Mar 30, 2009

Named No More

We spontaneously went to the fine arts museum yesterday afternoon. A stunning March storm had smothered the city the day before, leaving deep, dense snow covering every surface of ground and branch. What a fun evening it had been to put all the children to bed at my house and stay up late celebrating my sister’s birthday, playing games around the round table in the fire room, getting giddy on being together, being happy, and being the consumers of a perfect lemon sponge custard. Travel was almost impossible by the time we broke up (OJ came within inches of smashing my car in the driveway multiple times while the wheels on his minivan spun and spun), but by morning the sun had come out and Ariel and I tromped from my house to Liz’s for a pancake breakfast and a webstreamed sermon.

It sounded like rain. Bits of thick, dense snow were dropping from the thousands of interlacing branches above us, landing with half-wet, half-frozen plops. Ariel had to hold my hand and close her eyes, for the sunlight on the white world blinded her. The morning spent itself in a slow melt, and by the time the girls and I emerged from our car at the museum its green manicured lawns were fully visible and only small fields of snow still clung to the slopes, under the evergreen shadows, surrounding joyful groupings of daffodils. Their yellow faces were bent slightly downward from the night-long weight of snow, but what a sight they made!

This might be why the interior of the museum became such a weight of its own to us. The purity of all we’d seen for the last 24 hours – the white and spring green and peeking bud-ness of it all – is in direct opposition to much of what that huge, columned building holds. I had forgotten – forgotten the heaviness of windowless halls and room after succeeding room of idols and statuary and man’s attempts to imitate beauty. Stone Assyrian libations to the god of fertilization, bronzed Roman Mercurys with winged heels, corpulent Buddhas sucking the life out of every generation that ever worshiped them.

I hurried, behind Annie, through the room of Buddhas, holding my breath. At a certain point it just becomes too much. I’m not afraid of ungodliness, nor of a spiritual fight. Though I am simple, I know enough to understand God’s great power over the demons these idols represent. But I had forgotten that having been buried and unearthed and moved to an American museum doesn’t mean the spirits attached to those things have been vanquished.

Oonagh reminded me of this once in her sweet Irish accent after we’d toured a kiva in the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde and then each had a disturbed night’s sleep in the local lodge. “What were we thinking, Amy? When the American park service bought this place,” she said, “I doubt they hired priests to come in and perform an exorcism.” I’d laughed hard at the image of American modernists taking such a step, and learned my lesson. Hundreds of years don’t make much difference when land or an object has been dedicated to Satan. Spirits don’t dissipate or wear away through centuries, like stone gargoyles under the acid rain.

It was great relief to emerge from the high halls of that building into the sunlight, the yellow-and-white-and-green spring of life that God had been creating outside for us. We shook off the memory of passing a hundred idols, and took photographs with the fresh daffodils. (Annie, ever more direct than I, rebuked and severed anything not of God, her hands moving in little chopping motions unconsciously for a few seconds.)

This morning a verse that would have seemed obscure to me a day ago popped out as a great, glorious promise:

“For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more.” (Hosea 2:17)

Ah, the victory! Ah, the sweetness of a total vanquish! Those evil spirits that have hung on to cultures and peoples for so many centuries, that have smashed and sucked and embezzled the life right out of human beings, that we don’t even have the discernment today to reject-instead pedestaling, spotlighting, and studying them-those evil things will not be remembered by their name. God isn’t going to just cage them and punish them. The remembrance of their very names will be wiped out. If one could walk through the same museum in the New Earth, not only would the statues themselves have been smashed, the white name cards on the walls beside their pedestals would be blank. No one would be able to recall what they had been named.

Names are deep things. They personify a truth and even call forth destiny in lives. Each of us will receive a new one so precious, it is known only to God. The ability to discerningly name was given to Adam and is one of the deepest reflections of the image of God in us. For our name to be remembered no more is to go down, not in infamy, but in an obscurity so deep it cannot be reversed. The Egyptians wrote the dead’s names on tablets, hoping future generations would read and speak them, thus giving those deceased people a chance to be real again in the underworld. Their continued life, they believed, had to do with the continued remembrance of their name. Obviously, truth twisted; yet it acknowledges the power of a name. What joy I found it this morning to have God whisper to me… “they shall be remembered by their name no more.”

