Thoughts during a Long Bus Ride

Have you ever experienced something so lovely, so unique, so cool that all you wanted in the world was just to capture that experience, either to share it with others, or simply to have it always as a wonderful, distinct memory?

Most people have, and that urge to capture the essence of a given experience looks different in different people. Some people take pictures (and thank goodness for those people). Other people, including myself at times, pull out their phones and record a grainy, low-light version of the Great Experience, whatever it might be. This option always seems a little pointless to me when I take it, because I’m not sure whether to watch the recorded version or the real, live thing going on in front of my eyes. After all, which is the real experience, if I was distracting myself with the video camera the whole time? But that is a tangent.

This is about the beach, and the beauty I saw there. About the urge to capture it, either in words or a pictures,and share it with others. And knowing it’s impossible to really capture the same thing. Maybe art stems from the decision to try anyway. I love reading about Monet, and his valiant attempts to capture light, the way our eyes actually see it. Some friends of mine are in a neuroscience class this semester, and they’ve told me just a little of what happens in the simple act of seeing something. It’s like your eyes and brain become superheroes, accomplishing incredibly detailed and important tasks in practically no time.

In, well, the blink of an eye. Ahaha.

I saw some fireworks this week, and good grief, I could feel how hard my eyes were working to first adjust to the darkness, then quickly do whatever-it-is-they-do-to-let-in-the-right-amount-of-light as the brightly colored sparks exploded, setting the palm trees into vivid silhouette.

My point is that, as amazing as technology has developed, with our camera-design-people designing ever more intricate lenses and other camera-ey things, nothing compares to what our eyes already do. Claude Monet in his studio never had the infinitely varied lighting of the sun, which is perhaps one reason for his lovely gardens. Can you imagine spending your life studying waterlilies and covered bridges, trying to capture just a little of their beauty?

I’ve gotten similar feelings after seeing a really good play. I know it’s a one-time experience, but there’s nothing I want more than to see it again. Or at least have the assurance that someday I’ll see it again. I won’t, and that’s the bittersweetness of it–that the thing that is most unforgettable for me is that way precisely because there’s a risk of forgetting it.

This ramble is supposed to be about the love and fear of God, reflected in my own love and fear of the ocean. It’s about how I almost didn’t go to the beach, because I thought, “well, I won’t swim anyway, since it scares me.” And it’s true, it does.

I have never understood the fanatic appeal that living on the coast has for some people, especially considering the threat of hurricanes. I guess what I saw this week helped me understand, a little, why it’s so worth it for them. The ocean is beautiful. I’ll try to describe it, and I’ll fail just like everyone else who has tried to describe it, and failed.

It’s like describing the sky–you could call it blue, and technically speaking you wouldn’t be wrong…but you would be wrong. There are blues, and greens, and creamy foams, and gradations of shadings I didn’t ever consider before. The water spreads back from the white sand and begins changing, from the lightest of creamy greens to turquoise, darkening into a deep, i-can’t-find-the-word-to-describe-it blue. Only before it quite makes it to the darker shade, there is a small line, made of a wave or maybe two, that is the color of summer grass-it’s a rich, heady green, and it doesn’t really belong, but it’s there to make you catch your breath if you notice it.

That’s just one part of it–the part that reflects a mostly-sunny blue sky, with a few blushing pink morning clouds running across it. You turn your eyes just a little, and the other part of the sky is light, light powder blue, and more white than blue. The sun is just the brightest spot in the clouds, and it shimmers on all the water. There is no division between water and sky that you can see; it’s all just a shiny blur. Then the waves are white and foamy and reminiscent of childhood bubble baths.

The back and forth motion of the waves is almost like learning to swing–you’d think it would get monotonous, but it doesn’t. It’s one of, I think, many instances where monotony comforts, rather than bores. The roar of the waves is at once lovely and terrifying, reminding me of how powerful all this water really is.

And I’m back to being scared, back to looking over the water, imagining it before a storm, with the choppy, grey waves and the unutterable deepness that has no emotion. I realize how I personify Nature with happy or benevolent qualities at times, and other times, recoil at its deadly, impersonal character. I realize how easy it is to worship the created instead of the Creator. I worship what I see, over what I don’t see, even if it is the Unseen that the creation is really roaring about in the first place. The variety of colors that i could never find words for and that thousands of artists have never captured, even with the millions of sunsets that have been painted–I realize that there is a Mind behind that awesome creativity. An Artist who thought of beauty and spoke life into being.

