An Acceptable Day.

“In an acceptable time, I heard you, and on the day of salvation, I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (Cor 5:20..6:2)

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” 
(A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner)

Sparks through Stubble is almost two years old. So, maybe it’s not so surprising that, up against a birthday event, everything I see and read these last two weeks might seem to be pointing toward some giant, self-propelled time-keeping device.

Tick tock. I am my own Big Ben.

What is it about a birthday that always casts us into “looking back” mode? For me, with this WordPress account, it’s a coulda/woulda/shoulda kind of wistfulness. I read back through past posts. I think, oh, that one was really good. This one could have been better. I could have posted more often. I would have liked to have commented more on XY and Z. I should have written what I felt tugging hard on my heart, but struggled to put into words. So I didn’t. I was wrapped up, too busy, too quiet, too concerned about what someone would think if I said what I really thought I should say. All of the above.

There’s one common denominator in all of the above, though. Time.

It’s elusive, it’s a bandit, it’s a refuge, it’s a driver.

It’s a measuring stick and a carrot & stick and it’s a stick in the mud when you don’t have nearly enough of it and feel like you’re dragging it along behind you like a lame horse, and wondering if you can’t just beat it with a stick and get it to fall into line. It’s a handy excuse, too, when your would rather flail your stick in the air with great bravado and pretend the reason you failed is because you simply ran out of time, instead of harnessing it and deciding who’s really in control of it. And conquering it.

It is over-stated, over-anticipated, under-appreciated, under-rated.

It is quantified and qualified by what we wanted to experience, what actually happened, and what we wish could have been. Regrets, remorse, recounting moments we thought we would have been better spoken. Better people. Better friends. Better Christians. Better not say that. Better not think too long about that, too.

It is hopeful in granting us the glimpse – and showing us that brief bit of time to spare – of what we could aspire to be, too. Of what it takes to be better than Better.

What does it really mean to be “acceptable to the Lord?” after all?

better than Better?

better than Most?

I have thought a lot about the word “acceptable” these last two weeks since Ash Wednesday.

I am a results-driven, give me a measuring stick kind of person. That means that in my book, to be someone merely acceptable falls way short of the mark. It says: I am average. I am kind of like everybody else trudging along on the road of faith.

I don’t trudge. I march.

So, to think about God “settling” for something that is merely acceptable to Him, seemed like a waste of talent and resources. Don’t set the bar so low, Heavenly Father. I can’t wait to leap over that in a single bound. In the report card of life, that’s a C+ at best. Average. Not acceptable. You call us to be more than that. I can be Better.

What do I get in return?

Silence. You get a whole lot of silence.

And then, this last week, I really started to dwell upon that word.

Accept – able.

Wait – what? Able to accept…what? Not my will, but Thy will be done?

Suffering? Bearing my cross? Accepting that sometimes, it isn’t what I want, but what You want? Sending me where You need me to be?

Maybe it takes twice as long to get to where I “think” I deserve to be, because you tell me that I have much yet to accept – and I am a long ways from being “able” to do it on my own, unless You help me get there.

“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

Be sure of this, friends. Everything you do in His name, it is enough for just today. For just one day. It is acceptable. Little things. Big things. Things that you think aren’t big enough to matter. Little things that show Him that you’re serving him. That He matters. That you matter, too.

He gathers it up and He presses it close to His heart. You could offer him a crayon drawing of how much He means to you, and He would scotch tape it onto the side of His fridge in heaven, among the most holy and adorned ornaments. Crayons and rubies and emeralds and scotch tape. That’s what He would do for you.

Free offering and free will. That’s what is accept-able. Free from time, free from obligations and pay-backs. His gift to you. You can be sure of that.

 

 

 

 

Saving Lazarus.

“As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone…” (and) Jesus looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10, various excerpts)

“Confession, by drawing hidden evil out into the light of day, and satisfaction for sins, justice in action, frees man in sanctity. The fruit of death felled the tree. The fruit of grace makes it green again. To acquire wisdom, Hearing sits at the foot of the teacher…casting off soft garments, the sense of touch renounces pleasure and puts on a prickly robe. The soul adorns itself with chastity – and in a fresh awareness, gives itself, an acceptable gift to God.” (Jacopone da Todi, the Lauds.)

Almost two years ago, a quiet voice spoke to me while I was sitting in a pew in the very back row of our church before mid-week Mass. Back then, I kind of did the slinky thing to enter the church at the last minute to slide into the back seat. Preferred to be Not Known. Back then, I wasn’t so very hungry for the Truth of the Eucharist that I wanted a front row seat like I do today.

That particular day, though, something strange happened. I have tried many times to explain it to friends. Something happened. It was the rush of the ocean as it races to the sands of the seashore at high tide; it was the slamming of the waves on the distant shore. It was Spring when it bursts forth and the world can’t contain it. It was the sound of a thousand hoof beats on a well-trod path. It was the sound of rain on leaves in the forest. It was all of that.

I could hear it, but, honestly, I didn’t want it. God had to convince me to hear it. Honestly, to this day, I don’t yet know entirely everything that tiny voice whispered to me in that very brief span of a moment sitting in a nearly empty church, before Lent, before I really started to think about God, and wondered what it would be like to actually know Him. To be His child. To crawl up into His most gracious lap and acknowledge that He is, after all, Our Father. In the two years since that fateful day, where I walked out of church and said to myself, well, okay, I don’t know what that was. It was not my will, but thine, be done, so okay – Lead me Lord. I will trust in You.

That’s been a long journey. I am still a Child of Wonder, and He still speaks to me.

I shared the above verse because it’s who I am. Who you are. I am the weak, rich man who approaches the Lord with all of her possessions and faculties and grievances and says, “Lord, why can’t I just have eternal life? I have been pretty good. Well ordered and behaved. And by the way, can you give it to me right now – because I am tired and angry and disappointed and I want what I want, when I want it.”

And He respond and tells me I need to wait. And I need to let go of my “stuff.” Things I possess, and things that possess me. I am frustrated and angry and self-righteous and deflated and despondent.

I am not good at waiting, friends. I get upside down, sunny side UP seriously so annoyed at having to wait on anybody, for anything.

