Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Read it in multiple dimensions, not just see it in two

One of my favorite books is a tale originally published in 1962.  Rejected by more than thirty publishers over a two year period of time, when it was finally published, A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery Medal for children's literature.

But awards aside, it is an amazing story.  Great stories are enduring, because they are rare and beautiful acts of restoration in this world.  I have read this book more times over the decades than I can count, and each time, I carry away a new insight.

A story that resounds with the reader is not just told or read, but felt

As author Madeleine L'Engle herself stated in her book Walking on Water:  Reflections on Faith and Art:

"Creative involvement:  that's the basic difference between reading a book and watching TV.  In watching TV we are passive;  sponges;  we do nothing.  In reading we must become creators.  Once the child has learned to read alone and can pick up a book without illustrations, he must become a creator, imagining the setting of the story, visualizing the characters, seeing facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voices.  The author and the reader "know" each other;  they meet on the bridge of words."

Trust me.  Please read this book before the movie comes out on March 9.  And read it with your kids, so that they can enlarge their own vision, not just accept what is handed to them on the screen.

Don't let someone else's interpretation artificially flavor your own, or a producer's own singular worldview hijack the author's.  There is a strong endearing and enduring supernatural element in this story, the opening of spiritual doors, that which is not likely translated on a two-dimensional screen. 

Even the actual story recognizes those limitations:

"Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has not words...That is because you think of space only in three dimensions."

"But you see, Meg, just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist."

It has become a cliche to say, "The book is always better than the movie."

Despite all the technological special effects and acting, that truth resounds.

Read it in multiple dimensions, not just see it in two.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Taking apart the coffee pot

There is nothing better than to wake up to a good steaming cup of coffee as I settle into my morning reading and start the day.

But for the past few months, things have not been quite right.  I have had to put more and more coffee grounds into the filter, a level scoopful to a heaping scoop, and even then, the coffee continued to appear only as colored water, no matter the brand, and seemingly no matter how much coffee or how little water I pour in.  Some mornings, it was not worth drinking it at all.

I always "set up" the coffeemaker the night before, so that in the morning I just have to pour in the water, as to not tax the limited brain space of my early morning fogginess.  A couple of weeks ago, right before bed, I carefully placed the paper filter in the plastic basket and HEAPED the grounds in the basket.  The next morning, I poured in the minimum amount of water.  Surely, that would work.  

The result was pathetic.

We need a new coffeemaker, I surmised.  Our daughter had purchased this one for us at a garage sale for $3 about eight years ago.  It was old and full of years.  It had served us well.

But what if ....?  What if the dripping mechanism just needed cleaning?  What if it was just clogged? I looked up the owner's manual on the internet, and scrolled through page after page detailing its care and use.   And indeed, it called for cleaning, with a small brush or pipe cleaner, the tiny little distribution cap where the water comes out.  But when I looked, there was no little cap at all.  The water was literally pouring right through the almost untouched grounds.  No lingering.  No brewing. No wonder the weak unpalatable result.

When something is not right, there is usually something wrong. 

But it was not broken beyond repair. A small but significant piece was missing. And for $6.83 with free shipping, two days later, we had coffee as it should be.

And it made me think about how when something seems wrong in my relationship with others or something weak in my relationship with God, there probably is something wrong.  What am I going to do about it?  Seek out the problem, or just decide that's just the way it is?

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4.8)   Dig daily in God's Word, clean out my heart not with a pipe cleaner but His forgiveness, and let Scripture brew slowly through my thoughts and soul, lingering in these profound and ancient words.

Most mornings, I am shocked by God's faithful words that appear to be translated particularly for me on this day in eternity, sometimes a passage that applies directly to something I am going through, sometimes even just a word or two to help me navigate the storms.  Not just reading, but meditating, thinking about, writing down on an index card or in my journal how God is touching my heart, and taking that verse with me -- the very Word of God! -- into my day.

God never intends for us to just live in a mediocre relationship with Him, but full strength, bold, and awakening.  As it should be.

Taste and see that the LORD is good.

                                        Psalm 34.8

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

We don't have any idea what is on the other side of that door, but God gave us the key to unlock it

We were playing Monopoly on New Year's Eve with some old friends.  Over and over and over, one friend kept landing in jail, trying to roll doubles to get out, inevitably paying the $50 fine, and foregoing once again the opportunity to pass "Go and collect $200."  She longed for a "get out of jail free" card, that seemed to be only for everybody else.  It appeared that jail was her permanent address, behind bars in a repetitive loop.

Just days before, I finished reading Ann Lamott's latest book Hallelujah Anyway;  Rediscovering Mercy.   Lamott's theology can be a little ragged at times, and her language a bit gritty, but she is honest and vulnerable and doesn't just recite a definition of grace, she knows what it means.  

My life is very different from Lamott's.  But we are all in this life together.  Even though our histories differ, our story is the same.  O LORD, have mercy.  We all need Jesus.  His forgiveness is the key that lets us "out of jail," no matter how we got there, no matter how long we've been there, no matter how many times we keep on coming back. 

In her book, Lamott spoke of a woman who incredibly forgave the murderer of her husband and son.  It was not a matter of letting them off the hook or releasing them from guilt.  As Lamott said, "She let herself out of jail."

Because that's what forgiveness does.  Like my grandchildren with chocolate:  forgiveness gets all over everyone.

In her book, Lamott writes,  "Forgiveness and mercy mean that, bit by bit, you begin to outshine the resentment.  You open the drawer that was shut and you take out the precious treasures that you hid there so long ago and, with them, the person who marvels at tadpoles, who pulls for people to come clean and then have a second chance, who aches and intervenes for those being bullied, forgives the evil brothers and unforgivable you. 

