Friday, August 31, 2007

Serendipity

All week I have tried to write a new post. I have had several ideas. And they have been written in my journal in their premature, embryonic form. At some point they will be ready, but not now. They must wait.

Today I understood why.

When I first started this blogspot, a friend encouraged me to explain why I named it The Chambered Nautilus. (If you want to read the explanation go to the July archives.)

I wanted a symbol. A legend for my road map. Something that reminded me of who I am, but far more importantly who God is. And the chambered nautilus shell kept appearing in the oddest of places and the strangest of times.

This past summer I went to spend a few days at my dear friend's house. One of the things we planned to do was exchange Christmas gifts in June instead of back in December. Neither one of us had wanted to mail our gifts.

One day toward the end of our visit my friend explained the story of her gift for me:

Several months after I wrote "The Chambered Nautilus", she was shopping and found a gift for me. She bought it—August 2006. Now it was eleven months later, and she was giving me the gift with the hopes it would still have a special meaning to me.

At the time she did not know her gift would serve a double-fold purpose. You see, I had been searching for a lamp for my bedroom, and I had to have just the right one. I had searched five or six different stores in different towns. I couldn't find one; they just weren't right.

Yes, my precious friend gave me a lamp. A tall, elegant, black, antiqued lamp. But remember I said that it was a double-fold gift. The lamp's base is a nautilus shell.

I read and study by the light of this lamp every morning and night.

Oh, the beautiful, delightful serendipity of my God!
He loves to delight us. To surprise us. To take us off-guard.

And today he did it again.

There is a special lady who comes to our library. You know the kind of person I am talking about—there's just something about them. She is one of these.

We chat. We talk. But one day our exchange was a little different. Deeper. More than just the chatter. More than just the pleasantries. A letter was sent. Hesitantly I told her about this blogspot and gave her the address.

I didn't see her for a couple of weeks. I went on vacation. She went on vacation.

Today she came in. She was carrying a brown box with a card. She looked at me and said, “I brought you something from my trip.”

I took the box in my hands. It wasn't very heavy. I wasn't sure quite what to do. The moment became quite surreal. You know when you can feel something coming? When you can sense that what you are about to do or open will change something—possibly even the inner geography of your person? I knew that was about to happen.

I flipped up the lid. Tissue paper rustled. I knew. I understood. I knew. Delicately I pulled the tissue paper away...and there it lay.

A chambered nautilus shell. Sliced through the middle so that I might actually see the chambers (just like the one on the header of this blogspot).

She looked at me and explained that the other half was in the bottom of the box. This friend gave me two halves so that I might have a whole.

I didn't want to cry. I always cry. But my inner geography was shifting. My friend waved for me to quit...but I couldn't. I went to the back in order to absorb what had just happened and to allow the tears to fall if only briefly.

This evening I held the shells in my hand. Instead of imagining the small chambers and siphoning aperatures, I could see them. I could feel the smooth, cool exterior. The incredible, pearlescent shimmer of this shell was breathtaking.

Because of both my friends' generousity and love I am reminded of who I am.

More importantly I am reminded of who he is.

Oh, the extraordinary, delightful serendipity of my God!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No Particular Order

Not too long ago my daughter posted a list on her blog—a list of what she wanted to do. This list would be added to and refilled as she fulfilled these dreams. Her post inspired me to create my own.

I want to do some of these things, long to do others, and need to do many. They are in no particular order.

Touch a whale
Line dance in Texas
Hold hands
Eat grapes in a vineyard in Tuscany
Sleep on a beach
Laugh
Own a black German Shepherd
Be a midwife for a short season
Drink a Guinness in a pub in Ireland
Learn a second language—fluently
Ride a horse well
Pray at the Wailing Wall
Hold and kiss my future grandchildren
Tell the truth
Swim with dolphins
Spend a night in a castle
Publish a book—a good book
Be real
Walk through the Egyptian Pyramids
Pick strawberries
Feed a giraffe
Touch someone
Go on a pilgrimage with close friends
Walk a prayer labyrinth
Be a character at a Renaissance Fair
Spend the night in a lighthouse
See the Pacific Ocean
Ride a camel
Take a risk
Get to have a conversation with anyone I want
Do a Stomp routine
Sit with someone as they pass from this life to the next.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Trajectory

The following post has its roots from a chapter in a book titled
A Deeper Journey by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.


