Monday, November 29, 2010

East of Eden (part two): Wake Up

Maybe it’s because I recently re-watched the final season of LOST. Maybe it’s because I keep going back to the Book of Genesis and rereading the Creation Story and the Fall over and over again. Maybe it’s because I recently have been revisiting my own spiritual reawakening, making peace with what led up to it and with the me of who I was before this reawakening. 

Whatever the reason, I have found myself thinking about Eden a lot. Especially in terms of how the Biblical Eden relates to the false Edens we construct around ourselves.

Our hearts and minds finally connect and “get” the need for salvation when we understand and accept that our lives are NOT in Eden; when we understand and accept that everything in our lives is not perfect, and that not all our needs are met. We may try (and God knows, we do try) to act as if everything is perfect, and that we have everything we need. We have money. Power. Prestige. Respect. The right everything: car, family, friends, social circle, house, home A/V system, clothes – you name it.

But eventually, we eat of the fruit that opens our eyes. And at that point, in that instant we realize that the Paradise we thought we were in is instead Wilderness.

For me, my fruit was a mirror. A literal mirror that one day I looked into and I finally had to accept the fact that the person in the reflection was not who I wanted to see. Oh sure – the outside looked great (please; like there was ever a doubt), but for the first time in a long time, on that day I looked deeper. I saw things reflected that were not as easily detectable to someone looking at me. I took a look in me.

And man – did I find some Wilderness there. Barren. “Scorched Earth,” to be exact. I had allowed everything to be burned down, and I was guilty of throwing some Molotov Cocktails at my own heart.  

It’s been said that the Fall of man was in some ways “a heart-level betrayal between committed friends: between God and man. At issue in the tragedy of the garden is a relational crime.” For me, it was a failed relationship that led to me failing my relationship with God. I chose to start calling my wilderness a paradise instead of seeing it for the all-too-populated-with-snakes danger zone that it was. I continually and intentionally turned as far and as fast as I could from the Voice calling out to me. I didn’t necessarily hide because I was ashamed of being naked; I hid because I just didn’t want to answer Him, because in doing so, I would have had to face the questions that I had been avoiding. 

One of the best, most striking visuals used in a number of episodes of LOST was an extreme close-up on a character’s eye as they woke up. One of the most heart-wrenching moments in the series finale (SPOILER ALERT) was when the characters began to wake up from the false, “perfect” reality they had constructed for themselves. They may have been living in the reality that they thought was everything they ever wanted, but something happened to cause them to become aware of the Eden awaiting them.  

Love, between individuals, sparked an awakening.

And eyes were opened.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I connected with the stories on this show as much as I did (other than the fact that every freaking character on the show had father issues): they were broken and flawed, and in need of an awakening.   

And into Eden.  The Eden they were meant to live in.

Monday, November 22, 2010

East of Eden (part one): The Nose Knows

It’s the question that has kept theologians awake for hours on end, debating the significance of this verse. It’s been the point of division between denominations, shattering and splintering them, as their members choose sides, tearing asunder their families. Dr. Peter Venkman might even go so far as to suggest it would create mass hysteria, human sacrifice, and have dogs and cats living together…

It’s one verse, taken from the Old Testament, found in Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed life into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Now, I’ve never considered blowing into someone face as an act of holiness. In fact, there are only three times I can think of when I intentionally exhale my breath and someone gets a whiff of it in their nose: when I blow into my dog Maggie’s face (which annoys her), when I blow into my 19-month-old son’s face (which makes him giggle) and when I blow into my own hand to check my breath to make sure it doesn’t have some rancid post-coffee smell to it.

But in reading this verse as part of my “Sonny is stuck re-reading Genesis” kick, I was taken aback when I actually paid attention to what was written in this passage and didn’t just gloss it over mentally like I do so many times with passages I think that I know. Did the Bible actually state that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to give him life? That’s not how I remember the felt board lessons of creation from Sunday school when I was a kid. You know – God created man out of clay, conveniently having a plant nearby to cover the naughty bits out of our line of sight, and God grabbed Adam’s hand and helped him to stand up.

But, since I was certain that God was trying to show me something in this passage other than to wonder “What does God’s breath smell like?” I decided to dig a little deeper to see what might be found.  And I discovered that the words bolded above in the verse have some unique translations when we look at them in Hebrew…

Nostrils. Aph. Masculine noun. Refers to the breathing part of the face. What’s crazy cool about this is that to me, it infers that the nose is meant to be the primary place from where we are to breathe. Think about it: in singing choral music, in meditation, in trying to get ourselves to just calm down – we always inhale deeply through the nose. The nose can also betray our emotions at times: we may have a completely stoic look on our face…and yet our nostrils might flare (showing anger or frustration). This also makes the term “mouth breather” seem to be a bit more derogatory (SINNERS! ACTING OUT OF ACCORDANCE WITH GOD’S DIVINE PLAN! And you just look weird.).

