Sending Grace Downstream

Dining on cubes of watermelon and calling it breakfast, the youngest son stands pajama-clad at the counter, his toothpick a dowser for the juiciest chunks.  In just a few end-of-summer days from now he will be up to his fetlocks in geometry, and I will be preserving the summer sweetness of our red tomatoes with one eye on the clock and the other eye (fierce!) on the boy’s screen time allotment.  We will approach breakfast with business-like efficiency, thinking about food groups and family devotions and the day’s agenda.

But today, summer is still in full sway and grace is on the menu — along with the watermelon.  In the busy days that lie ahead, is there a way to keep on living juicy, to hang onto the full brightness of summer solstice even though the planet keeps tilting us into shadow?  Brushing crumbs from the dining room table, I wonder if there’s a way to send grace downstream, like a note in a bottle, by deciding today how I will navigate the current of busy days around the next seasonal bend in the stream.

Today is a harbinger of the eventual, which means if I have my eye set on being a godly old lady someday in the far-off future, there are character qualities and mindsets that need to be set in bedrock ahead of time so that the accumulated complaints of life will weigh like feathers in the balance against the collected weight of blessings.  What better time than this seasonal transition to acknowledge the truth that bedrock does not lay down overnight?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul rattled off instructions and laid down guidelines for ministry.  Timothy had his hands full there in Ephesus, and that young pastor had a lot of sorting out to do.  However, tucked into Paul’s lists of qualifications and exhortations is this:

“Take strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .”  II Timothy 2:1 NEB

From one soldier to another, Paul was sending grace downstream to Timothy in the form of truth.  Truth can change the course of a day.  It can re-set a mind set.  Elisabeth Elliot translated Paul’s words into gritty practicality with one sentence:

“Whether you can take what life dishes out depends on what you take first.”

Is it possible that Paul saw a drift toward weakness in his younger brother and sent Truth as a course correction? On this late-summer morning, I invite Truth to inform my own feelings about the changing seasons with three small thoughts that carry the warmth and freedom of summer into autumn days:

There is always enough grace.

Even when my best efforts fail and progress on my self-salvation strategy of the day (also known as my do-list) proves that I am insufficient, I will remember that I am justified before God by my belief in HIS adequacy.  My obedient following makes the unseen visible and preaches truth to my own reluctance, for my smallest movement along “paths of righteousness” is met with God’s unfailing supply of grace for the next move.

Spoken words make a difference.

God stands ready to meet my unsure with sure and to galvanize my wishy-washy with a firm foundation.  There’s a good reason for Paul’s consistent use of the words “grace to you” at the beginning and ending of each of his letters, for he knew the Spirit-words that had been breathed to him would be read aloud to a fledgling church and believers would be strengthened in their faith.  Spoken aloud in a pick-up or drop-off run, murmured at the kitchen counter, these same words come off the page and dance in my imagination:
Take strength!
Don’t get tangled up in today’s mess!
Even if I am faithless, He remains faithful! 

To promote a deeper discipleship and a more faithful following in every season, I will choose to talk to myself more than I listen to myself.

Persevere in the Preserving.

Here just south of the 45th parallel, summer is a fleeting and an in-between season.  It won’t last for long, and even though the Atlantic Ocean is gorgeous all year long, there are only a few days in July and August when I can bear to feel its temperature on my skin.  The green cucumbers and plump tomatoes come in a rush and the last stragglers are snatched before the first frost.  What a perfect reminder that every moment on this planet can be a freeze frame, plucked from the blur and preserved in memory.  The colorful jars of beets and green beans shelved in my basement inform me that no good gift should be taken for granted.  Gratitude preserves joy, so I will persevere in the fight to train this oblivious heart to give thanks.

Instead of fighting the current as it carries away the last days of summer, I’m sending grace downstream by feasting on it today.  In True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wrote about “faith in the present moment,”  and I’m convinced that moving with grace into schedules and lesson plans, cleaning and canning, will not be aided by day-old faith.  So I will speak to my soul today:  “Take strength!” in the bee-buzzing days of summer, because this practice today and the next day (and the day after . . .) sends grace downstream by training my heart in habits of strength for a day when the living is not so easy and grace might seem a little more difficult to find.

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Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow.  His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful.  There is always more to tell than can be told.”

 

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Photo in featured image by kazuend on Unsplash

Overcoming Fear with the Torch of Truth

The road out of Jericho was always well-traveled, but Bartimaeus could sense something different in the air.  Just as the angle of the hot sun on the back of his neck told him the time of day, the buzz of the crowd, the whispered excitement, and the press of bodies told him what his ruined eyes could not — something was stirring.

Slowly, he pieced together the scene:  a Healer, a Miracle Worker named Jesus was heading his way, and the word on the street . . .?  This Teacher just might be the promised Messiah.

A seasoned beggar, Bartimaeus waited until just the right moment, and then poured every possible ounce of drama into his anguished plea:

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he howled.

“Pipe down, Bartimaeus,” hissed the embarrassed townspeople, but the blind beggar called out all the louder.

In this encounter of a life time, Bartimaeus put all that he knew about Jesus into his heart’s cry, for he had a huge and impossible dream.  Bartimaeus wanted to see, and he boldly broadcast his deep and urgent need to the only One in the universe who could help him.

Saying a dream out loud can be intimidating — even frightening.
It feels vulnerable.
Exposed.
Whether it’s a career goal, a longing for intimacy, a desire for a child, or an avenue of service to God that won’t stop calling our name, it’s easy to allow the sheer size of the dream to muzzle our cry for help and to overwhelm us with fear.

CaptureThere’s much more to this story, and I wou

ld love it if you would join me today over at God-sized Dreams, an on-line community where you can say your dream out loud and find the glorious encouragement of others who are also familiar with the joys and pitfalls inherent to dreaming.