The trajectory of an object is the path it takes in an orbit.
If you shoot an arrow or a bullet,
or throw a ball it takes a particular trajectory through the air.
What you aim at often determines what you hit.


Eye fixed on the target.
Elbow down.
Fingers aligned with the mouth.
Relax the shoulder—
pull with the muscle deep in my back.

I let go.
My bow drops.
I watch as my arrow is propelled through the air.
I observe the trajectory—at first it seems true.

But as the arrow starts to fall,
I realize my arc was not high or long enough.
Wobbling crazily.
Tipping and tilting.
My arrow misses the mark.
It lands ten feet from the target.
Not even enough momentum left
to penetrate the earth.

I pull out another arrow.
I try again.
Same procedure.
This time I try to pull harder.

I hold my breath.
I watch as the feathered shaft
moves through the air.
The wind blows.
Shifting the arrow.
It enters the copse of trees,
tangled in the undergrowth.

Over and over
I repeat this process.

What do I do?
What do I change?

I want to hit the target.
I want my arrow to fly true.
I don't have the strength,
nor the perfect aim.
I cannot predict the wind.

Come, Master Bowman!
I want you to change the inner trajectory
of my life journey.
You determine the path
it is to follow.
You calculate the arc, and
you direct the wind.
Align me with the exact
destination you desire.

You are my target.
I am the arrow.
Nocked.
Ready.
Pull.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dragon Slayers

This post is dedicated to my dragon slayers.
Women who are forever guarding my back.
Bandaging my wounds.
Reinforcing my shield.
Sharpening my sword.
Reminding me not to be the dragon.


We live in a land of dragons.
Their lairs are hidden and camouflaged.
Hunting, pursuing, devouring beasts.
We can be the dragon; we can be the prey.

From time to time I am hunted because the beast is hungry.
Other times I am trailed—the leviathan is simply bored and not otherwise preoccupied.
Frequently I use poor judgment,
and I just get too close.
Naively I become too brave and forget my shield back on the practice field.

In fear I count the scales of the beast that torments me.
Metallic, glittering, razor sharp.
I am caught in a corner.
Driven there by hot breath and fiery tongues—
I can see the red eyes.
My skin crawls under the smothering nostril heat.

Like paper my heavy armor flutters, paltry and flimsy,
beneath the inhalations and exhalations
of the sweet, rotted breath of the monster.
Suddenly my sword arm is too weak to bear the weight,
and I can't lift it up for defense.

I turn to flee, to run away, to escape
and I stumble over my own boots.
I am splayed on the ground.
A target that would be hard to miss.

I take a deep breath.
I want to fight this battle alone—
Oh, I want to be the heroine.
I don't want others to be aware there is a battle being waged.
I don't want anyone to know there is a dragon in my back yard.
In defiance I want to walk away
with the dragon's claw hanging around my neck.
A trophy.
I want my prowess to be that which defeats it.
But my flesh will fail.

I am cowering.
Covering my head and my heart with hands far too small.
I cry out loud, but I wonder if anyone can hear me
through the deafening downfall of the beast's wings above me.

The beast is so close I can see my image mirrored
in the convex glass of the vertically slitted eye.
This reptilian creature looks familiar.
I recognize the tactics.
I have a keen sense I have been here before.

And I remember. I remember.
I can't do this unaided.
Taking down dragons is not a task for a woman alone.

Instantly I am utterly aware of how very weak I really am.
There is no room in this particular moment to think too highly of myself.
Flinging and casting my pride aside,
I scream for help and reinforcements.

Just as the heavy talon is about to pierce my heart,
warriors arrive.
They are armed.
Prepared.
They have heard my plea.
Willingly they have entered the fray because of their love for me.
They have come to help me fight
the monster within
and the beast without.

Dragon Slayers.

I know who they are.
They know who I am.

We are familiar with each others' dragons.

Many times they have brought me my forgotten shield,
and they have lashed my sword to my arm.

I have been called to their sides,
just as they are now at mine.

And we wage war together.

Who cares about the dragon's claw?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alchemy

Change is inevitable.

Change is not optional.

I once thought I handled change well. I was deceived. Flexibility and adaptability were present only when the change was agreeable to me. Or when I thought I could determine the route and intensity of the change.

I laugh out loud as I read these words. Control change? No, I can only control my own reactions and responses to change (or so a very wise yoda has told me).

