When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blown Away (February 10, 2010)

The wind has come early. My calendar and leftover Valentines tell me that today dawned somewhere in the middle of February, but I see the forces of March bending the trees outside my window. The sun, gathered in a pale blue sky, catches the skin of slowly dying icicles and grants them each a rhinestone swan song, drop after drop streaking down in a blaze of glory. I hear the winds carry them to earth, the winds that whip around the corners of this old house; winds that paint a shadowed kaleidoscope on my white curtains with nothing more than the spindled fingers of barren trees and a determination to make them dance. 

I love the blustery distant roar of winds in late winter. Danger licks the edges of that roar, hints of a wild strength straining for release and being held back. It is the fierceness of the whistling wind which comforts me, the force of clouded lips on branches which draws soft mounds of peace close up under my chin. I enjoy the howling winds mostly because I am protected from them; I sit in my sunlit enclave of warmth, looking out at the frenzied play of light and shadow on diamond-kissed swaths of snow from behind white curtains. The gales that blow are strong - the walls that house me are stronger still.

Standing out in it is a separate thrill. There is something about a great whipping wind that makes me feel alive. My hair takes flight in multi-stranded chaos, pushing against my ears and getting caught up in my eyelashes. The sun and wind fight each other for my cheeks, pink either from solar warmth or frosted tempest, but not admitting which. Breath races into my lungs, a cyclone of oxygen spinning through my veins and leaving me lightheaded. It’s good to be alive.

I am finding, however, that no matter how intoxicating the taste of living is to a heart swept by sun and sky, too much of my life is spent actually trying to stay out of the wind. Danger is inconvenient and wild strength is unpredictable - I’m partial to forces I can control. Echos of far-off gusts stir up a rustling in my own soul, whispers of another sort of life, of a faith stripped of casual conventions. Radical trust in a God who might call me to walk without explanation, love without reservation, or serve without recognition - this sort of faith makes me nervous. Without wide open spaces for it to run, however, the fledgling rebel faith settles into a gentle breeze then returns to stagnant air. I tend to prefer a faith that is safe over the uncontrollable wiles of a holy tempest blustering through my soul.

I find also that too often I prefer a God who is safe. I like the idea of a God I can slip in my pocket, a God who affirms my complaints, fulfills my whims, and stays within the boundaries I have given Him. I rope off the open spaces, allowing Him to rustle my soul at appropriate times and in places I deem acceptable, such as church and on the stage of my pious, self-righteous acts. If He whistles dangerously around the edges of wider, unprotected plains, I shut the windows, draw the curtains and lament that He must not have heard my prayers for if He had, He would surely answer according to the script I had given Him.

This God (the God I think I have tamed) is not the God blowing through the ancient writings of Scripture. They’re not even related. The God who IS will never be a force I can control.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, You are very great; 
You are clothed with splendor and majesty.
He wraps himself in light as with a garment; 
He stretches out the heavens like a tent
And lays the beams of His upper chambers on their waters. 
He makes the clouds His chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants.
He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
But at Your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of Your thunder they took to flight;
They flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, 
To the place You assigned for them.”

Psalm 104:1-8

I wonder, sometimes, if this God, the One wrapped in light and pulling taut the corners of sunrise, has any free time. After setting the earth on its foundations, does He now have nothing better to do than constantly baby-sit the planet, waiting for us to cue Him in on His lines? Does His existence revolve around creatures whose lives revolve around themselves? Is He ever tempted to take a holiday and leave the reigns of His cloud-borne chariot in angels’ hands?

In preferring a God and a faith that are safe, I err in making God too small. I misinterpret the love He promised would endure from everlasting to everlasting by assuming He is therefore obliged to produce for me a life I approve of. I am not fond of pain and therefore deduce that its presence (for any reason) must indicate the absence of God. I demand comfort and joy, high esteem and good friends, chocolate and Starbucks coffee. A deficiency in any of these and God is again in the hot seat, while I, with arms crossed and toes tapping, await an explanation.

Who am I to think I can capture the wind in my hands? Who am I to tell the gales of late winter to do my bidding, to hush the shouting chorus of winter trees, to critique the dance of a shadowed kaleidoscope on white curtains and whiter snow? Who am I to sulk when the God whose very voice set the force of a thousand tsunamis raging over mountain ranges doesn’t seem to be interested in my suggestions? Only One has ridden on the wings of the wind. Only One has commanded them and they obeyed. “Peace be still” - the howling gusts fell silent.

I am not entitled to the full attention of this God; He listens to me anyway. I have done nothing worthy of His respect; He honors me anyway. I have barely the smallest inkling of the meaning of love. He loves me anyway. I have what I have as an overflow of His goodness; the Divine is not indebted to humanity. We are indebted to Him. He baby-sits us because He chooses to, not because He must.

He is the great whipping wind and He is the sunlit enclave of refuge. He is bigger than my feeble brain can imagine, but He lowers Himself to a place I can find Him; He makes His hands small enough for me to hold. He takes me by the arms and teaches me to walk; He bends down to feed me. It is by His grace I have life and breath and being; by His mercy I have forgiveness, by His affection I have joy. The wide unprotected plains of my soul ought to continually be rustling with unfettered gratitude, a fledgling honest faith taking flight and soaring beneath His cloud-borne chariot. 

He is not safe, and, truthfully, I don’t want Him to be. I want God to know more, see farther, and understand more fully the ramifications of circumstances than I do, even if it means I walk without explanation, love without reservation, and serve without recognition. I know my place. He has proven my trust. Let His love be fierce, the wild strength no longer held back. I will stand in it as long as I can, and when I can stand no longer, I will run for shelter under the shadow of His hands. Let the holy tempest blow - it’s good to be alive.

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