Breath. Neshamah. Feminine noun. Refers to a puff of air or spirit – or, the soul. Synonymous with nephesh, which roughly translated means “breathing creature,” and is often found in combination use with the word “ruach.” (Hmm…male [aph] and female [neshamah]. Where have I read those words before in Genesis…?)  Now, if you stop to look at this in a literal way, it shows that according to the creation story, God animated us with His own breath. The Ruach Elohim. God imparted His Spirit into us to get us started in life. This goes beyond thinking of creation as starting with us beginning to breathe on our own once we rose up out of the dirt. Nor is it to be thought of as some form of divine CPR where God kickstarted us and we hen took of on our own. It really puts a new spin on John 15:5 when Christ says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Like, say for example, breathe.

Maybe it’s also allegorical for why we can’t hold our breath for a very long time – it’s like trying to hold in God.

And good luck with that.

So think about this week - especially in the midst of the chaos that surrounds the holiday season, including how and why 87 metric tons of food is coked and consumed in homes in America - and how, where and when you need to take a deep breath; how, where and when you may find yourself out of breath; how, where and when you need to remember to just breathe.

Breathe in the minty-fresh Spirit of God, and let it revive you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Millstone or milestone?

Around my neck against my heart I wear a wooden cross, and sometimes I remember what freedom cost. the choir. “Circle Slide.” Circle Slide. 1990.

I rarely, if ever, get self-indulgent when I write here, so please bear with me as today’s post deviates from the norm.

This Wednesday marks a major landmark birthday in my life. I’m already well past the age of when conventional wisdom tells me I should be trusted (30), and on Wednesday I enter into a new decade: I hit the dreaded big 4-0. It’s the point in life where many people remark “it’s all downhill from here on.” It’s the age where complaining about getting too old for some things, complaining about your back or neck, or yelling at those darn kids to get off the yard can be justified on a daily basis.

I’m not sure when it was exactly, but some time back, I stopped caring about my birthday. I still note it on the calendar with a bit of a growl escaping my lips and a glare in the mirror at the ever-increasing lines around my eyes, but at some point in the past, I stopped caring about celebrating. I’m not proud of this fact, but I need to admit it to myself that I am a bit of a birthday Grinch. I simply stopped looking forward to being surrounded by my friends and family. Maybe it was around the time I moved to Miami and was physically removed by distance from a number of people I had grown to love having in my daily life. Maybe it was after I turned 30 and realized getting toys as gifts (well, as the PRIMARY gifts I would receive) was less appropriate than it was something I should ask for/expect. Maybe it was when I started to notice the candle-to-cake-top ratio was growing smaller every year.

But more likely, it’s because this time of year gives me emotional ADD that gets kicked up to eleven. Yes, the beauty of the bleakness and change of seasons does make my heart sing at times. However, the unfortunate reality is that this time of year also marks way too many personal anniversaries in addition to the one surrounding my birth.

From the beginning of November until the turn of the calendar year, my mind constantly goes to the numerous moments of impact that have left their mark on my heart, all of which have occurred within this small window of weeks throughout my life: wedding anniversaries; endings of marriages; births; deaths; final exams; celebrations a-plenty; nights spent drenched in tears; dreams becoming reality; friends who have moved away; and friends I have lost through words which should have been left unspoken. 

I’m like the poster child for seasonal affective disorder. So much has affected me during this season, I constantly feel emotionally out of order.

And then there’s the fact that I amaze and confuse a number of people when they learn my biological age. “No WAY,” they exclaim. Apparently it’s because I don’t look or act like any self-respecting 40-year-old (!) would. And absolutely no person my age would just decide to chuck his job.  Well, maybe because of a mid-life-crisis, but not for any other conceivable reason. According to the opinions of many of my friends and colleagues, right now I should be in a stable, mid-to-upper-level career point as a college administrator. I should have the nice little letters “Ph.D.” following my name. I should have this kind of car, this kind of house, these kinds of clothes, and for the love of God, please shave. I should act my age.

I wish that I could say I’m not affected by the thoughts and words of people as they sit and judge me/offer advice on how I need to be according to the dictates of society. I wish that I could not think, “Maybe they’re right.” I wish that I could live my life as free of being hindered by what others think as in my heart I want to be.

But I'm not. I am affected by these words. Not held captive by them or to them, but they do affect me on some levels.

And part of me is glad for that, because it means that I’m not as emotionally cut off as I think I am at times.

Maybe it would be better if instead of looking at it as growing another year older, I should just celebrate by having people say “Happy New Year” instead of “Happy Birthday.” After all, right around this time of year for almost 15 years running, something happens to make it seem like either through choice or circumstance, there’s a new beginning about to take place in my life. Heart and soul shattering endings that dovetail into potential (and sometimes forced) fresh starts.

Maybe I should start making my new-year resolutions on my birthday as a way of giving myself something, and also as something to look forward to for the coming year. A measure of something to hold myself to that’s not dictated by what polite society says a man of my certain age should look like, act like, or be like.

A gift of freedom.