I’m in awe, and I’m back to being scared. That unutterable deepness of the ocean is nothing compared to the power of my God. I can’t comprehend this. I’m learning that it is very possible to love and fear a thing–knowing that it is the powerful aspect that instills fear that also inspires love. The ocean is beautiful because it is so much bigger than I am, and it’s uncomfortable for the same reason. Perhaps my relation to God is similar, but I would be wrong to equate the two things, I think.

I would be foolish to worship the ocean for its beauty, because it is, like me, a created thing. It is impersonal and constantly changing. At its best, it is only a reflection of its creator.

All of the imagination, intelligence, and power is the Creator’s,and so all of our admiration and worship ought to go to Him. Being inspired by pictures of what He’s like, we ought to worship the real thing, not worship the picture.

………………………………………………..

Bus rides afford quite a long time to think. Thanks for reading, friend:)

 

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The Pursuit of God, part two

Alright, friends, so this is pretty much what it sounds like from the title–a continuation of my reading of The Pursuit of God, by a man named Aiden Wilson Tozer (I kind of prefer the name A.W.). If you aren’t a fan of what I wrote last time, no worries, sooner or later I’ll finish the book and get back to writing about important things like moped accidents. Or not, I don’t know.

Anyway, I’ve been making my way through the book, and I’ve been enjoying it because it’s made me think of a variety of connections with C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, and other authors. I’ve had some questions, and I’ve seen places where I don’t automatically assent, but I’ve had to wrestle with ok, what does this mean when I try and live it out?

Case in point: the second chapter, entitled “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing.” Like this post, and this blog in general, the chapter is pretty much what it sounds like. Basically, Tozer goes through the story of Abraham and Isaac and declares the importance of truly dying to oneself and one’s possessions–even if one holds on to possessions such as loved ones and relationships out of fear for their safety. Things, says Tozer, get in the way of our knowing God. Specifically, it’s the trying to keep things, even the blessings God gives, that hinders us from following him.

This is a hard chapter for me, and I wasn’t sure about the idea of including it, because it involves a change in my own outlook, especially as regards my family and friends and my plans for the future. I still think they are mine, as this blog is mine, to do with as I please. See, I guess it’s pretty obvious how often I don’t trust God to do what is best. I’m still struggling with this chapter, so I won’t say more except to include two quotations it made me think of. The first is from Matthew 6, toward the end of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where he is talking about worry.

Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (emphasis mine)

Well, please be gracious to me if you’re a bible scholar and I’m doing something awful to these verses by not quoting the entire context, but it seems like Tozer is making a similar point to the one Jesus was making. Tozer says we’re prone toward “self” and wanting to keep our selves (and all that we own) safe and happy, and that’s what we’re concerned with, until we give all of it over to God. Jesus tells us not to worry about necessities (Tozer’s “things”) because God is good and knows what we need. Both say to seek God.

The other thing I thought of was something Jim Eliot said. I first learned about Jim Elliot from my brother, I think, when he read Dave and Neta Jackson’s Trailblazer series. The Jacksons wrote all these books for children about Christian missionaries, and they were always in a historical-fiction setting, with the main character usually an imagined younger person who might have been there and observed their ministry. It’s a great series. Anyway, the quote I thought of is this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

I’ve had to turn that thought over and over to try and really get it. It’s not a comfortable thought, maybe–especially not at first (or second or third) glance. It seems more like something that becomes more true to a person as he lives his life according to it. Even if you assent to it being true, it only becomes sweeter after living it out.

Anyway, there’s my take on chapter two–thanks for reading!

The Pursuit of God

For my birthday, my friend Abby gave me a copy of A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, and I’m just now reading it. I sort of wish I’d read it earlier, yet at the same time I think maybe I wouldn’t gained as much from it as I am now. I feel like I’m learning a lot, lately, about my habits–that is, I’m seeing what I value enough to invest time in. It’s not always what Id like it to be. I tend to go in cycles, where all will be well and I’m rejoicing in the life God’s given me, to a place of uncertainty and discomfort, where I’m forced to go back to the Psalms and seek God’s comfort. Like I said, it’s a cycle, so as soon as I’m back on track, emotionally, I forget what just went down and I imagine I’m fine without God. I become complacent with the comfortable way in which I know Him.

Please keep this in mind–guilt is a very different thing from conviction.

So when I maybe seem to be beating myself up for not seeking God enough, understand that I’m not trying to articulate a sense of guilt. Guilt is the crippling sense that, since you messed up last time, there’s no making up for it. You have to try to make up for it, but you know in the back of your mind it won’t ever, ever be enough. Guilt is, in fact, what keeps me in the cycle I just mentioned. Conviction, on the other hand, is something quite different. There’s still the knowledge that nothing you do on your own can somehow make up for your imperfection, but then, again, that’s not really the point. With conviction, the focus isn’t so much on what you’re doing wrong, and what you always do wrong, and what you’ll never get right. That’s guilt’s job, and like I said, it’s a crippling thing. Conviction is the desire to do better–not because you feel bad and you’re trying to get God to somehow forgive you in a more powerful way then coming and dying for you–but because you know God, and you want to know Him more.