He, yes HE, shall really have the victory!

Mar 7, 2009

So Grateful...

A few months ago a friend instructed our small group to ask God what our sins were - personal, church-wide, and nationally. This, in itself, might seem a shocking enterprise, especially considering we were then to go around the circle and share them. Freedom was given to withhold sharing on any we'd like, though, and we happily commenced the praying.

Ungratefulness. It was the last, most personal, and most prominent one the Spirit whispered to me. But I had such a long list already, that when it came my turn to share them I didn't get to that last bit, the ungratefulness bit. Perhaps I was trying to downplay it; perhaps I didn't think it would strike anyone else as very important. Either way, I kept silent. But when the leader finished up the time with his own list, there it was in big, bold type, spelled the same, hanging on the air in his voice: ungratefulness.

At first glance it seems a sort of Oprah-ish concept. "Let's all be grateful!" In fact, I think there was even a book she promoted where one was supposed to write down each day something one was thankful for. This would have some sort of beneficial effect on "my spirit", she explained, pulling heavily on the swirl of new-age thought she was long ago lost to. Unfortunately (for me) her having handled it sullied the concept of gratefulness. (It felt rather like eating salad made by someone who'd been handling raw chicken.) And unfortunately (for her) the right recipient of this gratefulness was entirely missing -- the real God.

Perhaps in the save-yourself world a general sense of gratefulness will have the beneficial effect of at least reducing the harmful levels of cortisol produced in our bodies by ongoing, underlying stress. But in reality (the God-saves-me world) gratefulness rightly directed toward the One who actually gives all the gifts ("Every good and every perfect gift is from above..." James 1:17) will guard the soul against spiraling down into the worst mire of evil and wickedness. Don't think it's that simple? Read Romans one, eighteen through thirty-two. I'll Cliff-Notes it:

Every sort of vile wickedness in verses 22-32 [lesbianism, homosexuality, murder, deceitfulness, envy, hate, violence, strife, disobedience, maliciousness, unmercifulness, covetousness, etc. - it's a stunning list] has its source in two simple, smallish-seeming actions. Or non-actions, if you will. Verse 21: "because...they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful".

[For you word-lovers, "thankfulness" means feeling or expressing gratitude.]

What a horrible spiral to start out of not thanking God for what He does and who He is. Now, I'm not concerned that everyone reading this is, by their forgetfulness to be thankful, on the verge of tipping over into that big, black hole called eternal wickedness. God, after all, is greater than your forgetful mind. (I'm talking to believers here.) But it is sobering to see the connection between my own state of gratefulness and the long-term trajectory of my soul. And since my mind is so forgetful, I'm going to need the Lord to train my spirit to be always, unconsciously, habitually GRATEFUL to HIM.

[Ah-hem. I seem to be turning into my Dad with this liberal use of caps and italics and paretheses and brackets. Now all I need is to start changing font colors as well :) ]

All these are thoughts of a few months ago, which have been brought back to me by the gratefulness I now feel rising inside as I review His faithful kindness to me. Yesterday was my last day at a temporary job He provided for me in a local doctor's office. It was a place I was appreciated, praised, useful, and yes, paid. And of course, in the middle of it all, a place where I was able to bring the Spirit of the Lord and some of the light of God into the lives of those who don't know Him yet. He provided the job through a series of "coincidental" circumstances - ha! :) And I've been so thankful for it.

But what a good day it was to be leaving, to be moving on to a job that will require more of my skills and heart, and that will give the return of a certain satisfaction only to be found in the direct service of the Kingdom and fellow believers.

My list of things to be thankful for is far longer than that. It has to do with fireplaces, homes, nieces, nephews, siblings, beaches, books, revelations, feastings, fulfillments of promises to my friends, the prospect and experience of eternal love... Oh, it all sounds so drab in words. If I could just sit with you and describe, at length, the history of each of these, the length and depth and width and height of Christ's passion for me might make you shiver with delight.

I can't, of course. But just think -- your own list is as long as mine, whether you've ever noticed it or not. Spend today and tomorrow asking God to bring it to mind, and thinking about what He lists. In the process, you'll be building a protection around your intimacy with Him that is virtually impenetrable by the enemy's arsenal of lies and doubts and fears. Ah, freedom.