Sunday, July 29, 2007

Roads and Ruins

I woke up this morning and found an email in my in-box that surprised me. I felt like I was hearing a long lost voice...an echo whispered long ago and it just now bounced off the back of the canyon wall and reached me.

The email reaffirmed a deep belief of mine: God restores and rebuilds. Ancient ruins and roads are reopened again through him. What has come to ruin through and by neglect, fear, and disconnection can be usable and passable again.

There have been some ruined roads in me. Winding, narrow places that have become so overgrown with weeds and debris that the foot path wasn't even visible anymore. I considered posting a sign—No Trespassing.

God will restore and rebuild, but I don't believe any of these roads will look like they once did. They will not follow the same courses and have the same resting places. Mile markers will have to be moved and changed. Signs will have to be rewritten and repositioned. But there will be a road again.

A road that won't end in a drop-off.

My dwelling place had fallen into a state of disrepair—walls broken and falling. Rafters were decaying and foundations crumbling. I considered posting a sign—Don't Enter.

The ruins will be inhabitable again. But the interior of the house will have to be restructured. A new floor plan revealed. Rooms will be rearranged and windows and doors will be opened in different places. Walls will be reestablished and reinforced. There will be a house again.

A house that will be beautiful and strong by his measure and definition, not mine.

You'll have to excuse me. I need to take down a couple of signs.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

El Roi

Names are powerful. At one time people believed that if you knew someone's name you could understand them, you could control them. Names were chosen with care and discretion. They often revealed something integral about the owner.

Ann Spangler wrote Praying the Names of God. This is a devotional based on some of the Old Testament names of God. The following is based on this name. El Roi—the God Who Sees ( Genesis 16:1-15)


El Roi—my God who sees me. Sees me. Many people glance at me. A few look at me. But you see me. The breadth and height of that thought is overwhelming and full of hope. You see me and love me anyway.

You see me in the tarnished glory I attempt to portray. You see through my facade, the painted storefront that I keep. You see my flailing struggles, my failed attempts, and my faltering steps. You see the disoriented, confused child—the wandering waif who cannot find her way.

You see the wounded parts of me and you do not cover your eyes against my diseased flesh.

You see the hopes, dreams, and ambitions that I have hidden in the deepest niches of my soul. You see the longings and the sighings that I push down and try to ignore. El Roi, you see the me I want to be.

You see all my vain attempts. You see through my veneer. You see the fragments and remnants of failed relationships that litter my path like discarded clothes.

With Hagar I have wondered if God did, would, or will hear me.

With Hagar I am in the desert bent over and cradling a fragile life within. We wrap our feeble arms of protection around swollen bellies and inflated dreams and weep. El Roi sees what is precious to us and about to die. He sees the pain and sorrow that causes us to rock back and forth in anguish.

In Hagar's pain and despair you revealed to her that not only do you hear, but you also see.

Let me see you. Open my eyes. Let me know you are still present. Reveal yourself—Let me see the One who sees me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Flying Lessons

Today I watched my second daughter drive away. She drives away each day to work and for activities and to meet with her friends. But today I watched her drive away to move into her new apartment. I helped her pack her car, the trailer, and the truck. I carried boxes, hampers, tables, chairs.

I carried memories and dreams and placed them in the trunk of her car. I packed them tightly so they didn't slide or break. As I did these things I fought back tears. This is my second daughter to fly. My first flew a year ago. I am so torn. So conflicted.

I have guarded my nest. But you must understand, I want my daughters to fly. I want them to spread their wings and stretch and soar upwards. I hope their wings catch the air currents and they glide and rise. I have wanted this for them since the moment they were born. I long to see them airborn--defying gravity and the ties of this earth. Both my older girls have been flying for a while now. I have held my breath. It has tightened my chest. And yet when they dip and fall and wend their way through the clouds I am filled with such a strong sense of "rightness". And as they rise my heart goes with them.

After the truck and trailer left, my daughter called me on my cell phone. She told me she loved me and she thanked me. Later my first daughter called to see I was okay. I said yes and she teasingly called me a "liar". I laughed through the tears and with much more honesty said, "I will be." And I will.

My flying daughters. My beautiful, beautiful birds. I still have two in the nest. There are still flying lessons to give.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Chambered Nautilus

I spent some time searching for a name for this blogspot. Only one name seemed to fit: The Chambered Nautilus. My dear friend thought I should explain why. The nautilus shell became a very important symbol to me over a year ago. Serendipity and sychronicity abounded then and continues now. I wrote the following in July 2006.

