Tag Archives: Christian life

Can You Hear It?

In the Woods

One Lenten season a few years back, I decided to give up noise. Yes, that’s right – noise. This may seem like a ridiculous sacrifice during such a sacred journey. In some ways, it was. I guess it all stemmed from the feeling that the world around me was too dissident and was distracting me from hearing the Spirit within me. So I pledged during Lent to take fifteen minutes a day, plug my ears and sit quietly and pay attention to my interior workings. The honest truth is that this was much harder than I ever expected. Living at that time amid an urban neighborhood with tightly packed houses and shops and many narrow streets, the sounds of city life did not disappear completely. Even with my ears plugged while I sat on my bed, I could still hear the muffled tones of sirens, the rev of a bus engine or motorcycle, a dog barking or whatever other city antics continued to get my attention. My meditative attempts to reflect on what the Spirit within me was trying to tell me seemed to always be redirected to what the world was declaring all around me. My Lenten practice quickly became a dreaded challenge rather than an encouraging opportunity to go deeper with Christ. I found myself resenting not only the sounds of the world around me but the chatter in my own head space too. Why wasn’t I able to shut out the noise? Then I realized, maybe I’m not supposed to. Contemplative prayer is a progressive practice that involves many layers of listening and being quiet. I didn’t have to categorize “hearing” into all or nothing terms. In fact, there seems to be something profound in hearing the message behind the sounds all around me as well as in me

What I hear (or allow myself to hear) can be directly connected to what I understand or perceive is happening around me and in me. Mis-hearing something/someone certainly impacts perception and has mis-hap ramifications. As I sit and type this, the sounds around me prove what season it is and how the seasons are changing. Whether I want them to or not, they are. Am I willing to acknowledge how life changes and will I celebrate the new stage that is presenting itself to me for a purposeful effect? Yes, as I type this and pause to form my next thought, I can hear the sound of geese flying together, signifying that migration is occurring. I can hear the sound of dried leaves scooting across the ground; and I can hear the scraping sound of a rake pulling the fallen leaves into a pile somewhere. I can hear the sound of the mail truck parking, the side door opening and the postal worker readying to make the rounds to deliver today’s mail. These sounds are all about accepting the present of what is now as well as preparation for what is to come next. I can’t ignore these sounds if I want to understand what life is about.

Listening is about acknowledging a relationship is real – is really happening. Shutting out the sounds from the world around me rejects that I have any relationship with the space where God has placed me. The Spirit within me speaks to me to listen to what is going on in the world, so I can respond accordingly – according to the relevance of what Jesus would say or do. If I ignore the reality of what is happening in the world, I miss out on the reality of being Jesus. It can start simply by paying attention to what I hear right here, right now and praising and/or praying in response to what I hear. Jesus talked a lot about listening while He was here on earth. His journey to the cross and out of the tomb was God’s response to the world’s plea for redemption. Jesus now prompts us to pay attention to the seasonal sounds of people and places – in order to respond with timely care and to keep an ear out for when He will return to earth again. I’m listening. I’m asking the Spirit to help me interpret what I hear. It is important to take time to sit still and listen as much as it is imperative to get up and speak. There are seasons to our day, week, year etc., calling us to do this in turn. As long as the world keeps turning, there will always be noise. And as long as I keep asking the Spirit to help me listen, I’ll be able to discern the sounds, discern the seasons. I’m not advocating for hyper-vigilance in this reflection – for such over-sensitivity to sounds has its own message to be discerned and responded to with care and comfort. Ears that experience extended and extreme decibel stimulation can become disabled and unable to listen accurately for the long haul. I’m referring to acutely listening to the outward and inward voices that seek to gain our allegiance and choosing to predominately listen to the voice that proclaims life. Jesus came to bring harmony to the dissident world – starting in my own heart. The multi-dimensional relationships that exist within me and around me are all connected and can become a competing and cumbersome chatterbox to deal with, if I don’t allow the Spirit/Jesus to be the filter through which I make sense of what I hear.

References:

  1. In the woods; photo by Jamie Wasson 2014
  2. Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila
  3. On Poetry by T. S. Eliot

Red Light, Green Light

Reposted from The Hannah More Project

Red Light Green Light

Vivian was sixteen when she ran away from home. She was born into a family where domestic and community chaos was a daily occurrence. Physical and sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol and violence of the seemingly survival kind was a way of life that surrounded her day and night. Her direct exposure to and experience of these factors were not overlooked by the Department of Human Services; she was placed in foster care at an early age. She moved from foster home to foster home, as space and support shifted to address her special needs of long term care and post-traumatic healing. However, the start and stop of each new foster home, each new relationship, only added to her confusion of what a healthy life can look like. At thirteen she moved into a foster home with caregivers who wanted to become her “forever” family. They adopted her. Forever is a long time though, and often is inconceivable to children like Vivian. The pleasures of sex are quick, and often are the only familiar affection that children like Vivian are acquainted with.

