Tag Archives: psychology

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

Wait, what?

Cathedral

Life is ironic. Trying to figure it out can be like looking through a kaleidoscope. Just when you think you’ve found some grounded perspective on what it’s all about, the world turns (as it always does every day) and changes the scene altogether. How do we make sense of it? Since the onset of humanity’s capacity to communicate, we’ve been trying to express our insight on the subject. Some of my favorite lines from literature are found within the pages of children’s books. Trying to articulate life in a way children can understand can be daunting; but such prose provide an accessible surmise of what matters and/or doesn’t, depending on one’s vantage point.

During my college days as a philosophy student, I well remember sitting in philosophical lectures all day and, by the end of the day, feeling like my head might spontaneously combust. I’d stumble back to my campus apartment in an intellectual stupor and lie on the couch to recuperate. I’d pull a children’s book off of the shelf to flip through and debrief from the day. Simply looking at the pictures told a story or, at least, offered a pre-verbal foundation to begin conceptualizing what life is really about. The irony of life is that it requires imagination to understand what is real; it also requires questions to arrive at an answer; it requires investment to appreciate its value, and it requires enduring love to utilize it in a profitable manner. How do we communicate these  metaphysical factors to children? One of my most beloved passages that sums this up so beautifully comes from a children’s book that I found years ago at a yard sale:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by

side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does

it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that

happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just

to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When

you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit

by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It

takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who

break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved

off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very

shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are

Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had

not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the

Skin Horse only smiled.

– The Velveteen Rabbit

References:

  1. Salzburg Cathedral Ceiling; photo by Brian Wasson 2001
  2. The Velveteen Rabbit; by Margery Williams

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