Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Broken never has to have the last word--

So I missed you last week!  But we were in the mountains for fall break, and it is impossible to write with little boys bounding around all over.  It was a lovely time.  Restorative if not restful!  We came home a day early, which was wise because when would I have time to buy groceries for an empty pantry if we didn't return until Sunday night?  Monday morning comes so swiftly--
Turns out it was a blessing.  We got to worship in our own familiar sacred space, and God had much to say to my restored heart.  The message that morning closed a series called "Pieces:  When Broken Becomes Beautiful."  At the beginning of the series, several weeks ago, the congregation was asked to write their brokenness on a shard of pottery, to bring it forward and surrender it to the altar.  This Sunday all of those broken pieces had been gathered into a mosaic, a new picture of wholeness emerging from the remnants of shattered vessels.  Just to walk into the room, to lay eyes on this work of art, was moving.
During the message our pastor spoke of the process--going from scattered remains to beautiful mosaic:  one has to touch the raw materials, hold them; give the process time; quiet meditation is needed, guidance seeking; finally the design comes, but only after asking how the pieces reflect purpose.  Our pastor's punch-line:  "Broken becomes beautiful when it is used to help others."
I sat in my seat stunned.  My pastor had just recounted to me the process of God's work in my life for  the last two and a half years.  Two and a half years ago God moved me unexpectedly out of a ministry I believed I would be in forever.  It was a hard, painful time.  Yet in the time since then God has done a work in my heart, healing it, binding me up, bringing me step by step to a new place.  Lately I have felt a joy and contentment coming from deep within, a satisfying sense that everything is coming together.  My memories are no longer painful or wistful or bittersweet.  There is no anguish of loss, simply gratitude.  And a surging hope that all my endings have given me everything I need for what is opening up before me.  I go forth blessed by the very thing that I thought had the power to destroy me. 
It didn't.  I am not destroyed.  And the roaring pain of that moment had no power in it to speak a word that final over my life.
God's words are always stronger.
Our pastor closed the service by speaking of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold.  It is process that makes the piece more durable and exquisitely beautiful than it was originally.  Screens usually filled with song lyrics showed pictures of delicate china, spider veins of gold coursing through them.  Each evidence of vulnerability transformed into proof of something better emerging from brokenness.  It was like God showing me to myself, this new self, the unveiling of beauty I had not guessed at.  Really, God?  That's how You see me, and all that has happened?
The invitation of the morning was to come back to the altar.  Not to lay something down as much as to be commissioned for the new purpose that emerges from our brokenness:  to use what we have been through as the raw material for making the world a better place, to participate in bringing forth the Kingdom of God into the heartache of a world that needs a Golden touch, to embody the hope that is possible when we simply surrender our shattered pieces into Hands that can really heal.  How could I stay in my seat?  I am ready for this new life, this new calling, to be commissioned--
As I made my way to the altar, the worship band began to play a song so familiar, but something I had never heard in our services before.  And then they got to the chorus I recognized it:  "Sweetly Broken" by Jeremy Riddle.  It is the song I heard just a couple of days before my good china sugar bowl broke.  It is the one that summed up what ministry meant to me-- that my heart would be vulnerable to the pain of losing those I loved, but always holding the sweetness of that love close.  And it also showed me what it means to give and be given life through brokenness, as a mother and as a child of God.  This song is so personally meaningful that I knew God was moving powerfully in me, and that He was giving me a new picture of what it means to be "Sweetly Broken," one where brokenness is not the last word.  So I came to the altar in tears, not because of a broken heart that would not mend but because of a new hope that cannot be deterred.  God speaks a better word over us that the world ever can. 
It's Wednesday.  Since Sunday morning I have been a little sad because I didn't save that china bowl.  How could I have known in 2010 that I would hear about Kintsugi in 2013? Those broken pieces are long gone.  This morning in the middle of fantasizing about how I would send those pieces to Japan to be fused together with gold, I took a moment to look down at the cup of tea I was enjoying with my quiet time.  It is from my last tea party spent with the Wesley Foundation, two and a half years ago.  I gave all of my young lady college students a tea cup as a parting gift from me.  And there was one left over which I kept for myself.   The pattern is that of a mosaic, a colorful picture that seems to be fused together from other vibrantly colored pieces of tile.  A bunch of smaller pieces coming together to make a beautiful new whole.  New life--born at the closing of the old.
I think I heard God whisper, "See, you didn't need that china bowl after all."

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Knowledge Is Power

Last week I spent time helping Noah, my oldest, study for his spelling test.  As a part of it, he had to write sentences with his words, using them correctly.  Since he had received the challenge list that particular week, figuring out sentences to write was difficult:  It's one thing to know how to spell the thing; it's totally different to be able to use it correctly in a sentence.  Pretty soon he was asking me what words meant.  What did I do?  The same thing my mom did to me.

I brought out the dictionary and told him to start looking them up.

What I realized as I watched him do this is that he could not alphabetize.  I had to walk him through step-by-step to think about what letters came next, combing through the words on the dictionary page searching for the match he needed.  My son is a very intelligent boy.  But when you are never required to use a skill, it is never developed.  So when all he has to do is type a word into the computer for an instant answer, he never has to know how to look it up in a dictionary.  Living in a Google culture has stripped us of the ability to understand the placement of words in the English language in the same way that GPS has made us directionally illiterate.  I wonder sometimes what would happen if we had to learn how to navigate once again simply by the light of the north star.  Would anyone on earth ever be able to find their way home again?  These skills are not obsolete.  They are important.  They have meaning beyond the simple task they help us accomplish.

