Creator of the universe
Creator of the universe
This beautiful drawing really caught my attention at the Grahamstown Arts Festival last year. It got me thinking. It’s become a metaphor image for an ongoing conversation with God for the past year.
The story it depicts is of a lady ‘who had lived a sinful life’ who gate crashed a dinner party where Jesus was being entertained by men from the religious elite. She crouches at Jesus’ feet and weeps, washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and pours precious perfume on them.
If you just imagine the scene for a moment. This was a posh dinner party, people keen to impress the ‘teacher’. People putting their best foot forward, trying to sound intelligent. The best dishes were out.
Everyone knew that this woman stood out like a sore thumb. They were shocked that Jesus was letting her touch him. Doesn’t he know what kind of person this is?! They were trying to ignore her but she was making that difficult.
Can you imagine… the noise, the weeping, the mess, the snot. All over Jesus’ feet. The disruption, the intimacy and the disrespect is shocking. Imagine how horrified and offended everyone was.
Everyone apart from Jesus. He doesn’t seem to mind at all.
In fact he turns to the religious guys and asks ‘do you see this woman?’ and then commends her. He compared their hospitality and welcome of him to hers, and she comes out top in his opinion.
I’ve been thinking. The implication in his question ‘do you see this woman?’ is that he sees her. He sees her and receives her in all the mess of her raw emotions, snot and reality.
So often when I’m feeling in an emotional mess I want to sort myself out before I come to God. But this image and story has so powerfully spoken to me about Jesus’ ability to cope with, even welcome, my mess.
He is more able to meet us deeply if we come to him honestly where we are at, rather than presenting where we think we should be. If we are pretending to be somewhere we are not, he can’t meet us there.
So I’m trying to come to God as I am. I am using journalling to tell God the reality of how I feel, rather than trying to resolve it or fix it before I come to him. It’s wonderful to experience what it feels like for him to ‘see me’ and love me in the midst of where I am. It’s been freeing and so comforting.
The drawing is based on Luke 7:36-46
The artwork is by Jonathan Griffiths and is available for sale if anyone is interested.
You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
In our world ‘waiting’ seems to be a dirty word, resisted, despised, judged. We have an addiction to things being fast. But there’s a lot of waiting in nature: seeds waiting to germinate, mothers waiting during pregnancy, hibernating bears waiting for spring. There’s also a lot of waiting in the bible: Noah and his family waiting for the waters to subside, Sarah waiting for a child, Jacob waiting for Rebecca’s hand, Jonah waiting in the whale, Joseph waiting in prison, Israel waiting 40 years in the desert, Jesus waiting 30 years before he was released into public ministry, the apostles waiting for pentecost. It seems in nature, waiting is often a time of inner total transformation, while there seems to be outward inactivity. In the bible it seems that seasons of waiting for people were the times in which they most deeply encountered who God truly is and grew in their trust of him and in their characters because of that. So if God seems to use waiting powerfully in nature and in the stories of the bible, why do we despise it so much and resist it with all our might?
This is the second post based on Sue Monk Kidd’s book ‘When the heart waits’. You can read the first here. Monk Kidd encourages us that when we feel we are in a season of uncertainty, where things are unresolved and even painful, instead of rushing to fix it, we often need to sit with the unresolved in stillness and wait. Not a passive waiting, but an attentive waiting, seeking to cooperate with what God is doing in the time of waiting. ‘The hidden potential and fullness of life is within me. My part is to wait in creative and expectant ways for it to unfold, attentive to the process.’ God invites us in the Psalms to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (Ps 46:10)
Graham Cooke talks about desert times, times when we feel weak and dependent on God. He says most people rush to get out of those ‘desert’ times but that can rob us of the opportunity to know God more deeply, trust him more and robs God of the opportunity to come through for us. In Hosea, God says to his people, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her… I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will know the Lord… they will say “You are my God.”‘ (Hosea 2:14, 20, 23). If we stay close to God through those times they can be times of inner transformation and growth in our faith and character.
It seems that without significant times to be still, we “extinguish the possibility of growth and walk backwards”.* It’s a paradox that we find hard to grasp, that we achieve our deepest progress standing still.
Sue Monk Kidd recounts a story that illustrates this point, a story of two caterpillars that I mentioned in the last post. Stripe and Yellow were caterpillars who, before spinning their cocoons, spent all their time climbing up a great column of squirming, pushing caterpillars. ‘The point seemed to be to reach the top. No one knew what was up there. They only hoped that the summit would offer them what they were looking for in life. But their existence was pretty frantic, with lots of rushing and straining. It boiled down to climb or be climbed. Finally disenchanted with crawling up, Stripe and Yellow became still. Soon they were at the bottom of the pile, free to spin the cocoons that would give them wings. To their delight, they found that wings were the only way to get to the top. Thus Stripe and Yellow made their deepest progress standing still.’ Her personal experience was that ‘being still and waiting in one place – going not forward by inward – is the sort of progress that really counts, the sort that gives us wings.’
