Saturday, 7 February 2009

Daisies like Diamonds

The other day I was skyping with my Dad. (It’s funny how we make verbs out of new technology, isn’t it. The infinitive “to Skype” becomes “skyping.” We are in another linguistic age. Each of us an etymologist!) Because my dad is an especially amazing dad, he was helping me through my chronic homesickness. Listing a host of reasons I had to look on the bright side, he mentioned that I was blessed to be over here, getting to miss the recession that seems to be becoming ever less of an invisible enemy economists and newscasters whisper of and ever more the solid reality of lost jobs, foreclosed homes, and psychological distress. I am willing to bet that most of you are either being directly affected by the economy or know people who are. It’s not that my dad meant that the recession isn’t in Britain, but that my life here is fairly unaltered by it. I’m a student on a scholarship. My husband is a supervisor at Starbucks. For now, we’re relatively unscathed, as are most of the people in our circle of life—students. So in a selfish way, yes, I am very happy to be facing the loss of neither house nor paycheck.

For those of you who don’t know my dad, he is “Joe, the plumber.” Well, he’s not literally Joe, but he embodies what Joe represents, a small business owner. In point of fact, my dad is a homebuilder, and being such his industry is receiving some of the brunt of this recession. Because of who my dad is, or what he does for a living, it is actually impossible for me to feel untouched by this financial crisis. In some ways, I think I worry more about it, because I’m distanced from him. What I haven’t mentioned is that my brother and my sister work in my dad’s little office. When my dad considers the grim possibilities of the future without some kind of breakthrough, he has to also face the fact that he would have to un-employ two of his children. There’s some added pressure!

As you can imagine, I have been praying for my dad, for my siblings’ families, and for several others I know who are really feeling this thing a lot lately. One particular passage has been crowding my spiritual horizon today, Romans 8:28-39. I won’t quote it at length here, but I will cite a portion:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35b-39)

I have wrestled with this passage for a long time. To my very privileged American sensibility, I was struck when I first saw in this text that “hardship,” “hunger," and “persecution” were not in opposition to God’s love for us. In other words, if we undergo this kind of suffering, it does not mean that God does not love us. Suffering and God's love are not antithetical! (A Christian in a developing or closed country might teach me a thing or two on this.) In fact, Paul says that in the midst of "all these things”—the “trouble,” “hardship,” “persecution,” and the rest—which beat us down in so many ways, that we are still “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” During the tribulations, we have already triumphed. How does this make sense? Because Paul is distinguishing between two different arenas, the physical and spiritual. When circumstances are wrecking our material world, our battle in the spirtual realm has already been won, that is our redemption to God through Christ. And the spiritual reality of our salvation dwarfs in value the hardships of earth.

The division between earthly and eternal is something C.S. Lewis pondered much, as is evident from his masterful The Great Divorce. In this short work, a man goes to heaven, and here the things he sees are so real that they take on a weight and density that actually injure his more feeble, less real human body. The grass hurts his feet. Pulling a flower damages his hand:

[…] I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like a diamond. (19)

What a perfect comparison to the spiritual reality. Diamonds are one of the hardest substances. They are also one of the most beautiful and rare. And this spiritual reality is more enduring, abiding--more real--than the earthly. It is eternal, while the history of earth will pass.

Today I pray that, like Lewis’s protagonist, we would all get a better picture of the profound reality of the eternal, specifically, of our eternal heritage in Christ, which thieves cannot steal and moths cannot destroy. I believe if the Holy Spirit can help us get a grasp of the density of the eternal reality that the stress of this financial difficulty will wound us less.

Now, because I am distanced from the direct effects of the economic crisis, I want to thread with caution these words with which I aim to encourage. This is one of the proverbial moments of “easier said than done.” Nevertheless, I pray that you and I will, like Paul, be “convinced” that economic “famine” does not change God's love for us, a love shown best in this:

Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom. 8:34b-35a)

Friday, 6 February 2009

The Birds and I

On the limbs the birds perched, as still as the tree itself
Their voices were quiet, unused for the moment
In their sleek, feathered bodies

This was the cause of my weeping
For the sense of solidarity I felt instantly with those creatures in that moment
For the gift of analogy they gave to me
The ability to put into form what has been formless in me
The plaguing feeling that I, too, am perched on a limb
Which dangles over the earth

Of course, singing is occasional
And it is silence that connects moments of joy, lament, and other times worth naming
Worth singing about

The anonymity of silence wounds my illusions of self-grandeur
Twisted together with the dreams of my youth

It purifies me
Nurtures humility
Feeds dependence
And for these reasons
I hear my vocal chords vibrating together again
Generating song
And to top it all
My new friends have joined in