Category Archives: Christian Life

Ink Blots (Part 3 of 3): The Art of Forgetting

Inkblots3

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us….. God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.” A. W. Tozer

 

There is a very delicate balance between the value of remembering and forgetting. Too often, we forget what we should remember and we remember what we wish we could forget. Forgetting relevant and necessary information can inconvenience and even devastate daily life; but the same impact goes for remembering un-necessary and irrelevant memories and ideas. Such phenomenon can distract us from keeping our focus on our present worth and tasks at hand or hold us back from moving forward with ease and agility towards what we hope for. Contrary to what may make sense, the past and the future always linger in our present tense state of being and influence us in powerful ways. The art of forgetting is a mental method by which we maintain perspective on what matters most, ‘here and now’. Otherwise, we stumble and hinder ourselves from getting ‘there and then.’

The things that swirl in our brains at any given moment as well as the things that swirl in our universe itself (which incidentally our brains swirl in, as we consider what we swirl in) are incredibly complex systems. If we try to consider it all at once, our heads can spin off kilter. I have felt that feeling of vertigo when I try to comprehend too much at the same time. In fact, we are hard wired to compensate for this sensation – our bodily functions are divided into voluntary and involuntary operations to help us sanely survive. Think of what it would be like if we constantly had to remember to make our hearts beat or our lungs breathe. Think of what it would be like if we were consciously aware of every sensation we encounter in a moment while we try to manage decision making – every aroma, texture, visual detail, sounds compounded with calculating numbers, deciphering conversations etc. We’d keel over from the over-stimulation. There are moments when it is necessary to consider these factors, but only in proportion to the task we are aiming to complete. Our past experiences with all stimuli always have the potential to interfere with how we process our current train of thought and/or happenings in invalid ways. Our ability to enjoy or avoid some present factor can be readily influenced by our past happenstances. And our eagerness or hesitancy to get to the goal we are pursuing can falter our efforts in the process. Is your head spinning yet from all this consideration? Take a deep breath. Be still and simply know that we don’t have to have it all figured out right now. Discard the content from the past that seeks to sabotage our ability to do this. We so easily let guilt and shame dictate our present condition and we worry about the future in ways that inhibit our present capacity to truly be successful.

The practice of being still can also parallel the experience of how runners race. The first method provides us with the opportunity to readjust our body and mind. People who practice contemplative prayer use this exercise to help them focus on what is most important to most powerfully influence life factors. They simply repeat in a steady rhythm the phrase “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). To emphasize the power of being present with God and allowing God’s presence to be with us, they simplify this phrase word by word in their prayer time with each breath. They leave off the last word with each new breath. They pray, “be still and know that I am, be still and know that I, be still and know that,” until all that is left to say and pray is “be”. I have practice this meditative prayer method and found it powerfully grounding. The vertigo I feel dissipates and I can focus again in a way that is invigorating, purposeful and productive. For runners, the need to keep moving uses a similar methodology in a manner that provides perpetual motion and momentum. The apostle Paul describes this lifestyle practice so vividly and validly when he wrote to the church in Philippi. He wrote:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

I love to run. Though I’m not a fierce competitor, I relish the experience of concentration and coordination. When I hit my stride, each step has a rhythmic beat and my body and mind feel in sync. My thoughts are focused, even if deeply occupied with one thing or another. It is not all things all at once, lest I lose my awareness of the terrain I currently tread and trip. There is a definite freedom in forgetting – I have come to appreciate Paul’s cheer when he detailed, “forgetting what is behind and straining for what is ahead”.

Forgetting is its own effort that takes place purposefully to dis-inhibit us from the heavy thoughts or memories that seek to weigh and slow us down. If I let go of such recall; I can run more effortlessly towards a certain duration or destination. But, I must take care in making sure my muscles and movement keep pace. God’s glory is my focus and motivation. Anything that encumbers this effort must be forgotten.

References:

  1. Consider; photograph by Kamyee Wong Ladas and Jamie Wasson 1998
  2. Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer
  3. Diary of An Old Soul by George MacDonald

 

 

 

Ink Blots (Part 2 of 3): The Art of Forgiving

Ink blots2

Forgive: (verb) 1. to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong 2. to stop blaming someone 3. to stop feeling anger about something 4. to stop requiring payment of money or something that is owed. Definition from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary

 

To be completely honest, I have felt so angry at someone for hurting me in some way that it very really evokes a visceral impulse of wanting to hurt them, badly. I have not acted out these impulses in any devastating manner, except to play it out in my head. In my sequence of thought, I reach for something, preferably a rock, brick or iron frying pan and hit the person repeatedly. While I daydream the scene, I can literally feel my muscles flex and tense, as adrenalin surges through my veins. There is an initial sense of release in unclenching my fists and exhaling, only after I imagine the object thrown striking my intended target and then watching the person crumple to the ground defeated. In my obsessive effort to make myself feel better (in my imagined reality of revenge), I find myself smiling at the limp person laying at my feet. I don’t consider myself a vicious victor but a justified woman, ready to turn and walk away – feeling fine. God help me!