During her early teens, Vivian became sexually promiscuous and soon discovered that she could make money from such activity. She no longer had to rely on her “parents” to provide for her, or wait for them to make her happy. She could provide and get something that had instantaneous returns – physical, emotional and material gain. She ran away from home and moved into a new reality of prostitution and sex entertainment. She was under-aged to be legally involved in such a multi-billion dollar industry; so she lied about her age; and even if her “business supervisors” did know, they overlooked this fact because she brought them equally worthwhile returns on their investment too. Vivian’s vulnerability, due to her age and longing to be loved, was easily exploited, and she found herself in a world very similar to the one she was born into. I knew Vivian during this tumultuous time. She is a real person who represents so many children with stories not unlike her own. This story occurs every day in America, in metropolitan areas as well as suburban and rural domains. It is hard to write about Vivian’s story without a nauseated feeling in my gut. I wish I could write that she found her way back to her adoptive home and found healing in the arms of her adoptive parents for all her years of abandonment and abuse, but I can’t. I can say that something inside her was trying to heal and did know what healthy love looks like, because she did return to her adoptive home a year later. She found sanctuary and stability there that was lacking in her career choice and lifestyle. Her adoptive parents welcomed her home, but her stay was short lived. The seduction of instant gratification lured her back into the sex industry. The last I knew, she called home from time to time and came home periodically seeking respite. Her parents continue to welcome her back and grieve when she leaves – they still want to be her forever family. Forever, indeed, is a long time. So, that means her story is not over. There is always hope.

It’s been said that prostitution is the oldest profession. But according to the Bible, this is not true. Originally, God had another occupation in mind. According to Genesis, God made humanity and declared how their living would be made (Genesis 1:26 – 31). God created a world in which humanity would oversee the agriculture and well-being of society. Farming and family were the combined profession (of faith) that first existed in the world, established as an effort to reflect God’s creative genius and generosity. Dr. Carol Kaminsky, an Old Testament scholar, details how God created humanity to, in turn, create good things from and throughout the earth. In fact, Kaminsky highlights that God’s creation of humanity itself would, in turn, create generations of humanity to carry on the legacy. Kaminksy further underscores how God saw His work of humanity and His plan for humanity’s work and said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31a). Many generations later, as I observe the world, I find it hard to say things are good, let alone very good. What went wrong? In Paul David Tripp’s book, Sex and Money, he explores how humanity has veered far from the original intent God had in mind when He created us and our capacity for intimacy and expectation of gain. Tripp discusses how sex and money, as created things, were never intended to truly satisfy us – the Creator, Himself, wanted that role. Humanity’s choice to reattribute the role of God’s benevolent supremacy and satisfying love for us to be mimicked by creation has proved its ramifications ever since, not only exemplified in Vivian’s story but in all of our stories. This is why Jesus came – to save us from ourselves, so we can start over and start living and loving as God intended. God’s grace and mercy keeps telling the story of redemption. The story is not over. There is still hope.

As a Christ follower, I am called to look, not simply around me to see where things are not good and ask for God’s help to advocate for and implement change, but I am also called to look into my own heart to see where I have bought into the misgivings of created things to satisfy me in the way only God was meant to. When it comes to sex and money, how have I chosen to dress provocatively in hopes of being “seen” by another for some self-exalted purpose? How have I contributed to the supply and demand for sexualized entertainment that perpetuates an ever-growing industry and negatively affects children like Vivian?  From that starting point, I can turn back and look at God to direct my steps to walk with people like Vivian, in an enduring and redemptive way – the same way God wants to walk with and love me, forever.

References:

  1. Traffic light: Google image
  2. 24 Hour Hotline for National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST
  3. Stop human trafficking: Dining for Dignity
  4. CASKET EMPTY; Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  5. Sex and Money by Paul David Tripp

Look Up!

Resurrection

The Harvest Moon is almost here! The full moon that rises in the sky each September, known as the Harvest Moon, is my favorite moon of the whole year. There is an astrophysical explanation for why this particular moon shines the brightest and looks the largest of all the calendar moons…but I’m not going to ramble on about that rationale here. The Harvest Moon receives its name from the season that celebrates the significance (the reward) of hoping. Harvest is the joyous reality of receiving what was, in seasons past, imagined.