But yet, He tells me I have to WAIT.

In the last week, I have been in deep meditation on the Raising of Lazarus. Yes, you might have to pause a minute and recall that bible story. There are two sisters. Their names are Martha and Mary. Lazarus is the brother they loved. But scripture tells us that Christ loved him, too. Why? Was it a day at the seashore? Was it his abandonment to scripture? Was it because his sisters loved Jesus so? Was it because the Son of Man was so irresistible?

And by the way, God loved Martha as much as he loved Mary. I finally had to reconcile that point this last week in contemplation. Martha was a woman of action. Mary was a woman of contemplation. Both are actually the perfect balance in our Lord.

We don’t know, of course – about Lazarus. We know that Christ received the message from the sisters, yet tarried where he was for two full days before he departed for Judea. Not for his glory, or even the glory of the raising of Lazarus, but for the fulfillment of the scripture about His days.

I have thought a lot about those two days. As a disciple, what would I have thought? I would have wondered why my Lord, the one who breathes life in all He does – seems to refuse to respond. Why do we pace back and forth here – when the one that you love needs you. Why would you wait, when you know we cry out in desperation for you? We should be on the move – racing to save Lazarus. Rushing to defend the man who is dying.

And yet, we wait.

We think that you let him die.

Hearing sits at the foot of the teacher…casting off soft garments, the sense of touch renounces pleasure and puts on a prickly robe. The soul adorns itself with chastity – and in a fresh awareness, gives itself, an acceptable gift to God.” 

I am an acceptable gift to God. I am not the best, or brightest, or smartest – or the most Theologically bound person He ever knew. I love him and I seek him and I wish I knew everything about him.

But I don’t have to.

He knew Me. He made me, just for Him.

He delights in ME.

How awesome is that, friends.

I AM the one and the only ME.

I can’t even look at that last sentence and not cry.

You should, too.

 

 

 

 

Deliver us some cookies.

“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” – John 6:66

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – Winnie the Pooh

A portion of this blog post has been tucked away on a tab on my computer screen since Oct. 30. I have written, edited, re-written and abandoned two drafts. I have re-titled it and tweaked it and scratched my head in frustration about the content, and yet the inspiration for the above didn’t come with any pre-packaged, words-flowing-out-of-my-keyboard sort of way. In the year and a half since I started Sparks Through Stubble, I was kind of…stuck, like a Pooh bear in the hollow of a tree. So I sat, and I thought about it from time to time, and I looked at the two very different quotes above, and I waited for the Holy Spirit to tell me what I needed to know. And He finally spoke up.

In the last week, I have had the opportunity to reflect quite a bit on my past life. All the way back to my childhood. Things I did, things I should have done, and things I could have done differently, too.

I was reminded of a woman who lived a few doors down from our house and a short time that I spent working for her after school. I was probably ten or maybe 12 years old when my mother volunteered my scant housekeeping skills to this woman, whose husband was away from home on his job, and who had some physical limitations that kept her bound to her recliner most of the day. I think I was paid 50 cents to be there after school daily to wash dishes, dump trash, fold laundry and do some light dusting and cleaning for her.

Things started out fine, and I was generally home by 5:00 p.m. – but as the days went by, the lady started asking more of me. Could I help her get some things started for dinner? Chop some vegetables and make a dinner salad? Yes, I could do that. Could I perhaps help her sort through her mail and make a list of what bills needed to be paid, and then maybe, if it wasn’t too much to ask, could I sweep the leaves off the front doorstep to tidy it up? Yes, I could do that, too. It didn’t take long before my 5:00 p.m. departure became 5:30 p.m. and then 6:00 p.m…and annoyance began to set in. Just as I was gathering up my things to leave, she would find one more thing that needed to be done. Could I sift through the pile of magazines on the floor and organize them a bit better? Could I throw in the next load of laundry so it could be washed by tomorrow? Could I dust off the television and wipe down the kitchen stove? Yes, yes and yes, I could do all of that – but my attitude was beginning to sour quickly.

By the end of the next week, I was resentful. I started inventing reasons I needed to leave right at 5 o’clock, and then I started making excuses about why I couldn’t stop by after school until at least 4:00 p.m.  Homework, tests, other chores, a church or club activity, a date with a friend…soon, I told this woman that I could come every other day, and soon that turned into every third day, or maybe once a week. And then I told my mother, who started asking about my time commitment and lack of interest in the task, that I didn’t want to go two doors down anymore at all.

My mom looked at me thoughtfully and asked “why?” and I complained at length about being taken advantage of, that she didn’t pay me more, but yet there was always one more thing to be done, that there was always one last conversation with this woman as I was trying to put on my coat and head out the door. It was taking too much time. It was too costly for me, I felt, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. My mom listened and took it all in, and then after a minute she said:

“You know, the housework isn’t the real reason you’re there. She is lonely, and you being there gives her a little bit of company – a bright spot in her day. She finds things for you to do, because she enjoys having someone visit her. Someone to simply talk to.”

In a perfect world, I would have answered something like “Oh! Well that makes all the difference then!” and become fast friends with this woman two doors down. I would have written her letters and sent small gifts at Christmas time, and probably even taken my children to see her when I married and as she grew older.

No. None of that happened. I don’t recall exactly what I said to my mom that day, but it wasn’t affirmative and it certainly wasn’t Christ-like. I was done. Kaput. Not going back. Had better things to do. So, my mom, being the gracious woman that she was, went two doors down and relayed to the neighbor (when it should have been ME) that I wouldn’t be coming over any more. Beyond that, I don’t know what words they exchanged. From that day on, I did my best to avoid eye contact with this lady anytime I was out and about in the yard and saw her from a distance. Several years later, after I had moved away from home, I asked about her and was told she had passed away. I didn’t even know.

I share that story because I needed to do that, for myself. It’s easy to recreate what really happened, or, soften the edges of our memory with a shaded pencil and think that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I didn’t act like that. But I did. In and of itself, the above story is just one example of the many times that I have fallen short of behaving like a daughter of the King – one who is called upon to lift others up, ready to serve others, willing to feed the poor in spirit. Missed opportunities to share the love of Christ and show it to others who cross my path. Overlooked possibilities to practice humility, patience, charity and kindness.

