perspective check: the kingdom always lies beyond us, and other reminders

26 08 2010

I found myself forgetting things this morning: I left the house without my gym shoes when I needed them to go walking after work.  I left my mug on my desk as I walked to the lunchroom to get (a cup of) tea.  Little, nonessential things slipped my mind.  Sometimes we operate in life thinking we’ve got everything we need in view, and then a random thought, unexpected phone call, or calendar alert on our phone pops in out of nowhere and shifts our perspective.  Forgetfulness skews our perspective.  Reminders keep us on track.

While I was forgetting non-essentials today, I found God reminding me of very important things, essential to the core of my being.  Some of them are things I have been straining to remember for the last year (or more) and refusing to forget, despite a host of other things competing for my attention.

He reminded me that the knowledge of God can also be the quickest thing to separate us from him and that my theological education means nothing if I fail to behold the beauty of the Lord.  For a great sermon on the topic, check this out.

He reminded me today during chapel, as we heard from youth involved in World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program, of his heart for young people to know him and for especially forgotten, oppressed, or abused youth to be empowered to rebuild their own cities (Isa 61).  He reminded me of the way he has built that part of his heart into my own, and of the ways he has been stirring me to be a peacemaker.

He reminded me of the passion I had once that burned deep in me for others to know the Living God and to be changed by his love.

He reminded me of the way he calls his people to live like exiles: by praying for the city they are sent to, settling down and making it home, even if they are far from the place and community they love (Jer. 29).

And he also reminded me, through these words by the Archbishop Oscar Romero, of the greatness of the kingdom of God, the privilege it is to live in it and work for it, and the meaning inherent in every small way we participate:

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that
is God’s work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the
Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for
the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”


A Time to Plant

14 08 2010

Now that it’s finally stopped raining, I’ve been going for a lot of walks, usually through neighborhoods where I get some really beautiful views of the Puget Sound or at dusk, quick glimpses through windows and screen doors of a thousand different lives.  I stumble over cracked sidewalks and overgrown bushes and duck low hanging trees, and I pass a lot of personal gardens.  I’m not a gardener at all, but this time of year offers a view of magical, colorful creation at its best.  Bright purple cabbage, yellow corn, leafy green lettuce, red tomatoes, yellow squash and a confetti of wildflowers dot my walking paths.

It gets me thinking about growing.

We were made to create.  In the image of our Creator we have been invited to join the repetitive yet spontaneous and endless process of production.  We get so bogged down in the pressure to produce that we forget about the God-nature of it, but it’s true.  We were made to imagine and dream and till the soil until something beautiful sprouts.  With this likeness in our being, in our very function, it’s no wonder that we (particularly in the industrial West) so often skew the balance between work and rest.  To work is in our nature; even if we have a few lazy days (or years!) we still long to see the fruits of our labor.  We grow grumpy and frustrated when our lives don’t seem to make “enough” of a difference in the world, when our work doesn’t seem to ever fix anything or stay the ever-persistent demands of survival.  Even when we’re tired – exhausted – we.  keep.  moving.  Stopping won’t get us anywhere.

Lately, as I walk through my neighborhood, I find myself uncomfortable with the stillness of both the streets and my own soul.  I whine to God that I’m walking alone, that my dearest friends are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, and that I have nothing “more exciting” to do.  But then I see a garden and I’m reminded of how things grow.  We plant for the harvest, but the harvest won’t happen without the tedious, time-consuming tending of the soil.  The crop won’t last long if we don’t take the time to water and dig and watch and wait.  The real growth happens underground.

And so, among the gardens I pray.  I am reminded that I am never alone and that God himself is faithfully tending to my every need and preparing me for a harvest that will last.  Even more, he invites me to create myself with him.  He gives me space to till the soil too.

Too often, because we’re so busy bent over, close to the ground, looking for the fruit to pick, our prayers remain in the present, or in the past that, like a weed we can’t get rid of, crowds out the crops we really want.  We pray for the needs of the day or of the moment – all good prayers and in line with Jesus’ teaching in what is commonly referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer.”  We know someone who is sick, or hurting, or scared, and so we pray.  We feel anxious or angry or alone, and so we pray.  We’re haunted by certain memories or mistakes, and so we pray.  But we get so busy in the pace of the work, that eventually all we seem to be able to do is keep up.

Yet in the moments when the ground is empty, then God invites us to plant, and we get to lift our eyes and look ahead.  We get to pray for the coming harvest that’s still invisible.  We get to pray for future things.  We no longer just have to pray for survival, or for God to “fix” things (even though sometimes there are seasons where that is all we can do), but we get to pray also for God’s creative, proactive presence in our lives and our world.  We get to dream with him what it could look like for his Kingdom to spring up through the earth wherever we’re planted, in giant purple heads of cabbage and in tiny little berries.  We get to pray for crops large and small.

Don’t get too hung up on the harvest.  Every seventh year God asked his people to let the land lie, and to remember that even though they were made to co-create with him, it was imperative that they remember who the first Creator was.  And when they worried about what they would eat that year, he reminded them that he would bless them with everything they needed during the time of rest – with an abundance, actually.

Heed the Creator’s command to rest, and in so doing, pray for the underground growth.  Don’t resist the stillness or the silence or the loneliness you may find yourself in.  It’s the way that we plant and pray for future things, and it matters.  It’s the way that the mustard seed grows.