There was much protest, much lamentation:
--"Can't you just tell me what it means?" 
--"Let me just look it up on your phone."
--"Mom!  You are so old fashioned!  Why are you making me do this?!"

I told him I was getting back at my own mother.

I remember my frustration.  Well, I didn't fuss so much about writing out the definitions of my spelling words as a kid.  That was expected, part of homework.  But it drove me insane every time I would casually ask my mother what a word meant, just because I wanted to know, and she would say (each time), "Look it up!"

I didn't realize it then, but my mom was giving me a priceless gift.  She was teaching me how to make my way in life when things don't always make sense, when I encounter problems that do not have ready answers.  Those are times that call for wisdom and informed action. 

Relying on someone else to supply our answers can be a dangerous proposition.  What if they are wrong?  Misinformed?  What if they are fraudulent and self-serving?  What if they are not equipped to understand the subtleties of our need, assuming a one size fits all solution that does not work in our situation?  Isn't it much wiser to do the hard thing, learning truth instead of slipping in someone else's response into our blank places?  Isn't it better to know the right answer because we applied ourselves to the work of learning?

It's not enough to supply  right answers.  We need to know why it is right.  This is the only way that answers stick.  So that we have it readily available when life tries to stump us again.  Easy answers really require more work in the long run.  We will find our selective ignorance has us running all over creation trying to find the same solutions over and over .  Learning something well the first time gives us a storehouse of knowledge that stays with us forever.  And as an added bonus, we know our own worth as one who is able.  Able to meet challenges head-on, able to seek out solutions, able to apply what we find to the real needs we encounter.  These are gifts I want to give my son.

So I taught him how to look up his spelling words on his own.

I am thinking now about knowledge as power--knowing as a way of being in the world that gives us the power to choose and to do in a way that corresponds to the Good Intentions of our creation.  In the same way that knowing how to find the meaning of a word empowers Noah to respond to his academic challenges, this kind of knowing empowers us to overcome adversity and experience the meaningful life we desire.  As we come to know God, we come to know how to live the life we were made for.

The last two weeks I have been meditating on a verse that speaks to this:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  Ephesians 1:17-19
In Greek the word for "know" has the connotation of being a first hand knowledge, one that touches the One being known.  To know this way necessitates personal involvement.  We have to get ourselves into the stuff of trying to live our lives with Him in it, working out what it means to live with the Redeemer while our own personal redemption is being accomplished.  This knowledge can be messy.  It demands much.  It asks something of us that is hard to give.

The crux of this knowledge has everything to do with relationship.  And are we really willing to enter into relationship with God?  To know the Creative Agitator not as we want Him to be, but as supreme Other?  True relating to God cannot be defined not by our wishes.  God refuses to bend His Being and Doing to our will.  In the same way that my son disparaged the effort it cost him to truly know the meaning of a word, we can sometimes get exasperated with the effort this spiritual connection costs us.  I wonder if the source of so much aggravation in our spiritual lives stems from this stubbornness on our part--that we refuse to accept God on His own terms.  We complain that we seem to make no headway with our lives, and yet we refuse the vehicle which makes breakthrough possible.  There are no shortcuts to this kind of God knowledge.  God will not bend to my will no matter how much I pray and plead!

But what if for one second the everyone in the whole world gave themselves to knowing God this way?  What possibilities would become realities?  How would choosing and doing change?  How would the results of these different choosing's and doing's change the world?  The relinquishment of ourselves into this relationship translates into God's power manifest in our ordinary living and breathing.  As the scripture says--we don't just come to know God:  we know the hope of our calling; we know the riches of His glorious inheritance; we know the immeasurable greatness of His power. The same power that brought Jesus back to life from the dead is released into us and through us!

What does it look like, this knowing that changes everything?  It is born of personal encounter.  When I seek to relate to God through my ordinary circumstances, listening for His voice, reading the Bible as a way to allow scripture to search me, wrestling with what it means to show up everyday in my home and place of work as one who follows Jesus, then my knowing takes on life.  It is no longer a theoretical proposition but a verb with the power of motility.  And when I go furtherchanging my behavior in favor of what I sense God is asking of me, then it opens the door for His Resurrection power to work on my behalf--not just in me, but through me and for me.  Making that connection and acting upon it changes our efforts from useless motion, "a beating of the air" (I Corinthians 9:26), to power-full action.  It is an inner disposition that sets forth transformation.  Our lives literally change from the inside out.

It is as if we opened the door to heaven and the power of the risen Christ pours right in to our very souls.  We begin to understand that there is more at play within us and around us than merely our human, wimpy selves.  We begin to see Divine strength supporting, enriching, directing, and empowering our efforts.  We begin to understand that God is orchestrating a great production in which we play a small but critical part.  Our efforts, our choosing and doing directed and empowered by God, begin to impact the world around us in ways we never could have imagined.

And we begin to know our worth as those who are able.  Able to courageously meet challenges head-on, able to discern solutions to impossible situations, able to translate those solutions into tangible actions change the real needs we encounter.   We find we are able because the Power of God has been made visible within our own messy selves.