“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.
She grew up in a hive, a vast, endeavoring conglomeration that stretched from here to there and beyond. The scope of its distance was too far to see. The wealth of effort and sacrifice and unappreciated toil encompassed not only her lifetime but lifetimes before hers – each life, comparatively short., but the lifetimes together stretched into eons. The hive surged with effort; effort of mothers, of fathers, of brothers, sisters, of husbands, of wives, of soldiers and drones. And though it was true, there was a bounty of sweetness, every day demanded more. In trying to calculate how she could escape and still remain faithful, useful, loyal and loved, she failed. She wasn’t good at math and the formula to keep her wings a flutter seemed beyond her capacity to sustain. The hive was a place where enough was never enough and she grieved at her lack. Stepping out of the hive wasn’t her idea. Indeed she would have never gone if she hadn’t been pushed. The miracle of her exit remains. She is grateful and ambivalent. The hive had clear and precise measurements. This equals that. That equals this. Outside the hive the measurements were all askew, up for grabs. What was she worth outside of the hive? Some days her life looked like honey. Some days it looked like sloth.
After it was over and they could talk about their freedom they said – well it’s not like what happened could be explained in concrete terms – no, not as if we’d timed it so we were able to observe something NOT ABSTRACT like the sudden appearance of smiling dolphins or anything as laughable as that – of course not and with all the confusion caused by the red sky at the wrong time of the day – and no indication of moring or night – yes, we had no choice about the sky – all we know is grace holds up the clouds and seems to keep our pulses pulsing. They weren’t in a joking mood but a joke was hard to resist. One of them calmed the other by putting a hand on her trembling shoulder and said – I’m grateful for the impracticality of the word abide. It’s the only word that comes to mind right now – Abide? Isn’t that strange. I thought I heard that word just now myself, like a reverse injunction, a mandate of some kind – Yes, or an invitation – Abide? It’s not a word that comes up a lot – not on the radio – or the internet, but I heard it all the same – Me too, yes, abide. They sat together in silence, all stunned by the terror of freedom. One woman (top right), almost being choked by her wings. One woman (bottom middle) reclining, reluctant to make the first move. The other woman (top left) leans into freedom, ready to leap.
On the Hunt
He looked everywhere. He has looked to the skies, in nature, in power, in relationships, in success, in symbols and dreams and stories and song. Indeed, so fervent is he in his hunting he has almost silenced the small inner voice that has been trying to tell him all along what it is he’s hunting for. C.S. Lewis was right (of course) when he said in The Weight of Glory, “Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth…”
So I’ve been in an unpredictable frame of mind lately. Disappointed in myself. Lacking gratitude. Wanting more than I already have. More of what? That’s what gets confusing. Feeling like I need what I don’t already have but what is it I don’t have? I have everything. I have love, family, health. I’m afraid of being so serious I’ll scare others away, wanting to be jovial, light-hearted, hopeful and carefree but feeling scared, controlling and unloveable. At the same time, I’m trying to write about the “thin places,” trying to explain what the term means. I’ve thought back to my time in Paris and various “thin places” I encountered there but wanting to have something more current, something in the here and now, not the “back then” and faraway. And then today I stepped out in the middle of a “thin place” and wobbled there on the brim of tears and am still echoing in astonishment. It happened like this. Last night I left Brett Lott’s new book, “Letters & Life: on being a writer, on being a Christian,” open, on its back. When Randy got up this morning, he saw it laying like that and snapped it shut, thinking he would save the book. I picked it up a short time later, I didn’t bother to try and figure out where I had been. This is very often how entering a “thin place” happens – one is often lost, disoriented or thinking they are somewhere other than they are, not even knowing they are lost but most of the time they believe they are alone. So when I flipped the book open, I was too rushed to try to figure out where I had left off, I just started reading in the middle of the page I opened. This takes a certain kind of intentional randomness that doesn’t really take you very far in corporate America, but as you will see it can take you so much further. These were the words I read: “Because writing is a very lonely thing, you do it, and do it, always alone at a desk somewhere, always just spilling words on the page, hoping they will work….” I immediately identified with these words and kept reading. Lot went on to tell the story of how he had the audacity to ask God for clear indication on a certain day that his writing was making a difference in anyone’s life. “I know I was being impudent and presumptuous, giving God a deadline. But, I reasoned, I wasn’t asking for anything big or for any prize or recognition – just word from somewhere that somehow I might be making a difference.” Lott’s request gripped me and I thought how dangerous and wonderful and tempting. I also assumed that what was about to unfold before me was a story I was also living and wanting to know the end of. For whether I was going to find out that God actually did give Lott a clear sign or whether he didn’t I was going to discover how to respond to my own impudent wants. In short order, Lott details how he went to bed empty-handed on the day he’d asked for a sign. AND YET, he somehow had this amazing “peace that passes understanding” – just like scripture promises. And so, to me, that peace was the sign and I was satisfied for a moment, already, while I continued to read, I planned on making the same request of God and seeing how He might answer me. But Lott’s story wasn’t over. The next morning when he woke up he opened an email from a stranger giving him the evidence he so badly needed the day before. The clincher? The email arrived at 11:59 PM on the very day he’d asked God to answer him. And that’s not all. Two days later Lott received a letter postmarked the same date as his request. Again, the sender gave him a second “testimony” that his work as a writer had, indeed, made a remarkable impact on her life. Lott’s two examples amaze me. Through tears, I thought, “wouldn’t that be something to know that God was so intimately involved in my life?” I sat there with the book in my hands full of yearning, borrowing hope from a man I only knew through words and as I turned the page, my eyes fell on the bold letters announcing the next chapter. Writing With So Great A Cloud of Witnesses. Lott had ¾ of a page left to make his final point and conclude the chapter, but I stopped reading. The next chapter’s title was far too jolting: I was/am speechless. I haven’t yet read the chapter. I’m still stuck on the title. And hear me on this, I had not looked ahead to see what was coming. I had no warning. I could not have predicted this “thin place.” To explain it I’ll have to back up a bit. Several weeks ago I finished the painting “The Great Cloud of Witnesses.” I just had it framed and got it on the wall last night. I painted “The Great Cloud of Witnesses” to illustrate what I couldn’t see, wasn’t feeling and wanting to believe: We are not alone. We are being upheld, applauded, encouraged and observed by a host of admirers in the heavenly realms. Brett Lott’s words ushered me into this “thin place.” I got a glimpse of God’s grace, his mystery and His lavish love as he returned me to a place that so struggles with language and how to write truthfully, artfully in order to make a difference in my life and the life of others. After painting “The Great Cloud of Witnesses,” it seemed to make perfect sense to use the painting to promote an upcoming series of writing workshops called, Bearing Witness. As far as explaining the “thin places” – this was one. A “thin place” is a hairline moment that comes on us unexpectedly when we take the risk to stop and listen, stare and wait – with no possible guarantee of what will speak or appear or be made known to our souls as we dare to give the possibilities space. P.S. Oh, by the way, this is the second time Brett Lott’s writing has taken me unawares into one of those “thin places.” The other one is too long for now. But remind me later and I’ll tell you about it.
In the thin places Love’s lunge takes you one step into the moonlight while your other leg flails in the dark. Pay attention to your tears, to your anger, to your joy. When the light permits shod your feet with the gospel of peace and go forward. If the darkness persists take off your shoes. Wait quietly for the words. Holy holy is the ground.