"We are all gigantically flawed, such screw-ups.  Everyone is broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together."  

There is a lot of desperation in keeping up appearances... or falling into the deception that I can't do anything about it. 

But this I know:  His mercy is more.  God changes you by His grace.

I heard this new song on Sunday morning.  The words came right up next to me and held me by the hand.  Click here to let the music wash over you, and go with you into your day.

"Praise the Lord,
      His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness,
     New every morn.
Our sins they are many,
     His mercy is more."

We don't have any idea what is on the other side of forgiveness, but God gave us the key to unlock it.  And with it, as Lamott writes, we rediscover precious treasures that have been missing for a long, long time,  and precious you covered by grace.

No matter where you are today,
      His mercy is more.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A dark and cold beginning

We awoke early on New Year's Day.  It was dark.  It was bitterly cold.  It didn't appear as a bright fresh beginning to a new year, but a rather bleak start.  A fine layer of snow covered the ground and trees.  All color had fled. A stark black and white scene unfolded before us, except for a pair of bold cardinals mocking the dull grey tundra.  Winter had taken hold and threatened never to depart. My excuses were already outpacing my resolutions.

Over hot strong coffee and steaming bowls of oatmeal, we were sketching out our day.  The weather was not quite as welcoming as we had anticipated.  It appeared to be a good morning to hibernate, just curl up and go back to sleep.

And then one of our friends suggested a little too cheerfully, "Let's go for a hike!"

I looked around the table. Each one of us was trying to scramble for a bonafide excuse, like trying to patch together coherent words of more than one syllable from our seven designated Scrabble tiles.  It was less than 20 degrees outside. But he wasn't kidding.

Bill agreed to go.  And slowly, one by one, like unwilling and hesitant introverts invited to a loud party, we all agreed to go.  I pushed back against my reluctance, persuading myself,  "It might be cold, but we don't have to stay out long. And despite the circumstances, you won't die."

I am old enough to realize, 90 percent of my battle is just getting out the door.

We pulled on layers over layers, searched for hats and mittens, laced up our hiking boots, and stepped  into the wild.  As the roads were slick, and the cars were encrusted with ice, we just trekked down the road right before us, and ascended the mountain on an old deeply-rutted abandoned fire road.   We had not hiked up this way through the woods in many years.  I had forgotten about it.

The leafless trees arched over us like a cathedral, the texture of the bark created intricate geometric patterns, the still-green moss stood stiff and frozen alongside the road, and the layers of rock, often invisible in other seasons, revealed the silent foundation of the forest.

After we started up the winding switchbacks, it was not so bad, so cold, or so ridiculous after all.  We climbed higher, even onward where we could not see the road ahead, and though the temperature was plummeting, we began unzipping our outer jackets and taking off hats.  The panoramic views of the iced-over valley below emerged like prophetic visions. Low clouds blanketed the barely visible farms and houses.  Not so bad?  In fact, it was a spectacular way to start the day...and the year.

And oh, what we would have missed, if we had just stayed by the fire.  We would never have known this wonder.

Help me to remember that as we march through the uncomfortable places of this new year into dimensions beyond my abilities, strength, and myopic imagination.  The months ahead may be a mystery to me, but they are not unknown to God.  The path may unexpectedly diminish into an overgrown thicket, but He always provides a way through.  Even through the scary places.  Even into the cold.

I just need to follow Him into it.

Thank God for friends who nudge me out the door and hand me courage along the way.

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person
       sharpens another.

               Proverbs 27. 17

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Have you considered...?

The beginning of a new year,
the dawning of a new day,
the onslaught of an impossible task,
     or the miry bog of equally difficult people,...

What if....?

What if praying about it radically changed everything?

Have you considered.... praying about it? 

Prayer doesn't just "work."  Prayer does not just bring God into it.  Prayer doesn't just "change things."  Prayer is not just talking to God, or handing Him a to-do list (my way, of course), or when nothing else helps, or reciting the thoughts or magical words of someone I think is much more worthy than me.

Prayer is  the lost art of personal conversation with God, one on One, speaking and listening, hearing and heeding, a turning to God, a response, a cry in the night, a call to action, and love penetrating it all, verbalized in words.

I can never distinguish whether God changes a predicament, or me in it.  Often He recalibrates my heart towards it, quite literally changes my mind, navigates me through, sharpens my vision --" I never saw that before!"  A grace emerges, a path appears in the impenetrable thicket....or more often, through it.

The result of prayer is not an answer,
          but the awe of God.

Praying should be my first response,
                 not my last resort.

I am often in a position that all I can do is pray for a person or an impossible situation. And that term "only pray" haunts me.

Because praying is the most incredible thing I can do in any situation.  Praying unleashes His Almighty power in ways I cannot understand.  In praying, God may also change my heart and vision and proximity to do something.  I am aware that I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I cannot change others, but God can change me.  I am aware that God is already at work.

By praying, I join Him in that work.  By asking for prayer, others are also blessed by what God is doing.

The prayer of the righteous
has great power
in its effects.

                James 5. 16

The righteous are not those who are perfect,
but those who are simply living in right relationship with God,
                 because they are forgiven.

Great power in its effects?

Have you considered praying about it? 

"It won't matter."

                  But what if it does?

What if it changes the course of your life?

What if....?

The reality is:
God always answers
             in a million different dimensions,
probably even more than that.

Watch what God will do,
and know His response
             goes much deeper than you will ever know.