Can we all agree that my freakish fantasy simply exposes the serious need all humanity has for wanting to feel vindicated? In the vein of full disclosure, I’ve spent a lot of time this year feeling really angry about being hurt by people who may or may not have known what they were doing. These circumstances made me definitely doubt that God knew what He was doing. During the end of this past summer, I was walking down the street, desperately attempting internally to process things. I mumbled aloud, “If only I had a stone ….” I pictured myself picking up a stone and, then, in the midst of my daydreaming, I heard Jesus say, “You who are without sin, throw the first stone” (John 8:7). I think I froze for a moment on the sidewalk, even glancing around me to see if anyone else was aware of what just happened inside me. Until then, I had not connected my primitive impulse to throw something at someone with the epic words that Jesus spoke thousands of years ago. I had conjured up throwing stones because it simply seemed like an easily retrievable hard object that could easily do damage. Obviously, I’m not the first person to think of that idea. This is an age old dilemma.

I went back to read the Biblical passage and realized a deeper truth to be grasped. In the Biblical passage, Jesus is confronted by folks who use the old mosaic law as their justifying effort to throw stones. It seems that they actually cared less about the woman caught in adultery, but that they wanted to make sure Jesus was on their side to condemn her too. It was like Jesus was looking right at me and asking me if I was without sin. And even though I’m not, I knew Jesus was asking me to forgive because of how I’ve been forgiven by Him. I took note of the verse “one by one, they walked away, beginning with the oldest” (John 8:9). Sure, there is the impulse to want pay back; but maturity quickly reframes that desire to want something else, to not cower over someone but to give them space to meet privately with Jesus. I felt so childish and ashamed of my foolish inner functioning. I can’t hide my true feelings from God. He sees and hears all that goes on inside my head; and most significantly, He knows my heart. I felt like my spirit crumpled to the ground that day in a way it never had before and I laid in a heap at the Lord’s feet. John’s gospels records that the woman was left alone with Jesus after everyone walked away. Jesus lovingly spoke to her and did not condemn her. I envisioned myself to be that woman as much as one of the crowd. In fact, the passage ends with Jesus telling the woman to walk away as well. He said “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11b).

Forgiving is a stop and go reality. It’s ironic, for sure, but also makes complete sense, depending on one’s vantage point. On one hand, it is not fair. Where is the justice in not punishing the wrong doer? Yet, it is freedom to move on/away from fixating on a person, action or situation, and to focus on the bigger picture God has created for us to envision AND act out. No doubt about it, forgiving is hard work. It is our life’s work to implement such controversial practice. We want to keep looking back at the object or our wrath and pain and reach for another object that can help inflict some sort of comparable pain to punish the transgressor, again and again. Let it be known, it was extremely difficult for Jesus to forgive. It was His life’s work and it cost Him His life. He endured the cross as payment for our transgressions that would have required us to be put to death. He died in our place; because He wanted to restore humanity to be something capable of living beyond frantic impulses. He wanted to make us capable of loving, despite what’s been done.

He is our example and intercessor. When I want to throw stones, He intercedes to turn my attention towards something better. Likewise, when I feel like stones threaten to crush my self-concept, He intercedes to prove who He is. God is love. In forgiving us, God does not deny our wrong doings, or the serious consequences that can ensue; His love gives us the capacity to stop repeating the wrong doings and stop obsessing about the wrong that has been done. The anger and hurt I harbor in my heart takes up space that God so earnestly wants to replace with His joy. There has to be an exchange. The more I can forgive (and accept that I’m forgiven), the more joy will live inside me. Maybe this seems ridiculous to you as you read this. But I have experienced a new kind of liberating grace this year that compels me to see God for who He really is – capable of forgiving. This perception then allows me to see myself and others as God sees all of us – capable of being forgiven. I think forgiving is the hardest thing to do in anyone’s life; but I think I’m on the path towards maturing, developing a more focused response to let go of my anger and pain in order to embrace the joy God wants so much to give me…so I can in turn pass along that joy to others who are worn out from holding so tightly onto anger and hurt too.