This process is not without hard work. In agricultural terms, there is first the identification of what matters – what needs to be grown to keep life going. Then, there is the selection and preparation of land, the toil of cultivating soil to then plant seeds to take root. Then, there is waiting. There is humility in surrendering to time and tempests; and there is intentional attention to helping healthy growth take place. There is more waiting…and watching. There is the possibility of despair and even death. But amidst that shadowy insecurity, there still exists the anticipation and purposeful preparation to meet and greet what has matured and is ready for harvest. Harvest, itself, is its own important effort that requires the collective support of persistent muscle. The careful plucking and cutting of crops still involves imagination of the banquet tables to come. There is a symbolic synchronicity to the Harvest Moon’s ambiance that represents, for me, how heart, hand, land and especially ethereal efforts are always at work to offer hope and joy throughout every season of life.

The 2015 Harvest Moon will appear on September 27. Look up! I hope you get to see it and enjoy the present it is.

A Good Gift

You made the moon to rule the night –

That means even in the dark, there is still light.

In the absence of day glow, no less inferior,

You are here – proving Yourself superior.

Rays of hope  as surrounded arms,

Your maternal embrace truly warms.

Amid cold shadowed veil,

You prove Your love can never fail.

A very real reflective radiance

And a divine ordained incandescence

Fills the sky with eternal essence.

I stand in awe of Your glorious presence.

References:

  1. Resurrection; sculpture by Jamie Wasson 2014
  2. Why does the Harvest Moon look so big and orange?
  3. The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry
  4. A Good Gift; poem by Jamie Wasson 2010

I do and I will

My Family1984

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24 – 25

This week my parents celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary. They still hold hands when they walk together, and when they sit on the couch to watch TV. They still pray together while sitting at the breakfast table and after dinner, pretty much every day. They are still googly gaga in-love, not only with each other but with Jesus – to whom they credit their happily ever after status. They see love as a choice as much as a command. “Love God and love the people God puts in your life” (Matthew 22:37 – 39) has been the baseline of what I was taught and how I have chosen to live, whether I’m married or not. Though, love seems most tested and best lived out within the walls of a marriage and a family. My parents’ marriage and my family experience has been an amazing story of love…and it is still being told.

I grew up in a house that my dad built, by hand and heavy machinery. Our house was situated on a high hill that was comprised of almost solid rock. Living atop such a firm foundation helped boost feelings of safety and serenity, especially during storms. Some of my most cherished memories growing up was during a snow storm. Our house had a big picture window that offered a panoramic view of the neighborhood. Often, my family (my parents, myself, my younger and older brother) would gather by the window and simply watch it snow. There were times we lost electricity and heat; but then the portable kerosene heater was set up in the middle of the room. A tea kettle was then routinely placed on top of the portable heater, ready to whistle. The winter wind could howl all it wanted. I felt safe; and there was a palpable comfort in having my family near me. Our collective seclusion inside our humble home made us relate to one another in positive ways that we may otherwise have not. This sense of peace has become a significant solace throughout my life. It’s not just a memory. It was a privilege that has become a responsibility.

I am keenly aware that this is not every family’s experience. But it was mine. Let me be clear, my family is not perfect or even picturesque. I am fairly certain, among my parents, myself and my siblings, we have faced our unfair share of just about every difficult aspect of life. We can also easily point out each other’s faults, and at times we do (for better or for worse); but at the end of the day, we are a functional family – functioning according to faith, hope and love. Yep, we believe that the way we interact with and react to one another impacts both the unity of our family and our life pursuits. We collectively choose to love each other the way Jesus loves us – always.  My sense of security and resilience that was established in that house built on a foundation of rock became a tangible and symbolic touchstone for me to endure the storms of life. Because of this, my life’s mission is to be a lighthouse to others seeking a safe haven. I know such a place exists. I know how to build them, too. They can be hard to find and can take time to construct, especially in the darkness of life’s journey – but that means any little bit of light and effort can prove significant to see one’s way and experience respite. It is well worth the search and perseverance.

Growing up in a household that was built on a firm foundation of faith (i.e. believing God exists, is good and loves us more than we could ever imagine) was an essential part of how my parents constructed their marriage and our family. I was encouraged to pray, not as a ritual of holy living, but as a relational method of understanding what life is about. I was taught I could openly bring all my doubts and fears hope and plans to God – and He actually was listening to me and had important things to say to me as well. I learned at an early age that the Bible is not a boring book of rules, but a gracious guide for how to experience peace – within myself and with every relationship I encounter. My parents’ relationship with one another exemplified what it is to honestly communicate with grace and kindness and, at times, to unconditionally serve others without words. If you ask them what makes their marriage work so well, they will tell you – it’s about loving God first and loving each other the way God loves us. They will tell you how life is all about relationships and selflessly serving others. They will tell you that it is hard; but they will tell you that it is harder not to.