But wait, there’s more.

Thinking back on this exchange today with my Mom,  I recalled all of the times that my mother would bundle us children up to go visit someone who was elderly, infirmed, had lost a loved one…someone who would simply enjoy a visit, and someone to talk to. Most often, I recall Christmas visits to neighbors and friends across town, but in thinking about it, I know there were many Sunday afternoons spent visiting others, too. If it was Christmas time, there was always a plate of cookies involved, which was a delightful task as a child – helping Mom bake them, adding frosting and sprinkles, carefully wrapping the festive plastic plate with clear wrap and taping on a bright red bow tucked up against a hand-printed name tag. Propping them up in boxes in the back of our station wagon as we departed the house. Spilling out of the car and up snowy steps while carrying that plate proudly into the house we were visiting. Cookies! Crumbly, buttery, smashed frosting, sprinkles-falling-onto-the-floor cookies. Such a simple thing. A humble gesture of friendship. And a reason to visit someone who needed a hug, or a kind word, or just someone to talk to.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” 

Winnie the Pooh got it right when he said that. He would have been more likely to offer up a honey pot than a plate of cookies, but he would have been quick to make the offer (and accept a cookie.) And Pooh was always one to be moving around outside his comfort zone with Christopher Robin and the friends of the Hundred Acre Wood.

Christ urged his disciples to step outside their comfort zone, too. They weren’t carrying plates of cookies, but something far more important and urgent – the message that the Messiah was here, and He was moving among us. Come see, they told the crowds. Come see and believe.

Christ didn’t wait though. He came to the crowds. The poor, the oppressed, the house of Mary and Martha, the tomb of Lazarus. Offering food to the hungry, blessings to the little children, living water to the woman at the well, forgiveness and mercy to the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery…the list goes on and on. The Bible tells us that there are so many stories of Christ’s mercy and actions during His short time of ministry here on earth, that they couldn’t possibly all be written down. In my youth, here I was complaining about an hour a day at the neighbor’s house taking too much of my time. That it was too costly. Yet Christ paid the ultimate price for my sins with His life, and made every minute count in the days leading up to the Cross. Seeking out others. Reaching out to those around Him. Always giving of Himself.

What is the true cost of doing the right thing when it’s measured against the yardstick of your life? I can’t go back and re-write that story with the woman two doors down. I have many more where that came from. I can only ask the Lord for forgiveness, for the opportunity to see what the Holy Spirit needs me to see at this point in my life, and resolve to do better. To be in the scriptures, reading about the life of our Savior, and model my life after Christ. There is no one else I can turn to. Jesus is the one who has the words of everlasting life, and he challenges me to look at old issues and sins and places I’ve fallen down while trying to live a holier life, and to concentrate not on what’s behind me, but the road in front of me. To live in the present moment, and make better choices.

And that brings me back at the end of this long-overdue post to the chubby, hug-gable golden-colored bear who loves his honey pots a bit too much, and loves his friends even more. Winnie the Pooh has taught me a lot about how to live life, too. He had a way of looking at his present situation through a honey-coated lens – not because he was daft but because that one thing was consistent in his life (there was honey, and he was often hungry) so it was what he knew. And thus it was his gauge for his surroundings, as he tells Christopher Robin on a warm summer day in the House on Pooh Corner:

“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best-” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have; and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying, ‘Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.”

What do you like best in the whole world? It’s pretty simple for Pooh here; he had honey, and friends. We have friends, and we know how to bake cookies (or buy them at the local bakery, don’t be intimidated by your baking skills – substitute! improvise!) Take time this holiday season to carry your favorite little bit of something to someone who needs it – even if they might not know it at the time. Share with them the everlasting words of life and tell them you’re praying for them. Invite them to attend Christmas services with you. Make it a hummy sort of day for them, and you’ll be blessed too.

Have a wonderful, peaceful Advent, friends.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta

 

Down from the door where it began.

“The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow if I can, pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way, where many paths and errands meet, and whither then? I cannot say.” – Bilbo Baggins, spoken upon his departure from Bag End at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you. A highway will be there, called the holy way; no one unclean may pass over it, nor fools go astray on it. ” – Isaiah 35:8

I grew up reading the “Lord of the Rings” and hanging out on porches filled with good friends, dwindling sunlight, musings on “what if’s” and wondering about where the next Road might lead me. I thought Hobbits should have been real folk, that I wished I knew them personally, and I was so excited to read “The Two Towers” that I actually sat down on the floor of our school library in a back corner on my “study hall” break to start reading it, and the librarian found me there over an hour later and scolded me for being late to my next class. True story.

Someplace along the way, and I don’t know when, my highways became a whole lot more by-ways and I started to forget about orcs and trolls and eagles and buried treasure. I overlooked Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and things called Gollum. I think it was a bit of that sad Peter Pan-growing up bit that strikes all of us as we grow older. I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books to my children over a decade ago (maybe two, which is kind of startling because that means they might have been a wee bit on the young side for it…) but over time, I only recalled the general movie-star plot line. Two weeks ago, I enrolled in a Lord of the Rings Catholic class on JR Tolkien – and it was there that I finally picked up the books and read again the trilogy – and stumbled across that verse  that I quoted above. It was like finding an old friend seated on a back porch rocking chair puffing away on Pipe Weed. asking if it was snack time for elevensies.  It reminded me of a time when I really thought Hobbits existed – and when in my youth I expected that real people of great virtue would travel the super highway of God and save us from sheer ruin before we imploded on our own imaginary, closely guarded castles of gold, silver, jewels and self-righteousness. To free us from our very own Smaug, trapped on an island of self-preservation with no road leading out of those snares of despair. I was looking for a hero, and the trilogy was full of heroes. In the real world – not so much.

