Monday, September 11, 2017

Butterflies.

“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” - Genesis 4:13-14

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” - Hebrews 12:22 & 24

“Sometimes I think there are no words but these to tell what’s true /
And there are no truths outside the gates of Eden.” - Bob Dylan

I hate butterfly season. Why would one hate butterfly season, you ask, when these fragile, colorful creatures emerge in abundance and, borne aloft on gentle zephyrs, christen all manner of flora with their ethereal osculations? I hate it because I have to watch one after another of them flutter innocently unawares across the highway only to be violently sucked into the slipstream of my vehicle, hurtling forward at 70 MPH toward some fool’s errand (okay, usually I have a pretense of purpose; I just like the phrase ‘fool’s errand’), and (presumably, I never see because, you know, 70 MPH) spat back out again, mutilated and destroyed, in a millisecond. For me, it’s just a particularly stark illustration of how things are not as they are supposed to be between humans and creation. Our command was to rule and subdue; we ransack and pillage. God help us.

This season also happens to coincide with my much-hailed annual beginning-of-the-homeschool-year freak out. As the almost grotesquely immense array of curriculum options unfurls before me, my thoughts become increasingly hysterical in pitch and projection: “oh my gosh, look at all this STUFF available! We’re not doing nearly enough!” and “we need to do EVERYTHING or my children’s education will be woefully deficient and they’ll be consigned to a life of chronic ne’erdowellitude and it will be all my fault!” “Israel is in second grade and I haven’t read Shakespeare out loud to him yet! Oh, forget it, it’s too late, I’ve blown it. Just call the whole thing off!” God help us.

And there’s always the world at large: natural disasters, dueling despotic rulers with bloated egos sheathed in the impenetrable armor of pride, hatred blooming blackly in a thousand demonic forms. So much profligacy. So much waste. So much futile hurtling towards nothingness. God help us.

Yet in the midst of it all, beckoning to me in the stillness I too rarely seek, He is asking: What matters? And he is whispering: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The thing is, left to my own faculties, I have no idea what matters. Out in the hinterlands of Nod, I will frenetically sprint after a thousand holograms, each more glittering and more vapid than the next. I’ll almost gleefully cannonball into a bottomless quagmire of deliberation over even trivial decisions. I’ll project every possible negative scenario with the superstition that certain possibilities can be staved off by the very fact of my anticipation. I’ll Google things like “how large is a nuclear fallout zone?” followed by “where would…” after which two words Google conveniently and perceptively fills in “North Korea bomb?” for me. Thanks, Google, for anticipating our neuroses like an obsequious servant.

My pattern - the one I still revert to more often than I care to admit and the one which has ingrained in my very DNA since Adam and Eve befouled the primordial soup, is self-reliance. The only catch is that I am wildly, utterly, incorrigibly unreliable. My recidivism rate is exactly 100 percent with a 0 percent margin of error. In my flesh, I am dead.

I still remember the first intimations I heard of another Way. Another way than frantically straining to save myself, to control, to shim and jostle things into a coherent pattern, to wrest meaning from what I believed was a godless (or, later, impersonally God-ed) universe. It was a maddeningly circuitous venture. My self-inflicted punishment was more than I could bear, and I was a restless wanderer on the earth, riddled with paranoia and fear.

Jesus is always whispering of a better way. A way of rest. A way of surrender. A way of trust. A way of faith that rests on His goodness and His faithfulness. 

It means listening. It means stillness. It means biting my tongue when I’m itching to enter the fray. It means believing that He is my father, my creator, and that he has etched me on the palms of His hands. It means saying I don’t understand but I trust anyway. It means luxuriating in instead of fighting against bewilderment at the riotously undeserved gift of grace. It means joyfully becoming a fool, joyfully ceding my claims on power and knowledge and dominion, joyfully turning away from that impulse to glut myself on the tree of good and evil and turning towards Jesus, in whom I am made alive and in whom this restless wanderer can finally rest from her endless vigilance. It means watching and waiting and preparing to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

It also means trusting that God will accomplish his purposes, as he always has, since the first Garden, and my fretting and hand-wringing and cataclysmic projecting are absolutely non-essential (and in fact inimical) to the cause.  

My dear friend, Evan, commented recently that she suspects her father thinks she’s lazy. Like me, he is prone to that fretting and hand-wringing over uncertainty, while Evan is pretty darn good at trusting that God is God, and good and faithful beyond even our rosiest, but still sin-dimmed, reveries.

I think people thought Jesus was pretty lazy, too. He knew the Father. He knew Him. He was with him since the beginning. And so there Jesus was, napping in the midst of the maelstrom, and I think he was even a little annoyed that his disciples thought it warranted interrupting that nap. Once he calmed the seas, Matthew says they were amazed. Mark says they were terrified. I think both sentiments fall under the umbrella of bewilderment.

We have extreme difficulty trusting something unless we can cram it into the narrow margins of our own understanding, own it, classify it and, in the end, desacralize it. When we decided to go our own way and call it another lonely day, we started trying to do that to God. Hopefully I don’t need to tell you that’s impossible.

Yet we’ve been trying for a long time, and we still try. Formulas, methods, procedures, ceremonies, appeasing sacrifices. Any desperate scrambling to try and circumvent the nakedness of relationship and yet, still, the Spirit blows where it pleases. I even try, subconsciously, to turn Bible-reading into a formula. It’s just so hard for us to cede control.    
          
But when I go and sit in our garden to just be with Jesus, I remember. It is this simple, and this ineffably majestic. My poor garden - it is long-suffering due to my neglect. Every spring I am inflamed with gusto and a deep conviction that this season will be different… and then around mid-July I give up again. And yet, in spite of my negligence, beauty blooms, utterly undeserved. The green onions that the previous owner planted everywhere are yielding their tiny six-petaled white flowers, little nebulas perched atop tall green stems. Delicate lavender-colored flowers dapple the tops of the sedum and a rose bush I forgot to fertilize in the spring is blooming again and here I am, reaping where I did not sow. Deep mystery, deep majesty. Oh, and there are butterflies - butterflies en masse alighting on the sedum flowers.

“Late have I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new!” said Augustine. I am always late, because I first revert to the hand-wringing, the fretting, the negativity, the anguish of self-reliance and paranoiac wandering. And then when I finally give up, often more from fatigue and the attrition of every last resource of my own power, Jesus is there. And I remember. Oh yes, You again. Home again. The sum of my yearnings, the arms in which I was always meant to rest. Just me and Jesus in the garden and my utter found-ness in this person, fully God and fully human, who waits for me at the center of the spinning universe. That which is worth everything, the kingdom buried in a field, the pearl of great price.

And, miracle of miracles, he thinks of me in the same way - worth everything, even death on a cross. Oh, blessed, blessed bewilderment.

He is always there, waiting for me to quieten my hysterical pitch. And, ultimately, at the crux of any circumstance, he always asks: Do you believe that I am good? Do you believe that I can be trusted? Do you believe that I can do immeasurably more than you can ask for or imagine? And our work, the work of belief, is to answer yes, even when all appearances contradict it, even when our flesh cries “panic!”, even when our millennia-old patterns scream no. 

Because He is, and He can. 

Amen.