While you are over there finishing my story about the power of Truth to cast out fear, I hope you’ll meander around the site and be encouraged by others who have set sail on the journey toward their own God-sized dreams.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

 

Writing Her Way into Truth: Till We Have Faces (9)

Before children and homeschooling, I worked as a compensation analyst in a large hospital, so whenever a manager wanted to change a position or to reorganize a department, it was my job to look at the changes in relation to their impact on the incumbents’ compensation.  Are the additional duties essentially the same kind of work they’ve been doing all along, or do the proposed changes require additional skill or give the employee increased responsibility?  Often, I would come to the end of all my meetings and market research with a pile of information and no clear sense of what my recommendation would be.

And then I would start writing.

I laid out the facts:  changes in reporting relationships, job duties, skills required, percent of time spent in various roles.  As I wrote, it all became clear to me so that by the time I came to the end of my writing, I was ready to make recommendations and to confidently explain my reasoning.

I see something similar going on in this blogging life of mine, and, so I wonder if, perhaps, Orual might have become a blogger if the kingdom of Glome had acquired the technology in her day.  In Book Two of Till We Have Faces, she shares her discovery that her case  against the gods set forth in Book One was not what she had thought.  Coming to the end of her writing, she found that “the past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering.”  Whether she knew it or not, Orual had begun the process of writing her way into truth.

Plot Summary

Orual’s nephew and heir to her throne has been notified that she is near death. Even so, at the end of her long life and reign, the elderly queen is finding the strength to set down a revised perspective on her life.  Two events seem to have triggered the avalanche of memory:

  1.  An encounter with Tarin (her sister Redival’s old beau who was made a eunuch by their father the King) gave Orual insight to Redival’s lonely childhood during the days in which Orual was occupied first with The Fox and then with Psyche.
  2. Upon the death of Bardia, captain of the guard, Orual visited his widow, Ansit whose bitterness eventually overflowed into this (courageous) accusation:

” . . . I know that your queenship drank up his [Bardia’s] blood year by year and ate out his life.”

The rite of the Year’s birth in Ungit’s house and a series of dreams sent from the gods lead Orual into still deeper insight into what the god of Grey Mountain meant when he spoke out of thunder and chaos with the words, “You, woman, shall know yourself and your work.  You also shall be Psyche.”

Reflection

Ansit (Bardia’s widow) and Orual have a conversation that evolves from tense civility to electric warfare.  In giving up Bardia to his work, Ansit had refused to “make him so mine that he was no longer his,” while Orual realized, in hindsight, that she had been using up Bardia through his work, “heap[ing] up needless work to keep him late at the palace, ply[ing] him with questions for the mere pleasure of hearing his voice.  Anything to put off the moment when he would go and leave me to my emptiness.”  Orual is coming to the realization that she has spent her life filling up that emptiness with the lives of others, that like the Shadowbrute, her loving and her devouring are all one thing.

As Orual dreams of sorting seeds by night, she sorts through her memories by day, “separating motive from motive and both from pretext,” (Kilby, p. 177).  But that’s not the end of revelation, for, as she becomes more willing to see truth, she finds that she is “drenched with seeings.”  Visiting Ungit’s temple for the rite of the Year’s birth, Orual laments the waste of the temple girls’ lives and the endless silver that is offered to a god who offers no return on investment, and then later sees that she, like Ungit is “an all-devouring, womb-like yet barren thing.”

Lewis scholars note parallels between the gods’ pursuit of Orual and C.S. Lewis’s own encounter with The Hound of Heaven.  This is reasonable since Lewis has described himself as “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”  It is interesting that Till We Have Faces was published in 1956, the year after the memoir of Lewis’s conversion, Surprised by Joy.

Some Issues to Ponder

Orual’s growth in self-perception has been an unveiling process.  When she tore off her veil in the presence of Ansit to reveal the ugliness it hid, Ansit was also able to read the Queen’s heart and call out the love for Bardia that had been hiding behind that veil for decades, a love that, sadly, had deteriorated into something that Orual described as “nine-tenths hatred.”

In her dream of descending into Pillar Room after Pillar Room, each one deeper and smaller, she is confronted with her own image in a mirror and sees, to her horror, that, in the dream, her face is the face of Ungit.  Realizing that she is known by her veil rather than by her face, Orual begins to go bare-faced into her kingdom when she wants to go undetected.  Is it a coincidence then, that when she is unveiled, contemplating suicide, and realizing that she is even too weak for this that she hears the unmistakable voice of a god once again?  This time, there is “no rebel in [her]” and so she hobbled home to await the meaning of the god’s words:

“Die before you die.  There is no chance after.”

Orual’s journey encourages me to embrace Truth as it comes to me, for like her, I am also a “cold, small, helpless thing.”  And yet the voice of the true God invites me into a holiness that is neither dark nor ugly, but is full of light and beauty and that calls me to deeper Truth — about God and about myself.  May we all be open to His Truth, and may we find that we, too, are consequently “drenched with seeings.”

Your Turn

Chapter 1 and 2 of Book Two comprise some truly elegant thinking and glorious insights into both human and divine nature, and since nothing I can say will improve upon them, I will remind you of one of these sections now, and invite your thoughts, insights, and interpretations on it, or upon anything else that swept you away as you read.

“Of the things that followed, I cannot at all say whether they were what men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream.  But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water-spouts of truth from the very depth of truth.”

I will remind you, too,  that links to your blog posts are welcome in the comments below, and I look forward to your insights.

Next Time

I will be here once again next Thursday, March 9, for the last installment of our book discussion.  Since those last two chapters really put a ribbon on all of Orual’s journey of self-understanding, feel free to refer back to content from earlier chapters, especially if you are blogging about the book.

Blessings to you!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.