I saw this pomegranate tree growing wild near the place where Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened. From that moment he did not see merely the surrounding threat that wished to destroy them, he also saw the Lord’s greater reality.
At Rosh Hashanah, the head of the Jewish New Year, I pray, “Open our eyes to behold your plans, Lord.”
You know those dreams where you are back in high school or university and you realize you have an exam and you can’t remember your locker combination or the room number — or if you ever went to that class? Sometimes my life feels like that when I’m awake. I thought I was done with learning something and I find myself back in school — only this time it’s the school of higher un-learning.
This week the song “Young Love, First Love” has been going through my head.
“And the significance of that, Lord?”
“You have no idea how deep the acceptance of performance-oriented, hypo-grace, approval-seeking, ‘me-do-it-self’, busy-ness-is-next-to-godliness thinking runs. Churchianity is full of it. So are you.”
“Still? Seriously? I thought I was doing much better.”
“Pack your bags. We’re going on a love-trip.”
Ok, I’ve been thinking (again) about the warning to the church in Ephesus that although their diligent efforts are appreciated, God said they had a serious problem. They had left their first love. “However, I have this against you: you have abandoned your first love. Do you remember what it was like before you fell? It’s time to rethink and change your ways. “(Rev 2:4) The messenger told them to return to it or they stood in danger of losing their light (their understanding and their influence symbolized by a candle stand).
I began to realize that my secret reaction to the warning was an internal groan that even though I had worked hard all summer there was something else that should have been on the list. Oh yeah, remember to spend time loving God. Oh boy, something else to do before I can put out the cat and get some sleep.
“Think again,” He said. “You’ve got some un-learning to do.”
That’s where the song came in. (I know the word the Bible uses is agape, the type of perfect all-giving love God has, and not eros, the type of love that makes us get all hot and bothered and more than a little self-conscious, but I think the connection is still there.) I remember telling a lonesome young woman bemoaning her unattached state, that when people fall in love they actually fall in love with themselves in a way. When we see ourselves through the eyes of someone we respect and who thinks we are worthy of their time and attention, we are willing to lower our barriers a little. Sometimes we misjudge the quality of character in a person and find ourselves the object of the attentions of some obsequious little stalker who will hit on anything, but we learn and move on. But the attentions of someone we admire? Wow. Weak knees and butterfly stomach time. It can be a little disorienting. (So how to get a person of quality to fall in love with you? Become a person of quality yourself.)
When we fall in love we are constantly aware of that person’s presence. We know exactly where they are in a room without even looking. We are fascinated by everything they are. We want to know everything about them, their values become our values, their heartaches become our heartaches, their victories become our victories. We talk only about them and we need to be near. We have the urge to merge.
To be loved by someone you deeply respect who thinks you are worthy of his sacrifices, who can make you realize how amazing you are? Wow! He or she will inspire you to become bold and become a better person and do greater things simply because he or she believes in you.
You don’t fall in love with someone who makes you feel ashamed, or ugly, or unable to change. You fall in love with someone who makes you aware of your own potential -simply because their very presence in you life makes you realize you are of value to someone important. (Are you listening, Self?)
The lines of the song that keep running through my head: Young love, first love, filled with true devotion.Young love, our love, we share with deep emotion.
That’s it. He’s asking us to return to true devotion and deep emotion by letting him love us the way he wants to. Returning to the source of our motivation, knowing that the Being of ultimate quality, and worthy of infinite respect longs for us, means we can start to see ourselves through His eyes. He shows us how amazing we are; he emboldens us to become more than we ever thought we could be, because he says we are worthy of his attention, his time, his sacrifice.
When we do we will long to become like our beloved, to make his priorities ours, to understand his heart, to share his secrets and rejoice in his victories. When we return to our first love, we live and move and have our being in Him and our sanctified imagination is again motivated by His love -his perfect, unselfish, giving love.
When my grandfather retired he became the gardener for the property he and Grandma and my parents shared. This was a good arrangement until the signs of early dementia cropped up. The problem was that Grandpa was a farmer at heart, and not a gardener. As recent memories turned into dust in the wind, he returned to old painful memories and began to see mother’s flowers as weeds that competed for resources with the precious grain crops he fought so hard to grow during the dusty 30’s in Saskatchewan. Before Mom’s prize dahlias had a chance to bloom he hacked them down with his hoe.
Mother was not pleased. She was a farm girl too, and admired waves of wheat in an open field, and vegetable patches dripping with peas and beans as much as anyone, but she also appreciated “impractical” flower gardens that produced nothing more than visual pleasure.
