God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.
~John of the Cross
God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.
~John of the Cross
When the preacher said,“You may kiss the bride,” the man I was marrying took advantage of that permission as if he had been waiting his whole life for this moment. He went for an enthusiastic, but unrehearsed kiss – at least unrehearsed as a staged event for the benefit of the public. We hadn’t worked out which way our heads were supposed to tilt and our glasses clashed together and sort of tangled. When all was said and done we both had a wonky view with spectacles askew.
“Amateurs,” professionals in the audience twittered.
That we were. What did we know about love or commitment or anything, really? Vows are always a gamble when you have no idea what you’re getting into. But that’s the point, I suppose. Vows are about faith and a promise to try to stay in the process as the story plays out.
At another wedding, when the groom kissed his bride, a curious new nephew seated among the host of dearly beloved in the pews popped up with a question obviously weighing on his innocent mind, “Is he planting the seed now, Mommy?”
The rest of the witnesses twittered over that precious moment too.
I’m not sure what Mommy told him. No, not now, but then again, something important was being planted at that moment. A little bit of true love in the form of a promise that could either take root and grow beyond any definition of love that seemed grand enough at the altar or could shoot up quickly only to wither in hearts that proved too hard after trampling or too distracted by competition to water and nurture its growth.
This morning I read about God sowing seeds of light.
Listen you lovers of God, hate evil;
For God can keep you from wrong
And protect you from the power of wickedness.
For he sows seeds of light within his lovers
And seeds of joy burst forth for the lovers of God!
So be glad, and continue to give thanks,
For God’s holiness is seen in everything he does.
(Psalm 97:10-12 The Passion Translation)
I was wondering what seeds of light and seeds of joy looked like in real life when a friend phoned. She’s a novelist of a different philosophical/religious persuasion than I am, but we learn from each other. Her character (and she is the master of creating fascinating characters) had taken the story in an unanticipated direction. (Writers will understand the demands of characters who, it seems, have developed an independent will.) Without giving too much away, he was faced with a dilemma over whether or not he (having done some very bad things) should accept a bargain of severe torment in the next life in exchange for the ability to relive one perfectly beautiful moment in this life. She wanted to know if that was consistent with Christian thought.
I explained that the picture she had of eternal punishment was the whole reason why Jesus came. He came to demonstrate his Father’s true nature in demonstrations of love and mercy and especially grace. He came to save us, not to condemn us. He didn’t come to bring judgment that requires us to pay for our sins (because who can possibly do that once the final tally of eternal repercussions has been made?) He came instead with a gift of grace that empowers us to become who we were meant to be before we comforted ourselves with the lies of the devil. He came to change the path we were on by changing our hearts to line up with his love for us and for others.
You’ll have to wait until the book is published to see where the character decides to take the story after our discussion, but she made me think (as she often does). What was this one perfect experience he had? (No, of course she didn’t tell me. I need to wait for the book too.)
Many people whose lives have been a collection of traumatic disappointments can still hold memories of perfect moments they knew illustrated the way things are supposed to be. I wonder if those moments, are the seeds of light.
Whether we experience them in nature, or relationships, or art, or music, or a perfect hand in poker, they are moments when Jesus plants a bit of himself in our hearts in the form of joy, or hope, or peace, or a sense of it’s-gonna-be-okay promises. The world can try to stomp out those tiny seeds of light, but somehow, hidden in the darkness they continue to glow. If they didn’t, we would not wish that things could be better, for we would have no concept of better.
A kind person shows us what kindness is and that kindness exists. Once we know that there is such a thing as love, the loss of it seems unbearable. Seeds of light, in the process of growing, irritate the heck out of it-is-what-is complacency, because they give us glimpses of something more. Before they pop through the soil in a dazzling display of pink blossoms (or green beans, depending on your preference) their powerful little earth-moving tendrils rearrange our foundations in a way that takes studied effort to ignore sometimes. They provoke a holy discontent. What if those seeds are watered and nurtured instead?
When John, Jesus’ beloved friend, told the story of life on the road with the lover of his soul and the other disciples, the Holy Spirit inspired him to include this observation:
Life came into being because of him [Jesus] for his life is light for all humanity. And this living expression is the light that bursts through gloom the light that darkness could not diminish. for his life is light for all humanity. And this living expression is the light that bursts through gloom the light that darkness could not diminish. (John 1:4,5)
All life begins with a seed, a hope, a promise, an idea, an implanted word from the Living Expression that existed before time.
The Father is preparing a perfect bride for his son. Christ’s reward is the bride – the ones he came to save. In other words, you. And because of his promise, like a kiss on the day we choose to trust him, joy, inexpressible and full of glory, bursts forth in the lovers of God.
“I will never leave you or forsake you.” – Jesus
Two years ago, after the roads were re-opened, we drove home through a valley burned by a devastating fire.
The formerly lush green landscape consisted of ash and blackened tree trunks at the time. It looked and smelled like death – the death of a forest, the destruction of homes, and the loss of wildlife.
