Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Walk on Water
Matthew 14:22-32, from Biblegateway:
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Walking on water? Why? Jesus could have simply appeared on, or beside, or above the boat. Physically, walking on water is a challenge. Think ice, but with movement. Was Jesus climbing the waves and surfing down the other side? Where'd he get the gription? The wind is blowing... what kept him from being blown back to shore? It's all a complicated set of physical interactions.
Well, how about for fun? Jesus had been praying all night. I think he delighted in the wind and waves, the dynamism of all that movement, and he wanted to go out there and be part of it. Playing, if you will. He didn't have much opportunity for play.
So, here he comes, ambling or surfing or sandal-skiing. In the dark. Impetuous Peter wants to play too, but lacks Jesus' confidence. That's OK. Jesus has enough confidence for both of them.
Note that Jesus didn't command Peter to leave the boat. Peter asked for an invitation. Classic Jesus.
Friday, February 17, 2012
A Pocketful of Heart
Monday, I intended to walk to the library but got rained out. I wrote instead, putting into words some ideas that had been very persistently wandering around my mind. I'd resisted writing "Jesus and His Amazing Anti-cynicism Ray!" because it seemed too far out, but it was just too persistent. That often means God is involved.
Tuesday, Valentine's Day, came up clear so I made my trip to the library. I did my business there and returned on the beach. The tide was low, the sun bright, breeze cool. The Santa Monica Mountains shone blue-green beyond the bay, and Santa Catalina Island marked the western horizon.
I've always liked rocks. We'd spend the summer in Colorado, and I did a lot of walking around amidst the startling variety of rocks in the Rocky Mountains. On the beach most of the rocks have been ground and pounded into sand; being a sand sculptor, that's fine with me. Sometimes, though, there are small rocks and pebbles cast up on the sand. I tend to look for flat ones. It's hard to skip a rock on the ocean, but if I time it just right, there's a smooth surface after a wave does its final break and I can skip rocks on that. Still, the process is subject to sudden changes, so even the best of rocks may not go very far.
In all of my trips along the beach I've never found the proverbial heart-shaped rock. Until Valentine's Day. I laughed. God being humorous, excessive, and to the point; the particular heart-shaped rock I found was fragile, so I had to carry it in my hand.
It was delightful. I have a very long habit of trying to take just enough, and my assumption about God's actions has always been that he'd patch me up just enough to get me back on the road, and then send me off. I'm also sensitive, so a hint is usually enough. Sometimes, more than enough, and I take off too soon. I simply don't expect, nor demand, effusive expressions. I had to laugh as God gently chided my austerity.
Wednesday I started getting angry. Thursday I was thoroughly angry. How dare God try to bribe me again! Buying me off with a stone heart for having written a story that no one read! His response to that was "I don't care about numbers." I still resented the bribe, the assumption that I could be tossed a cookie because I'd been a good boy. God had every right to be angry himself, as I knew that none of my accusations was true. God was still in my heart, still patiently radiating the anti-cynicism field, still holding completely true to the path he set before the world was made. He simply held up a half-silvered mirror that reached into the past, and showed me all the other bad gifts I've gotten, gifts that were no more gifts than a campaign contribution is. Quid pro quo, all the way. God isn't like that.
God wants my active participation in life. Not a passive resignation, sort of a "his hand in my glove" kind of thing, but living with him, working with him. What I thought was a temporary deal, well, I think it's a lifetime. God has set his seal upon my heart, and he's staying.
So, today I again walked uptown, and then came home along the beach. I was in a much better mood than yesterday, although still tired. All this arguing makes it hard to get any sleep. Still, moving is better than not moving, even if it's slow.
As I approached the ocean, I wondered if I'd see another heart-shaped rock. Nah, that would be completely excessive. The point has been made and I get it. I came across the beach and turned south on another radiant day. Naturally I kept an eye out for pebbles, and... yes, I tell you the truth, there was another heart-shaped rock, right there in my path. This one had no fragile acoutrements, so after I'd looked at it and laughed, I put it into a pocket and kept walking.
Now, the main reason I've become more attuned to stones and shells is that I have a friend who's a painter. She likes to paint still lifes, and I thought pebbles might make a nice background for them, so for the last few months I've been collecting them for her. Shortly after I found the heart-shaped pebble, I came upon the most beautiful shell I've ever seen along here, just lying there, its lovely nacre glinting in the bright sunlight.
God has already given me life through Jesus, and his Spirit. I still don't expect generosity. I wonder how big the pile of heart-shaped rocks will get. And how big my friend's pile of pretty things from the beach will get.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Heart Held in the Hand
Scattered around the Internet are stories about heart-shaped stones and other gifts from God. Naturally, there's a debate about these really being a gift from God. Who am I to criticize? I've seen God's creativity in communication and have know many people inspired by cross-shaped tree twigs and heart-shaped stones. God is the giver of good gifts. Jesus said the very stones would cry out if no one else did.
I've never looked for one of these. I recognize God's hand in many things. Maybe no one looks for them, but they happen anyway.
