Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Now and The Not Yet


The pier at Sunset Beach. As I stood beneath it and took this photo, I marveled at how those sturdy beams withstood the pounding of the waves. But I also remembered all the times I have seen weathermen and women stand beside the remainder of such structures after the passage of a hurricane. The power of the wind and waves can overwhelm even the strongest buildings... and people.
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There is a curious, confounding, and reassuring story in the New Testament book of Mark, chapter 4, that I have been thinking about this afternoon. It is the story of Jesus and His disciples crossing the lake. Here is the story - with my commentary:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.

Whose idea was it to cross the lake? It was Jesus' idea. I wonder if the disciples wondered why they were crossing. Did they even want to cross? Was there something on the other side that they had decided they wanted to see or explore? Or was the decision exclusively his? No answer is provided in the text, but we read that they got into the boat.

Makes me wonder: how many of the paths in my life were taken without much forethought on my part? Was there something on the other side of grad school, marriage, parenthood, homeschooling that I decided I wanted to see? How did I decide to take these pathways, to travel this particular route through life? Looking back, the answers to those questions aren't entirely clear, but nevertheless here I am in the boat. I am not alone in this boat. There are lots of boats floating around on the vast ocean that is this life, and there are lots of people in all those boats.

All kinds of furious squalls have come upon us, and many of our boats are being swamped. There are the Southern Californians in all kinds of boats, trying to escape the squalls of fire. The water-weary residents of New Orleans are watching their city flood again - in different kinds of boats. The afraid, the alone, the abandoned - are in the boat. There are the abused, the confused, the misused, the misunderstood, and the downright downtrodden - all in their own boats, watching the waves overtake them one by one.

Where are we going, Lord? What's on the other side of this choppy, turbulent, life-threatening water? When will we reach the other side? Will we reach the other side?

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

I don't know about anybody else out there, but I've spent an inordinate amount of time asking this question lately. I sometimes couch it in kinder, gentler, more sanctified terms than the disciples did, but the question is essentially the same.

DON'T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE IN AN EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT, THE WORST ON RECORD?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT OTHER PEOPLE, IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD, ARE WATCHING ALL THEIR WORLDLY POSSESSIONS FLOAT AWAY IN FLOOD WATERS?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT THE CALIFORNIA FIRES ARE RAGING OUT OF CONTROL WITHOUT ANY REPRIEVE IN SIGHT?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT ALL THREE OF THAT WOMAN'S CHILDREN HAVE DIED?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT THEIR INFANT SON HAS TO UNDERGO ANOTHER SURGERY?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT THAT DAD DESPERATELY WANTS TO PROVIDE FOR HIS FAMILY?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT SHE FEELS SO DESPERATELY AFRAID AND ALONE?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT SHE IS ALLERGIC TO BEE STINGS AND MOST MEDICATIONS?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT HER DAUGHTER IS SEVERELY HANDICAPPED AND THAT SHE IS EXHAUSTED?

DON'T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE ALL DROWNING HERE?

DON'T YOU CARE?

This part is the now.
The tears, the troubles, the loss, the anguish.
This is the now.

Next comes the "not yet."

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Peace. Be still." Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

"Lord, I beg you, please wake up. Stand up. Rebuke the waves, the flames, the fists being cocked back in anger, the pink slips being pushed across desks in apathy, the disease that claims entire families and villages, the violence, the bullets, the racism, and the all-consuming greed. Lord, please calm the stormy marriages and parent-child relationships, the fears of all people the world over. Lord, I pray for a calming of the wind and the seas that threaten to overwhelm all of us. Please cause the roaring of our anxious hearts to quiet down and the shaking of our shrill voices to be still. Please bring us peace."




Here is a lone surfer, against all odds, facing the ocean waves alone.
How often I have felt like him. And you?
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He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

My answer to his questions: "I'm afraid because I don't have the power to bring peace, not to my children, not to my friends, not even to myself. I'm afraid because I cannot see the horizon, but I believe that you can. I'm afraid because I'm human, and humans are fearful creatures. I'm afraid because my faith wavers. Or does my faith waver because I'm afraid? I don't know the answer to that question either, Lord, but I do know this: I am afraid. I do have faith - most of the time. No, I have faith all of the time; it's just that doubts come right along with my faith. Questions too. Wondering.