So, to read those oh-so-familiar words of the very humble Bilbo again today, well, gee – my hardened heart was wax melted once again into the flame. We are called to be pilgrims on a long and sometimes arduous journey, friends. Better yet – we are called to be heroes. I am blessed that my journey down from the door where it all began was filled with faith, love, family and friends. I might have marveled to think about where the adventures of Bilbo and Frodo might take me, but I was never full of self-loathing, or hatred, or envy – or fear. My porches were full of dark nights with my dad waxing on about the stars over my head and lessons about the Milky Way, and encouraging me to think about galaxies bigger than I could imagine. My days were overflowing with family and cousins (and second cousins) eager to draw imaginary swords out of scabbards to fight ferocious dragons guarding jewels and breathing fire. We didn’t live to escape trials and tribulations; instead, we thrived on that. We couldn’t wait to face them.

Not so, today. Not so. Not all are so lucky to travel on the super highway to meet God. Times of loss, despair, desolation, distrust – all so damaging and very common today.  It grieves and pains my heart. Our Catholic Church in particular is in great need of a hero. A Savior. My feet are eager to lead the way, but the road is very long.

Then without another word, he turned away from the lights and voices in the fields and tents…he jumped over a low place in the hedge at the bottom and took to the meadows, passing into the night like a rustle of wind in the grass. 

May we all find our feet to carry us far when the way is hard and the dragons threaten to consume us. May we all find a little bit of Hobbit in our souls to drive us forward when the way is troubled. We are the stuff that makes heroes more than wishful thoughts in crumpled pages and faded ink. We just have to recall the door where it all began, and return there. And knock until it is opened.

Hope. Faith. Love. Perseverance. Endurance.

 

 

 

 

Weddings, wine and water

“On the third day, there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” – John 2:1-4

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” – Matthew 14:22-29

A week ago, my husband and I were in the great state of Kansas, celebrating the beautiful marriage of our oldest son to his lovely bride. It was a wedding set in a quaint little Kansas church in the countryside. The weather was exquisite for Kansas this time of year – a bit cloudy (which kept the temperatures out of the 90s) and we were blessed to be part of their vows on such a special day. Family and friends gathered in. It was truly perfect.

The reading during their wedding of the marriage at Cana has “stuck” with me since then, though. Oddly enough, I found myself a few days later reading that passage above from Matthew, and I couldn’t help but ponder and set aside the two. Nearly a week later and after a whole lot of pondering, I think I know what spoke to my heart this past week as a mother of nearly 30 years and a newfound pilgrim on a journey that really only caught a spark of devotion centered on our Lord about three years ago.

I’ll try to explain, although as I have said in past posts, I don’t profess to be a scholar. These are just my reflections, and I hope they help someone.

John’s description of the marriage at Cana is so remarkable in that it puts Mary, the mother of God, at the forefront of the scene. It’s the only other time until Calvary that we will see Mary figure so predominantly in scripture. Most of the time, I have a mental picture of Mary hovering at the edges of Christ’s life. Participating, but not mentioned, in the life of his disciples in his public ministry whenever I read scripture. I am sure that she was there, though. I can’t imagine she would have left his side. Mary must have been there – lingering in the shadows, filling the corners of His life, always encouraging him and loving him to the fullest, but without need to be the center of attention. Always humble. Always keeping the focus on Christ.

As a mother, I totally get that. Your children grow and from their first toddling, uncertain steps when they fall gleefully into your arms, you see them progress to young men and women who begin to gently pull free of your grasp. You are the center of their world, and then you are teetering at the edge of the universe, wondering if they even see you clinging to the edge. It’s exhilarating to see them succeed, and it’s heartbreaking, too. I know I felt that pang in a mother’s heart last weekend – seeing the very last domino tumble between the age-old mother and son bond as my oldest recited his solemn vows to his new bride. Till death do us part. In good times and bad. What God has brought together, let no one put asunder. He only has eyes for his new bride, his new life. As it should be. But my mama heart sobbed just a little bit to see him go.

At Cana, however, I can take comfort in this glimpse we get to see about the fortitude of Mary, who is also a mother. She was invited to a wedding, and that meant that Jesus got to “come along” with his band of fledgling disciples, who at that point were more than a bit bewildered and not-so-very-sure-where-we-are-going-with-this. Mary’s perception of the situation at the feast is key. She doesn’t wait for the lamentations of “oh no, we’ve run out of wine.” She doesn’t second guess what needs to happen or Who she needs to turn to in order to fix the issue. She assesses, consults and acts: “Do whatever he tells you to do.”. The Type A gal in me absolutely LOVES this approach. Mary is my Go to girl. She launches Jesus into public ministry! The future looks bright!

That brings me to the second reading from Matthew that had me a bit tongue-tied and wrapped up in knots this week. Jesus, having withdrawn from public ministry to be alone, watches from the shore as the disciple’s boat is being tossed about on the sea. After the fourth watch (my brain is trying to figure out, is that several minutes? hours?) He finally ventures out toward the boat. No mom on the shore, urging Christ to go to them. He watches. Then he goes. It would seem to me on the face of it that Christ hangs back a wee bit longer than he should have. And then, when He does finally act, the reaction of Peter is odd: He sees Christ walking on water, but yet demands that Christ “command him” to walk to him.

Only if Christ commands it, will water be turned into wine for the wedding guests.

Only if Christ commands it, will water be turned into a smooth pathway for Peter.

In both instances, it feels like Christ hesitates to act. Mary implores him in the first verse. Peter implores him in the second.

I found myself imploring him this week: what gives?

I feel like I have been the one trapped in that moment of indecision between both verses for several days, trying to reconcile the two in my mind. Or more importantly, trying to grasp what the good Lord wants to show me in this suspended moment.

Today, sitting in meditation for a long time, I think that I finally begin to see it. While I would be the one to want to choose one outcome over the other, the two scriptures are actually a perfectly balanced lesson about the demands placed on us in this earthly life.

Sometimes, we are commanded to “Do Whatever He Tells You.” And sometimes, we need to ask Him to “Command Me to Come to You.” In either case, the indecision I see isn’t on the part of Christ. It’s ME.

When I see the situation desperately crying out for His intercession, do I ask Him to act? Or do I think that he must see it for himself and so instead I wait on the sidelines, presuming He will take care of it without any need of me vocalizing my request for His help?