I do believe every day offers us opportunities to experience and express love. For some, it is less familiar to know how and where to start. And for some reason, I was born into a family where practical demonstrations of love were a daily occurrence. How we talked to each other, who we invited into our home, what we did with our time, where we invested our money and energy revolved around proving that love (Jesus) is the cornerstone that upholds the reality that the same grace be extended to everyone – no matter what’s happened. This legacy has served me well and has compelled me to pursue the professional work I do. If we are honest about life, we all have experienced moments of defeat – unable to keep fighting, keep hoping for something better. We need someone to fight with us, for us. Psalm 23 is filled from beginning to end with how God provides victorious support. As a Jesus follower and child of God, I believe He does this for me and, likewise, calls me to do the same for others. Sure, I have made a career of helping people find rest, healing, reassurance that they are not alone in the dark, that they can have courage and find sustenance to keep going; but the living I have chosen to make was cultivated a long time ago in a home built by my parents. They insist that love (the Lord) holds the blueprints and utilizes whomever is willing to help be part of building an eternal kingdom. All are welcomed to be part of God’s family!

References:

1.      The People I Love; drawing by Jamie Wasson 1984 (age 7)

2.      Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer by Paul Tripp

3.      George Mueller by Faith Bailey (An Orphanage Built by Prayer)

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 3)

“Planet Earth looks blue and there’s nothing I can do.”  David Bowie’s Major Tom

I listened to a podcast by Paul David Tripp recently. He spoke about our identity. He noted how “tears reveal what our hearts care about most deeply”. I’ve cried countless tears throughout my lifetime – about all sorts of things: boo-boos, broken hearts, defeats, victories, comedic timings and joyous moments, to name a few themes. The synthesis of these themes is that I’m aware (or feel like) something good or bad is happening. Tears are proof that we are cognizant of what is going on around us and inside us. When we feel heightened moments of pain/hurt, fear, sadness, love, joy, relief, grief, anger, exhaustion etc., tears emerge as well. Tears also protect outside harmful materials from invading our eye space – like dust, bugs, allergens and noxious gases. Our eyes must always stay a bit teary to guard against dry eyes, which can be detrimental to our vision. Tears manage worlds inside and out, and specialize in cleansing our bodies and souls. If we don’t cry (or produce tears), we are not healthy human beings.

Our sympathetic nervous systems respond to events, emotions and our mind’s interpretations of it all in a holistic effort to keep us safe, secure and sensible. Our blood, sweat and tears are a team of messengers that communicate with our conscious brains about our present state of being. Who am I? Who are we? Tears continue to baffle even the best experts, because of their mysterious solidarity to show up during both joyful and sorrowful moments. Practically speaking, tears seem to sum up that we are connected to what matters…or we want to be. Our internal capacity to deal with life on our own has its limit, and when too much life wells up inside, our eyes well up and the overflow spills out. Social psychologists have suggested that tears signal to others that we, ourselves, are in need of another’s solidarity – either to celebrate an aspect of life or mourn it. We cry because we care – others cry with us because they care about us. Is it that simple?

The shortest verse in the whole Bible is found in the Gospel of John, and it’s all about Jesus’ tears. John didn’t originally scribe his gospel verse by verse, but as a continuous narrative. Scribes over the centuries sought to make it easier for us to navigate the Scriptures, so they divided thoughts and stories into chapter and verse. Something about John’s observation of Jesus crying caught their attention, too. John documented that Jesus wept, as he stood by his friend Lazarus’ tomb. John 11:35 simply reads “Jesus wept”. Talk about solidarity – Jesus cried, as did others that day over the loss of a dear loved one. Research suggests that women cry five times more than men in an average year. I have to admit that when I see a man cry, it immediately gets my attention in a way that deeply moves me – something must really matter for them to emote in such a way. It obviously impacted the people who stood with Jesus by Laz’s grave. They commented to each other, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36). But was that the only reason why Jesus wept? When Jesus saw Lazarus’ sister, Martha, by his grave, Jesus assured her that her brother would live again. Martha didn’t get his meaning. It seems Jesus wept, not just because Laz died, but because humanity doesn’t get how loved we are by God and how we can love each other (and life itself) the same way God loves. I confess, I cry most about not feeling loved and feeling like life is too hard, and isn’t turning out the way I had hoped.