This is the first part of Tozer’s book, and immediately I have some problems. How do I pursue a knowledge of God when that’s not something I always want to do? How do I want something I don’t always want? That seems like such a silly question to actually voice, but Tozer addresses it. He reminds us, first of all, that God is a Person, and as such, “he communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills and our emotions.”

The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion. (Tozer 15)

In other words, it’s not a one-sided thing, where God tells us to seek Him and then sits by as we flail around, sort of trying and sort of not caring to try. He seeks us, and it’s only by His seeking us that we are able to seek Him at all. And it’s only by His working in us that we are able to desire to seek Him at all. 

So here I am, at the beginning of my journey through The Pursuit of God, and I’d like to quote part of the prayer that Tozer includes at the end of the chapter. I hope it will encourage you as it has me, and I hope that the rest of the book will be as uplifting and convicting as the first chapter was:

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

As always, thanks for reading and leave a comment if you’d like:)

Thoughts on Envy

I used to think that, because my Christian testimony was so “boring,” I was obligated to make sure people knew that no, I wasn’t really perfect. I’d play up any angst I may have had growing up in an attempt to to assure them that, no, my life wasn’t perfect.

This was silly for a couple of reasons.

I was assuming, for one, that I did seem perfect to people, which is incredibly conceited in itself. I was also assuming there’s comparisons between testimonies–that there are better testimonies to God’s grace than others. There are more attention-grabbing conversions, I suppose, where God declares loudly that there’s no way peoples’ lives could change without Him orchestrating the whole thing. I love hearing stories like the apostle Paul’s, that feature blinding light and the audible voice of Jesus.

But here’s the deal: I’m not sure about all the distinctions society likes to make between “seriousness” of sin. And I don’t think God’s grace can be graded on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being “saved Jo at age five from her lying ways” and 10 being, well, “saved Paul from his life dedicated to martyring Christ’s followers.”  All sin is just a reflection of our natural rebellion against our Creator, and it follows that all grace is a miracle. I say sometimes that I tend to struggle with “quieter sins,” things like fear, envy, and a refusal to trust God. Can you always see that in my life? Nope, because I disguise it when I can.

I am not at all bad at acting good.

I talk a lot about fear and worry on this blog. And when I say I struggle with envy, I mean, you name it, I’ve coveted it. I’m constantly fighting thoughts of comparison with other people–even other peoples’ relationships with God. But lately I’ve envied one thing in particular.

I envy people who know what they want.

Right now, my plan for my life looks an awful lot like “no plan.” It sounds a lot like “let’s wait and see,” and less like the confident college student I sometimes wish desperately I could be. And sometimes I’m fine with “waiting and seeing,” and I’m happy to live in the present, rather than worry about the future. That’s cool.

It’s just that I don’t always know what I want. Or maybe it’s that I want a lot of things that I can’t have. I want things that conflict with each other. I want to learn everything. And I want to keep the curiosity I had when I was younger. I want to explore the world, and I want nothing more than to know this little part of the world really well.

Maybe the thing I want most is to know a secret. The secret I’m talking about it in Philippians 4, where Paul says he has “learned the secret of being content.” I’ve come back to this particular chapter time after time, with his encouragement to “rejoice in the Lord always.” I guess I’m contradicting myself again when I say that there are two things I want most: to know what is that I want, and to know how to be content (which is another way of saying I want not to want anything other than what God gives me).

…I’m not really sure if this will make sense to anyone but me. Oh well.

This is where God’s grace comes in, because I see a little in these moments what I would be without Him working in my life. Envious? Yes. Fearful? Yes. Infuriatingly perfectionist? Selfish? Impatient? All of these describe what I’d be without Christ, and what I’m sometimes to revert to. They’re quiet sins, and I can sometimes disguise them so other people don’t see them. But I know that I can’t ever be content on my own–I’ll always be chasing after unattainable and confused dreams.

Isn’t that where Philippians 4:13 is supposed to go? People have been seeking after the secret for ages now, how to be fulfilled, and Paul goes and says it’s only through God that contentment–in any situation–can be found.

As always, thanks for reading, especially something as rambly as this post in particular. If you have any thoughts on Philippians 4 or on being content or, really, anything, leave a comment:)