When I am the one being tossed about in the waves on the fourth watch, more than a bit weary of being overcome by the ocean and gasping for air, wondering when the heck is He going to show up and rescue me, do I ever think to stop and ask – or even Command – that he come to assist me? Or do I just assume that he will show up?

Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.

But you have to raise your hand and knock on that door, friends.

My deepening friendship with Christ this last year has been wonderful, and fruitful. But I can’t take it for granted. Even the very best of friends reach a point where they know when to reach out and honestly let the other one know that they need help. It’s not an admission of weakness. It’s an admission that we are human. That we must leave ourselves open and vulnerable in the body of Christ.  On bended knee, we must ask Him to come to our assistance. To change water into wine. To beckon to us to cross the angry sea. To walk on water.

What are you asking for?

What do you need?

Lord, make haste to help me. Assist me in every need.

 

 

 

 

Golden Calves and the real McCoy

“And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought out of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your Gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:7-9)

“The Sherman McCoy of the McCoy family and Yale and Park Avenue and Wall Street is dead. Your self—I don’t know how to explain it, but if, God forbid, anything like this ever happens to you, you’ll know what I mean. Your self…is other people, all the people you’re tied to, and it’s only a thread.” (“The Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe)

The first big, grown-up book I ever read was “The Bonfire of the Vanities” in 1987 and the real-to-life-yet-too-hard-to-crunch trials and tribulations of one haphazard, misguided, egocentric Sherman McCoy. A self-professed “Master of the Universe” with millions in dealings on Wall Street in New York, highly successful one minute, and then brought down lower than low over an unfortunate turn of events, it was Sherman who taught me all about what it is to be so full of yourself and worshiping false Gods that even Moses himself would have been left shaking his head and wagging his finger at you.

Ah, Sherman McCoy.

So it was with a tender tear of sadness that I saw a tiny news blip go by my Facebook news feed last week that author Tom Wolfe had passed away. In today’s hurried times, among more popular authors and self-help books and instant news, Tom Wolfe was largely forgotten. Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, the latest Trump news and strained relations with North Korea…Sherman McCoy was forgotten, too. Tom Wolfe was rather eccentric. I wonder if in the end he maintained his flamboyant, socks-don’t match-don’t care attitude. I hope so. I visualized Sherman McCoy would at last go to rest in peace now with the fellow that had brought him to life in such a wonderful bit of over-the-top introspective and scenery that had challenged my thinking, delighted my senses and had me guffawing at how much Wolfe seemed to really understand True Man. Flawed and self-centered and kind of stupid, assuming that if only he thought he could fix something, it could be fixed. Time, money, prestige – surely it could be remedied. Lessons that I think that I had forgotten, until I saw that post last week that Wolfe had died, and I realized, I hadn’t ever really forgotten the real McCoy.

The people of Israel, waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, we are told, were a stiff-necked people. They were wanton to wander around, looking for instant entertainment, and evidently had enough time on their hands to melt down gold (Gold!) into the shape of calves, just to have something to talk about. Props for a weekend dance, I guess.

Likewise, Sherman McCoy, Master of the Universe of Wall Street, wasn’t so different. Bored with his success, searching for some sort of excitement beyond his marriage and his day job, he concocted his own Golden Calf of sorts, as Wolfe comments:

“There it was, the Rome, the Paris, the London of the twentieth century, the city of ambition, the dense magnetic rock, the irresistible destination of all those who insist on being where things are happening—and he was among the victors! He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up, for the legendary Pierce & Pierce, overlooking the world! He was at the wheel of a $48,000 roadster with one of the most beautiful women in New York—no Comp. Lit. scholar, perhaps, but gorgeous—beside him! A frisky young animal! He was of that breed whose natural destiny it was…to have what they wanted!

A frisky young animal! Golden calf that he imagined that he was, Sherman’s ultimate search for happiness outside of himself was his downfall, and everyone around him tended to drift away when fame and money and fortune left him broken on the streets of life.

And so it went, too, with the people of Israel. Faced with the statue of the golden calf, it’s pretty difficult to stuff that statue in a closet when Moses is coming down off the mountain. To pretend there’s really nothing to see. Nothing going on here. Kind of foolish, isn’t it?

Faced with an impossible situation, and incriminating evidence. Sherman McCoy faces the same dilemma. As much as he longs to say, “there’s nothing to see here,” it’s there. Guilty.

We can all see it.

I won’t defend Sherman in the closing chapters of the Bonfire. It’s a book of greed, lust, materialism and self-loathing, and self-serving interests and racism and in the stuff that greets us in today’s times, the Bonfire of the Vanities would probably be held up and twisted against the light and scrutinized against a multitude of rebuttals.

I get that. Wolfe’s bonfire was probably just the spark of the flame that we have witnessed in our news today. Most people know Wolfe for writing “The Right Stuff” about the astronauts in space. Popular movie. Happy ending.

But make no mistake, the real McCoy is no astronaut. Not even a hero. Nor does Wolfe want him to be. He still stands before you, next to the Israelites. Do you worship the golden calf? Or the God that created you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through a glass, darkly.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Cor 13:12

“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then” – Alice, in “Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass”

When my husband and I were married in 1984, we won a honeymoon trip to New York City. It was the first time that I had ever really been away from home “on my own,” even though my new husband was right there by my side as we trundled through Times Square (a free room at the famous Algonquin Hotel, although honestly, the room was about the size of a walk-in closet, and that’s being generous…). This evening, I was looking through our scant collection of honeymoon photos from that New York City trip. My hubby had an old fashioned box camera he had inherited from his parents, and although it was a bit on the antique side of things, we couldn’t really afford a 35mm camera and film was very expensive to buy. And it was so pricey just to process the roll of film, too! Usually you were lucky if the photos were somewhat usable, and every now and then, you got a few good photos where people didn’t have their eyes closed, or the dreadful “red eye,” or all scrunchy-faced and squinty-eyed peering into the afternoon sun. The box camera seemed a bit exotic, but it generally produced pretty good pictures – better than the Kodak instamatic you could fit in your pocket. So that’s what went into our suitcase when these two young love birds headed off to NYC on a hot, muggy August afternoon.

