Saturday, June 28, 2014

To show our faith in others by taking action

I love Mary's seemingly cheeky behaviour at the wedding in Cana.

When she first pulled her son aside to whisper, 'They've run out of wine,' he said, in effect, 'What has that got to do with me, Mother? My time hasn't come, so don't pressure me to act.'

Her instant response was to summon the wedding stewards to instruct them, 'Do exactly what he tells you.' Hey, what? Does it seem like she totally ignored what he just said? Didn't she do exactly what he said he didn't want, and put him on the spot? Would you have dared to behave in that manipulative manner to Jesus? Instead of telling her off and putting her in her place, see what he did next.

I can imagine Jesus rolling his eyes with a bit of a grin, and telling those servants, 'All right, fill those stone jars up with fresh water. Don't ask me why. Just do it, and you'll see.'

My first thought was, Well, she was his mother. Maybe she could get away with it. I thought of the way I have to behave to my kids sometimes. Sometimes coercion doesn't work. Taking action and saying, 'Logan, I've already booked you into the barber and they're expecting you, so get out of bed,' is more effective than reasoning and pleading.

But there's even more to it than that. I'm thinking of other stories I've heard which show a bit of a principle here. When we expect good things from the significant people in our lives and act accordingly, they are more likely to step up in response.

I've never forgotten the story of a little girl who pleaded with her busy dad to make her a dollshouse. To get her off his back, he said, 'Alright, now off you go.' Once alone in his office, he intended to spend the rest of the day hard at work, but he heard happy humming. From the corner of his eye, he saw his daughter putting her furniture and dolls' clothes into little piles. Then he heard her tell a friend over the phone, 'You'll have to come over and play, because my daddy is building me a dollshouse. He promised.' So that busy man was touched enough to go out to his shed, find his tools and wood, and honour her faith in his good intentions.

There's another true story I read about a teacher who was assigned a group of a dozen students for his gifted and talented programme. At the end of the semester, when they exceeded his expectations with Straight A averages, he was told the truth. He and the students had all been subjects of an experiment. Those twelve had been chosen randomly from a classroom of strugglers. He had simply believed the claims about their giftedness, and they had risen to meet his expectations.

These are quite powerful stories and an incentive to focus on the wealth of good we know is deep within our loved ones (or want to believe is there). Most of us may find we don't have too far to dig. But getting back to the example of Mary and Jesus, I find it interesting that this changing of water to top quality wine was his first recorded public miracle. At that stage, it would seem his mother didn't really have much to base her great faith on. She didn't have the rest of the New Testament, full of its teachings and miracles, to go on, because at that stage, he hadn't spoken or performed them. However, what she did have was a wealth of stored-up anecdotes we'll never know, which she'd treasured in her heart from the time he was born. She also had the remarkable behaviour he'd obviously shown all through his childhood and teens.

Also concerning Jesus, this episode was more than a mother's prerogative. We have been told from his own lips that we may all enjoy the same relationship to him as his mother and brothers enjoyed. We are adopted brothers and sisters in his family. We are definitely invited to search his words and his recorded history for his promises and invitations to us. Then we are to believe that he will keep them when we come to him, expecting him to. It's all based on our belief that he means what he says and our trust in his faithfulness. What a load off our minds.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Maybe it was the best thing that could have happened to them

Just a little over a week ago, I was driving my daughter around our district so she could take photos for a Digital Photography assignment. She was putting together a calendar of landmarks around our town. For part of it, we were rambling through our old country cemetery. It was sad to see graves of children who hadn't lived to see their first birthday. There were several tandem graves of spouses who'd died several years apart but were reunited at last. Some graves were dated from the 1800s, faded, and covered with lichen. Others were recently dug with brand new tombstones. Although it's a lovely old place in its own way, we were happy to leave.

