Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Snake in Our Midst

What do you do when things feel out of control or you believe you are powerless or too weak to make any difference in a given situation? What is your response when you have been given a burden to carry or a responsibility to fulfill but feel you have no instructions or resources that will equip you? How do you react when the reality is you are in over your head?

In the same week, I heard two of my most favorite people say, "I don't know what to do. I am paralyzed."

About the same time, I had a dream about being in charge of a large group of middle-schoolers. I was told I was to take them on a hike, but I had no instructions about where, no plan, no map. I didn't even know their names. They took off as a scattered, chaotic, frenzied, and seemingly uncontrollable mass. In their midst, I saw a large snake weaving in and out of the group. Anxious about their safety, I spent the rest of the dream trying to find a telephone so I could call 911. My cellphone in my pocket was dirty and useless (let's interpret that). As it turned out the snake was not a threat. I just assumed it was. And the dream ended in a rather anticlimactic way.

We each have our "normal" way of responding to crises, weighty responsibilities, losses, and fearful situations. I tend toward isolation and almost manic efforts to make it all make sense. I close myself off with my journal, pen, highlighters, bible, hymnal, and youtube. I listen to music, I read, and I write and copy readings onto page after page after page. Then I reread, highlight, and search for meaning and direction. Rarely, have I ever been disappointed. It works for me. It is time intensive but eventually assumptions of danger and fear of not knowing the way always give way to some conviction that I am, and the ones I intercede for, are spiritually secure in Christ and the way to go will be revealed one step at the time. That's my way of allowing Christ in and His way of transforming me over and over. What is yours?

My husband wrote these worship notes for this Sunday's bulletin and he shared them with me after he heard me listening to a great song by Stuart Townend: Christ in Me. See, I have been of late in my place of isolation and Stuart Townend has had a lot to say. It was a song that kept coming to mind and so I kept listening and praying it. We will sing this song on Sunday. And, I will likely add these notes to my journal. They go like this:

“Be holy in all that you do, for it is written, ‘Be holy, for I the Lord am holy.’”  Peter is quoting Leviticus (where this thought appears numerous times) when he includes this command in 1:16.  How do we begin to understand it?  As a (hopefully) good Trinitarian, I offer three thoughts: (1) Begin by reversing the phrase – “I the Lord am holy.”  It is fundamental to His “otherness”, at the core of “My ways are not your ways.…”  He is; we aren’t.  It is this staggering difference that we affirm as we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy…early in the morning our songs shall rise to thee.”  But He calls us to holiness?  How?  (2) Read Leviticus.  It is certainly one of the least-examined portions of Scripture, so full of page after page of “do this but certainly don’t do that”.  What that book tells me is that God has not asked us to simply be nice or use good manners; such is not the path to holiness.  Leviticus is a great example of God pointing us in the right direction, providing instruction in fleshed-out Godliness.  Instead of waiting for “inner holiness” to shape our external behaviors, we can adopt “behavioral holiness”.  It is akin to a phrase my wife has used: in challenging times, she chooses to practice believing.  But as good as that is, the external only takes you so far.  Aren’t we supposed to act out of hearts transformed, overflowing with gratitude, with (as Peter puts it) “reverent fear”?  So, (3) God provides the means to move towards holiness: “O Spirit of God, come down, let mercy and grace abound; my passionate prayer shall be, Christ in me.”  As we come to the Table, we take Him in, we “feed upon Him by faith with thanksgiving,” the “Lamb without blemish or defect”, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.  And we sing our prayer of aspiration:

Spirit of beauty and holiness, come refine with fire from above,
‘Til I am cast in Your righteousness and I love the things that You love.

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