I was looking through the dozen or so honeymoon photos this evening after coming across the bright floral album in a closet, and I was surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at how much those old photos were beginning to fade away. The colors that I remember amid the cacophony of noise that defines NYC – the dress district with its yards of fabric being carried down the street in large rolls on the shoulders of hefty, stout young men, the grainy grays of rain and debris splattered in the streets and the early morning window shades rolled up with ribbons in those cute corner coffee shops, the neon signs of the electric light show blaring on billboards around Times Square, the white and grey spirals topping out the heavens above the Empire State Building against a puffy cloud blue sky…all of those photos look sort of muted and washed away and quiet, now. Like waves that have beaten away at the seashore sand for a few too many days. The edges of the photos are smudged and a little bit curvy, and they’ve taken on a watercolor sort of sheen inside that plastic photo sleeve. Not at all what I remember after nearly 34 years of marriage.

The young girl in the photo standing with the City-scape behind her still looks like me. She looks a little bit caught off-guard all the time, with sort of a half-uncertain, half-hopeful, wonder-full how did I get all the way here to the Big Apple kind of gaze into the camera. But you can still see that she is a happy, newlywed bride. I look at that photo, and I think about Alice in Wonderland – a favorite book from my youth, and that quote above: I know who I was … but I think I’ve changed several times since then. 

What a wonderful reflection we have on that very sentiment set side by side in the reading from First Corinthians. Every time I read that particular verse as a teenager, I would always think of Alice and her “through the looking glass” experience. But in the world of Lewis Carroll, the colors she experienced were crisp and clean, and the language was loud and kind of raunchy. The looking glass that Paul describes here is dark and dim and eerily void of speech – nothing you could ever imagine that you could pass through to the other side easily. Nothing that – even once polished – would reveal what truly lies on the other side.

In my youth, I have to admit that this scripture verse from Corinthians always brought me up short. My immaturity in my faith, and my general lack of knowledge of the world led me to think that we’re left trying to peer through a dark glass in vain, straining to see what’s on the other side. The control expert in me wanted to clear the glass, improve the view, and move along.

All of these years, later, however, I can see just how flawed that thinking really is.

The Alice we’re presented with in Carroll’s fantasy land was all about adventure and experiencing a topsy-turvy, usually backwards sort of place. Exciting! Exhilarating! But exhausting, too, isn’t it, for most of us? At one point in her adventures, and a bit exasperated, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat where she should go and he replies:

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Indeed.

Being presented with a path forward that seems a bit cloudy, faded and smudged around the edges isn’t always a dead end, it’s a blessing, friends. When we aren’t clear which way to go, we ask for help. From God. From family. From friends. When we are a bit unsure of our footing, we tread a little more slowly to find our way up that slippery slope of uncertainty.

Slow can be good when you are the kind of person who would rather end up “somewhere” than admit you’re comfortable standing still for a little bit.

I have been grasping for just that kind of a strong foothold in quite a bit of spiritual searching these last few months. I am exasperated. Some days I think I have found it, and other days, I realize – or maybe I second-guess myself – about exactly “where” I am. Not knowing where you are and not having a good road map to leave there is really disconcerting for someone who likes to be going somewhere with great purpose.

It’s tempting to be Alice in the Red Queen’s race in Wonderland, and run twice as fast but yet find that I remain in the same place. How often do we all find ourselves doing that, and calling it “progress?”

Instead, I could just sit quietly on this side of a dark glass, and wait for the good Lord to tell me what comes next for my part of the story. I have to admit, I am nervous that I won’t ever get to know how it ends until I really do pass through that mirror, and He reveals it to me. Did I succeed? Did I fail? Did I miss a sign-post along the way that I should have recognized? What did it say?

Psalm 37:7 exhorts us to be still and wait patiently for Him. I keep stumbling across that verse over and over these days in various ways. I know that’s the sign-post along my pathway, whether I agree with it or not. I know who I was, but I don’t know who I am yet to be. He tells me to be patient and take a lesson in waiting. So I’m waiting.

“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.
“Ten hours the first day,” said the Mock Turtle: “nine the next, and so on.”
“What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.
“That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: ‘”Because they lessen from day to day.” 

I certainly hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I choose everything.

One day Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: “Here, dears,” she said, “choose whatever you like.” Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: “I choose everything,” and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.

This childish incident was a forecast, so to speak, of my whole life. Later on, when the way of perfection was opened out before me, I realised that in order to become a Saint one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself. I also understood that there are many degrees of holiness, that each soul is free to respond to the calls of Our Lord, to do much or little for His Love—in a word, to choose amongst the sacrifices He asks. And then also, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: “My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.”   – St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Story of a Soul”

Ah, St. Therese.

This entry is an ode to my patron saint (her special day is Oct. 1, my birthday) and that lovely, spunky little girl who stole our hearts with her Little Way of loving God in such a big way that only became known to the world in “The Story of a Soul” when it was published after her passing at an early age. I’ve thought about Therese a lot during Lent (and it’s early, so, you know that she has to be letting down a ‘shower of roses from heaven’ as she promised to do, if I’m writing about her with such gusto and gumption and conviction on a Saturday evening…)

“The Story of a Soul” is really her love letter to God (and Jesus Christ, his son) and a forthright admission of asking One who is so great to humbly reach down and scoop up the very smallest, insignificant person that she believes she is, and lift her up onto His lap. She asks, because she can’t imagine that He could refuse. She asks, because it never occurs to her that He would say No. So simple and childlike. That’s my Therese. That’s why I love her so much, and I adore her writing. I am always so very touched when I read her simple yet heartfelt words in her story (which she really didn’t even want to write, but was urged by her sister and the prioress to do so and reluctantly complied – again, therein lies such a lesson in humility…).

The excerpt above from “The Story of a Soul” is my favorite. I can just imagine a tiny Therese, peering with great anticipation into Celine’s basket, and seeing that it’s been extended to her for the taking – she takes it. She chooses all.

On the surface – and the first time I read it – I found this passage to be merely delightful and amusing. Given a tidbit, she grabs the feast. Given an inch (in today’s modern terms), she takes a mile.