When there is not enough to go around, survival comes first. The problem is that many of us return to familiar barrenness of past pain, and live our lives in fear of want, as if God is on a budget and there is not enough to go around. Without new memories our relationship with him can be one based merely on survival (what do I need to do to be saved?) and neglect appreciation of his beauty and abundance. Francis Frangipane wrote:
“Indeed, Jesus frequently drew revelation about the Father from the observable world around Him. He told His disciples to “consider the lilies” (Luke 12:27) and spoke of God’s love and care, even for the sparrows (v. 6). He saw miracles of life contained within the power of a simple seed, and He made this revelation a centerpiece of His teaching (Matt. 13).
Indeed, many of the Lord’s greatest sermons were presented, not in the temple or behind the pulpit of a local synagogue, but in the cathedral of creation, at lakesides and hilltops.
We think of Gethsemane as the place where Jesus sweat blood in prayer, and so it was. But Gethsemane was a garden, and the Bible tells us that Jesus “often met there with His disciples”(John 18:2). I love the fact that the Lord routinely found joy among flowers and landscaping, and that He “often” brought His disciples there to teach them.
Yet not only was the setting of a garden a familiar place for Jesus while He was alive, but even in death His tomb was set in the midst of a garden (John 19:41). In fact, when He rose from the dead, a distressed Mary thought Him to be the gardener (John 20:15).
Jesus obviously saw the creation as an echo of the Father’s heart. He found in nature a place, a quiet place, to seek and find communion with God. Beloved don’t deny yourself this exquisite pleasure.”
There is more beauty, so much more beauty, in Jesus Christ than we yet know.
The other evening my neighbour invited me over because the light was right. I love it! How many people would do that? She gets me! This time of year the sun sets further to the north and she was enthralled by the light that made the flowers on her dining room table glow. She knew I would enjoy it too, so she phoned me to come over -and bring my camera. Earlier in the week another friend, who I love dearly, confided that she didn’t understand why some people had an emotional reaction to things like rainbows and sunsets. They were pretty and all, but didn’t give her any particular thrill; their formation is easily explained. She’s good at a lot of painstaking, repetitive, detailed tasks that would have me running for the nearest exit before I collected my pay cheque, gladly receiving the label of irresponsible scatter-brain rather than do one more inventory.
Yesterday I noticed that another friend I admire was excited about getting a handle on organizing her studies in Greek and Hebrew so she could spend her summer reviewing before launching into her Ph.D. work. Today yet another friend talked about how much satisfaction she is getting from building fences and raking 7.5 kilometers of new trails on their ranch. The neighbour who invited me to see the way the sun struck her flowers is a fabric artist. She is fascinated by colour and has a unique hobby; she is a dyer of fabric.
My husband and I had another, um, opportunity to share grace with each other this week. I needed the password for a device we supposedly share, but I seldom use. I had to find him and ask because I couldn’t remember it. This is why I can’t remember it: he throws strings of numbers in his frequently changing passwords. I am a numerical dyslexic. Quantity I comprehend. There is simply no file in my brain for numbers as identifiers. Blue house with a pink plastic flamingo in the yard by the dog groomers, I can remember. 12302- 37th Ave. (I made that up -sorry if it’s your address) falls right through the huge colander holes in my number memory file. Phone numbers? Hopeless. And don’t get me started on model numbers. All you will get is a glare if you ask me if I bought the A8932 or the A9934 version.
“The green one.”
How am I possibly supposed to remember that password?” I whined at my husband. The man has no problem. He sees numbers as having as much personal distinctiveness and identity as a blue house with a pink flamingo. He just remembers them (numbers, that is – a blue house with a pink flamingo might as well be on Mars.)
I think I finally found a way to explain my frustration with his choice of passwords. I grabbed a dictionary with a dusty/reddish/rust coloured cover and asked him to remember that shade and go buy a piece of fabric to match. He looked at me dumbfounded. “Can people do that?”
My neighbour could. Most of the time I can too. He’s not a visual learner. He’s a verbal processor and I’ve learned to pretty much ignore everything he says until he comes to some sort of conclusion.
Here’s the thing; we don’t all think or feel or learn or enjoy life the same way. Consideration -one aspect of love- is being aware that not everyone is like me. Loving myself as God loves me means giving myself permission (grace) to be different without guilt or comparison. I can’t remember numbers, and that’s okay. My husband does not have a strong visual memory. He will walk right by a pink flamingo for 23 years and never notice it, and that’s okay -annoying, but okay.
I love this observation by Kris Vallatton: Arrogance is not thinking too highly of yourself. Arrogance is not thinking highly enough of others.