If the first two statements are true (and I believe they are), here are some thoughts concerning this inevitability.

Cataclysmic Change. Unexpected. Uncontrolled.
Shifts the interior.
Rearranges the lay of the land.
It alters the horizon.
And what was once readily recognizable is no longer.

Metamorphic Change. Gradual. Invisible.
Time, heat, and pressure will create the gem.
And what was once readily recognizable is no longer.

Erosive Change. Abrasive. Corrosive.
Water will move through a mountain because it needs an outlet.
Grass will grow through the confines of a sidewalk.
This change often occurs because of neglect and little maintenance,
and because life is trying to find space to move and grow.
Eventually what was once recognizable is no longer.

Alchemic Change. Unexplanable. Mysterious.
In medieval times a few people practiced and believed in alchemy.
Men and women hoped to discover the formula
to change base elements into gold.
As this word and its definitions have evolved,
there is a sense that alchemy is the taking of something quite common and transforming it into something extraordinary.
So what was once recognizable is no longer.

I am being changed.

There was a wearing away in my life. My scaffolding became unstable as a result of a slow erosion. This brought about a cataclysmic change. My undergirding began to fold like the earth shifts in an earthquake. As a result my landscape has been rearranged.

I am experiencing God's alchemy. He is taking my base elements and transforming them into something more than what they are and more than what I am. I can resist. I can try to stop the process. I can balk and plant my feet.


But as the wise yoda has instructed, I am trying to react and respond in a good way. There are indicators that I am truly adapting: a moved chair, a new ring, a new habit, a new pace, a new perspective, and a new friend.


No matter what kind of change comes it is like a river and will flow over, around, and under you if need be. You can resist.

Like the mighty mountain you can raise sheer walls of granite, but the river will wind and meander its way through you. Slowly wearing its path because of persistance and consistency.

And it will cut deep. It will make its mark. And even from vaulted elevations you will be able to see its path through your valley. Automatically your eyes will be drawn to the ravine change has cleaved.

And for a moment you won't recognize yourself.

I didn't.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tambourine Lessons

My third daughter is a dancer.

Beautiful. Graceful. Expressive.

Somehow she understands the music and the choreography and can interpret them into movement. When she dances she wears her heart on the stage, and everyone can see.

She has longed to be a ballerina since she was five years old. She would dance on the wooden floor in our living room for hours. We decided she needed a dress and ballet shoes. She wore the dress often, but she lived in the shoes. Then the year she was nine we gave her a signed pair of pointe shoes from a dancer in the Louisville Ballet, her first pair of technique shoes, and four private ballet lessons—one half hour a week. To this day she says that that was the best Christmas ever.

Now she has ballet four nights a week—six hours of lessons. On those four nights she will come home sweaty, and her muscles fatigued, legs cramping, toenails splitting, and blistered heels. And she is elated. (Her first blister from dancing on pointe was a trophy).

I am not the typical ballet mom. I never watch rehearsals. I try to avoid them. I want to see the performance fresh—unmarred by my own expectations. The spring recital this year was a surprise—an utter delight to me. Her company danced the second act of a ballet called Napoli. This ballet tells the story of a Greek wedding and its celebration. All the choreography is quite complicated and involved and high energy.

She wore a Greek peasant costume and had her hair in two great knots on the back of her head. And I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I watched the others, but I followed my daughter. She was animated, sassy, and saucy. Her smile spread across her whole face, and even from my seat in the audience I could tell the smile reached her eyes.

She had entered into the dance. She wasn't just doing the choreography—she was living it. There is an abandon in my daughter when she dances. She becomes everything she wants to be when she steps onto the stage.

On stage my daughter is happy, but I realized there was something more. I was watching joy dance. Joy was shaking her tambourine out in the open. She would thrust it forward and raise it high. She tapped and smacked her tambourine with attitude. There was an abandon of the moment...a giving over to the dance.

At the second performance I wished for a brief moment I could be her—that I could dance on stage, play the tambourine, and be able to step outside myself. All that day I wanted my own tambourine. I stood and looked at them for a long time. All the girls' tambourines were piled in a chair. I wanted to reach out and take one of those wooden hoops and shake it. Sadly I resisted.

I want to be filled with joy. I want to know the joy that permeates. I almost said I want to be happy, but happiness is a fleeting, transient place—constantly changed and rearranged according to the circumstances of the present moment.

