Archive | August, 2010

In the Tent

30 Aug

I have long been fascinated by spiritual dwellings. When I lived in NYC, I constantly found myself stepping into churches for when you live in the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, sanctuary takes on a whole different meaning. Many times I found myself on the brink of a melt down – tired and worn from noise, weather, crowds, pollution and traffic. To escape, I’d instinctually step into a cool, stone building where candles and incense burned. In a place where God’s presence felt palpable, I often found myself crying in relief.

Coming off our annual week of prayer at my church, I’m actively aware that there is something unique about actively seeking the presence of God with others that differs from everyday spirituality. Sure, God is everywhere and it isn’t necessary to physically go somewhere to find him. Yet there is something special and particular about drawing near to God’s presence in a dwelling or meeting place.
When it comes to God, “presence and meeting are variegated matters.” (Goldingay, 2004, p.401)

Feeding into my fascination, I’m immersed in the Old Testament right now so I’ve been reading about the beginnings of the sanctuary. Specifically, I’m drawn to the meeting tent. “Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp.” Exodus 33:7. And specifically, I love how Yhwh comes to the tent, filling it with splendor in the form of a cloud. This cloud first appears at Sinai and then when the tent is erected and again when the temple is constructed.

So what are the chances that as I’m on my way to church one evening last week, an enormous cloud graces the horizon – almost like the mushroom formation after a nuclear bomb? I’m talking a GY-NORMOUS cloud. Not very likely. And yet I knew it was no coincidence. The same as I knew it was no coincidence later that evening when the group’s speaker referenced 2 Chronicles 5 & 6, mentioning that very cloud and its significance.

I believe “where two are gathered” in His name, He is there. It is another form of meeting tent. The same way He resides in me, as if I were a temple in which He shows up, filling me with His presence. Yet on special occasions, I long to be in the physical space of my father’s house. I long to go to the meeting tent and to wait for the cloud to appear with my fellow brothers and sisters. In fact, I long to be in “my father’s house” every day.

Oh, what a great week of prayer it was.

I Want To Be Where You Are

23 Aug

I have two cats that came to me because their owner was an elderly woman who could no longer live on her own. So my boys needed a home and I became their mamma. And for that, I have deity status among them.

As you can see from the above photograph, these boys want to be with me just about every second of the day. Every minute I am home, they are on my lap, on the bed with me or at the computer as I type.

Their devotion reminds me of how much I need God. Today in church at our monthly prayer vigil “Selah”, we sang a song where a stanza stood out to me:

I called and you answered
and you came to my rescue
I wanna be where you are.

On paper, this verse might not look like grammy award material. But oh, it is. Because when you are in anguish as I was for so many years of my life and then feel God rescuing you, all you want to do is soak in Him. Like my cats soak in me. In the same way that they pour out their love, need and appreciation of me, I realize I am but a creature relying on and longing for God. And I am so in NEED of Him.

Today my pastor preached on the tendency to give up on God. The tendency to just say “f— it” when we don’t think He is there. Or, the tendency to resort to a watered down spirituality when we sense God is there but not 100% and therefore, we don’t ask much of Him. Instead we deny our longing and desperate need, attempting to mask it from Him.

My cats don’t deny their longing. They do not fear rejection. They come after me hard. Screaming out their need for love, attention and sustenance in the form of an impetuous “meow” and/or a sensuous pure.

May I NEVER EVER forget, He is what I need and He will be there. In the same way my cats sometimes have to wait on me because I know what is best for them, I too will wait on the Lord, trusting that he is going to feed me, embrace me and love me.

And I in turn want to be where He is – every second of the day.

My “Eat, Pray, Love”

15 Aug

Watching the film edition of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” I couldn’t help but reminisce about the year I lived in Indonesia and how vastly different my experience was from hers’. If I wrote my own recollections, would it make me the millions she made?

I have amazing photos from that year when I was eighteen, as well as fragments of writing in the form of memoirs and a screenplay but nothing that warrants the proper action of a story. Because the story was more internal then external. More static than transformational or transcendent. And yet still I reflect. Here an excerpt:

The air coming through the windows of the moving train brought the temperature back to bearable. I no longer felt like was going to faint from the stifling heat. We moved through the slums of the city’s outer domains. There were no houses, only shanties put together with cardboard, scrap metal and bamboo. Clotheslines were strung every which way like zig-zags in a game of cat’s cradle. Children ran around barefoot, apparently oblivious to the filth of their surroundings – empty soda cans, newspapers, shoes and clothes were scattered everywhere.

Initially excited to be an exchange student in Bandung, Indonesia, I now felt utterly terrified. Yet like a Colonist seeking absolution from the past, I embarked on my journey with a sense of courage and excitement. “I had a farm in Africa,” I kept repeating to myself imagining myself as Isak Dinsen or as the heroine from “A Passage to India.” In cahoots with my self-absorption, I cast myself in an internal Merchant Ivory film.

