Still Following the Signs

I sit in the early morning, looking out the window at the wind making shimmery the leaves of our cottonwood, and remember Kristina.  It is the third anniversary of her death, and it sometimes still feels as though we are stumbling through the dark.  So much hurt and fear back then, so much hurt and fear all around us now.  In this world, it will always be so.  There are glimpses of light that keep us going, slight breaths of a hope that keeps our eyes searching the gloom for that bright and beautiful future that is promised, but it is easy to get distracted by the ugliness all around.  I am drawn back to a post I wrote soon after Kristina’s death.
pain of death
In the middle of this pain common to all of us who live in this world, as we sit surrounded by those who love us, it is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in clichés that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie.  Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ.  Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us.  To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.
Forsaken
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

When God seems not to place much importance on whether we are free from pain or suffering, it is difficult not to live in a state of paralysis.  It seems a formidable task both to acknowledge the depth of pain we feel and also to acknowledge the depth of God’s love for us.
We see this pain in the world around us.  We see it all throughout the Bible.  Abel.  Abraham.  Joseph.  Moses.  Uriah the prophet…murdered for prophesying while Jeremiah was allowed to live.  John the Baptist…Jesus’ cousin.  All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.
Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard.  I might never know the reason.
Kristina
God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here.” ~ Ann Voskamp

What can we do when everything inside of us wants to turn tail and run from the painful possibility of God’s loving best?  Can we truly trust in the heart of God?
Puddleglum
We often learn best through story.  One story that helps to show us what to do is written in C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair.  Two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia.  They completely botch the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to a silver chair.  The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”.  The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, who says:
“Once and for all, I adjure you to set me free.  By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –”
“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt.  “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum.  “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously.  “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.
It was a dreadful question.  What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about?  On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them?  Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.
“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.  “I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.  “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.
“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum.  “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen.  He only told her what to do.  That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder.  But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
That doesn’t let us off following the sign.

We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out all right.  We try so hard to grasp at that security, to bring it into existence, but it simply is not there.  Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.
After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said, “If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed?  It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done.  He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’”

And so we find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why.  It does not matter whence came the hard thing or even that it may be painfully hard.  If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.
It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s.  God is able to handle our questions, our fears.  Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, then we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…
We aren’t let off following the signs.

Sketch is Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses

Follow the Signs

May we continue our conversation from last week?


Reality is hard.

Our family has become steeped in pain and loss.


Many others suffer far greater tragedies.

Reconciling the hurt with the heart of God is hard.

It is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in cliches that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie.

Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ.

Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us.


To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

All through the Bible, God seems to not place much importance at all on whether we are free from pain or suffering. 

Abel. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. Uriah the prophet. John the BaptistJesus’ cousin. All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.

Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard.


I might never know the reason.

God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here. (Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience)

Can I trust in the heart of God?



In C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair, two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia. They completely muff the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to (you guessed it!) a silver chair. The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”. The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, which is where I will pick up our story:

“Once and for all,” said the prisoner, “I adjure you to set me free. By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –” 

“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt. “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum. “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously. “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.


It was a dreadful question. What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about? On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them? Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.


“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.


“I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.


“Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.


“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”

That doesn’t let us off following the sign.

We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out okay. I wish we did have that promise. 

Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.

After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said 

If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed? It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done. He replies to our babble, “You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.”

And so I find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why. It does not matter from whence came the hard thing. 


If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.

It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s. God is able to handle our questions, our fears.

Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…

We aren’t let off following the signs. 

Art Credits: Photograph of Cross wooden statue by Asta Rastauskiene
; Marsh-wiggle picture (I was not able to find the original); Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses  

Thanks also to my wonderful Dad who gave me some of the ideas in this essay.

This is Hard.

Grief is hard.

While the rest of us can return to our lives and, for at least a few hours, forget, my brother is faced with his new reality every moment of every day.



The loss of his beloved, now a single daddy…

Reality is hard.

I want to know God and part of knowing Him must involve reconciling what I see around me to what I know of Him through His Words.



The seeking results in ideas and wonderings that reverberate through my heart.

You have walked with me through many of my searchings in the darkness. Will you join me for a few more?

Does God send suffering? Does He send pain?

Some would recoil at the idea. 

But why? We see pain result in good all the time in our world. Go to any hospital and look around.

I talk with my youngest brother about this.



He of the scientific bent points out that many things that sometimes have “tragic” results are very important to the existence of the earth, even to our own existence: without wildfires, ecosystems would collapse; without seismic and volcanic activity, our earth could not refresh itself; hurricanes aid island ecosytems; the gene mutations that sometimes produce cancer prevent us from all being clones.