I want to smile, and I want the smile to reach the outermost corners of my eyes. I want to laugh deeply without hesitation. And I want to play my tambourine.

I know I have one. But I hold mine close to my belly. Often I have quieted my tambourine with my own hand. I have tried to still the flat bells and their music, and I have been inhibited by my own corset. I tied the strings too tight.

From my daughter I am learning that this is part of joy: an abandon of the moment...a giving over to the dance. Joy is elated over the sore muscles, the bruised toes, and the tender blisters, because joy can and will thrive in the midst of these deterrents.

I don't want to just do the choreography. I want to enter the dance. I want to shake my tambourine with attitude.

Thank you, my daughter, for a lesson well taught.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dr. Quinn and Leprosy

Several months ago someone donated the first season of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman to our library. Only Tamera could have been excited about this. (All six seasons check out daily at the library now). . Years ago, I watched and loved every peril that Sully and Dr. Mike found themselves in. So I brought the first season home.

I knew my daughters would not be too happy about having to endure watching Jane Seymour act like a Bostonian doctor turned Coloradan medicine woman. We put the first DVD in and sat down to watch. My oldest daughter asked me if Sully was as hot as we remembered. I laughed out loud when he showed up on screen—larger than life. Fake tan and all. Didn't matter. We all decided he was better than we remembered.

We have been hooked ever since. We are now on the fifth season. We sit and watch an episode instead of TV. We talk to the characters, fuss at them, get mad at them, and adore them, and yes, we have cried with them.

My younger girls have learned what it means to have a conflicted character in the show. We all don't know quite what to do with Hank, the saloon owner. One show we get so angry at him we would like to shear off his long, golden locks and gut-punch him. And the next we want to kiss him.

There are other characters that we just simply love: Brian Cooper (Dr. Mike's adopted son), and Robert E., the town blacksmith. Matthew Cooper (who, according to my daughters can rival Sully for the most “hot” award). Cloud Dancing (Cheyenne medicine man). And Sully. Of course Sully. And we love Dr. Mike—most of the time.

Quite often we are mad at Dr. Quinn. We get frustrated with her. She is a tad pretentious, a bit of a know-it-all, and often quite self-righteous. We get the most upset when she is self-righteous.

Recently we watched an episode about a beautiful painter coming to Colorado Springs. She arrived on the train (new to the town). She steps off and everyone takes notice. She is so lovely swathed in white lace and gloves and a stylish hat. All the men are besotted with this mysterious stranger. She goes about the town and paints. But little Brian (the most perceptive character of all) is the first to notice that something is very wrong with this woman. As always Dr. Quinn's probing uncovers the problem—literally. The woman wears gloves and veils not only to be stylish, but to hide her leprosy.

Leprosy.

Immediately the whole town is in a furious uproar. They want her gone on the next train. They don't want someone with this “dirty” disease in their midst. They call a town meeting. Dr. Quinn tries to be the voice of reason. She explains that leprosy is not nearly as contagious as had once been thought. But the town's mind is made up. Even Dr. Quinn and Sully (who usually doesn't fall in with the status quo). But you see Dr. Quinn is pregnant with their first child, and Sully is worried.

Finally, the doctor part of Michaela wins. She will treat the woman. She will use gloves and iodine and take all the precautions she can. She won't have to directly touch the woman's skin. But the woman is shunned by the other townsfolk. Even Dr. Quinn is avoided.

The final scene has all the main characters standing together in front of the clinic. Brian has just brought the news—the woman has left on the train. And you can see the dawning on all their faces. They realize they have hurt a lovely woman. They turned away someone who needed healing and acceptance.

Sully has the last word, “We didn't do right by her. We didn't do right.”

In Mark, Jesus is approached by a man with leprosy. The man is on his knees begging Jesus to heal him. Begging. He says that if Jesus is willing he can heal him.

Everyone with Jesus holds their breath. Even his disciples are shuffling to put some space between them and the “unclean” man.

There is desperation in the man's voice. This Jesus is his last hope.

If ever I loved Jesus I love him more as I watch him with this man. Jesus says, “I am willing.”

And what Jesus does next causes everyone to let out their breath with a gasp. It is a gasp of fear and disgust. Jesus reaches out and touches the man. And the man is healed.