"If you don't mind, by way of answering your second question, I'm gonna quote back to you something someone said to you in Mark 9, 'I do believe; help my unbelief.' You promised In Joshua 1 that you would be with us. You promised in Philippians 4 that your peace would pass our understanding. You promised in Isaiah 43 that the fire and the floods wouldn't burn us or sweep over us. Lord, please help us to stand strong and watch with rapt attention as you keep your promises."

They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him."

Here is another part of the not yet.
The wind and waves haven't obeyed yet.
At least not as far as I can see now.

The now and the not yet.
Right now, the earth is parched and the trees are dying here in Charlotte.
Right now, the sky is dark and cloudy.
Right now, however, it's not raining.
Not yet.

6 comments:

jmgb said...

I've been meditating lately on what Christ meant when he said to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. I had to question, what is God's kingdom...I came up with a place where he alone rules...completely, sovereignly. Where peace, and love, and wholeness are perfectly experienced, where God is known and revealed and worshiped.

What amazes me is that in the Lord's prayer and in the book of Luke, we are admonished to bring the kingdom of God to earth. I have had to ask myself, why would God ask us to do something if it were not possible...this in some ways in a radical thought for me. Most days I don't feel like it's possible. The realist in me shakes my head and reaches out to a few, but overall bids her time and hopes that God does something sooner than later.

I lack faith and perspective.

I look around the world, at all the darkness and injustice, at deep and undeserving suffering. I too grieve with you Gail. At all that unravels.

Yet...the idea, his very words, encouraging and challenging what feels and appears hopeless, impossible--and spoken in his promise--Do I believe he means it? The possibility prompts me outside of narrow understanding and into something like attempted ushering...at bringing his kingdom to earth.

Perhaps the kingdom is not now.
Not yet.

But I believe in it.

GailNHB said...

jmgb, your words are powerful and challenging. I will ponder them, challenge myself with them, and turn again to the One who has asked us to do so many things that are impossible for us - remind myself of the fact that He also promised His strength to help us to do what He has called us to do. Good works that He prepared in advance for us to do...

Maybe all He asks from any one of us is to reach out to the few that are in our sphere of influence and believe that everyone in the world can and will be reached if we each do our small part.

Like you, I believe in His kingdom. I believe that it is now and not yet. Here already and still on the way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

Lisa said...

What a powerful pouring forth of truth and honesty! I want to write a comment but am almost speechless as I digest your wrenching questions.

You wrote:
My answer to his questions: "I'm afraid because I don't have the power to bring peace, not to my children, not to my friends, not even to myself. I'm afraid because I cannot see the horizon, but I believe that you can. I'm afraid because I'm human, and humans are fearful creatures.

I beg to differ. You DO have the POWER to bring peace to yourself. It is a choice. It is by no means an easy process, but it consists of examining our worldview, deconstructing our learned responses/patterns/habits/beliefs and replacing them with what works more effectively towards a more peaceful existence. As we are ALL connected, the work you do for your own peace cannot help but have a ripple effect, far more than you may ever know.

Also, fear (other than the instinctive, evolved fear of survival) is a learned behavior. So, so, so much of what is thrown at us these days from our government, from the media, from advertising, is based in fear. It is crazy once you start to realize it for what it is. (In my opinion, FoxNews is a prime example of this!)

We can CHOOSE not to accept this. It is up to us to say "I will not buy into the fear you are selling. I choose peace and love instead." (or insert which ever words work for you right now...perhaps trust/faith/calm/hope)

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of POWER and of LOVE and of a sound mind."
-2 Timothy 1:7

Ultimately, there are no adequate answers to the questions you are asking. Of course, we know God cares, but that doesn't help us in dealing with the day to day ugliness of what we're facing on this planet.

It is up to us to claim our spirit of love and power. And, as hard as it is, to allow ourselves and others to suffer. That is one of the most difficult lessons I'm learning. But it helps to remind myself of this...then I can CHOOSE how to respond in a different manner. We can practice lovingkindness and compassion and be of service where we can..but, ultimately, we cannot take suffering away.

What we do - the gift of our presence, our prayers, our meals, our babysitting, our visits to hospitals, (our trips to WalMart!) - that is the extension of who we are as Christ in the world.

So...those are my initial thoughts as I'm a bit jacked-up on Italian Roast this morning!

I wish I could be there in person to hug and cry and fret and question right along with you. I sooooo appreciate you, Gail, and your sensitive, struggling, questioning, thoughtful, eloquent nature. You are a blessing :-)

GailNHB said...

Okay, ladies, these are two of the most thought-provoking exchanges I have had in a VERY long time. I need to print out both of your responses and ponder them deeply. I have already printed Lisa's; jmgb, yours is next. Not a spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind. I "knew" that verse, of course, but haven't grasped its significance in this fearful time of my life.

jmgb, I've been praying the Lord's prayer more often of late, but hadn't been thinking too seriously about my role in bringing the kingdom of God to earth. In acts of compassion and kindness and friendship, though, I am doing just that. And it can speak to the hearts and souls of suffering people much more than all the fear-mongering ever can.

Thank you both for your words of encouragement and of challenge. These are not easy days, but there is so much room for peace, for grace, for faith, and for calm in the midst of all that is unraveling in our world.

I think it's time for a shower (yup, a yoga workout followed immediately by homeschooling can set me back some mornings) another cup of yerba mate tea, and a journaling/prayer session about claiming peace, power, love, and faith on this drizzly (!!!!) day in Charlotte.

By the way, it did rain some last night, and my husband and son and I danced up the street and shouted for joy. Steve was in his work clothes, Daniel in his baseball uniform, and me in my skirt and dog-walking clogs. What a sight we must have been - but we didn't care. We were very happy and grateful.

As I continue to be today - even if it doesn't rain anymore. I choose peace of mind and gratitude. Thanks again.

Amy said...

Gail,

Wow.

We do face turbulent waters, don't we? That's an ironic question to ask in the middle of this drought. As I write this, though, rain is soaking my parched lawn and shrubs. I'm so grateful!

This is one of the most beautiful, profound, and thought-provoking writings I've read!

Anonymous said...

Gail,

The world is a crazy place. I have to wonder some days too? Mostly everyday really. I think the planet earth always has been and will be crazy.

I think it's normal to feel as we do and think all those things you feel and wrote about-- stirring the soul. I think God stirs the soul intentionally to wake us up. Maybe to bring us out of our comfort zone?

Some days life reminds me of the movie, "It's A Mad, Mad World,"(first version) back in the 70's. I feel like that son being swung around that palm tree at the end of the movie getting ready to be flung off not knowing which direction I'm going to go in.

My husband always tells me to look back at history. It was dark, violent, plagues, no rights for many,and limited medical treatments. So we've come a long way crossing the waters in some ways so to speak. They had fewer possessions, but more intimate relationships.

I'm however plagued by my thoughts of fear and uncertainty daily while some people just don't blink an eye. Some I know who just sleep their days away. I don't know. I think can't they see the pain in this world? There's a certain apathy. I'm fearful of this world and of this life at times. How can we not be when we see it daily? There is sadness in life, but courage too.

I guess it up to us to reach out to others even in a dark places. Words can and do bring comfort to friends. A glass of cold water will fill our thirst when we are hot in a drought. And believe it or not even wild fire serves a purpose in nature.

But, the loss people feel in those situations are hard to watch and their pain in loosing their homes, all they built and put in them. That's the hard part loosing it all. More sickening people aided it by setting more fires.

I have friends living out in that area now. I tried to call yesterday. No answer. I have no idea how they are? There are more questions then answers. I think too, how can all this be happening?

Maybe it was test by Jesus to prepare the disciples for their work ahead. "Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these of LOVE." You share that love with others. Our faith will waver, our hope will flounder too, so LOVE must be the answer to the jouney in some part. The problem is that by nature people can be selfish, envious, mean, cruel people. Virtues and vices-- the laundry list can goes on.

But there's is a lesson there. I think it's trying to hold on to all three in our hearts. And keep on going, but that's the hardest part. Just my thoughts only.

Kim:)