I was told recently that before a caterpillar spins a chrysalis it sheds its skin and is vulnerable, before the hard shell forms around it. Sometimes going into a season of waiting can feel very vulnerable. We may experience criticism from people who want us to rush to fix the situation. We may be led into a season of waiting by pain or a crisis, by a stripping or loss of something that we depended on for meaning, purpose or significance. Although I strongly believe God does not bring pain or hardship to teach us things (that comes as a part of the broken world we are in, the evil that is present and people’s free choices that can be hurtful) he certainly can and does use ‘stormy’ times to invite us into transformation.
Monk Kidd suggests we can respond to crisis in three ways. We can say it’s God’s will and force ourselves into an outward acceptance, remaining unaffected on a deeper spirit level. Sometimes however there can be deep gnawing doubts about the character of God that we dare not articulate but can push us away from God. People who respond like this are generally after peace of mind and comfort, at least outwardly. Or we reject the crisis, fighting and railing against it until we become cynical and defeated or suffer a loss of faith. People who respond like that may be after justice. However, there is a third way to respond to crisis, which is the way of waiting. That means creating a painfully honest and contemplative connection with the deepest parts of ourselves and with God in the deep centre of our soul. People who choose this way are after wholeness and transformation. This is the way to find the ‘creative moment of epiphany within the crisis. You discover that the stormy experience can be an agent drawing you deeper into the kingdom, separating you from the old consciousness and the clamp of the ego.’ It’s not an easy way but it can lead to genuine transformation. It is the way to ‘come home’, returning to one’s deepest self, the soul, the original imprint of God within. Home to a deep sense of spiritual belonging.
Last year I certainly hit a painful time of uncertainty, where what gave me security and significance seemed to be stripped from me. I felt very weak and vulnerable, in a desert time if you wish. This book, the wisdom of friends and the presence of God with me on the journey enabled me to be patient with myself in the process, engage with my emotions and trust God that it wouldn’t last forever and that he was bringing transformation and growth through it, even if I didn’t see it at the time. But I can certainly see it looking back now.
Monk Kidd asks us, “How do we create the threads that hold us in the painful, uncertain, solitary darkness of waiting – and hold us not only in the waiting but through the waiting?” The next blog post will look at some of the ways she suggests we can wait in a constructive and attentive way.
*Counselor Helen Luke, quoted by Sue Monk Kidd
falling on my arm,
a glimpse of the mountain,
through glowing branches.
Birds cheerfully chirping in the trees,
the sound of water splashing in a fountain,
sun shining through the vine leaves above me
highlight the firey edges of autumn.
The smell of coffee and baking.
Here, in my happy place,
I tell you how I feel,
I choose honesty
over a stiff upper lip.
As I give up certain foods
I realise how much I turned to them for comfort.
I realise I’m stiff necked and slow
to turn to you for that comfort.
As I return to South Africa
I miss family and friends in the UK.
More time alone.
I realise how quickly I turn to people for comfort.
You invite me gently not to rush to fix the aloneness
but to look to you to be my constant companion.
Easier to pick up the phone.
As things seem uncertain and unfamiliar,
my things in cardboard boxes
both sides of the world;
living in a friend’s spare room, not my home;
a new season, not yet fully defined;
in this place, you invite me gently to turn to you
with certain hope and anticipation
that you are my rock and my certainty.
You remind me that wherever I am,
I can be ‘at home in your love’.*
As I struggle to articulate my life
and comparison knocks loudly at the door,
again you gently invite me to turn to you
knowing my significance, value and meaning
is rooted in you alone,
not in what people think of me
or whether I’m doing things
that I or others define as ‘significant’.
You tell me your word is a light to my feet.
Not a search light to see the whole road ahead
but a flickering candle in a lantern
only enough light for the very next step
and that step was to return.
You invite me to place my hand in yours
and I know it’s true
(even when it doesn’t feel true)
that it is safer than a known way.
I guess it’s true you have more patience with me
than I have with myself.
For a short while I live in lack
and tears come
not recognising the person
standing close by my side
who can meet me in every place of need.
Who can be my everything.
* John 15:9 “Make yourselves at home in my love.”