Ed Underwood, a pastor and cancer survivor, details his understanding of how God loves us in his book, When God Breaks Your Heart. Lying in a hospital bed, Underwood doubted if God was there with him as he anticipated his death. But then he re-read the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus with new perspective. In the story, Martha and her sister Mary sent for Jesus to come heal their brother who had become very ill. Jesus received their message and seemed to dismiss their dire call for help. Even his disciples were confused by his seemingly indifference to the crisis. They urged him to act fast or else Lazarus would surely die. Jesus purposefully waited for a few days to pass, ensuring Lazarus’ death, and then responded to the sisters’ request. When Martha heard Jesus was on his way, she rushed to meet him and angrily accused him of not coming soon enough. She emphasized to Jesus that ‘if only’ he had come sooner (John 11:21). Mary didn’t even bother accompanying her sister to confront Jesus. She stayed home (John 11:28); I’m sure clutching a box of ancient Kleenex, overwhelmed by grief. Underwood writes that he deeply struggled with the same emotional and intellectual experience as Martha and Mary did. However, reviewing the Biblical story in full brought Underwood a new and profound comfort. Underwood defines how ‘comfort’ literally breaks down to mean “come forth”.  He underscores that these are the exact words Jesus declared outside of Lazarus’ tomb, after Jesus first ordered the grave seal to be broken (John 11:43 KJV). Martha winced at breaking the tomb’s seal and reminded Jesus that doing so would release a bad stench since Laz had been dead a few days (John11:39). Thanks, Martha, for pointing out the obvious – death stinks. Do we need to be reminded of that?  The answer is yes. Does God? The answer is no. God was already aware of this fact. That was the reason why He came to earth in the first place. When the seal of Jesus’ own tomb was broken, God completely removed the stench of death. His resurrection is the best thing to cry about. Jesus proved Himself Lord over life and death.

In Dan Allender’s book The Cry of the Soul, he strategically provides insight into how our emotions (and tears) don’t just reveal what is going on in our own hearts, but also reveals God’s heart for us. He writes, “God’s passion is to rig the world so that we are compelled to deal with whatever blocks us from being like His glorious Son.” Our tears are like a bridge that allows love to flow in a two way direction – not simply between me and someone else here on earth but between me and the God of the universe. God sees every tear that falls. Whatever the reason, each one matters. The psalmist David wrote “You keep my tears in Your bottle” (Psalm 56:8b). Why would God do that? Because everything about us means something to God. Our lives matter.

References:

  1. Sense and Sensibility, motion picture 1995
  2. Major Tom by David Bowie
  3. Who Is Worthy? Podcast/sermon by Paul David Tripp
  4. Why we cry Blog post by Dr. Nick Knight
  5. When God Breaks Your Heart by Ed Underwood
  6. The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 2)

Wood carving

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summers day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” To Kill A Mockingbird

I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in ninth grade, as so many ninth graders do. Something about the first lines of this renowned novel, noted above, captivated my attention immediately. Harper Lee painted such vivid word pictures of the reality of sweat. Her words have lingered in my ears and mind’s eye, much like humidity hangs on the skin and soul on a steamy summer day. I have never forgotten that introduction. The way Lee’s words foreshadowed her book’s strenuous tale of human struggle deeply impacted me. I have thought of these lines often throughout my life. Incidentally, when my best efforts to remain calm and cool are futile and sweat takes over my appearance and attitude, I remember her vivid depiction of southern climate. I’ve never been to Alabama nor Louisiana or even Mississippi. There’s always been something illusive to me about the deep south – the way people have had to manage not only unbearable hot temps but brutal hot topics. As a northern ninth grader, I wondered how people in the midst of such oppressive heat still made a daily effort to press their collars and powder their cheeks, knowing it would all come undone at some point during the day. Sweat seemed an enemy and any effort was fighting a losing battle. Why bother? Yet, as an adult, my perspective on sweat has changed to welcome it as a companion to help me overcome the mundane as well as more serious challenges of life.

Even as recent as the other night while walking along a river path near my house, it was insufferably hot and the sweat quickly formed a shiny sheen on my skin’s surface. I wiped the hair away from my brow more than a few times, which kept sticking to my face like pasted threads. I felt ugly and depressed, but then the wind started gently blowing and I quickly felt amazing. As the wind touched my wet skin, I felt a cooling effect and even had a chill or two. That wind was such a gift, but I also receive sweat as its own gift – wind and sweat work together to cool me down. There are many reasons why we sweat, but it all boils down to our body’s cooling and cathartic attempts to keep us alive and well. Our pores open and release moisture that is evaporated by the air, cooling us down when we get overheated. Hormones can also be included in our sweat, as our body’s method to release and regulate emotional and/or inner-physical intensity. Sweat is a signal for us to understand what is happening inside of us and around us. It’s a metabolic miracle. It certainly doesn’t feel good to sweat; but it can tangibly clue us in to how we definitively don’t feel good inside or that something around us is not okay. It signals for us to respond accordingly, to find ways to either weather the storm or improve conditions.

Sweat can also be the palpable proof that something good is happening in us and around us. When I exercise or perform manual labor, I often sweat a lot (TMI, I know, but it’s reality. Thank God for deodorant, showers and clean clothes!). As sweat pours out of my pores, I feel like it proves I am accomplishing something. I want to believe that hard work pays off – that as I toil day in and day out, my efforts are not in vain. Sweat can offer me the satisfaction that I am working towards something; or at the very least, it offers me an opportunity to evaluate whether or not my work is leading me in a beneficial direction. My body may be telling me that I am exerting too much energy and it is, in fact, time to rest, catch my breath and refresh resources to either carry on the same course or change trajectories altogether. Contemplation is its own worthwhile effort, though it is not easy work. Just as any hot day or labor intensive task exhausts me, so can considering how my efforts are empowering or dis-empowering myself and others. I need help to discern and confirm this process. The Holy Spirit is a sacred wind that restoratively blows across my weary and worn soul, especially when I feel the heat of life’s stressors.

