty.

“Eat it. Be like God. See. Know.” The whisper enchants. It flows with the rhythm of my blood. I cannot tell if it is within or without. All I know is my emptiness.

But this fruit fills it full with dark.

“Take, eat.”

Another voice.

Another food.

A morsel of bread, torn, crushed.

It does not delight the eye. It does not entice the taste.

“This is My body, broken for you.”

I recoil. To take this means I admit this lack within me. I allow Another in to witness it, to fill it—with Someone other than me.

But who am I?

I need.

I lack.

“I am the living bread.

I was broken for you.

Eat and live.”

A poem (though I’m NOT a poet!)

Though I did nothing to produce the flame,

I want to “contribute,”

so I pile on “good works,” busy-ness, “rightness”

till the fire nearly smothers.

The result: a smoldering smudge

that burns my eyes, sears my nostrils—

All the “good” doing no Good at all

And my vision is bound by Self.

I “do” more, petition with frantic edges, praise with listless duty

and, deep down, miss the pure flame

utterly outside my power to create.

I arrive weary at Christmas Eve service,

just in time to see the bishop wave the incense,

sending up wisps of white

that fade from sight but waft sweet scent—

even to my row near the back.

“Nothing magical,” the bishop explains.

“Just a symbol of the psalmist’s cry,

‘Let my prayer be set before You as incense.’”

I breathe deep and wonder-

What could transform my smoldering smudge

To this?

I examine the Psalm and find no commands to

do, work, fix.

Instead, verbs requesting action on God’s part,

Not mine.

“Set a guard,” “Do not let…” “Leave me not.”

“I cry out to You,” the songwriter begins.

And ends, “My eyes are upon You.”

Such kind deliverance.

The truth releases me to

Receive,

Listen,

I sense Holy Spirit hovering.

Wing beats unceasing

fan buried flame

lift the wordless wail.

Set free in stillness,

The Hallowed wind sweeps me

To the edge of myself

And I fall

Deep into the intercession of

Pierced-flesh-and-spilt-blood.

Flame–and incense–rise.

NOTES: 1. If anyone reading this is a poet and has suggestions (and would be willing to share them), I would LOVE to hear them. 2. Because I don’t really feel this is “finished,” I didn’t record this one.

The Tiger Within

*Scroll to the bottom to hear me read this post.

This picture has no relation to today's post, but I'm reminding myself--as it was only 12 degrees when I woke up this morning--that the time of beautiful green crickets clinging to open screen doors will come!

This picture has no relation to today’s post, but I’m reminding myself–as it was only 12 degrees when I woke up this morning–that the time of screen doors and beautiful green crickets clinging to them will come!

I sat on his bed to kiss him goodnight and saw it the moment his head turned toward me.

His lips were pinched, his eyes hard.

“What’s the matter, Bud?” I asked.

His voice had an edge as he reminded me that the birthday party we’d talked about a month ago has not yet happened. “You said we might do it this weekend,” he accused.

Never mind that he has just spent more than twenty-four hours with a best friend.

Never mind that we’d never done more to plan the party than simply talk about it.

Never mind that I’d told him several days ago that the party would not happen this weekend—we simply had too much going on.

He was so focused on self that gratitude and perspective—logic, too—had fled.

I could completely identify.

“You’re miserable, aren’t you?” I asked him.

The flat look stayed a second more but then slipped. He nodded.

We prayed together, and I reminded him of all the “never mind’s.” We talked about all the good he’d experienced this weekend, and the things we could be thankful for in that very moment.

Suddenly his small chest rose and fell with a great breath, and he smiled at me.

I smiled back. “It feels good to let it go, doesn’t it?”

I told him then I have the same, awful struggle, and sometimes I imagine SELF (or rather the focus on self) to be like a coiled kitten deep in my gut. When it slumbers, it seems harmless, so I pet it a little, and it raises its head. I continue to stroke it, and it rises higher, higher. Still all seems well, but then it stands on hind legs and hooks its needle-sharp claws into my heart.

And I am overcome.

“Why don’t they see what I’m doing?”

“It wouldn’t hurt them to be just a little grateful!”

“Well, I did that for her. Shouldn’t she do something in return?”

“All I do is clean up (cook/work/drive/do) for everyone else.”

“Don’t they notice all I’m doing?”

“When is someone going to do something nice for ME? When is it MY turn?”

“How is this going to affect me?”

The thoughts bombard, and I can’t stop them. I am miserable in my self-focus, but I’m also powerless to do anything about it. I try to pull the claws from my heart, but as soon as I get one free, another is entangled, and they keep sinking deeper and deeper! I realize what I thought was a harmless kitten is in actuality a tiger, fierce and strong, with not a hint of give in its eyes.

“That’s why we had to pray,” I told my son. “We can’t fight the tiger in our own power. We have to come to Jesus and tell Him we need Him. I have to keep re-learning this very lesson.”

Recently I discovered this song by Audrey Assad (©2013) about this very thing. I’ve been praying it lately. I hope you find it helpful as well.

 

“I Shall Not Want”

From the love of my own comfort;

From the fear of having nothing;

From a life of worldly passions:

Deliver me, oh God.

 

From the need to be understood;

From the need to be accepted;

From the fear of being lonely;

Deliver me, oh God.

Deliver me, oh God.

 

And I shall not want; I shall not want

When I taste your goodness I shall not want.

When I taste your goodness I shall not want.

 

From the fear of serving others;

From the fear of death or trial;

From the fear of humility:

Deliver me, oh God.

Deliver me, oh God.

NOTE: The title link above leads to a video of Assad playing and singing this song.