Friday, January 06, 2006


Between the Bricks

What holds life together? We all know about events and actions, history and future, but what is the glue that turns events into a life? You can pursue this right down to the level of atoms and quarks: ever smaller bricks, with ever more mysterious forces holding them together. Our culture is full of brick-talk, but the bonding is left to take care of itself. No wonder we're such haphazard constructions.

God comes along and by some odd miracle manages to get someone, amid the cell phone calls, work, children, errands, plans, etc, etc, to pay attention. What then? The only thing I know is that the result of the encounter will be unique.

I wonder if God thinks more about cement than he does about bricks. I wonder if the real core of a life is indicated by what a person uses to hold things together. I also wonder if this is just my metaphor. It may not make sense to anyone else, but it seems to me the bricks are pretty much similar. Everyone has the same stock. Where their personality comes out is in what they use to hold them together.

Some use cynicism. I know that well. It's a good way to prevent disappointment: everything is bad, and if it's not it soon will be. Some use activity so they won't have to think about anything. Some use homilies and catchphrases, telling themselves over and over "I'm getting better." Some just use patience, a willingness to outwait everyone else.

God, I think, has a different way. I, for example, am far more worried about what's going to happen when the glue fails than I am with the actual bricks. So I quite consciously avoid doing anything that might contribute to dissolution or challenge to what I'll admit is a pretty shaky edifice. God is working on changing that. The Holy Spirit replaces my original equipment glue with something so strange I have a hard time thinking about it.

How can a glue be both adamantly strong, and very flexible? The bricks move around, but never detach themselves. Whatever quake comes along seems more frightening in prospect than it turns out to be in fact: the walls wiggle, the glue stretches alarmingly, but everything comes back into place. The Holy Spirit doesn't allow any brick, no matter how little, to get shaken out.

They may move around. I become a different person. I fear what might happen, but it never does. Shaken, rattled... but not disassembled.

I'm still afraid. For all of my life the only person I could depend upon was myself, so anything that shook me up was too great a threat to be tolerated. I learned to avoid them. The only way to learn something new is to do it, so God has to sort of guide me along this new path, one step forward, 371 steps back, and so on. Each step forward, though, demonstrates God's faithfulness. He does what he promises, and holds on. I don't come apart, and I don't fall.

He takes this all very seriously, saving a life. He has proven over and over again that he's better at guiding and protecting me than I am. My protection tends to be of a very destructive kind: hide under a rock, wait for things to pass. If it goes beyond that, if I receive a reward for something I did. I tear it up, trample it, throw it away and curse the day it showed up. Rewards are the biggest threat to stability because they call me forward: any action rewarded tends to be repeated. Just ask Pavlov's bell-called dogs.

I'm not a dog. I refuse to be bribed. I refuse to be sucked into anything because it makes me feel good. But I'm beginning to learn that this is a normal part of life. Why shouldn't I feel good because I've done something well? Where is the reward if I can't feel it? Why bother living if the only feeling I'm allowed to have is bad?

I'm amazed, and disgusted, with how tightly I cling to this particular self-protective trait. I would destroy myself if God weren't holding me tightly. And, gradually, little by little, his gentle but utterly inflexible love is changing me. I'm beginning to see rewards in a more accurate way, beginning to see that the glue that holds things together is part emotional, part intellectual, and mostly love. What else, as a friend wrote to me, is there?

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