At the end of Jesus’ journey here on earth, He promised that the Holy Spirit would come to “guide us to all truth” (John 16:13). Throughout all Scripture, the Holy spirit is defined as a “Counselor” and “Comforter”. This description is most meaningful to me. As a licensed professional counselor, I and my colleagues often ask “who counsels the counselor?” When I am sweating it out, overwhelmed by difficult or puzzling situations, the Holy Spirit counsels me.  Initially, He simply says “I counsel you…even during the night” (Psalm 16:7). Such declaration quiets my restless soul. During the day or, especially, as I toss and turn at night, He says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). There are other times when words seem nebulous and He simply grieves with me and places my exhausted heart on secure rock to find rest and joy (Psalm 40:2, Romans 8:26). God, indeed, is my breath of fresh air. Every time I feel the temperature rise, He revives and refreshes me. In my restored state, I am better equipped to help others who are, themselves, in need of refreshment. I can point the fan towards them, and pour them a tall glass of sweet tea to sip while they rest. Many times, they are the ones, inspired by the Spirit, to offer me a rejuvenating cup of cheer. The best is when I can share such sustenance with someone. Then, no matter how oppressive things get, we can lift our glasses together to celebrate that we are alive, loved and not alone.

References:

  1. Wood carving sculpture in process by Jamie Wasson 2013
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
  4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 1)

“Reach out your hand if your cup be empty. If your cup be full may it be again. Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men. There is a road, no simple highway. Between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow. That path is for your steps alone.”  The Grateful Dead

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has a one-of-a-kind exhibit that offers a larger than life model of the heart. It’s one of my favorite things at the museum – it invites you to walk through the whole heart, experiencing the inner workings of how blood flows. There are narrow steps that lead you up and down and all around through atriums and ventricles to playfully act out how blood is oxygenated and pumped in and out of the heart to the rest of the body. “The Giant Heart” is one of the features in the vascular exhibit, which is its own grand gallery in the museum. It’s like a romper room of real deal cardio-activities. You can crawl through arteries, or see how blocked arteries do, in fact, inhibit passage because they are filled with various amounts of plaque. It’s quite sobering. You can also step on a giant scale attached to a giant flask that fills with red liquid to display, based on weight, how much blood is coursing through your veins. It’s all so mesmerizing. Blood is a remarkable thing. I’ve stood on that scale more than a few times over the years and watched the flask fill up, topping off at about four and a half liters or so;  and I’ve realized I have little clue about what is really going on inside me at any given moment.

There’s a whole metropolis and countryside underneath my skin’s surface. All sorts of things are moving and grooving along highways, byways and rural roads; and I’m hardly aware of it. My heart is always at work, ensuring vitality from my head to my toes. It occurs involuntarily. It has to. It’s too important for me to be consciously in charge of it. I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else. There are times when I do (and need to) become conscious of my heart’s activity. During physical and/or situational stressors, my heart can start racing or pounding the pavement at an unsustainable or arrhythmic pace. I need to voluntarily respond with mindful repose (and possible cardiac consultation) to resume cruise control. My body’s vascular system has miraculous ways of not only clueing me in to step up and take action, but also calming me down to reconsider how to best continue the journey. Deep breaths are the first steps to refuel my heart with fresh perspective to carry on. My lungs assist my heart to do this; however, there are moments when I must metaphorically reach for the oxygen mask dangling in front of me to restore body and soul homeostasis. It’s like there’s this cardio-community inside me (and around me) that is always cheering me on, whether I’m aware of it or not. “Take heart” is more than a cliché to me. It implies that there is a force inside me (around me) that keeps me going, despite how stuck or shut down I feel. Am I willing to accept this reality? How consciously connected I am with this life force inside me (surrounding me) directly influences how intentionally grateful I am to be alive and to cheer others on to love their life as well. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament summed it up similarly in this way:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