We tend to value our own currency most highly; that is, if we are task-oriented we will admire people who work hard. We will compliment projects that exemplify hard work. My dear hard-working German mother often complimented needlework or fine meals with an acknowledgment of how much work went into it. Another person might notice how much thought went into it, or how much artistry was involved. I grew up being rather deficient in the hard-work and joy of labour department. It took me years to realize she truly enjoyed baking bread before her morning shift as a nurse and then cleaning the kitchen until midnight. Work gave her as great a sense of satisfaction as the wretched sense of dissatisfaction being chained to long hours of physical labour gave me. It has taken me even longer to quit feeling guilty about not being like her.
In the big C Church we tend to do the same thing, and we end up discounting or dishonouring those with different ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, learning and doing. Over here we have the go go go-type and here the contemplative-type, and here the emotional, demonstrative-type – many of them feeling guilty for not being more like the others, and some of them wondering what the heck is wrong with everybody else.
I am beginning to realize that unity is the result of the love and grace we extend to others by blessing their differences. Grace is the permission God gives us to fully become who we are meant to be in Christ. At the heart of unity is love, which honours the beauty of the image of God in each one of us, however that manifests.
Then the light shines -as through the colours of flowers that an artistic person noticed, sitting on a table a practical person moved, and photographed with a camera an industrious person designed, and an entrepreneur sold and a meticulous person inventoried…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I planted tulips the year we moved into this house 26 years ago. Then the deer moved into our neighbourhood. Deer like tulips -for breakfast. They devour them like Lindt chocolates (and seem to prefer the red ones). After a while no tulips sprang up when the spring sun warmed the garden and I didn’t plant anymore. Occasionally tulip leaves emerged, but either they formed no flowers or the deer nipped them in the bud and they shrank back into the ground quickly. I forgot all about them.
This year three brave tulips are blooming under my window, returning after all these years.
Some people are like that. The period of “the dark night of the soul” may last a long time. The “devourer” has kept them from raising their heads and freely being who they are created to be. The years of darkness, when no growth can be seen, can last a very long time. Mine did. There were people who lost hope for me as depression and negativity kept me in a shallow grave year after year.
Mine did. There were people who lost hope for me as depression and negativity kept me in a shallow grave year after year.
There were people who lost hope for me as depression and negativity kept me in a shallow grave year after year.
God is in the restoration business. Time is not as important as process to him. He knows who we really are, and he is not disappointed.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation I just want to cry and thank him from the bottom of my heart for moments like these.
But they are moments. I am anxious to get out there with my camera because I know these sunny wild flowers will fade and die within a week or two.
Other flowers will replace them later -the lupins, the daisies, the bright red salvia- and they will be just as beautiful. And they will also droop and fade and die.
In landscape photography much depends upon the season and the weather conditions and the time of day and angle of the sun. I think my desperation to get out there when the conditions are right, even though the timing may be inconvenient for other obligations, is about an awareness that life is fleeting.
But temporary beauty is like a sign post that points to a greater, more permanent beauty that will not fade.
I’ve been thinking about this verse: But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:4)
I disliked it in my youth because of the way it and the surrounding verses were applied. The result was a rather oppressive less-than-lovely interpretation of freedom. Today I see something different. Some translations use the term incorruptible beauty, meaning beauty that is not subject to ugly decay like a corpse. Other translations say unfading loveliness or lasting beauty. All of them talk about a higher form of beauty -a gentle, quiet, peaceful spirit. “Not anxious or wrought up” in the Amplified version. Peace comes from within, but so does beauty.
I would not want to return to the type of sexual harassment I experienced in some of my first jobs, nor would I want to be embarrassed by the wolf whistles and remarks that came with walking past construction sites when I was 18, but like many woman I never realized how far my looks took me until I lost them. There’s that moment when you realize that being called a femme fatale is now more about your absent-mindedness behind the wheel of a car than your ability to be a lust-magnet. It’s actually kind of a sad day when attractive men confide in you about their romantic problems as if you have been neutered by “fading loveliness.”
Beauty is not the only currency. Many of my friends who are reaching retirement age have to face the realization that the currency that earned them a place of respect or usefulness in this world is not holding its former value. Surgeons lose their dexterity, musicians lose their hearing, and teachers lose their patience. Athletes and dancers face this reality sooner than actuarians, but eventually the time comes when we are replaced by those with brighter newer beauty, talent, or skill. We fight it. Man, how we fight it, but reality hits us square in the mirror eventually.
“Inward beauty” is not a euphemism for “nice personality” or “a great face for radio.” Inward beauty is more like the light that glows in a dark and dreary season. Inward beauty shines when a person knows they are deeply loved and cherished. The inwardly beautiful will not be plucked, stuffed in a vase, admired and tossed a few days later; they are at peace with God and themselves and can afford to love others gently and extravagantly because they know they have been forgiven much. Inward beauty does not fade or droop or shrivel or rot. It keeps growing through all the seasons of life because their intimate relationship with the Creator of such beauty grows on for eternity.