Jesus touched the man. Jesus understood that this man needed a far deeper healing than to simply be rid of leprosy. He understood the shunning and the stigma this disease carried. Jesus understood the isolation leprosy inflicted on a person. He knew that people saw the disease and not the man or woman. This man needed to be made whole. He needed to be given the opportunity to be accepted. How long had it been since the man had been touched? How long since someone had looked purposefully in his eyes and reached out and intentionally touched him?

All of Jesus' disciples are watching. And in watching they learn a powerful lesson. Healing the body is often an easier task than healing the spirit and the soul of a person. Jesus gave this man what he needed most.

Dr. Quinn, Sully, and all the town's characters wounded the woman even deeper. They increased her isolation and fed the stigma that marked her. They sent her away with another gaping hole.

They didn't do right by her.

Jesus did send the man away. But he sent him away whole. Jesus closed the gaping hole that was about to swallow the man. He touched him.

Jesus did right by this man.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Potters and Lovers

If ever an artist is a lover to the medium—it is the potter to the clay.

Potter's hands are lover's hands--intimately involved in every process of the clay's preparation for the wheel.

Clay must be responsive to the potter's touch. It must be softened and kneaded in order to hold the pattern of the potter's design. The Potter's hands press and shape. They glide over the clay: pulling, pressing, pushing.

The potter has the purpose and the vision of the finished piece. The potter knows the properties and the characteristics of his clays—all the slight color, texture, and density differences. And he knows which one will best lend to his specific purpose.

The intimacy is immense. As the potter leans over the wheel, his breath blows the clay, his shadow hovers across it.

As the wheel begins to turn the potter centers the clay. Rarely do his hands leave it. And the image he sees in his artist's eye emerges. The clay becomes what the potter envisioned.

I am red clay on the bank of a river.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Peniel

Genesis 32

Assailed by fear and distress Jacob paces on the banks of the Jabbok river. He had arrived at a very narrow place—pressed and confined. His past was pushing forward to meet his future.

To his back is Laban. The father of both his wives. Jacob had been indentured to Laban as payment. For twenty years Jacob had labored and worked for his wives and livestock. Now, he has moved forward. And Laban is chasing him. Pursuing him.

Ahead is his brother Esau. Jacob had cheated, swindled, and robbed his brother many years before. For a brief moment Jacob can smell the stew. He remembers the moment he decided to manipulate the situation for his own benefit. He winces as he recalls the schemes and trickery. He remembers the false disguise he donned in order to be the head under Isaac's tremored blessing.

Esau and Laban represented all that he feared.

The walls of his being are closing in. His usurping actions have fenced him in.

Here is something quite new. Fear. Fear has Jacob wedged between a rock and hard place. He is distressed. His nightmares are upon him. All the scenarios he has played in his head seem to be fleshing out.

Fear does that to a person.

We fear the past...because we do know what it held. We are so afraid that it will reach through events and time and clamp its bony fingers around our arm. We fear that all of our past mistakes, poor choices, selfish ambitions or just our simple ignorance will catch up with us. They will all come rushing forward, pursuing us. We feel the threat—perceived or real. And we are afraid. Afraid of everything we value being taken away.

We fear the future...because we do not know what it holds. We see only the darkness and shadows of the unknown. We imagine details we can't view or control. We fear we will make more mistakes and poor choices. We wonder if we are beyond our ignorance or above our selfish ambitions. And then the future comes toward us. We feel the threat—perceived or real. And we are afraid. Afraid of what will be absent when we arrive there. Afraid that nothing of value is waiting for us.

This is the place that Jacob is. Between Laban and Esau.

The bank of the river is Jacob's present. Laban is behind him. Esau ahead. But it is here that Jacob wrestles a stranger all night. He wrestles with his ghosts. He wrestles with his phantoms. His paranoia. His own self-absorption. He battles all night long.

As daylight cracks the sky—Jacob will not let go. Tenacious and persistent he holds on to the man. In doing so he is injured. Jacob's hip is pulled from its socket. He will forever walk with a limp. But he still will not let go.

And he cries out as the sun sends its rays across the dark water of the Jabbok. He holds on with the last ounce of his strength and asks for a blessing. Jacob understands that he has been wrestling with more than a man. He has been wrestling with who he really fears.

The man wants Jacob to tell him his name. And Jacob spits out, "I am the usurper, the manipulator."