I think I’ll start by giving myself permission to be free of certain memories.

And maybe – just maybe – I’ll start to feel like having a party to celebrate it.

And if so, you’re invited.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pray This, Not That

Oh, older writings of mine. How you vex me, as I try to decipher my own handwriting. And, as I stare in wide-eyed wonder at how things I wrote then can and do run parallel with things I am going through now. Take this for example; it’s from a journal entry six years (!) ago, written while I was reading Matthew 6; specifically, in dealing with the Lord’s Prayer:

“Prayer opens our hearts and minds to God. Going into a prayer, it should not be formulaic. This is not a time for theater. This is a time for honesty. Prayer should make us open and receptive to the Spirit, giving us hope when we begin to pray for the things we otherwise would never have known to instead of just asking for the things we think we should.”

Now, I know the way my mind works (most of the time; I take no responsibility for some of the cracked-out dreams I’ve had). I know that in some ways I wrote this as a response to the fact that Christ says “Pray, then, in this way” (verse 9) and not “Pray, then, exactly as I do.”

I wrote this because I saw then (and still to this day see) so many of my friends and fellow believers struggle with prayer.

We take refuge in things that are ritualistic. We take comfort in the formulaic way that life works (i.e.: job = money = good & services). Comparatively speaking, we can more readily accept it (for the most part) when life throws us a curveball and our plans don’t go according to – well, plan, but if life doesn’t go according to our prayers?

Clearly, God didn’t listen. Clearly, we didn’t pray the “right” way. Clearly, we didn’t pray hard enough, long enough, or trusting enough. Clearly, we didn’t confess enough sins, or maybe we didn’t confess the “right” ones.

We believe that we didn’t follow the agenda.

But in reality, we did.

We followed our own.

Look at another prime example we have of Christ’s recorded prayers in the book of Matthew. If ANYONE in the history of life itself ever had a reason to want to get whipped up into a frenzy when He prayed, I’d be willing to grant that award to Christ while in the Garden of Gethsemane (chapter 26). He had the foreknowledge of was about to happen. He knew that He was destined to die.

And in His prayer, He was Himself. He didn’t feel the need to pull the “I am Your Son!” card and plead with God. He didn’t follow the tenets and rituals he had been brought up with as a Jewish man. He didn’t feel the need to do or say anything other than what was on His heart (basically, “I am scared.”).

And yet, He knew that God would listen to Him.

He was honest.

My prayer is that I find that honesty. That I keep to that honesty, and that like Christ, I pray in that manner: opening my heart. Trusting. Not asking. 

Believing and trusting in myself to at least be honest with God, even though it is hard to be honest with myself.

Monday, November 01, 2010

I Write Pyrite

I’ve been going through a number of older journals of mine, trying to find some gems in them to mine out and blog about. Like many writers, I wince at some of my older writings, hoping and praying that they never see the light of day – or at least not without the help of a good editor. One of the things I find exceptionally humbling is the number of people read this blog and discover something of worth in the words found here. Whether it’s an essay I have written that I know God used to show me something directly, or an entry where, after reading over it, I wonder “Okay – where did THAT come from,” there’s been a point behind all what I have written down and shared – whether or not I have been aware of it. 

Of course, this doesn’t stop me from still thinking some of my stuff is total crap.

In fact, my plan was going to make this cool, witty post about how I consider my writings to be “fool’s gold” and not real gold, so I went to the repository of all knowledge (Wikipedia) to find out the mineral composition of fool’s gold. You know – so I could make a joke at my own expense. It was going to be marvelous word-play regarding what I thought about some of my writings.

But what I read caused me to stop dead on my keyboard.

It turns out that the name pyrite – “fool’s gold” – is derived from the Greek πυρίτης (puritēs), meaning "of fire" or "in fire", which is also derived from πύρ (pur), "fire". In ancient Roman times, this name was applied to several types of stone that would create sparks when struck against steel.


Turns out that humble pie has a metallic tinge to its taste.

Now, I’m no theologian. I don’t hold a Masters’ degree in Divinity or any ministerial derivative thereof. I’m not, as I have called so many of my friends employed by churches, a “professional Christian.” I’m just a poor, wayfaring stranger. But even I, in my limited scope of understanding, can infer a few basic principles that God was trying to show me:

Proverbs 27:17. As iron sharpen iron. God uses my words (rather, the words the Spirit gives me; I can’t claim ownership of them) to sharpen myself and others.

Acts 10:15. What God has called clean (my writings), I dare not call impure, or of no worth.

And so I am challenged, as I challenge my fellow writers, speakers, ministers, bloggers, Twitter-ers, and the like. In those moments of wondering if what you do is of any worth, or even if you are of any worth: in the times when you question the quality of your words, in the quiet of wondering if what you do, type or say has any lasting meaning…

Isaiah 55:11. What I write will not go out and return empty. It has a point and a purpose.

It’s not fool’s gold. It is not worthless.

It is precious. 

As are you.