Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jesus Is (Not) My Friend

“How long do we put up with this, God? Are you gone for good? … Where is the love you’re so famous for?”
—Psalm 89:46, 50, The Message

I hate it when he doesn’t talk to me. Especially when I feel like I’m dying for lack of a word from him. If I could just have a reminder of his love so I know he’s not walked off for good. But I get nothing. If I could see him, there are times I’d want to pound him with my fists and yell back into the quiet peace of his face: “Why don’t you just SAY SOMETHING!!”

Just as I am suspicious of people who too easily feel that Jesus is their friend—that he lives to make them content, that he can be summoned at a moment’s notice to bless their every want, speak to their every need and reply within seconds at their convenience, I am also suspicious of myself for thinking sometimes that Jesus is not my friend. “Who are you really mad at in that case?” a (real, live, here-on-earth) friend asked when we talked about that urge to shout back in Jesus’ invisible face.

Who indeed? Am I really mad at Jesus for not talking when I want to hear him most? Or am I mad at the same suffering and pain that caused Jesus to die for love of the ones who live through it? When I’m hurting, when I’m angry at the world, sometimes the last thing I want someone I love to do is put their hand on my shoulder in a wordless gesture of support. Buzz off, I want to say. Leave me alone and let me stew. Why do you show up now and not when I really needed you? There is a front of defensiveness I cling to stubbornly even when it takes all my energy to keep it going. But Jesus is like that friend who keeps his hand on my shoulder long enough for me to move past being angry and get to the place where realize that I am tired, tired, and what I really want more than anything is to let it all go and know that someone else is in charge, someone who has a plan, someone who will one day work things together for good. Do I believe that is true? Yes, I definitely do. Is it a comfort to me when I'm sick of the silence? Not much. But I do know that my faith often hangs in the split-second moment between being angry at the hand on my shoulder and then wanting to receive it.

What a friend we have in Jesus. If we could just learn to live with him …


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Made for the Sea

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
—St. Augustine

Even though I know there are all kinds of gulls, I am fascinated to spot what I still call seagulls in places very far from the sea. I often see them congregating in parking lots. Perhaps there is something in the long stretches of gray asphalt accented by white lines that brings to mind a vast and endless ocean and white-capped waves.

Perhaps I, too, was made for the water. And something restless in my soul calls from the wild places where the Spirit hovered in the beginning over the face of the deep. But I pull back, resist the lure of chaos and look instead for some artificial place of calm. I fly aimlessly over parking lots, hoping that rigid facsimile of the sea will keep things understandable.

In the end it never works. My heart is restless for the rhythmic persistence of the waves, for the place where all the crashing and foaming makes sense, speaks to some greater purpose, and tells me in wordless eloquence I am not alone. So why do I fight the sea? Why do I fear the ill-at-ease moments when all they say is I was made for something more? My heart is restless, restless. Spirit, sing your music and I’ll surrender to the sea.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Peace Be With You

“Unless you become like a little child…” Matthew 18:3

“Peace be with you.” “And also with you.” We speak these words of blessing and response to one another in our church services. And there is wonder in that simple preposition, with. Peace be, not IN you, not FOR you, but WITH you. Peace not as a place we go or something we get, but a companion who is with us. Peace be with you.

And what would this companion Peace be? As otherworldly as a silent toddler, not whining when we fail to notice her, not kicking and crying when we don’t make space for her needs, but standing absolutely quiet with the patience of the ages, waiting, waiting, for our eyes to land on her long enough to notice the slight breeze that blows her hair, the translucent light that no amount of time on earth can shake from her skin, the ageless depths of her eyes, and the hint of smile we notice only after we keep gazing, the smile that comes to the corners of her mouth because she knows the secret things that only children know. Peace, peace, be with you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

For the Beauty of the Earth, Or: Vegetable Love

This fall marks a first for my life: the first time I have been overcome on more than one occasion by the urge to photograph vegetables. I suspect it’s because I have a closer connection this time, having been part of the process of planting and harvesting on a farm, sharing tasks with three other families in the garden. To be honest, Will has done the lion’s share of the work this summer, but even though I but rarely got my hands dirty, there is something delightful about knowing where things started and then celebrating their end.

We bring home big baskets of produce and I enjoy how beautiful it all is. I line the various bundles up on the kitchen counter like distant relatives at a family reunion: a few potatoes, a bit of parsley, some broccoli peeking out, beans, carrots, lettuce, zucchini, and tomato. And I think, “How lovely you all look. So many different colors from the same dark dirt. Smile.”

But all-too-soon my celebration ends and I have a second “first” to add to my list: the first time I have felt oppressed by produce. There are mounds of peas that need to be shelled and beans to be blanched and frozen and tomatoes to be dried and sauced and zucchini to disguise in a hundred different dishes. There are more vegetables than I’ve ever had come to me at one time and I need new pots, new techniques, new recipes to deal with them all.

In this season of “firsts,” I thank God and the good earth for such loveliness. And I realize I don't mind feeling oppressed by vegetables because it leads me to newness and creativity in recipes, in how I spend my time, in what I eat, in how I live. And to think it all started with dirt ...