This Christmas I’ve been thinking about how surprising it is (if we reflect afresh, ignoring the familiarity of the story) that Jesus did not come as a powerful king with a palace, riches and an army. He didn’t have to enter the world as a baby but he chose to. As I look into the eyes of the babies in my life, I’m struck by their powerlessness and dependency on their parents. How radical and shocking that the creator and king of the universe chose to enter the world like that. Chosing to strip away all power and privilege he had every right to claim, to be a vulnerable baby to an unmarried mother. Born to a family travelling away from home, with no place to stay and then fleeing for their lives, refugees if you like.
Even as a grown man he was a homeless wanderer, a controversial vagrant who owned nothing and encouraged his disciples to also go out into the world with no bag or possessions. He chose to hang out with people on the edge of society, the people others shamed and rejected. He didn’t do anything to elevate or justify himself in the eyes of others, in fact quite the opposite. He was not a king who dominated people but who chose to serve and invited his followers to do the same. He didn’t demand obedience but invited people to walk with him.
If we look at Jesus as a person and if he is the exact representation of God as he claimed to be, it gives a very different view of God than if we take our view of God from the fallen and broken groups of ‘religious people’, who obviously and continuously get it wrong and misrepresent His heart, as we all do.
So I’ve been thinking, for us who follow him and seek to emulate him in our lives, maybe we shouldn’t hold onto entitlements to a steady life, comfort, wealth, people’s good opinions or worldly power/influence. He could have chosen to have all those things but instead chose a life with none of them. That in itself is such a challenge to me. What am I expecting from life and are those expectations consistent with emulating the one I claim to follow?
Can it be so?
It doesn’t seem right
that up is down
and down is up,
that being at the bottom is being at the top
and being at the top is being at the bottom.
That the first shall be last
and the last shall be first.
That to lead you must serve
and that if you want to be great
you must be the least,
considering others better than yourself.
Insecure leaders need a title, position,
significance through what they achieve.
Secure leaders pick up a towel and serve
investing in others to make them great.
What a profound challenge,
so counter to all the world says.
It blows right out of the water
all desire for recognition
Smashes any hint of pride.
It’s not a simple request.
And no one gives a more radical example than He does.
None of us came from as high as He did
And none of us can imagine going so low.
Can it be so,
that when you are weak you are strong?
But when you think you are strong
you are heading for a fall?
If Jesus said it
I guess it’s true
but it’s baffling to me.
Can it really be true
that now, as I feel so weak
so worn out, so drained, so empty,
past the end of myself;
can it be so
that right now
His strength is made perfect in me?
Doesn’t feel like it.
Feels pretty uncomfortable to be honest.
I’d rather be strong,
and have plenty of myself left to give.
But now, as I feel I have nothing to offer
now my dependence on Him is real,
and so anything I give
must be directly from Him
so He gets the glory, not me.
And as I am held and vulnerable
He comes through for me
and I can see it more clearly.
maybe it is so
that up is down
and down is up.
Maybe I don’t need to fight it
or figure it out
but embrace the crazyness
and accept the radical challenge
of this inside out
place where He is king.
–“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a random for many.” Mark 10:42-45 “My Grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9. — All poems and original writing on this blog are Copyright © Hilary Murdoch 2013
Born in someone else’s outhouse, shared with animals
Buried in a borrowed tomb, dependent on the kindness of strangers
He who had every right and ability
To have more than everything He needed
Chose to depend on others
Chose to have nothing of His own
Chose to model vulnerability
And instruct his disciples in it
“Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.” *
Not having a car in Cape Town for a couple of years overall has been a serious challenge. Public transport is limited and only available by day. I’ve had to learn to ask for and receive help. It’s eroded some of the negative independence I accumulated living in London, where I was able to get wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted since I was 16. It’s been painful. I’ve squirmed and fought it. Wanted to repay or back away. But I know God has been teaching me to be dependent on Him and interdependent on others. To be vulnerable.
In western society independence is elevated
Revered as supremely important
Seen as a great virtue.
We want to be in a position to do it ourselves
Not to need anything from others
So we won’t be let down or lacking.
But there’s a man who demonstrates a different way
Tells His followers and friends to go out with nothing
Encourages them to depend on community and on God.
To admit we don’t know
Don’t have what we need
To reach the end of ourselves
To recognise we can’t make it happen
Can’t have everything tied up, controlled, neatly resolved.
But as we lay down our security and comfort
Our pride, self-sufficiency and independence
As we wait for Him to reveal himself
He invites us to rely on Him
To rely on our community
To let them in
He invites us into the freedom
Of the ability of ask for help
And the ability to receive it.
Because we will never fully experience
The love of God or the love of those around us
If we don’t sometimes chose that vulnerability.
Thanks to Dave Meldrum, who’s Good Friday reflections service was the starting point for these thoughts.
* Luke 9:3 The Bible, New International Version— All poems and original writing on this blog are Copyright © Hilary Murdoch 2013