The Bible seems to suggest that God does, at least sometimes, send bad things:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life…But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. ~ II Corinthians 1

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” ~ John 9

Perhaps, though, whether or not He sends them doesn’t matter. 

Bad things happen.


If God doesn’t send them, He certainly has the power to stop them. Yet He chooses to allow them to happen.

Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t. Either way, we’re for it. (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

Either way we are left trying to reconcile these things with the God that we know to be good.

We are left trying to reconcile the hurt with His heart.

There are tears everywhere and God catches them, puts them into His bottle.

God is always good and we are always loved. Loved enough to be shaped into goodness of Christ Himself. (Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience)

This reconciliation is hard.

How have you done this? How have you reconciled these hard things with the character of our God?

Will you join me next week as I search through these ideas even more?

The Wonder of Learning


She’s heading off to preschool this week.


This eldest child of mine, so full of excitement and curiosity, is beginning her journey of learning.

Although I suppose she’s not just beginning, is she? She’s been learning since the moment she first entered this amazing world.

This thought makes me wonder about the idea of learning. If all of our life is to be made sacred, one seamless piece of fabric that is woven around God, how should learning fit in?

I am reminded of wisdom I read recently: 
Education is the atmosphere we breathe, the envelope of wonder that surrounds us, held by the gravity of our daily habits. ~ Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience


Is this learning? Simply being in awe of God’s world, desiring to discover as much of it as we can? Perhaps if we remain in awe of God, we naturally gain a zest for learning. Perhaps if we possess that sense of wonder, we become a “creative, thinking, exuberant person who spills with the joy of learning” (also Ann Voskamp).

It seems, as I explore what learning should be and as I re-visit my thoughts about all things being sacred in our daily lives and in the world around us, that learning is, at least in part, simply staying awake in the moment. It is exploring, being curious, holding tightly to that sense of wonder in God and His handiwork.


If so, than learning should happen in every moment rather than being confined to certain hours of schooling. Are the lines that we draw between school and the rest of our lives artificial and wrong?

This idea fits in with other things about which I have pondered. The entire fabric of our lives should be sacred, seamless, one piece woven around praising and thanking our God. 
For in Him we live and move and have our being. ~ Acts 17.28

Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude. 
~Elizabeth Barret Browning


My latest issue of Mars Hill Audio Journal arrived this week and caused me to wonder if they had anything to say about learning and knowledge. I found an essay by Ken Meyers in which he speaks of universities and discusses the importance of knowledge to our faith:
We can begin by regularly reminding ourselves that the God who saves us is the God who made us and all things, that our message of redemption only makes sense in the context of the bigger story about creation. Our God cares about all aspects of our lives, and thus the renewing of our minds is as needful as the cleansing of our hearts.

He also says this: 
Loving God and neighbor requires knowledge of the truth about God and the truth about the many challenges and opportunities of human experience in the world God has made.

The importance of knowledge to our faith is something we as a church don’t seem to talk about very much.

In fact, as I think more about it, knowledge and faith often seem to be held up by the church as incompatible or, at the very least, two very separate things, with faith being the essential piece to our salvation.

While I am thinking through these things, our Sunday class (does anyone call it Sunday School anymore?) is studying II Peter.

Our teacher points out that Peter seems to say that knowledge is essential to our faith. Through knowledge of God we have grace and peace. Through knowledge of God we have everything we need for life and godliness. Knowledge sits right between goodness and self-control in Peter’s list of important qualities to seek.

But what sort of knowledge? What does Peter mean by this word?


I dive into my Strong’s.


Oh. There are two different words used in this first chapter of II Peter.


The first one, the word that gives us grace, peace, everything we need, is epignosis (precise/correct knowledge) which is related to epiginosko (to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly, to perceive who a person is).


Relationship knowledge.



The second word, the word that Peter urges us to add to our faith along with goodness, self-control, perseverance  godliness, brotherly kindness and love? This word is gnosis (general intelligence, understanding, implying science).


Creation knowledge.



Aha.


Once again, all is related, all is woven together into one beautiful, seamless fabric.


Learning, gaining knowledge, is a large part of how we weave the various parts of our lives together into a seamless, sacred whole. Not something to be relegated to school-type hours.


We seek for epignosis, to become thoroughly acquainted with God, so that we may have everything we need for life and godliness.


We seek for gnosis, general understanding about the world He has created, so that we may keep from being ineffective and unproductive in our epignosis of our Lord Jesus Christ.


May we remain in awe of God and retain our sense of wonder in the world (including its creatures, human and otherwise) He has created.  May we continue to pursue knowledge in every moment of our daily lives and turn that knowledge into praise and thanksgiving, into loving of all those around us.


art credit: Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer