Tuesday, March 27, 2012
We Are a Tactile Bunch
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."
--Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"
A friend of mine wrote, years ago:
"Pastor [Steve, of Metro] mentioned that this is exactly what we are, and when we are with Christ we are still a broken pot, yet filled with the Spirit. Because we are broken, we leak. When we are without Christ what is noticed about the pot are all the big ugly cracks, but with Christ the Spirit is what leaks through and thus HE gets the attention. The cracks are forgotten. HIS strength is our weakness. He is glorified! Larry, spirit is busting out of you all over the place!!! Liquid light. Beautiful. His work in you is inspiring."
A couple of weeks after she wrote that, she and her husband were with me on the beach as I was making a sculpture that was supposed to be a physical representation of what she'd mentioned: light coming through cracks. Light from the setting sun would enter a big opening on the west side, and shine through narrow slits. Would the sculpture have worked? I don't know, because the slits, representing cracks, became too literal and the sculpture fell apart.
I am made of fragments. Whenever I hit a bump of some kind, the shards jab painfully into each other, so it's no wonder that I try to avoid bumps and stress. I'm tired of pain. Don't need any more of that. My solution, however, is to put each piece in a tiny straitjacket: if they can't move, they can't hurt. It's a simple and effective solution to the problem of pain, in its most narrow definition, but causes problems for what might be a broader interpretation of living. Life could be defined as movement.
Endless pain tends to reduce life to mere avoidance. I've seen it in myself, I've seen it in others. It's all well to talk of adventure, but adventure usually adds to pain, so why bother? God supposedly cracks his whip, demanding that one cast off the safety, throw oneself into adventure, and I have at times attempted to obey, dutifully. Pain eventually swamps the effort. The shards are already antagonistic, and attempting to force them to perform just raises the general ire level.
It doesn't work. Repeated iterations prove it. There must be a better way, and why not go radical? If what I'm doing, according to known rules, isn't working it's time to chuck the rule book. God says "Be prepared for the truth." The truth is even simpler than the tiny straitjackets: holding.
A friend of mine was honest enough to seek what he really wanted: being held, by friends. In this world that's a death sentence in m ore ways that one. Being held by God? Who is better qualified? A friend of mine was feeling bad, tired, stressed. I didn't know the details, so as I walked along the beach yesterday I asked God to simply hold her and protect her. It may not be that simple an act.
What I'm finding, as I allow God to hold me, is that his touch is healing. I used to expect him to bring the shards together and knit the cracks together. The soul must be whole, I thought. Well, the soul is whole, but he does something in the cracks to keep sharp pieces from stabbing others. The cracks are still there, as they are needed for flexibility and growth, and the shards still move, but they seem to be designed parts, kind of like puzzle pieces, but with spaces between that are needed. God's hands, his will, surround each fragile piece to touch, guide, hold against the inevitable backlash, and heal. Stuff of the Holy Spirit, I guess, and it's luminous in addition to being healing.
If you'd like to see this idea from other perspectives, here are some other stories, positive proof that years pass but problems remain similar. Lu, if you see this... send me an Email or something, would you please? Same address.
Sheep No. 103
Lu's "God's Chew Toy"
Friday, March 23, 2012
The Trojan Heart
How does love come to the unloved?
Amidst all the noise written, sung and spoken about love, there must be some signal of truth. How does one who knows not love recognize love when it shows up?
Can an expression, supposedly of love, be anything other than a bribe? "I love you," the gift says. "Won't you love me in return?" The person stands behind the gift, hoping that this time the magic will be wrought and lifelong loneliness will be ended.
I opted out of all that. A bribe is a bribe. If it takes a fancy gift to get anything started, it will take fancier gifts to keep it going. I've seen the pattern. It enriches the de Beers diamond cartel but no other. The balance of obligations and responses befuddled everyone I saw caught in it.
And yet, God is love. How does that work? I know not God, I know not love; the equation is null.
The need is there, the request made. Save me. Do something before I go over the cliff. The physical will to live is stronger than my mind's will to end it.
So, God starts with what he has. In my case this is very little. God never complains, but simply sets out from the start. Teaching basic vocabulary, leading by example. What does love do? How does love act? Look at Jesus and see how he works with people, talks with them, shows them with tenderness and perfect accuracy what they are doing to themselves, and he just keeps walking. "Come and see."
Each step I take is difficult. I'm armored, through necessity. I've seen many examples in my life of how God can protect me, but still trust is hard to come up with. My memory is good and stores many examples of broken promises, easy words that mean nothing, living by assumption with no time to listen to me. That's probably why I turned to writing.
What does love expect? The list I'm offered is very long. Whom do I believe? Follow Jesus in obscurity to what I hope is... well, what? Love makes no demands of the beloved. Love invites: a touch, a whisper, a soft inviting glow, a scent...