A professor in grad school once challenged my class to consider why women seem most attuned and willing to acknowledge heart issues. We speculated about a mother’s need to provide nurturing support for her children. “Think more primitively”, he said. We discussed aspects of birth, then pregnancy and still he shook his head, noting not all women experience such things. He provocatively prompted us to consider every woman’s forced relationship with herself every month. Ironically, a man helped me understand how menstruation is a primitive process that involuntarily volunteers me to attentively and compassionately relate to life. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally, as a woman, I have to consciously contend with waiting, timing, discomfort, catharsis, clean-up and resolution. I don’t mean to be crass in discussing this, but to underscore how life is constantly proving itself to be something that is capable of enduring, overcoming and thriving throughout the journey. Men are not excluded from connecting to life with compassionate notions – although this may be one of the notable reasons why God provided Adam a “suitable helpmate” in designing Eve (Genesis 2:18). Eve was formed from Adam’s rib, a bone closest to the heart (Genesis 2:21). There is a heart-to-heart connection among all of us. If we go deep enough, we will find it. Our internal and external functions do not always run smoothly and, at times, are more dysfunctional than we’d like to admit or deal with. We need help. I recently worked with a birth client who lost a large amount of blood during delivery that caused her blood pressure and platelets to drop to dangerous levels. She received a transfusion of one and a half pints of blood, which help a bit; but soon after that intervention, another transfusion was required to ensure healthy equilibrium. She received an additional two pints, which significantly stabilized her status. The Red Cross diligently facilitates blood drives to ready reserves for just such purposes. Hmmm, I know another cross that provided a much needed soul transfusion to ensure that we could keep living and loving.

For eons, the symbolic relevance of the heart has signified an emotional and/or spiritual reality that exists inside us and between us. The true essence of a person has often been believed to dwell in a person’s heart. When renown Scottish medical missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, died in 1873 in Africa, the African nationals buried his heart there before sending his body back to Britain for formal burial. Dr. Livingstone had dedicated his life to serve the African people. They were keenly aware of how much he loved them, so they wanted to keep his heart near them. This may seem gruesome, but it is a tangible tale of how we experience life, specifically love. Whether we will it or not, our hearts are designed to perpetuate life and even love. Our hearts are as scientific as they are sacred. They are part of an essential network, inside and out, that motivates us onward to keep going and even enjoy the ride. And we do not trek this journey alone. I find comfort in being part of this collective effort.

 

References:

  1. The Bloodmobile by They Might Be Giants (video featured at the Franklin Institute)
  2. Ripple by The Grateful Dead
  3. Visit the Franklin Institute Science Museum
  4. Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
  5. Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis-James
  6. How to donate blood
  7. History of Dr. David Livingstone

My Beautiful Vision

joy

“It is only with the heart that one sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The Little Prince

Once upon a time in my early thirties, I visited the Camden Aquarium in New Jersey with my then three year old nephew. We stood in front of the expansive glass walled aquarium that housed and showcased numerous sea creatures. Watching them swim and swirl before my eyes, I pressed my hands and forehead against the glass to get as close as I could to look. So did my nephew. And soon I realized other children stood in solidarity with me in the same pose to see the majesty of what swam on the other side of the aquarium window. I also soon realized that I was the only grown up in this line up of awe struck admirers. I glanced over my shoulder and saw adults a few yards away milling around, presumably parents and/or caregivers of the children standing next to me. The adults kept their distance while keeping a close eye on their kids, who unabashedly smushed their faces against aquarium glass. I instantly felt a foolish blush, as I considered what a goofball I looked like, the only adult with such obvious wide eyed wonderment amongst giggling youngsters. So I stepped back. Though as soon as I did, my feeling of foolishness shifted to sadness. Truth be told, I’m legally blind.  Thus, I often position myself in such apparent poses to see things. Because I want to see – I really want to see. And yet, even in my efforts to ‘see’ something as it is, my observations are still limited to blurry glimpses, undefined detail and even misinterpretations. However, such shrouded encounters seem to offer a more enlightened perspective of what, how and why imagination is so essential to any of us really ‘seeing’ anything.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus emphatically proclaimed that the Kingdom of God belongs to children, that we must have faith like a child and that anyone who hurts a child is better off sleeping with the fishes (Luke 18:16, Matthew 18:3, Matthew 18:6). What do children possess that we as adults must not lose in our maturation process? How does being childlike help us understand God? Why are children always asking why?! I think the answers to these questions are less about infantilizing ourselves by discussing the value of vulnerability or the importance of remaining innocent and even being naive. I think Jesus is referencing imagination as an essential method to truly ‘seeing’ ourselves the way God sees us and, more significantly, seeing God as God really is. At the very least, imagination seems to be about trying to see beyond what is right in front of us. According to the dictionary, the concept of imagination is “the ability to form new images and ideas that are not perceived through sight, hearing, etc.”. In other words, imagination is that sixth sense of making sense of things. According to Jesus, imagination is not about pretending. It is about expanding our ability to perceive {to see} the big picture. Jesus’ descriptions of God’s kingdom throughout the Gospels invite us to look past the dust and rust of what surrounds us and be part of transforming ourselves into something divinely everlasting. This process requires imagination. Imagination requires risk in creating and re-creating, considering and reconsidering – looking at something in a new way. In practical Christian terms, this is referred to as the redemption process.

