Category Archives: current events

Making a Way in the Wilderness of Uncertainty

The way ahead looks grim. All options, exhausted. All choices, expended. Looking for clear direction but there is none to be found. If this sounds like you looking at today’s news or today’s climate predictions or today’s culture wars or any other of today’s intractable issues, I’d like us to go back in time. Back to a teetering moment when the Prophet Samuel shows us a way through such times. (If you’re not familiar with Samuel, have a look at the story told in 1 Samuel 16: 1-13.)

Surely things were at an impasse. The prophet Samuel, sent by God to choose Saul’s successor as King of Israel, had come ready to select from among Jesse’s sons. Seven capable, good-looking young men presented themselves: seven times God told Samuel “No,” cautioning him against judging according to their stature or outward appearance. But after seven sons came and went with nary a positive selection, their father Jesse must’ve been peeved.

I can just imagine him fuming. “Aren’t any of these good enough for you, Man of God?!”

I’ll tell you what I would have done, had I been in Samuel’s sandals. I would have taken a second look at those seven fine sons and, calling upon my snippets of Biblical education regarding “7” — 7 sons of Abraham (from the children’s song), 7 days of Creation (from Genesis), 7 is the complete number (from some authoritative Biblical concordance or commentary) — I would have convinced myself that perhaps I had missed God’s yes. Then, of my own accord, I would have told Jesse, “On second thought, I think … this one.” And right there and then I would have toppled from grace.

But Samuel, give him credit, trusted the word of the Lord he’d become accustomed to obeying and proffered a new way. “Jesse,” he asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? When the answer is not plain and, especially, when all the possible answers seem to have exhausted themselves, we tend to rely on our own experiences and resources. We fill the nervous silence with emotional angst and/or knee-jerk responses.

But how often do we do as Samuel did and wonder if we’re missing something? Such a simple question: “Are these all the sons you have?”

Turns out there was another son, the youngest, David who was tending the sheep. (Spoiler alert: He was the one!) David was summoned, and wouldn’t you know, “he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome?” (Apparently God does notice outward appearance.) But, we’re reminded, “the Lord does not see as mortals see, … the Lord looks on the heart.”

Perhaps in this moment, it wasn’t just the heart of David the Lord was looking on. Perhaps the heart the Lord was counting on belonged to Samuel. He was the kind who, even when it appeared all options had been exhausted, didn’t just dig deeper into his own capability. He trusted his instructions and the One who had given them and discerned another way. A new way, as the Prophet Isaiah phrases it, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

So many things feel to me like wilderness and wasteland right now I’m tempted to shout, Lord, show me this new thing! But I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that comes by shouting. I expect, it will more likely come by listening.

And, in the way of a perfect ending to a well-crafted story, the way will be clear in a “why-didn’t-we-see-that-in-the-first-place?” sort of way.

What is the question?

Prayer: Lord, we come to you today, confessing our inability to resolve many of the difficulties we face. Hold us fast, we pray. Help us to look, listen and trust. Even when we don’t see a way in our wilderness, you have already made one. Show us the way that’s waiting to declare itself to us; that’s waiting to welcome us; that’s waiting for us to choose it. Then, Father, grant us the courage to walk into it. Amen

In a mirror, grimly, and yet

If there’s one thing I like, it’s a clean bathroom mirror. Toothbrush splatters, water spots and the random dust and debris just don’t belong there. I like my reflection unimpeded. I shouldn’t have to squint through all that.

So I, like my mother before me, keep cleaning supplies close at hand. An under sink wash rag stands ready for the counters and sinks. A spray bottle of glass cleaner and a hefty roll of paper towels are tucked a little further back. OK OK, I know. I was a bit hasty recently applying the wash rag (it was clean, I swear!) to the offending splatters. Lesson learned: efficiency leaves water-splotched streaking behind. But they were nothing several spritzes of window cleaner and some healthy swoops with the pristine paper towels couldn’t handle. Voila! Pretty darn sparkly.

Until the morning came. And with it, the sun’s rising brilliance blazed in the transom window. Something about that beam delivered from just that angle at just that moment — a picture-perfect framing of my magnificent mirror handiwork. Which was, in a word, embarrassing: overlapping swipes and smudges that were simply a re-distribution of the mirror dirt I hadn’t removed at all. By this light, it was as if my pristine paper towel was nothing but a greasy rag or a re-purposed cloth working overtime.

Nary a clean speck to be seen.

And here I had been admiring it so … from a distance. Under careful examination, it was a mess!

Isn’t it glorious to know that our Maker, though seeing us through and through in that examinating and illuminating glow, doesn’t despair? Even as we spiff ourselves up to present our best, He neither chuckles nor dismisses. Oh what self-restraint it must take to look upon my grimy presentation, I think.

And then, in the fleeting flash of a spirit-ignited moment, I think better.