Thoughts of death leave me melancholy, especially when people are taken prematurely. But I was thinking of our recent cemetery walk when I read some interesting thoughts by Max Lucado. He was musing about the fact that although the Bible mentions a countless number of healing miracles performed by Jesus, there are only three records of His raising people from the dead. These were Jairus' daughter, the boy in his coffin near Nain, and Lazarus. Why so few? Lucado wonders if it's because Jesus knew that in most cases, He'd be doing folk no favours by bringing them back. Once somebody gets to heaven, it's like a homecoming. The last thing they would want is to be whisked back to their life on earth.

That makes sense to me when I think of some of the Biblical deaths which have disturbed me. From the very start, why did God allow Cain to murder Abel? It's all very well to say, "Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground," but why allow such a terrible thing to happen when He could have prevented it?

Last year, when we were watching the Bible series on TV, Emma found herself deeply touched by the story of the first Passover. If you haven't seen it, Pharoah's first born son was depicted as a cute little boy, his father's pride and joy. Of course, when death passed over Egypt that night, stealing the first born sons who weren't protected by the blood over their door lintels, that little prince was among them. Emma said, 'Whenever I read that story, I always thought of him as some adult dude, as bad as his father. Not as an innocent little boy. It wasn't fair.' I reminded her that, of course, he wouldn't have been the only innocent child to die that night.

The first son of David and Bathsheba died as a baby. It seemed unfair for him to be taken because of what they did. It wasn't his fault. And how about the thousands of Hebrew baby boys who were cruelly slain by the rulers at the time Moses was born, and the time Jesus was born. I hate it!

But the son of the wicked Jeroboam I, the first ruler of Israel when it split from Judah, put things into perspective. His story is told in 1Kings 14. Young Abijah became very sick, and his mother disguised herself as a commoner and went to a prophet to inquire about what would happen to her son. The man instantly knew who she was, and said these words. 'Go home, and when you enter the city, the child will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only member of your family who will have a proper burial, for this child is the only good thing that the Lord, the God of Israel, sees in the entire family of Jeroboam.'   

That brings me right back to Max Lucado's theory. This boy was allowed to die because he was good! Death was a reward rather than a punishment. Being taken from the world early was God's protection from the future. Perhaps we're shortsighted when we assume that it must always be a calamity and a bad thing.

Next, I think of the way this is reflected in literature. In Natalie Babbitt's book, 'Tuck Everlasting,' which also became a movie, the hero Jesse Tuck and his family discover that drinking from a particular stream gives them immortality. No matter what physical blows they receive, it's impossible for them to die. Winnie, the heroine, falls in love with Jesse and almost succombs to the temptation to drink from the stream. Instead, she resists it and dies a normal death in old age. I remember the end of the movie, when lonely Jesse, just as young and handsome but now about one hundred years in the future, stands by her grave, knowing that she made the right choice.

And for those of us who love fantasy, remember the poor old alchemist, Nicolas Flamel, from the first Harry Potter book? When he decides to destroy the philosopher's stone, which was keeping himself and his wife alive, Harry knows that now they will die. Professor Dumbledore tells him, 'To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Peronelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day.'

This is a very simplistic analogy, but maybe when we our turn comes to join those in the next life, instead of being sad, it will be like my Wii Fit icon making it to the end of the jogging course. She throws up her hands in triumph as flowers and streamers fall around her, other little people cheer her on, and the program makes a 'Ta-Da' noise, backed by happy music. And I'm relieved to flop back on the couch because I was looking forward to the end. Although the jog around the virtual island was good, I wouldn't want it to be prolonged any longer.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

that my home is in the wilderness

There have been several books on the market over the years about what to do when we're in a wilderness mentality or life stage. I've read several. They mostly suggest that it's a temporary stop-over and that you're bound to come out in a busier, more fruitful, and less barren place if you just hold on. But while you are in the wilderness, they offer tips to help you deal with being there, or get you out faster. None of those authors ever seem to suggest that anyone might want to stay there permanently. The very word, 'wilderness' has connotations of fighting our way through a dense jungle of pesky vines which conceal our view of what we really want life to be, a bit like Prince Charming trying to fight his way through to the enchanted castle where Sleeping Beauty lies.