While flipping through a small book in our library’s work space I unexpectedly found an extraordinary image. No one (not even me) was aware of the tidal wave that was beginning. My eyes burned and my chest tightened. It was a photograph of a sliced, chambered nautilus shell. The sheer beauty and perfection of the design whispered to my soul. The Apostle Paul said God’s “eternal power and divine nature would be clearly seen” (Romans 1:20).

As I stood mesmerized, a friend walked through, and I showed him the nautilus shell. I whispered how much it touched me. My voice was thick and my eyes filled with tears. He wasn’t surprised; he said it was convoluted like me. (I had to look the word up in the dictionary later). I made a copy, put the little book back on the shelf, and went back to work.

A month later while reading When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, I was intrigued by her experience of God giving her a symbol of her life during a particular season: a cocoon. I wanted a symbol. The chambered nautilus shell returned to me with a mysterious force and persistence. I pushed it aside. In my mind I declared the shell too primeval, too evolutionary to be from God. I wanted a more acceptable symbol for my too religious intellect. What a deception. All beauty and perfection (completeness, wholeness) is of God. I should have known this because every curve and line of the nautilus shell stole my inner breath.

I asked my friend for some more information, and he quickly brought facts and art and more photographs.

The elusive and quiet nautilus is an ancient sea creature. It grows in its camouflaged shell, which is white on the bottom to blend with the light from above, and dark on top to be invisible from the surface. As the nautilus grows it moves forward and creates a larger chamber, leaving the smaller one behind. Only the siphoning aperture remains to allow air and gas to flow through the chambers. The shell is the nautilus’ shelter, but it also becomes its ladder: the creature uses the abandoned chambers to control the depth of its ascent and descent in the ocean.

I was amazed by this creature and its shell. Once again I set it aside thinking I would find another symbol of my inner change. I wanted a legend for my inner map that would show what was happening inside of me. The tidal wave continued to grow. A couple of weeks passed— my search futile. I still didn’t understand; I wasn’t seeing. But when God wants our soul’s attention he is persistent. I decided to read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair. Her non-fiction had rubbed my heart raw only to turn and massage salve into the wound. I wanted to read a work of her fiction. I opened the book and on the first page I found a sepia-washed, line drawing of a nautilus shell.

I knew God was vying for my attention. Quietly and gently, but with a great persistence I could not ignore. But what was God trying to say to me? What did he want me to see in this shell and connect to myself?

Later, I began reading. Maybe the drawing was for decorative purposes; it certainly fit the theme of the book. The main character, a woman named Jesse, made this observation about herself: “…It was like slipping into a nautilus shell. I simply withdrew, winding down through the spiraling passageway to a small, dark hospice.”

And then a thought fell on me—startling me with its weight. The tidal wave had become a tsunami.

As the nautilus grows it moves forward creating a larger chamber to house its new growth. With vivid clarity I realized I have not moved onto the larger chambers. They are there; my Father created them for me. But over the years I have retreated back through the “spiraling passageway” to the innermost chambers in a futile hope and attempt to find a safe place of shelter. In this moment of revelation I saw my convoluted self squeezed into that tiny birthing chamber. My body contorted to fit its contours.

My fear and insecurity drove me inward in search of a “small, dark hospice”. It has certainly been small and dark, but I am not so sure it has been hospitable. I created my own self-imposed prison. Instead of growing and moving along each chamber, I have remained here—contorted and folded in upon myself.

I could be floating out in the wild, vast ocean. I could move forward in my chambers and push air backward and lift myself up to the surface or I could deplete the air in those same chambers and drop to the dark, quiet depths. The chambers of my past could be my ladder. Out of fear of failure and outgrowing my shell I have remained where I am—floating at one depth. I have been deceived by the illusion of security. Am I deformed from my stay in the inner chambers? Am I handicapped because I squeezed myself into a place I no longer fit? What would it feel like to stretch out these long limbs of mine?

What would it be like to completely uncurl? In my mind uncurling would be a luxury. To push past the wall of this tiny, confined chamber and extend outward; I would touch water before I found full extension. I would need a new shell. To push air out of me into the receding chambers and ascend toward the Light would be bliss. I cannot resist; I cannot resist the Light—he has sustained me in my cramped chamber because there was no room for anything else. Only light and water could penetrate the dark confinement and fill the gaps and spaces around my compressed body.

This is an epiphany for me. How gracious is my Father’s understanding toward me. He speaks to my soul in images and symbols knowing they penetrate far deeper than words alone. He knows I long to have something to see—a reminder of his unfailing, all-knowing love for me. The ocean has always been my place of refuge—the place that shouts the eternal power and divine nature of God. Of course he would give me something that belonged in its depths to show me myself.

The ancient nautilus shell. I think my Father is delighted because I finally made the connection: I must move outward along the spiral passageway. This chamber can no longer contain who he is asking me to be. This small, dark place cannot contain the enormity and density and translucency of his light.