The landscape gradually changed to countryside, replacing the filth and squalor to reveal a National Geographic spread. Now children played in streams instead of squalor. Most notable were the long flat rice fields. They created a sea of green so vibrant the color almost didn’t look real. Contrasting this green I’d only seen before in a box of crayons was sky as dark as the horizon of a Midwestern summer storm. While children played, adults worked barefoot in the fields. Most wore cone shaped hats of straw, reminding me of “Ping the Duck”, a children’s story with illustrations of Chinese fishermen. I struggled with the dichotomy of their lives and mine. What was it like to work in such intense sun? Could I stand the heat and bugs? Were there water snakes? No wonder people in the villages looked so beat up, as if the sun and wind had worn them down like the walls of the Grand Canyon. Yet they always had a toothless grin and seemed to accept their fate with a sense of Grace and dignity I couldn’t quite understand. Sure I loved to garden but I always had a place to wash up afterwards and a cool air conditioned home.

The year passed in a blur not unlike the way the rain in Indonesia muted the orange and white fish in my host parent’s pond into a beautiful blur below. While there, I consumed experiences like antibiotics hoping to purge a pestilence, only the bacteria just spread. Many people go abroad to run away from something and I was one of them. While my life did not necessarily follow me, it was only temporarily put on hold. I knew when I returned to the States, I would have to face my father’s continuing descent into drugs, madness and financial ruin.

Salt

8 Aug

“You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Leviticus 2:13

In Leviticus, the Old Testament book centering on laws pertaining to worship, priests, sacrifices and holiness, there is mention of salt being used in offerings. Being a preservative, it was considered a purifying agent and was also associated with the preservation of a covenant relationship in a related ritual meal.

I do not make food offerings to the Lord, let alone food offerings with salt. But in a weird reversal, I feel like the Lord provides me an offering in the form of salt water. In giving me the salt water of the ocean, He gives me a profound purifying agent and reminds me of His covenant relationship with me.

There is something spooky cleansing about the ocean water. I figured this out recently when my neighbor Amanda and I started surfing one morning a week at the crack of dawn before each of us has to be at work. Inevitably, the night we make the pact to leave our respective houses at 6:00 a.m., I sleep like crap and am certain that I will not only be groggy in the water but will have a bodaciously long day at work. And yet the exact opposite occurs. I love being in the water that early (there is hardly anyone there) and in contrast to fatigue, I get to work feeling like I’ve had a great vacation.


If salt acts not only as a purifying agent but also as a restorative, then the sea water definitely brings me back to center and to God. Instead of acting like a spaz-case when I get home, I typically remember what is important.

What is Family

3 Aug

When I was a child I was enamored with the book “Little Women”, a story about four sisters growing up in a loving family during the 1800’s in America. As an only child of divorced parents, I wanted more than any thing to create the kind of haven Marmee established for her daughters. It is therefore a great irony that I am single with no children when my childhood dream was to somehow create a happy family. 

Today as I gathered with my relatives at our family reunion, I pondered on what is family anyway. Is it having a spouse and 2.5 kids? Is it sharing genetics and history? Or is it being in a place where you feel loved and like you belong? 

In the New Testament Jesus makes a comment saying, “”In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” To me, this is the epitome of family. The epitome of having a family home to return to – the ultimate family reunion. 

The other morning I was up at the crack of dawn doing yoga on the dock (in my family I am the odd duck that does this sort of thing). As I walked back to my uncle’s summer house, I noticed all of our towels and bathing suits strewn on the clothesline from boating and swimming the day before. Taking in the sight, I thought of how happy my grandfather would be to know all his children and grandchildren had taken the time to travel from four corners of the states to be together. And I thank God my parents had the foresight to send me to my relatives every summer for it gave me an invaluable piece of stability and love that I desperately needed.  

When I was a little girl, I’d play in my grandparent’s basement, ride with my grandfather on a tractor lawn mower and prance around in corn fields and apple orchards. I vowed I’d have a nice house with good linen and china for entertaining and that I’d learn to cook EVERYTHING from scratch (including catsup, jam and macaroni and cheese) like my grandma did.

That hasn’t quite happened in the way I imagined. 

But what has happened is that I have learned to carry home within my heart. I carry the images of basements and farmhouses; lakes and forests and universities. I carry the oceans and mountains of California where I was mostly raised and the memories of my mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But I also carry within me images of my church family and most important, I see my Father’s house. The one in which a room is being prepared just for me. A place where I belong – no matter what. 

And for that – and for family  – I am grateful. So very grateful.

Geese

1 Aug

When my mom took her own life in July 2008 and then my grandfather died a few months later, my aunt bought all the family members a little book on grief. In it, I was touched by a passage about how in a flock of geese when one bird is injured, a few drop out of formation and fly near the bird to offer support. When the bird is okay, they return to flying in formation.

This summer the family has returned to formation. We agreed that in 2010 we’d all meet at my uncle’s lake home in Wisconsin where we all have roots in some way, shape or form. And we have congregated.

(A number of my relatives are adverse to FB/blogs and made me promise that I wouldn’t post pictures all over the internet of them. But a few agreed). 

There is a five year old little girl here. I watch her and remember what it was like when I was five and spent time on a lake in summer. And I think about how much my life changed as I grew older and both of my parents ended up succumbing to addiction. I think of how my family members – on both sides of the family – flew in and helped me when I was injured from turmoil – until I too could return to flying in full formation. As part of the flock.

Today I water skied for the first time in twenty-five years and I tubed for the first time ever. And I quietly glided off by myself on a kayak. More significant, I laughed and felt the strength of family when it is healthy. When it is healing. When it is restored. 

And I looked up to the heavens and thanked God for God. For being “by my side” all these years even when I didn’t always realize it.

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