But that second paragraph has grabbed a hold of my heart now as I have matured in my faith journey. Now, I’m paying attention to her next steps:

“My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.” 

If she was playing poker, Therese just went “all in.” There will be no half-baked, half-hearted, too-hard-wanna-turn-back-now attitude from this one. Heels dug in. Game face on. She’s committed.

Wow.

How often do we say out loud that we are all about choosing a life in Christ – a life lived for God – until the way grows thorny and rocky, and our feet begin to stumble? We so often find ourselves in the wilderness, wandering around and grumbling when God has sent us manna, but we desire flesh pots – even when that meant salivating over meat and spices as slaves. We tend to overlook that finer detail when our will begins to fail us.

Not so with Therese. Not so.

I was listening to a Catholic podcast today and heard for the first time that in the final few months of her life, St. Therese had been wheeled out on her sick bed into the gardens at Carmel to soak up the peace and sunshine, and while reclining there, she overheard two of the sister nuns in a nearby garden out of sight talking about the fact that, when Therese passed away, the nuns would need to supply a circular to other monasteries, abbeys and so forth about her death. Part of that circular would require the nuns there to write up a few paragraphs about her life.

“…and what on earth shall we say?” one sister says to the other. 

I literally stopped in my tracks when I heard that. What would they SAY? My love for this little saint puffed up my chest and threw open my indignation in a heartbeat! How could they not see the love and devotion of the smallest one there among them? How could they not recognize that she had pined at a very early age to enter Carmel and everything she went through to get there? How could they not see how long she suffered everything! Everything! She chose it all! Suffering, and solitude, and set backs. I wished I was half the saint that she was, and yet I knew Therese had already said she would never settle for halfway.

And in response…here was the quiet answer in my Little Way devotional prayer book this evening. It brought tears to my eyes to read her own words as she sent me the answer to my outrage in her oh-so-humble voice:

“To be little is to recognize one’s nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything of its father.”

The true story of this little soul – of my beloved, sweet child Therese – is that the one who chose all, really chose nothing in the end. And by choosing nothing, she obtained everything.

I will not be a Saint by halves. 

Embrace everything, friends. Expect nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

Casting Off

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. – Mark 4:35

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of Gerasenes. – Mark 5:1 

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. – Mark 5:21

“Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night/ Sailed off in a wooden shoe, 
Sailed on a river of crystal light/Into a sea of dew
Where are you going and what do you wish/The old man asked the three
We’ve come to fish/For the herring fish/That swim in the beautiful sea
Nets of silver and gold have we/Said Wynken, Blynken and Nod” – Eugene Field

I am not a big fan of water. Just ask my family. My mom insisted I take swimming lessons as a child – so I did (I hated it.) I would much rather be the one on shore, taking photos of the family out on water skis, or getting the picnic lunch ready while everyone else is doing the inner tube/swimming/water jet ski kind of thing. My dad owned a speed boat, and we used to go out on the lake a few times a year. I got in the boat, but I was never really happy about it. I finally took my very first cruise in the Greek Islands a few years ago, and I was just sure that I would be seasick and miserable.

But you know what? That cruise turned out just fine.

Why would I be talking about things of the sea in this post and my weird water phobia? Probably because it’s been over two months since my last blog. And that was a pretty spectacular post, full of love of God and things-not-usually-seen-in-this-world kinds of experiences. I was completely overwhelmed after I wrote that.

Bottom line: It’s really hard to go back in the water sometimes after a great big, awesome thing happens to you – and then nothing else happens. Life goes on. Thanksgiving dinner happens, and there is a turkey and mashed potatoes. Christmas happens, and that’s nice and the family gathers round. And then there is New Year’s Eve, and you promise yourself that THIS MONTH you will get back to writing on your blog. Resolution! Fortitude! Stamina!

And finally, by the grace of God, here I am, today, writing at last about Jesus, a boat, and an odd little insight that just came to me about a trio of children from an old nursery rhyme that made me cry when I read it again.

It’s funny how God speaks to your heart sometimes in the tiniest, quietest little ways, isn’t it? As if He knew that if he delivered some great big over-the-top message to us with thunderbolts and lightning, we’d cower and cover our heads instead of standing up and looking at it like it was the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. This blog post tonight first started seeping into my leaky little fishing boat several days ago, through the verses from Mark that I listed above, which made up the scripture readings this week. I realize that most people would take away the story of the violent squall and Jesus with his calming of the wind and sea, or the man possessed by demons among the caves and rocks when Jesus drives out the evil spirits into the swine and hurtles them into the sea, or the woman with the hemorrhages who is healed at the touch of his cloak, or the daughter of Jairus who he miraculously brings back to life…all wonderful. All worthy. My boat, in contrast, was taking on a lot of water this week.

Instead of the miracles, I saw only the sea, and a very tiny boat, casting off. First this side, and then that side. People pressing all around Jesus. Anxious for healing. For him to drive out demons, for him to heal their sick children, for resurrection, for the Divine Physician to stop the flow of blood that seemed to be everywhere, everywhere, everywhere… For words of wisdom. For revelation of things to come. For a prophet, a savior, a king.

“…they took Jesus in the boat, just as he was…”

“…and he stayed close to the sea…”

Those are the words that kept whispering to my heart this week. I thought not of the great things he did, but how Jesus must have been very tired in that boat, waiting to cross from shore to shore. I thought about how that must have felt, to be crossing the water with only a few of his friends – those who would later fall asleep in the garden instead of keeping watch, and those who would flee before he picked up his cross to carry it to Calvary for us. I could only imagine what it felt like to be in that boat, casting off again and again. To see demons awaiting him on one shore. To see anxious, hungry-to-be fed masses on another shore. To witness the poor, the sad, the sick, the broken. I thought to myself that the heart of Jesus must have wept at every gosh awful moment of our humanity, because he could feel it. He could feel us. It truly broke my own heart this week, as I began to hear the waves lapping at the seashore, calling to me very urgently to return to Sparks Through Stubble, my own little “sea of emotion” – and I didn’t know why I should bother.

I have sat in this tiny little leaky boat of mine for over two months now, trying to convince myself to cast off. To leave the shore for the other side again.