I have found my legend for the map of my inner landscape. Chamber by chamber he will bring me forward. He will enable me to use the tiny chambers; they are a part of me. He will teach me to use them as tools to ascend and descend the heighth and depth of this great ocean. Even now I can feel myself uncurling and stretching—extending who I am. Oh the eternal power and divine nature of our great God!

Rehydration

This spring I read Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book. Insightful. Challenging. In the book, Peterson gives a description of lectio divina: a rehydrating of the written word. The following blog is based on Peterson's definition.

The word of God is living--what does that mean? What does it mean to have print on the paper be living and active in us?

I think of yeast. When Dad buys yeast it comes compressed in an air tight bag. The yeast is then opened and it is measured out according to the recipe. The dry granules--distinctly aromatic--are added to the ingredients. The active, living yeast feeds on the liquid and the sugar and permeates the dough.

Jesus often used this imagery to show the influence of the Pharisee's teaching. Just as yeast permeates the dough and changes it--so does the teaching. He also uses this metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. A woman puts the yeast in her dough and it causes the dough to rise and expand.

But the yeast must be hydrated.

There are days I simply read the marks on the page and hope that the mere input of the words will change or transform me. But I see this is not the case. To reduce God's language to this--a simple input of words into the computer of my mind makes the Words just information. Bare facts on a white page. Sterile pages to be handled with white gloves lest we handle it incorrectly or dirty them.

God's word is not limited to the dry, fragile paper it was/is written on. The word of God can not be limited to the thin easliy torn pages that we turn carefully. The actual typeset on the page is not sacred. The physical book in our hands is not holy. No, the words and the stories are. This is why it is like yeast and is living and active.

Over the course of thousands of years the great community of believers, seekers, and skeptics have read these words. In many senses, the medium with which it was recorded and the material it was written on will or has disentegrated and perished. But the words have not. The message has not--this active yeast lives on expanding the hearts and minds of the many who have truly been permeated by them.

His Word transforms us. His Word was made flesh and given body. Given touchable substance. His name is Jesus. Jesus showed us what it meant to be the Word of God made flesh. Jesus came to rehydrate the law and our relationship with his Father.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had squeezed all the liquid from the law of God (much as we do now). They created this hard, compressed heavy burden. A burden too heavy for people to bear. Like the Pharisees I have condensed my walk and his words until they have become a hard, compressed thing.

But Jesus came and rehydrated the law of God. Expanding it because he was the living water.

He was the embodiment of the word of God. God's words were now living, real, and active in the reality of his Son. As we watch Jesus then, as we follow him through the courses of the gospels we see the reality. We see the Yeast at work.

Oh, that your Word might become yeast in me. Oh, that your Word, Jesus, might swell in me and rehydrate the hard, compressed places. May your Yeast permeate me. I want to ingest your word so that it becomes muscle, blood, sinew, bone and tissue in me. I do not want to merely attach it to my being. I want it to become the essential part of me.

Rehydrate me.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Daughter--The Teacher

Lately I have neglected my words. On closer inspection I realize I have been spending them in hidden "secure" places. I have come to another option. I have avoided them out of a fear of comparison. I confess I have been intimidated by my own daughter's ability to express the truth.

Her language (like her father) has an edge--a poetic salvage that creates a melody and harmony that intertwines in the tendrils of your thoughts and won't let go.

Recently she read one of her blogs aloud to me. I sat at the end of my couch and was mesmerized by the cadence of her voice (both auditory and literary). At first she lulled me; her voice soothed. Gradually my inward person became attentive. When I came to full awareness I was jolted by her concepts and content. I came to attention. With vision narrowed. Focused.

And through the lens of that moment I acknowledged that she was no longer simply mine. She had become an entity. Sharp. Beautiful. Edgy. Bohemian. Strong. Ancient.

My daughter--also once my student--had become the teacher. The mother/teacher had become the student. I (who had once helped her form the first letter of the alphabet and the first letter of her name, I who had taught her about nouns, verbs, and adjectives, I who had once taught her about abstract and concrete ideas, and parallelism and imagery) was the student.

I was stunned. I once held this child's hands as she took her first faltering steps. I held out my hands to coax her forward.

She is now reaching out to me. She holds out her hand smiling her secret, coaxing, challenging smile. She has already entered this poetic dance of writing, and her words have a powerful lilt. And the fact that she allows them to dance across the screen in a blog instead of hiding them challenges me. The subtle power of her words beckons me. Yet, I feel awkward and hesitant--wondering how much of a fool I will make of myself?

I hear the ancient strains and harmonies of this poetic dance. I can't be still.
I have decided I don't mind being a fool.