...and sometimes love offers a gift. Something tangible that can be picked up with physical flesh-and-blood fingers. I walk along the beach and find a small stone containing a perfect heart. The heart-shaped piece is softer, more eroded that the surrounding sandstone by its many trips up and down the beach... waiting for a day when I will be open enough to see it.
What kind of bribe is this? What, God? You haven't done enough for me that now you have to complicate it with something obvious? Effusive, even? It is the third in a series! Do you think I'm stupid? Coarse? Insensitive? Can't take a hint? What more of a hint do I need beyond Jesus' voluntary sacrifice?
Anger builds. I will not be trifled with. I will not have my life, my will, bought off for some sea-washed trinket. I will not have the crash of my dreams and guidance, the complete upending of my very will, traded for cheap tricks.
Still, I picked up this gift. At the time, with some delight. Effusive? Over the top? No doubt, this being the third heart-shaped pebble I've found out here. And experience has softened my defenses, not through battering, but through constance, steadfastness. Steadiness. As if that "Come and see" really were pointing in a particular direction leading to beauty.
Anger makes not a mark upon God's direction. He waits, and eventually I come to my senses. Not through being overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, nor forced to a re-evaluation, but by simple waiting. Literally, senses. I sense no manipulation from God. His gifts are, wondrously, simply, that: gifts.
A sharing of delight, an exchange of beauty, a direct statement of "Isn't this a neat place where such things can be made?" Any response I might make, from stony silence through quiet delight to ecstatic exclamations (or even just a little story) is my choice. My choice. The gift is that, a gift.
It is still from God's hand, and his touch cannot help but change the touched. I suspect that even a person's touch will change another person, but who has time for acts like that? A tiny stone heart contained in stone, wrapped in my hand, all of us rapt in God's attentive hand. The tiny heart is soft, intact, well protected. Gradually my stony will responds to the touch of this gift's honest giver.
Thursday, March 08, 2012
Heart Held in Sand
The day was breezy and cool, with sunlight filtered through wispy clouds and low haze. Mild surf ran up onto the beach, stirring bean clam shells and gravel as the tide slowly receded. I was ambling home from the library.
It was a day of smooth stones. There's always something different. Most of the time the pebbles cast up here are angular. I thought these smoothly rounded ones would contrast nicely with the angular ones, so I started collecting the ones with pleasing shapes and interesting colors.
How much of a sign of God's presence is enough? I'm used to working from hints, extrapolating reality from the bare minimum of information. Asking for clarification usually brings too much of the kind of attention I'd rather avoid. When it comes to God, of course he has lots of other things to do, so I shouldn't ask for more than just what's necessary.
What a strange attitude that is. He gave me his Son. He gave me his Spirit. He gently writes his life into my heart every day, and is effusive in his praise when I actually let him do that.
I already had two heart-shaped stones. I can't walk the beach any more without thinking of those gifts. As I walked this day I was looking for pleasing shapes for a friend, and found oval rocks, elongated ovals, disks and others. One little round one caught my eye but I walked on. Then something about the remembered image stopped me, and I turned around to pick it up.
It was a small thick rounded disk of salt-and-pepper sandstone, with a grey inclusion near the middle. The inclusion had caught my attention, just with its contrast against the lighter matrix. I took a closer look, and the inclusion was perfectly heart-shaped.
Oh, this is just too much. Being the kind of person I am, I got to thinking about how this stone was made, and then laid in just the right place for me to find it. First there had to be mountains made, to be worn down and turned into sand black, grey, white. Then some other rock, a bit softer, finer-grained, had to become heart-shaped and immersed in the speckled sand. The whole assembly had to be pressed into sandstone, and then from the depths returned to the light of day. The sandstone stratum had to be broken up in just the right way to reveal the hidden heart, and then it had to slosh around in the surf for a while to get rounded and smoothed. Finally, it had to arrive here so that a wandering and somewhat dazed man fixated on rocks and passing by just happened to find it.
What am I to make of such demonstrations? What can I make of it? I didn't ask for this. I didn't ask for the other two hearts, either. I asked for truth, I asked for help, I asked for necessity. I didn't ask for art. I didn't ask for warmth, nor effusive demonstrations of love. I didn't ask for gifts beyond what I needed.
The small stone is purely a gift. God being nice. He didn't have to do it. He knows I'm saved and I know I'm saved. Yet... why do I place such tight limits on his self-expression? God has shown a most wondrous interest in my well-being; perhaps gifts are a part of that. Perhaps learning to receive such gifts is an art in itself. The whole thing threw me off kilter for days. Gifts usually come with price tags, and I just sort of cowered and waited for the bill.
No bill. This one just came with a smile.