I was walking home today, ambling along the sunny beach. Yesterday a storm had come through and the surf was still turbulent and strong. The beach had eroded somewhat; sand comes and goes as currents change with the seasonal weather. Stones come and go on this beach. Sometimes it's just sand, other times there are many pebbles. Pretty and interesting ones I pick up to send to a friend of mine who's a painter, the ElsieART LLC Still Life Kit.
Today's supply of pebbles was thin, but interesting. I picked up a nice black one, and then a larger mottled one, and then an old and battered clam shell that had been rattling around for a long time and had very interesting textures. I saw one that was of an interesting color, with some kind of line across it. I picked it up, rinsed it off in the backwash of a wave--one of the many advantages of wearing sandals--and took a closer look. Yellowed tan, with black flecks included, and the cemented-sand tube that used to be a worm's home. And then the curves and bumps came together in my mind's eye, and I had to laugh. A heart-shaped stone. Complete with aorta, sorta.
Then I realized it's Valentine's Day. I laughed again. Our subtle God, being just completely over the top, silly and loving all at once.
The final touch came when I looked again at this little gift. The worm's tube was very fragile and would never survive the trip home in a pocket. I'd have to carry it in my hand.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Jesus and His Amazing Anti-cynicism Ray!
"Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."
One can learn grace only through experience. Any attempt to storm the citadel of the heart is met with justified resistance, and God doesn't work that way. Even Satan knows it doesn't work, but he's cynical enough to go ahead and use frontal assault as a tool, as a distraction from his real destruction taking place under the foundation.
So... where is hope? Hope, to me, is a nicely wrapped package. When it's unwrapped and opened, inside is another pretty box labelled "Hope." Open that one... and you get the idea. Is there a final box? If so, will it simply be empty? So long as there is another box to open, I can believe that it will, eventually, reveal something real. Maybe it's just endless regress, a vaporous carrot that can be seen, chased but never tasted.
Cynicism covers any situation. How can God touch the rock-defended heart that expects dynamite and hammers, and has a backup plan based on the idea that anything which looks good is too good to be true. The soul remains turtled up in the basement, refusing to be taken in by inconstant promises.
And yet, all these things spin out their own tales through time. Nothing lasts forever, and God is infinitely patient. His plans have deep roots nourished in kindness and truly seeking that ne plus ultra of human love: laying down a life for the beloved. In the human realm there are often excuses. God has no excuses. He cannot fail. So, he waits, outside the wall, waiting for a time, maybe just a moment, when circumstances force a change. At that moment, the holy orchestration of maneuvers sounds some pure note that sounds just the right note to resonate in the enturtled soul, and it briefly rings.
At that moment, the soul may cry out in distress, in something like hope, realizing its plight and its sickness from living in that dank corner. Perhaps it will allow God's touch. I did. I invited it, even. I asked God to intercede in a mind that was about to erupt into internecine warfare. I didn't care about future implications, which is a rare state for me. Besides... this is God. He's not real, anyway. And yet... he touched. His hands soothed the aspects, and his touch halted their preparations. The war was stillborn.
Hope died that night, although I didn't know it then. Hope, in me, was based on being able to see through everyone else's lies. Now God had his hands in the works. I had admitted defeat. I had resigned myself to whatever it was God would do, and what would be the point of a life in which I, qua I, had no role? I had fiercely defended my identity against all comers for 50-odd years.
Since then, the path God has had me walk has been precise by necessity, between the Scylla of self-destruction and the Carybdis of self-abnegation. His precision has to be applied in subtle ways, a wafting of scent, a brief glow of light, a touch of breeze, a barely-heard note. I am yet fiercely protective, fiercely predictive. God can allow no recognizable pattern to emerge, lest I perceive such, predict it, and turn pattern into rule to perform and thereafter forget.
Cynicism rules all. It's the grey wash over every perception, the steel plate over touch's skin, the jackhammer noise, the cloud around the silver lining. God is the God of silver linings. How does he change my belief? By any way he can, which is mostly by example. He believes in me and I, although short on hope, continue to breathe because the body has its own ways; mind may quit, but body just keeps on doing what bodies do.
There has been a progression from that night of emergency peace-making. Once that immediate outbreak had been stilled, there were still longer-term problems to fix. The suicide may be called back from the physical edge, but the internal abyss yet awaits and the soul hovers ever close. In me, it was lack of peace that kept me there; what could be the point of a life lived perpetually waiting for the unwinnable war? Distraction ruled. For a time.
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6, from Biblegateway)
In our world, peace comes with destruction. History shows endless examples. "If we just remove this obstacle, we'll have peace forever." God knows well the lie implicit in the statement. He sets himself to a much more difficult task, not only bringing peace but assuring the growth and life of the formerly embattled soul. The iron lid may look like peace. It isn't.
The Prince of Peace moved one day a few months back, moving in amongst my guarded soul-fragments, following his hands that had been interposed between them for years to prevent war. Now, his objective is not prevention but growth. He moved in, sat down, and... simply stayed. No preachments, no fireworks. Nothing, really, but something I called a glow although I didn't really know what to call it. I know his scent, I know his actions, his voice. This is something different, and only recently did I finally begin to understand what he's doing.