 

Resources:

  1. Artwork in process; Sketch #2 by Jamie Wasson 2014
  2. Restorative Justice
  3. Prodigal God by Tim Keller
  4. The Forgiving Life: A pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating A Legacy of Love by Robert Enright

 

 

 

Ink Blots (Part 1 of 3): The Art of Focusing

Ink Blots Ink blots

It is suggested that when we are born, our visual acuity is about eighteen inches. This focal capacity is quite significant, since that is approximately the distance from a baby’s gaze (as they are cradled in someone’s arms) to the face of the one holding them. Not until a few months old, does a baby develop the ability to focus on something farther. Is there really a need to see long distance any sooner? Babies are completely dependent on another to keep them alive, fed and not alone outside of the womb – focusing on the face of someone who is ensuring their success to thrive (up close and personal) seems pretty intuitive. If you have ever held a newborn, you may be well aware of how they stare at you, as if peering into your soul. Maybe they are. Babies have been documented to prefer looking at soft lines of facial features, loving expressions and gentle emotional cadences. Every culture has been observed to care for their infants in similar manners – with sweet sing-song voices and tender glances. A stern or even apathetic facial gesture equates, for the infant, a relational disconnect has occurred. Babies will either look away to search for a more comforting focal point or initiate their own gestures directly to elicit reconnection. It may seem ironic for me, a visually impaired person, to be discussing focusing facts. Yet, whether fully sighted or not, we are all wired to focus. All of our senses have the capability to perceive things – visible and invisible. At least, our senses want to, including our “sixth sense”.

Within the womb, we were already trying to make sense of sounds and movements – what seems pleasant, harsh, safe and unsafe. Throughout our life, this interpretative art becomes either stunted or more sophisticated, influenced by environment, experiences etc. We consciously and unconsciously focus our attention on the world around us and within us to create an identity that includes not only our own self-concept but also a social construct that then dictates how we think and behave. It’s all quite complex to explain here…but then again, it can be very simple. In the 1920s, Herman Rorschach developed a tool to simplify this process of understanding who we are and how we “see’ the world. His Inkblot Test became a methodic means of determining the well-being or psychosis of someone’s mental status. Projection is one of many ways we assign meaning to life. How we see, hear, feel, taste and smell something outside ourselves can reveal dynamics occurring inside of us. Our memories of prior experiences can become relevant to current happenings. The past can persuade us to accept or dismiss something not based on its present authenticity but on our prior experiences with something else and may continue to impact future encounters. It becomes necessary to learn how to focus on the big picture as well as the scene playing out in front of us. This is easier said than done. It’s like listening to a symphony and trying to pick out each individual instrument while the song swoons along with all sorts of melodies and harmonies. What’s more important to focus on – the part or the whole? Is it even possible to focus on both “A” and “Not A” at the same time?

In this age of a gizllion buzzing signals and 24/7 access to worldwide information, ADD is inevitable. Our attention is practically sabotaged to malfunction and disengage quickly. Looking away is not only our knee jerk reaction, it is expected. Social psychologists are discovering that despite our constant bombardment of social media resources and connections, failure to thrive is not just a condition reserved for infancy anymore. Our brains and souls are looking at abstractions and charactures of life and so desperately trying to make sense of the mess we are faced with. Fatigue to keep trying sets in. We want to give up, shut down our senses altogether. We forget that we have the freedom to re-focus our attention on something/someone consistent and life giving. Amid the din of this world, God is still speaking to us, showing us visions of joy, offering us a banquet table to feast at and be held by eternal arms of love. The beauty of this kind of attention is that God knew how easily distracted humanity got a long time ago – that‘s why He sent Jesus in the form of humanity. Jesus provided our whole being with the ability to regain our focusing skill by becoming part of us. God’s Spirit now remains with us to guide, discern and redeem all that we experience. It can seem absolutely over-whelming, over-stimualting at times; but God is the ultimate resource to restore our strength to endure. When the apostle Peter walked on the water with Jesus, he began to sink when he looked away. His focus on Jesus was his life line, perceiving that it was completely because of Jesus that such miracle could occur. As Peter sank, Jesus attended to Peter immediately, hearing Peter’s cry and grabbing his hand. Now that is focus! Though we look away, God never does. And He is an arm’s reach away. He reaches for us and holds us up even when we can’t. We are no longer infants, but there is still an intimate embrace that can occur for us to know that we are cared for – “knowing”, not in the intellectual sense, but in the primitive place inside us that is looking for something/someone to trust to keep us alive and thriving.