And the man says, “No more. Now your name will be Israel. You have wrestled with God and man and have overcome.”

In that moment Jacob, now Israel, understands that he has been in the presence of God. He has seen God and lived. Peniel. He names the place—Peniel.

His place of fear has become a place of revelation.

With Jacob we are on the banks of the Jabbok river. Wedged between the past and the future is our present. And we are in the presence of God. We wrestle with God here--not in the past and not in the future. God meets us in our present.

Jacob was afraid. Afraid of Laban. Afraid of Esau. Afraid that they would collide. Jacob was afraid to move either way. He was hemmed in. Struggling he tried to tamp down his fear. In this tight place Jacob finds himself facing God. He grapples with the Angel of His Presence.

What Jacob (and we) failed to see and understand was that God had already spoken to Jacob's past. He spoke to Laban. Gave him directions concerning Jacob. God laid the boundaries; he marked the parameter of Laban's encounter with Jacob. And Laban would not cross them.

Jacob also didn't understand that God had moved ahead and softened Esau's heart. Esau came forward and met Jacob with outstretched, welcoming arms. God had marked the boundaries and parameters of Jacob's future. God's plans (as cliché as this may seem) were to prosper Jacob...not to harm him. Plans to give him a hope and a future. Fear blinded Jacob to that truth.

We wrestle with God—in the tight, narrow places of our distress and fear we are wrestling with God. In the space between the past and future we meet God. Here and now.

All the things that Jacob feared he would have to face came true. All of them. The nightmares that had plagued Jacob for years were upon him.

But God met Jacob in the middle of his nightmares. There in the darkness...in the black night God met Jacob. God was with Jacob in the middle of his nightmares. And Jacob overcame them.

Oh God!

Meet me on the banks of the Jabbok.

Make room for me in these tight places.

I will tell you my name, and then you can change it.

Stand beside me in my nightmares.

Dispel my fear.

Help me to overcome even if I have to limp.

Reveal to me my Peniel.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Awake, my soul!

Psalm 57:8

Awake, my soul!
Come, O holy Fire.
Awake my soul.
Rouse me from my guarded slumber.
Kindle my spirit.

Find the tinder in me.
Reveal the fire
deep in my heart,
deep in the recesses of my being,
deep in the corners of who I am.

Arouse in me,
courage to be a woman
brave enough to allow my flames to flare—
to spark upward,
and burn on the edge of out of control.
Help me not to hide the fire.
Help me not to contain it in an urn too small.

Come, God,
Come stir my gray ash embers.
Cooled through the night.
With tongs your angels carried the live coals
for Isaiah's lips,
but you carry mine in your own hand.
Reach into the center of my hearth
and stir my banked fire.
Lean in and breathe
your sweet breath across my coals.

The gray ash flutters away.
The embers glow red, and
tendrils of smoke lift upwards.

The cinders crackle and shudder,
and a small flame—
shot with blue—
ignites.

Cup your hands around this tiny flicker.
Protect this struggling flame.
Fan it with your holy breath
so that I might live.

Feed my awakened soul, O God of Fire.
Feed this small flame.
Let it spread and roar.
May it give light and warmth.
May it even singe and blister.

Come, O holy Fire.
Awake my soul,
so that I might combust into
white heat.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Withered Hands

A man (let's call him Simon) waited to enter the synagogue. Quietly Simon slides in the back and sits down. Unnoticed. Unseen. He hoped.

The hair on the back of his neck prickles. Simon knows he is being watched and looks up. Near the front a group has gathered. The representatives of the Sanhedrin have their heads together. But another man is the one looking at him. For one brief moment the man stares directly at Simon. The man looks down and sees Simon's hand before he can get it under the folds of his tunic.

Simon sees there is an intense conversation developing with the man and the leaders. Simon has a withered hand. He is unaware he will become the canvas on which the Lord God Almighty will showcase his power and compassion.

The delegation of the Sanhedrin is waiting for Jesus to make a mistake. Inwardly they are hoping for him to slip and break the law—the long-held traditions of the fathers. This delegation knew if there was even one person in the synagogue who needed healing then Jesus would heal. And healing was work. And you should not, could not work on the Sabbath. If you did you were a lawbreaker. Follow the logic.

They were so caught up in their religious self-absorption that they did not know Jesus understood what they were thinking and planning. Jesus turns to the man with the withered hand and gestures for him to stand.