And then, out of the blue this evening, I thought about the gospel of Mark readings again, and I thought about that boat of mine, sitting in stagnant water now, and somehow God graced me with a memory of this wonderful little children’s board book that I used to have about Wynken, Blynken and Nod. My grandmother gave it to me for my birthday, and she loved reading it to me. I have a vivid memory of being tucked up into her generous lap in her rocking chair as she read it out loud to me. I always thought as a child that it was a kind of curious story – boys sailing on a wooden shoe? Talking to the Old Man of the Sea? Hmmm.

Oh, but what a wonderful song that can be, friends, when your soul is kind of tired and sad, and you aren’t sure your little boat will ever float again. It really is a lullaby of the Lord. Crystal rivers. Heavenly dew. Nets of silver and gold. Stars and twinklin’ foam. Rocking along in the safety of a misty sea. It could have been a Psalm.

And here’s what finally hit home with me this evening as I read that children’s book after years and years. At the end of the story, the wooden shoe is the one bringing the tired and exhausted “fisherman three” home. And I realized for the first time, Christ isn’t in the boat I’ve been envisioning all week. He IS the boat. He’s the one who’s been patiently waiting for me along the shore. He’s been staying close to the shore, waiting for weeks and weeks for me to get back in the boat. I see the masses huddled on the other side, and they look pretty demanding and oppressive and needy. He sees only an opportunity to sail forth and proclaim the greatness of the Lord on the opposite shore.

“Let’s go,” he says to me, “Just as I am. Just as you are.”

He is the One True Fisherman, skilled at casting the net, guiding the boat, calming the angry wind and sea. If I set sail in his tiny wooden boat, he assures me that I won’t be tossed about. I can safely navigate to the other side…and tackle whatever waits for me there.

So, no more delays, and stalling, and wishing for a bigger boat. I’m casting off again this evening.

See you on the opposite shore.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Cleft of the Rock

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by, and then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen. ” – Exodus 33:21-23

Sometimes, in my morning scripture reading and meditation, I really do feel like I get a rare glimpse of God. He is never big and lofty like I often think of Him – especially in the Old Testament – but always the kind, gentle Father, bending down on one knee, beckoning to me as His child to come just a little bit closer.

Honestly, I am still working on convincing my feet to take even baby steps toward Him, but, I find as I work on my relationship daily with Him now, it seems to be getting easier.  The following is my feeble “writing attempt” to describe a really lovely vision yesterday morning –  a handful of child-like images and intriguing thoughts that were difficult for me to scratch down in my journal. After reflecting on that vision again today,  I decided it was something that I wanted to try and weave back together so I could capture it before it faded away…like so many lovely things do, right? No matter how much we yearn to hold them in the palm of our hand. Or maybe later on, we think it was simply a dream, and it becomes far too easy to not dwell upon it as the vision slips away and falls into the man-made realm of rational, practical thoughts and whatever seems to be more important than God at that moment. Maybe a natural part of aging is that I long more now to dwell in the spiritual realm, not this earthly one. No doubt that is God’s way of beginning to prepare us for the journey back to our true Home some day.

Anyway, I hope what I wrote below strikes a chord with any of you who might be seeking the same gracious, loving Father that I encountered. He is with us always, friends. May your life be richly blessed.

In the Cleft of the Rock

 

She told him in their early morning conversation that His presence right now simply overwhelmed her. That when He stood so close to her, it made her feel like she was standing on the edge of a very tall cliff in a barren desert with nowhere to turn. And that if He advanced, if He took one more step, she would step backwards and tumble over the edge, instead of flying like He thought that she could.

He asked her if it would be better if she was in a garden, with tall trees and fragrant flowers and a mossy green floor that would be gentle on her bare feet. Would she be more comfortable there with Him?

She answered no, because now that she had met Him, she already knew that He was taller than any tree in the garden, and against that magnificence and magnitude, she felt very small. Like a frightened rabbit in a forest, seeking out the nearest bush where she could hide.

He reminded her then that she should not be afraid of Him. Never, ever fear Him.

She thought about that for a moment, and the story of Moses and the Lord passing by came to mind. She asked Him, a bit timidly, if He thought she could stand in the cleft of the rock. She couldn’t bear to be right at His side (imagine that!), but, she could certainly watch His back pass by.

And just like that, she was there. Cool granite pressed up against her cheek. Grey stone towering over her head. Sky full of light brimming with purple haze, like dusk and dawn blended into one day, one moment. Dusty desert beneath her feet and air that seemed to be a pungent mix of incense, filtered through golden dust that was hanging low over the far horizon as she peered around the edge of the rock. It was difficult to breathe.

Swishing sounds in the distance now caused her to draw back. Gazing down at the ground in anticipation, holding her breath, the edge of satin robes trimmed in golden leaves loomed into view. Pearls spilling out across the desert floor, rubies tumbling across the pathway, rolling to a stop at her feet. The air was no longer still as He approached, but rather He seemed to carry the breeze without effort, unfurling it in the folds of His robe as He moved on quiet feet. The wind swirled the jewels into a firestorm of colors that leaped and danced across the pathway in front of Him, heralding His arrival. In the wake of His passing, the air changed too, from the heavy perfume of days gone by to a familiar, wafting aroma like that of baking cookies. It was the kind of wonderful smell that greets you when you open the oven door – warm and tantalizing as it wafts across your face. It made her want to reach out her hand and touch the last edge of that departing satin robe trailing by on the pathway, but at the last minute, she drew it back like a child, reluctantly, realizing that to reach into this fire, one might be burned.

Instead, her hand found a hollowed spot in the rock, worn smooth through thousands of years…thousands of battered, sorrowful hands before hers. She clasped the rock and watched the sky as the edges grew grainy and blurred. The wind seemed to sigh at His departure and settle into a soft, mournful hum of a lullaby, soothing the earth. She realized how perfectly that hollow cradled her hand in the silence falling around her, as if the rock shifted to embrace it and gift her palm with a silent, reassuring squeeze. To give her strength. To let her know that it was a day acceptable to the Lord, even if she was hidden safely from His view in the cleft of the rock, for now.