This week we passed through the same valley. In the place where ash and charred debris once covered the forest floor, wild flowers and green grass sprang up in an unrestrained chorus of colour under the old black stumps.
Children in the campground squealed with delight when their moms said they could play in the cool water on the river’s edge. The smoke smelled like sweet barbeque sauce this time.
Five years ago a microburst wind downed hundreds of trees in our area. Century-old fir trees leaned on telephone wires and giant blue spruce snapped like twigs, crushing cars and houses and garages as they fell. It was a disaster at the time. I mourned over the loss of our big shade tree. It used to cover nearly half the backyard and was a perfect place for tea parties and splash pool swimming with the little ones. When the trunk split in the wind and the tree tipped precariously over the garden we had no choice but to cut it down.
Today, if you wander around town, there are few signs of the storm that ravaged our neighbourhood that day. Roofs have been repaired and trees replanted. I now have two May trees springing up from the healthy root system the old tree left.
Sometimes after a devastating loss, we feel like things will never be the same, and the truth is, they are not. But things would have changed had the disaster not occurred, just more gradually. When people visit a town after moving away the first thing they notice is all the changes. There’s a parking lot where the hardware shop used to be and the public works department cut down the big willow down by the park because its roots were getting into someone’s plumbing. But there’s a new wing on the hospital now – and a new recreational climbing facility by the soccer fields. We’ve adjusted. They haven’t.
People lived through both disasters (and a few more I haven’t mentioned). It could have been a lot worse. It was not the end of the world. We felt relieved that we had survived, then came the clean-up and labour-intensive rebuilding. Work crews restrung power lines, tromped through broken homes, cleared trails and rebuilt bridges for months.
Sometimes loss clears the way for something new, something different or even something better. When an old forest burns, it opens up the forest floor to light where seeds, long dormant, can grow again. When my big shade tree came down I had more light so I planted a vegetable garden. We ate some of the tomatoes today.
I was thinking about unwanted change as I looked at photos I took in the fireweed- covered Kettle Valley last week.
I had good news and bad news after specialized medical scans in Kelowna (which was the purpose of our trip.) The good news is that although there is more than one tumour they are in the same area and the doctor thinks the cancer can be treated with surgery alone. It has not spread to major organs! It is treatable! Thank you, Lord! This is not the worst case scenario. This is one of the better scenarios!
I felt so relieved and grateful that it took a couple of days to realize, hey, wait a minute… The good news is that I get a free complimentary appendectomy with the removal of parts of my body I’ve thus far been rather attached to. Removing this bit means that bit and that bit won’t have adequate blood supply anymore, so they have to go too. That doesn’t feel like good news today. This will be the third “…ectomy” this year. It feels like autopsy by installment. It’s like being rescued from a burning building or yanked out of your car before a falling tree smashes it like a coke can. It’s a much better than the alternative, but still, when the dust settles, something hurts.
Don’t get me wrong. I am very grateful that the outcome of the tests was not as bad as feared. But can I admit I’m tired of loss? I’m tired of the work of restoration. Our house has still not been repaired after the flood in March. I don’t want to take more time to recuperate. I’m finally able to get out for a walk in the woods after two surgeries earlier this year.
The hardest part for me is needing to ask for help. I’m the one who comes to the rescue when other people need me. I don’t like needing. I don’t like asking. I don’t like depending. I don’t want to have to trust someone else’s judgment. I want to do the driving.
God is still working on my heart. I whine, then I realize that if I want Jesus’ promised peace that passes understanding I need to give him my right to understand.
I look at our restored city with streets lined with young trees and rain bouncing off sturdy new roofs. I see the ash in the valley replaced with wild flowers and horses and cattle grazing in the newly fenced fields. I see tomatoes and beans and peas growing in my backyard where there was too little sun to grow before. I see change that came about in a way nobody wanted but they appreciate now. There is joy in the journey.
Again, I have to say, Lord, help me to see from your perspective. I’m going to keep asking for total healing, but I choose to co-operate with you, however you want to do this. I would rather have an instantaneous healing miracle but if surgery is the way you are going, well okay. Let’s do it. I am thankful for physicians with skills. Because you have shown me over and over again that the gold lies on the other side of the valley of shadow, because letting go of my own plans allows your brilliant purpose to shine in dark places, because you have kept your promises and always been faithful (even when it didn’t look like it at the time). I trust you. You give love, joy, and peace. I know you will provide everything I need when I need it.
It’s not the end of the world, but even if it were, you would still be there with your arms open wide.
You point the way to limitless possibilities.
And thank you for fireweed. It’s beautiful.
Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.
– Richard J. Foster
All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.
When spent petals blow away, the wild rose in the forest is less attractive, but no less beautiful, for now she is entering the unseen season of producing fruit.
“Where the eye is focused, there the imagination finds its raw material. The right focus must be won at immense cost and discipline. Train the eye to see the good, and the imagination will follow suit.”
When the morning falls on the farthest hill,
I will sing His name, I will praise Him still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him still.
For the Lord our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave.
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him still.