The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now.
– Henri Nouwen
Those who seek after a great deal of knowledge and information about the ways of God are really trying to satisfy their reasonings and to attain to God by means other than those of the spirituals. In no such manner can you attain a true and passionate love for the Lord. Such men who seek after God by the acquisition of information about God and acquiring information about the Scriptures are really nothing more than scholars. They do not know the unseen realms, nor do they realize that hidden things of God are found only within the spirit. Nor have they come to touch those joys which abide in the inmost depths of the believer, that place where God keeps His throne and communicates Himself to the one who comes and joins Him in that place.
-Miguel de Molinos (1628-1696)
Painting: Night Vision, acrylic on canvas
This poem goes with the painting “Night Vision” of a woman dreaming on a crystal sea under a night sky full of lights. It uses the imagery of the lovers in the Song of Solomon and also makes reference to the story in the book of Hosea of a man who keeps rescuing his unfaithful wife. Ishi is the old Hebrew word for husband/saviour/hero. Through the prophet Hosea God tells his people there will come a time when they will call him Ishi and not Baali (master). The ancient Hebraic written symbols for seer are a wall, a cutting implement and an eye. For kindness they are thorns, a cutting implement, and a door.
Come away with me,
her lover calls.
He peers through the lattice;
he tosses pebbles against her frosty window.
Arise, my love, my chosen one
and come, come away with me.
The winter is past; the sleet is gone; the flowers lift their heads.
The season for singing has come.
Leave your compass on the desk;I am the way.
Our secret place lies in the rock’s cleft.
She stares through the glass darkly.
Ice shatters her view.
Where are you, Beloved? Where are you?
She rises, lifts the bar
and crosses the threshold on freshly washed feet.
Behind her ears, the white wolf,
descended from the city’s seven mountains,
yelps as his howls
meet the linen fence.
With her newborn eye she cuts a hole
through the thinned place in the thorn wall
and climbs into greater truth.
A pillar of lilies awaits her.
With one look you have ravished my heart, he whispers.
See? I rend the curtain of heaven
and like a gazelle leap the hills for you.
Let us swim in the sky, fly under the sea.
Come dance with me, my bride.
We are like children spinning amid the galaxies’ swirling skirts.
Together, let us puzzle the pieces
adding breadth and width and depth and height
until you sit at my side,
the earth our footstool.
Your eyes will hear.
Your ears will see.
Your fingertips will taste and know that I am good,
and in the language of the Spirit
write of colors you’ve never seen before.
Her lips move gently with the mouth of sleepers.
Ishi, my breath, she breathes.
Ishi, my hero.
Peggy Lee’s song from the 60’s, “Is that all there is?” came to mind this week when I saw many of my young friends post pictures of graduation and the prom on Facebook. A former grad admitted to me that the whole thing was a little disappointing. After looking forward to it her entire school career as a magical night of glamour and celebration (and possible romance) in the end it was the same old people standing around in expensive, uncomfortable clothes saying and doing the same dorky things they said and did last week –and the week before, and the year before.
Dare we admit that some of the moments we were told would be the highlights of our lives were not all that brilliant? I came away from my high school grad party thinking like Peggy, “Is that all there is?” (Mom worked so hard to put together the perfect evening, but I was not permitted to go to the prom dance and since my dress was a gift, I never got to choose it. The guy I had just broken up with turned up with his fiancée and the last minute substitute escort was called home by his mother because she needed help getting his drunk uncle out of the bath tub.) Even if everything had turned out as planned I think I would have been disappointed.
The problem: I have an imagination.
Sometimes I feel like asking people not to give rave reviews to a movie or book or performance –or even a cleaning product that sounds like heaven by way of a sparkling shower door. I almost wish people hadn’t told me how wonderful life experiences like a wedding or childbirth and breastfeeding or a vacation in Mexico or a standing ovation after a performance were because although there were wonderful moments in all of them, secretly my imagination took liberties went a step further than reality. As great as many experiences have been there was usually a bit of “Is that all there is?” when they were over.
Solomon said it first in the book of Ecclesiastes, the book that epitomizes is-that-all-there-is disappointment and the limits of human’s wisdom and logic. He wrote, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” and “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” (He ends the book of his experiences with this: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”)
Peggy’s song repeats Solomon’s observation of vanity:
If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is.
Peggy’s song also dared to address fear of the final disappointment:
I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself,
Is that all there is?
Perhaps disappointment is our greatest fear. Perhaps this is what motivates so many sermons and pop theology books. They are less about hope and faith than the pragmatic guarding of our hearts against the possibility of disappointment. Like King Saul before his first battle we take things into our own hands when it looks like God may not show up in time to make our party a success.
I think the best moments in my life have been surprises:
-coming around a corner on a logging road to see an entire hidden valley of golden tamarack aglow in low evening sun,
-my wee little grandson this week, bringing me a grocery store flyer and pointing to a photo of watermelon to show me what he wanted when he is too young to have the words (Yes, I gave him some.)
-my “barren” daughter announcing her pregnancy
-my precious son, held prisoner in a dark basement of depression, coming up the stairs into the light saying he wanted to be baptized
-my four-year old grandson telling me he had a dream of sitting on Jesus’ lap and being hugged and hugged and hugged
-my husband covering my desk with Lindt chocolates on our fortieth Valentines Day together
-hearing a voice say “Run!” when I was up in the woods praying, then discovering that when I dared to attempt it the asthma and arthritis that had crippled me for so long were gone
-my mother with a broad smile and look of recognition on her face toward someone we could not see as she stepped into eternity from her hospital bed
-and so many more.
I believe this is not all there is. I believe God gives us promises that will not be disappointments. I believe that my imagination will not spoil the surprises he has for me because I am not capable of going a step beyond the greater reality. My imagination is no match for his.
“Is that all there is?”
No! Not by a long shot!
Now to him who by his power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine—to him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen! (Ephesians 3:21, 22)
Oh, dear children of mine (forgive the affection of an old man!), have you realised it? Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! (1 John 1:3)