For just that moment I see that illuminated square of mirror in a dazzling display of sparkling pure reflection. Nary a hint of dust, dirt, smudge or swipe. Pristine. And in that split of a second I am immersed in gratitude for a Savior, the gift of God, who has offered himself that our mirror might actually be clean. A clean that our best efforts could never achieve.

Reflection, how I stand before you, unsatisfied with what I see. And yet, the crystal clear view from the other side sees me differently. Yes, as I am, but also as one day I may be. When, through the eyes of Love, I am able to see Thee for myself just as now I am seen.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

What a good, good thing is Good Friday, that we may look fully upon the anguish, the ugly and even the evil perpetuated on humankind by humankind and let it invite us to call upon the One with the power to cleanse even this.

Thanks be to God.

How do you expand a mind?

Mind you, I’m not plotting to expand yours. You may keep reading free of the fear of that.

What I am considering here is my own mind who wants expanding regularly, but rarely gets the chance. Because I am very busy confounding its attempts by confining it and pointing it in its rightward direction. Any veering off course is met with a swift kick to get back on track…This you know. This you do. This is yours and not theirs. This is the pattern we have established here. Stop being silly and get on board.

So, I am asking myself, what expands a mind? And while we’re thinking about it, how about its alternative: what constricts one?

Oh, I’d like just to invest in a prescription. Dole me out some prednisone to reduce the inflammation, and NOW the blood will flow more freely to those cerebral spaces. But that’s too chemical. Too controllable. Too directed. Can a constricted mind even unconstrict itself? No, I think expansion desires a different way.

One might consider, here, today’s popularly proffered solution: seek out “opposing points of view” and listen “with an open mind.” This generally doesn’t work for me. My sit and listen tends to spin off and spiral into ways I can defend my position just as soon as you are through.

Clearly, this is no recipe for expansion. Expansion, I fear, has more to do with letting, and perhaps with its calming companions, lessening and releasing. Instead of breath-holding, these three invite me to blow out that old dead air in order to accommodate some refreshener. To make ample room in my mental meandering for question-asking, what-iffing and perhaps even a bit of wit and whimsy.

Like…

What if gravity didn’t hold? What if humans could walk through walls? What if magic was real? What if stars could speak? What if (gasp) I didn’t have to abide by all the rules of best behavior? I know this is NOT a mind expansion for many of you, but it’s a biggie for me. And it’s my mind we’re investigating here, so come with me …

What if we could be issued an exemption from always having to behave according to expectations? Even a momentary exemption, say the moment when a foul ball came into my possession at a recent pre-season baseball game and everyone in the stadium expected me to hand it over to a kid. No respectable adult would KEEP that ball. Heck, the guy in the NYY hat whirled on me and shouted, “Give it to a kid!”

I didn’t want to. And I didn’t. Yep, that’s what this is all about. Me, reconciling that moment. When my mind — normally constricted by guilting, shaming and shoulding — broke out of that mold. No guilt, shame or shoulds here. Everything dilated to allow a little breathing room. And it was okay.

What, I’ve been wondering since, what if this expansive moment could last?!! What if we could activate it ON PURPOSE?!

Really is this such a stretch? I mean, our eyes do it all the time. When darkness descends, our pupils dilate to help us see. That’s hard-wired into our subconscious. So, why not will ourselves to let more figurative light in to our cerebral spaces? Intentionally, invite our minds to skip freely down new paths opening doors to new ideas, and new ways accessed by new passageways? Dare we suspend the mathematical and equational, even the sensational and emotional, in service of the … mystical? supernatural? Let’s call it super-rational… where, a bit more light might help what’s been hidden to show itself?

Ah, try as we might, we humans only have meager success at controlling the subconscious by intention. A few may be especially capable, but alas I am not one of these. Try as I might to pry my eyes open to let more light in, my reflexes resist and my eyes slam shut, smarting from the effort.

I have more success actually in the darkened room when I shut my eyes tightly, excusing them from trying to extract visual input where there isn’t any. Don’t waste your time; just let yourself see. Somehow that “letting” allows perception to travel through different channels creating a new inner dialog.

Something like… you won’t die if you keep this baseball. (Who told you, you would?!) and… If you let yourself, a giddiness will overtake you every time you look at it. Go ahead… And when you hold it, it will transport you to long ago memories of major league games your mom took you to.

Games when your 8-year-old self wished the big-leaguers would hit it right to you so you could catch it in the mitt you hauled all the way from home. Games at 10 years and 12 years old, when, as a consolation prize, you brought home the game-day-give-away, a Dal Maxville signature bat. (You weren’t bold like the other kids who asked for bats signed by the heavy hitters instead of the light-hitting shortstop. No, you would never ask; you took what they gave you.) Oh, you brought home memories for sure.

And you brought them with you to tonight’s game, so that when you gripped that ball, you tucked it deeply in your pocket. When kids surrounded you awaiting their handout, you didn’t comply. You broke the rules and kept that ball. And gave it, sure as day, to the kid in you who’s been waiting decades for that catch.

Light. A veritable blooming.

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