References:

  1. Jamie dresses up as a psycho-therapist; photo by Sylvia Martinez 2002 (Halloween)
  2. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin
  3. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Comprehensive, Developmental Approach to Assessment and Intervention by Stanley Greenspan
  4. The Inkblot Test; Herman Rorschach

I See You

I see you

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, and in our likeness…God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  Genesis 1:26a, 31a

Throughout the ages, specifically since the age of Enlightenment, there has been much discussion and doubt surrounding the above statements from Genesis. Regarding its literal legitimacy, did God really speak all of creation into existence and did He really see it from some sort of ethereal perspective and evaluate its worth to be special? One may also ask, what relevance does such reality have anyway with daily life, whether or not the story of Genesis is literally or figuratively perceived? The way we see God seeing us makes or breaks our connection with all of life every day – how we value life, each other and circumstances each day. There is a legit significance to grappling with these verses in Genesis, not only in how we can come to understand our historical beginnings but also our poetic beauty, our reflective genius of the Poet Himself and what the poem will look like in the future.

Dr. Carol Kaminsky has made this exploration her life’s work. As an Old Testament scholar, she has looked closely at the Hebrew text with eyes that seek to discover the truth about who God really is and who we really have been created to be. She has outlined her research and contemplation in a timeline entitled CASKET EMPTY. She begins with the (C)reation story according to Genesis. She notes how the structure of the text repeatedly details that “God said” and “God saw”. Kaminsky details how believing in a God that speaks and sees connotes a relationship has been established. More poignantly, God wants to be heard, He wants us to see how special He sees us. After all, the way we see ourselves is a reflection of how we see God – we reflect God’s image. He reserved a superscripted way of speaking and seeing us when He created us. In the first chapter of Genesis, all God had made up to the final phase, before creating humanity, was seen and declared to be “good”. As the Genesis story unfolds, God created a man from the same stuff the preceding creation was formed from; but also added something extra special – His breath. Only after creating humanity did God add “very” to how He described the goodness of what He had made. In Kaminsky exposition of the ancient words, she underscores that the Hebrew term translated “good” is the declarative equivalent to “awesome”. That means when God made us and looked at us, He said aloud that we are pretty awesome! Do we see and say out loud how beautifully awesome God is for His creative genius?

Paul Tripp recently released a new book simply entitled Awe. Because we reflect God’s likeness and He sees and calls us awesome, Tripp writes that likewise we are capable of looking back at God and declaring His awesomeness. However, we are prone to look away. Tripp notes, “Awe is everyone’s life long pursuit. Where we look for awe will shape the direction of our life. Our source of awe will control our decisions and the course of our stories.” We so easily get distracted by the things we make – even the things we make in “our image”. We displace the connection God wants to have with us to other created things. This disconnect has had gross ramifications.

Wendell Berry, author and poet, adheres to a similar life perspective of our ubiquitous significance in this world. He suggests that we have a responsibility (the ability to respond because of how we were created) to care for not only the world in which we live, but for each other as well. In doing so, we acknowledge our Creator with awe. He advocates that these two aspects of care are not mutually exclusive but actually reflect our innate make-up; it reflects our Maker. He has written many poems, essays and books that explore where and how we have honored our original intent. He also speaks boldly about where and how we have grossly dishonored our Creator and, in turn, creation. In his book, Life Is A Miracle, he doesn’t mince words about how industrialism has not brought about “progress” in revealing a better world and a better humanity. In the midst of our modern societal focus, he notes how we have deceived ourselves in thinking that industry has liberated us from antiquated ways of living – that we can see the future more clearly by building bigger buildings, larger economies and faster methods of getting “there”. He speaks openly about “the displaced person” in terms of people being replaced with objects of our own creation – not unlike what we did to God, replacing Him with objects of our own design that see or speak as we program them to. There is no relationship; at least, there is no relationship present in the way God intended.

So where do we go from here? How do we live in the reality of what was meant to be? Jesus declared while He was here on earth that He had come to “open the eyes of the blind” (Luke 4:18). He spoke these words in both a literal and metaphoric perspective. God never stopped looking at us, though He altered his assessment of our situation to be in bad shape and that is why He sent Jesus – to refocus our ability to see God again; and, in turn, see how He truly made us. I find it to be my default mode to see and declare myself a loser, a failure and complete mess. But God is so gracious to get my attention over and over to remind me that I am awesome, because He is awesome. I can see His hands still molding me. I see His creation in all its glory glorifying Him as well as groaning for Him to restore, once and for all the destruction cause by us not caring for it the way God has cared for us (Romans 8:22). So we need to keep looking for ways to care about our earth and each other in the way God envisioned; and we also need to keep looking for Jesus’ return. Can you see the seasons changing? They are declaring that the time is near…

References:

  1. Kaia; photo by Jamie Wasson 2001
  2. CASKET EMPTY by Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  3. Awe by Paul David Tripp
  4. Life Is A Miracle by Wendell Berry