It is always the liminal spaces, those threshold in-between places in our lives, where old things pass away and new things have yet to emerge, where we face our greatest challenges and have opportunity to experience our greatest learning.
The cold weather fell so suddenly this year that the leaves on the trees in the park did not have time to sing their final, colourful adio. They froze mid-roulade and missed their chance to exit to applause before the audience went home. Now they fall, unnoticed, on the dusty, crusty January snow.
Sometimes seasons march out in a grand finale. Sometimes they slink away slowly, finally noticing their time has passed.
Like the leaves, I am reluctant to let go. At the moment, the potential of the next season feels like a sodden weight of too many options, too many yeah-buts, and too little energy. But this is where the future is born –in quietness and rest. There is a rich feast of wisdom and revelation to be found in this season.
Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.
You read my heart like an open book
and you know all the words I’m about to speak
before I even start a sentence!
You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.
Psalm 139:1-4 TPT
I took one of those personal trivia quizzes that pop up every once in a while on social media. Yes, I know they are designed to search for data that sells us (the product) to potential advertisers. They might think they know me, but they don’t. Not really.
The test asked about hidden talents. I wrote “invisibility.”
Not long before, I ran into some people I had grown up with. We were either in the same class at school or in the same Sunday School class or youth group for years. One person I had known well and spent time with a couple of times a week for sixteen or seventeen years, couldn’t remember me, although she remembered my cousin with the same surname who had only lived in the same town for two years. Another guy vaguely remembered me as the really quiet girl who was the friend of the really brainy girl. That was at the same school where a teacher insisted to my parents that I wasn’t in his class. When they pointed out my name on the register he said, “Well then, she ought to learn to speak up.”
I have learned to speak up, much to the chagrin of those who complain that now I talk too much. They are right, but my response to that criticism tends to be to want to put on the invisibility cloak of my childhood again and try to content myself with watching life from the shadows like I did before I let God heal the shame that held me there so long. Sitting in the dark singing another chorus of “Nobody Likes Me” is not nearly as uplifting as singing a chorus of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” It’s not a healthy response.
The truth is nobody but God really knows us; we don’t even know ourselves. The search for connection comes from the search for our Creator who knows everything about us and still loves us. He is not disappointed in us because he had no illusions about our state in the first place. It has always been his intention to save us from the messes we have made and the resulting consequences of guilt and shame.
To be known and understood and loved is joy. Without God we are in a constant state of looking to other imperfect people or inanimate things to fill our built-in need for love from someone all-knowing and totally trustworthy, someone who truly knows us, someone who sees the ugliness but moves to bring out the beauty he placed there.
Steffany Gretzinger sings about the joy and hope in being known and loved by Love Himself.
If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.
-Therese of Lisieux
Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us. No more. No less.
I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”
I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.
Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit.
I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:
Dark secrets:Someone is lying to you.
Someone is trying to steal from you.
Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.
Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.
So much for escape from the news cycle.
Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.
I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.
As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.
As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:
“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.
“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.”
“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)
I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”
I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.
Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.
“Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43 NIV)
Today’s word for Creative Meditations for Lent has taken me in a different direction than I expected. I started thinking about awe in the above verse.
I’ve decided my definition of awe (like most other people’s, I suspect) has been entirely inadequate. We use it so casually as in, “You did an awesome job, kid.”
Other translations of the Bible use the word fear instead of awe. I looked it up. The word in Greek is phobos, the root of ‘phobia’ –a fear so strong it makes us want to run away (like the Children of Israel wanted to run away when God showed up on Mt. Sinai.)
Phobos appears in this passage as well:
People will faint from terror [phobos], apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (Luke 21:26)
If we use the word awe instead of fear it gives a sense of how much the word awe has been devalued.
People will faint from awe.
For years I have sung “Our God is an awesome God” with the same fervour as if the lyrics had been, “Our God is a pretty impressive God.” Some of us have hit the other ditch in reaction to the sermons about a wrathful, vengeful God that neglected emphasis on his overwhelming love, mercy, and grace. Have we gone too far the other way? We can’t ignore the scripture about awe/fear of a God more powerful than we can imagine. Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
We have no idea what awe really means. But I think we are about to find out.
“I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
(Romans 15:13 The Voice)
Photography has taught me to look for the beautiful in the midst of the ugly. Faith is teaching me to see joy and peace in the midst of a world full of anger and fear. It doesn’t deny the dead and decaying, but when it is focused on the lovely, and the good and the true that say, “Look! New Life!” faith creates a portrait of hope.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
I marvel at God’s handiwork from the most miniscule particle to unimaginable distances in space. I am fascinated by the power of the sun’s explosions and the sensitivity of tiny cilia in the inner ear. I marvel at his strength and his gentleness. God’s omnipotence is so perfectly under control that the most vulnerable person, broken by the cruelty of the world, can come to him, lean her head on his chest, call him “Abba,” and know she is perfectly safe.
“Where is peace to be found? The answer is surprising but clear. In weakness. Why there? Because in our weakness, our familiar ways of controlling and manipulating our world are being stripped away, and we are forced to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are most vulnerable, the peace that is not of this world is mysteriously hidden.”
Sometimes it’s not until we have reached the end of our ideas, our energy, and our optimism that we are ready to ask God for wisdom. Sometimes it’s not until we wait –for we know not what– that we can start to hear the voice that speaks in silence.
He often starts with, “I love you. Do you know that? Do you know that?”