“Stand up so everyone can see you.” Jesus is about to make the first stroke on the canvas.

The man stands. He attempts to cover his worthless hand with his healthy one. Jesus' heart constricts. Simon tries not to make too much eye contact. His left arm holds his right arm close to his body. At the end of it dangles the useless, shrunken, withered hand.

Jesus asks a question. A loaded question (he always does). Should you do good or evil on the Sabbath? Should you save a life or kill?

God's law says not to work on the Sabbath—to keep it holy. The religious leaders of the time thought that work should be defined and so they constructed 39 laws to explain “work”. And you couldn't heal anyone. You could put an unmedicated bandage on a wound, but putting a healing salve on a wound was work. You could stop the bleeding, but you couldn't stitch. Stitching a wound would be work. If it was necessary you could keep someone from dying, but that was it. Jesus was well aware of these traditions of men.

While these religious leaders were waiting to see if Jesus would heal, they were plotting in the back of their minds how to kill Jesus—they were already scheming a murder plot. Jesus is about to heal. And they are about to kill. Where's the logic?

Jesus is waiting for an answer. What do you do on the Sabbath? On this day you have declared so holy and sacred will you not do what is good?

Jesus turns and looks at Simon. Jesus sees far more than just a man who needed to have his hand healed. This withered hand had cost Simon his livelihood and taken away the means to support his family. Taken his dignity. Taken his self worth.

Jesus looked back at the leaders...and he was angry. Yes, Jesus was angry. Not just a little mad. Not just frustrated. The original language expresses passionate anger. And he was greatly grieved.

Why? Because of the silence and lack of compassion of the very people who were supposed to be leading and showing the people his Father. Angry and grieved. The leaders would rather follow ritual and tradition than to restore a man.

Jesus turns to Simon and tells him to stretch out his hand.

The paint brush is poised and the paint about to drip.

Jesus commands, “Stretch out your useless hand.”

The hand was tight and closed—unable to unfurl. Simon made his mind tell his hand to move. Always before his hand had never obeyed. But now digit by digit his fingers are unlocked. And when the last digit on his small finger unfolds, he squeezes it shut and then open again. Over and over he opens and closes his hand. There are no catches. No tightness. No pain. Simon looks up into the eyes of Jesus.

Jesus restores the man. On the Sabbath. On God's holy day Jesus brings this man back to wholeness. To Jesus the healing of this man's hand was necessary. The man was more important and more valuable than the 39 extensions of law.

I have to ask. What is more important? Laws? Traditions? Doctrines? Opinions? Or do we value the wholeness of a person? Are we guilty of withholding a means of wholeness to someone because the method doesn't fit with our traditions?

Are we like the synagogue leaders (who were always trying to find a way to discredit Jesus)? Do we deny healing? Are we going to mimic their silence? Would Jesus look at us and be angry and greatly grieved with us?

How many people with “withered hands” do we encounter in a week? In a day? How many people do we encounter who are hiding something painful and useless? How many people do we speak and converse with each day—and inside something is withering and dying? How many are struggling to find their dignity and self worth?

What are we doing to restore wholeness and health?

Watch Jesus.

Watching Jesus

I have been reading the book of Mark and the other gospels over and over for almost two years now. I read the rest of the Scriptures, but I return to the gospels daily so that I might watch Jesus.

All my Christian life I have been taught to read the Scriptures and watch what the other person is doing in an encounter with Jesus. I was encouraged to watch the person and either behave like them or don't behave like them. I should observe and note what they did in a situation with Jesus and either emulate them or dismiss them. Seems simple, right?

Two years ago I went away for a conference with one of my dearest friends in the world. During our time there something dawned on me. If I am supposed to look like Jesus...act like Jesus...be like Jesus why in the world am I watching every one else?Why am I going to Scripture and noticing and studying others before I look at Jesus? When I started reading the gospels repeatedly I discovered something.

Watching Jesus changes your perspective. Watching others causes you to attempt to change your behavior and your actions. When you watch Jesus your attitude and the condition of your heart is revealed. Jesus calls you to change inwardly first and the outward behavior will be fruit of that change. You cannot truly watch him and remain unmoved.

Read the book of Mark this week and keep your eyes on Jesus. Fix your eyes on the author and finisher of your faith. Watch and observe. Listen to what he says and see what he does.

I think you will be surprised.