If you have ever spent more than ten minutes with a child, you may have observed their capacity to not simply tell a story but accentuating aspects of a story to create quite an interesting tale.  As an art therapist who has worked with children for over twelve years, I have no short list of such observations. Yet at times as an adult, I confess I respond to their ‘wild imaginations’ with patronizing aloofness – as if fantasy doesn’t play any role in developing a healthy sense of self and society. While pop psychology has veered away from any strict ‘study of the soul’ to pursue a more strategic neuro-scientific research approach, the practice of imagination cannot occur without body and soul working together. This cohesive relationship is reflected in the most primitive sense when a baby is born and placed on their mother’s breast. The baby can smell, taste, see, hear and feel their mother. Amidst these physical sensations begins the bonding process. Attachment theory experts suggest that within that embrace, imagination ignites for both mother and baby. The mother imagines whether or not she can be a ‘good enough’ mother. The baby imagines whether or not this source of care outside the womb is trustworthy. In this imaginative reciprocity, time seems to be a significant factor in not only determining the reality of reliability but also what makes such bond worth developing beyond childhood. In our spiritual development or redemptive process, imagination can help us maintain or even deepen the bliss we experienced when we were born again.

When God created mankind, let alone the whole world, imagination seemed to be both the cause of creation as well as the effect. In the book The Creators, the reality of mankind being made in God’s image is extensively reviewed. The creative genius of God is that He made us creative. God imagined a world, a relationship with mankind, that could be wildly experienced while always being good, never anything less than good. After the Fall of mankind, our imagination was altered to look away rather than stand in awe of God, fear rather than hope and deny rather than believe. But God never stopped imagining something good. Jesus, being both creative God and creative man, redeemed the power of imagination to be used for good and not for evil. Who would have imagined that being born in a barn, washing feet, dying and being buried in a stranger’s grave would be sequential elements in revealing the best idea ever imagined – resurrection. Jesus prepared his disciples ahead of time that such imaginative means to an end was coming But only after the fact did his disciples and followers begin to grasp the epic meaning. Some ideas are just too mind blowing to visualize all at once. They take time to sink in. Jesus’ follower Mary stood outside an empty tomb, overcome with grief not only because her beloved teacher was dead but now his body was missing. Did she ever imagine the alternative? Standing by his gravesite, she heard him say her name, turned and saw him. Then, she fully embraced the idea and ran to tell others. Wheels of re-imagining the world started spinning a new revolution. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost and history ever since seem to be the unfolding revelation of God inspiring us to see everything with a new pair of glasses. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us to do so. God’s Spirit in us, with us, is our lens by which we can truly make sense of what we see – what God sees.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared. But by His Spirit, he has revealed His plans to those who love Him” (1 Corinthians. 2:9)

Paul was reiterating encouragement from the prophet Isaiah, written and recorded in the Old Testament (Isaiah 64:4). Overtime, imagination bridges the gap between what is seen and unseen. Time, as does redemption, offer us the opportunity to engage with the reality of God’s idea being realized.  Like a craftsman uses blueprints to construct an object, the Holy Spirit uses revelation as evidence of what was imagined. Are we eager to see what the Lord is building? Are we willing to be part of that construction? The thing about children is that you do not have to press them to imagine. They do it so naturally, maybe supernaturally. There is an instinctual sense of non-pretense when it comes to their ideas about things. They also are uninhibited about wrangling you into figuring it out with them. They ask why. A relationship is established, maybe even expected in order to create meaning.

Paul also wrote to the Corinthians that love is the most important mechanism by which we live out our imaginative efforts of making sense of things (1 Corinthians 13:13). Loving God is the first step in the pursuit of seeing. Paul noted that at this time “we see through a glass darkly” but he reassured that “in time, we will fully see” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our ability to imagine becomes an essential part of our life span and redemptive process. The power of imagination children possess seems to be what Jesus prompts us to never lose as we become adults. The practice and protection of imagination become a spiritual discipline. As we mature, it may be useful for us to become more sophisticated in articulating what we are trying to imagine; but what is more advantageous is that we increase our care in creating something worthy of being called ‘a reflection of our Creator’s reality’. May I not be ashamed to press my face against the proverbial glass to see as much as I can. And what I cannot see, may I be inspired to take part in the creative process of revealing a new creation – in me and around me.

 

References:

  1. Joy: pastel painting by Jamie Wasson 2003
  2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  3. Definition of “Imagination” – Google word search
  4. The Creators by Daniel Boorstin
  5. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin
  6. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Comprehensive, Developmental Approach to Assessment and Intervention by Stanley Greenspan
  7. Diary of A Baby; by Daniel Stern
  8. Childhood and Society; by Erik Erikson