Saturday, November 15, 2008


Invisible Comfort

What does a moth think about? Resting upon a leaf, under the wide blue sky. Does the leaf look like a leaf to those eyes? Is blue a valid concept? Can a nearly weightless, winged moth know anything of gravity?

The leaf grows from a twig, which joins a bigger twig. Twig to branch to limb, inward and downward from our gravity-centred point of view anyway, eventually to the trunk. Sun's fire reaches through essential, invisible air to leaves unconscious of their photosynthetic magic.

Everyone wants to feel good. Is there any more to feelings than a kind of bubble in a vacuum, or a kite with no string, or leaves without a tree?

All the limbs come together in a massive trunk, and then the tree spreads out again, roots dividing again and again until nothing is left but nearly invisible rootlets. This is where the real business of the tree is transacted, business between bacteria, fungi, minerals, an intimate embrace of earth and water.

Trees grow. From a microscopic embryo inside a tiny, hard-cased seed to a barely visible stem and, given time and space and beneficent environment, shade for picnics and bird nests. Each leaf connected firmly to the reality of stone and earth.

To one who feels bad most of the time, a moment or minute of feeling good comes as a gift or an incomprehensible miracle with no cause. Feelings are like cats: they don't like clingy people. When they are so rare, however, how can I keep from holding on? If I were a leaf I'd be in perpetual shade every once in a while being hit by a ray of sunlight. Hang on! Don't let it go.

Like the bubble in vacuum, or the stringless kite, it can't happen. Feelings come from somewhere. Something holds them up, and they grow from one's own roots.

For a Christian to talk about this is very close to blasphemy. As soon as the topic comes up people become uncomfortable and the talk soon turns to duty. Jesus himself, however, calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter. For me the logic is simple: why do we have feelings if they are to be ruthlessly suppressed?

It could very well be that I'm the only person who needs to look into this. Jesus is the one who leaves the 99 sheep to go fetch back the one that got lost. No matter what, he will, if allowed, rescue that sheep. We celebrate the story but are pretty hard on the lost sheep themselves. What is involved in the rescue? What would you expect from One who died for His sheep? He doesn't work by halves. No whitewash over rust and decay.

To rescue a leaf, Jesus starts working at the roots. His light reaches everywhere to show the connections I'd given up on understanding. His hands hold me together as I try to stop the changes. Change is a problem for one with limited resources and stability.

It turns out, though, that most of the instability comes from inside me. Anything that looks different is a threat, so it gets town down. Repeatedly through the years I have turned the hydraulic hose of intellect upon the foundations of new, pretty structures to reduce their foundations to rubble. The life can't stand on such tumbled earth; there is no chance for roots to grow and become stronger.

Comfort is essential when change comes knocking at the door. Change is essential if I'm to continue living as anything other than an automatic eel in the world's cracks. Substantive change that really sticks around for longer than the time it takes my intellectual sun to rise is something that has never happened.

Jesus' light is both gentle and powerful. He is never vindictive, never says "I told you so," never loses patience as I require being taught the same thing again and again. How does one who has never known faith learn to believe? Like a leaf on a tree, faith is connected to experience and everything else. It doesn't exist on its own. Faith is essential. After all, if you believe you can't climb a tree you'll never try but one probably shouldn't start with an elm whose first branches are 40 feet up. Jesus knows where the beginning is, where the tiny dying roots meet the stony dry ground.

Even the memory of water is gone. If faith is to grow, there must be water. Rain falls and new ideas grow. That starts the process of destruction. How many cycles before I learn, or die? Which choice? Patience leads to living.

God places his hands gently around the warring aspects of myself. Always before, to have them in the same room leads to destruction as one tries desperately to solve the problem of warfare by outrunning or killing off the others. One voice leads to stability. It leads to sterility, too, and doesn't last long. God wants everyone to live together. Unanimity isn't needed, but it can't be like a meeting of porcupines either.

It has taken years to bring this about. I've asked the question before: what would happen if all the different voices at least quit fighting? I'm tired, bone-deep tired right down to my dry roots, of fighting. How much difference can invisible comfort make?

This morning, right now, I'm still here. I attribute this to Jesus' work over the last 30-odd years and particularly in the last 5. I've been ready to give up for the last two of them, sick to death of the fighting and running away from God's kindness. Kindness burns in the soul of one who hasn't experienced much of it. I don't even really believe in it but that's not really much of an impediment to God. What stops him is a determination not to believe. God sees the tiniest cracks, and encourages even tinier rootlets to grow in there. Nearly imperceptible to a person but these rootlets are where life starts.

And then He holds the new plant as life grows and... changes things.

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