I started wondering, 'Well, what if you do want to stay there and maybe build a house? To you, wilderness isn't the confusing jungle, or the bleak, empty wasteland of T.S. Eliot's poem, but a welcoming place of peace and satisfaction? You don't mind the thought of making occasional forays out into the wider world, but love having the wilderness to retreat to as your home base.

Jesus often told his disciples to come away into the physical wilderness. He obviously thought highly of the peace and refreshment to be found there.

Early this week, I found a well-known book at the second hand shop which I've been interested in reading for some time. It was 'The Tao of Pooh' by Benjamin Hoff. He extols the value of Pooh Bear's simple, contented mindset, as opposed to the harried, grandiose, hyperactive or depressed attitudes of some of his other friends in One Hundred Acre Woods.

"Emptiness is refreshing," he says. "It cleans out the messy mind and charges the batteries of spiritual energy." He goes on to say, "Many people are afraid of emptiness, however, because it reminds them of loneliness. Everything has to be filled in. Appointment books, hillsides, vacant lots - but when the spaces are filled, the loneliness really begins. Then the groups are joined, the classes are signed up for, and the gift-to-yourself items are bought."

He's probably right. We've been taught to value being busy and stressed, and wear these states as badges of importance. When I think about it, the Bible never suggests that it should be this way. I started thinking about how many very significant events happened far away from the metropolis, where big-wigs were being admired, important decisions were being made, and people were plying their trades. I think the physical wilderness represents the value of the mental peace and quiet I've come to prefer.

*Jacob lay on his rock pillow, and received a dream vision of a stairway to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. He woke up, look around his bleak surroundings with awe and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place."
* Moses saw the burning bush while in the wilderness, and his life changed forever. At that stage, he'd given up the lifestyle of an Egyptian Prince, a 'somebody'. He was simply looking after his father-in-law's sheep in the middle of nowhere.
* David loved the wilderness and surely wrote some of his famous Psalms in its peace and quiet. To him, it wasn't a barren wasteland, but the place of quiet, green pastures and still waters he immortalised in Psalm 23. It was in the wilderness he'd cared for his sheep, rescuing them from a bear and a lion, which later gave him the courage to believe he could face Goliath.
* Elijah lived there for some time, away from threat of weak King Ahab and bad Queen Jezebel, being sustained by ravens through the scorching drought and famine.
* John the Baptist chose the wilderness for his home, going for an austere lifestyle. We all know about his camel hair coats and diet of locusts and honey.
* The two sad disciples were travelling by foot on a lonely road to Emmaus, when Jesus approached, unrecognised by them, and began walking with them.
* Paul was travelling a similar lonely road on the way to Damascus, intending to give followers of 'The Way' a hard time, when he had his sudden, dramatic conversion experience which blinded him for a time.
* My very favourite occurred when the angels, who couldn't contain their joy and excitement, appeared to a group of shepherds, doing the regular job out in the countryside, to announce that the Savior of the World had just been born and lay in a manger. This is while everything that seemed important was going on in the big cities, whose VIPs were oblivious.

I like the physical wilderness too. Australia is full of it. Between South Australia and Queensland is lots of red desert plains that just stretch on and on when we fly over them. Driving the same route takes weeks. We did it when the kids were small. At times, we felt as if we were on a car treadmill, because the scenery on each side didn't change for eight hours straight. But the peaceful, gentle rolling of those plains, and the scrubby desert plants, refreshed something in my brain. It's good to simply sit there in the car because there is nothing else to be done at that moment. I could almost feel my brain re-charging, just as Benjamin Hoff wrote.

That's why, when all is said and done, I'd rather make my mental home in the refreshing wilderness, and come out for the occasional stimulation before retreating back to the peace again. So many people seem to prefer it the other way, by living in all the rush and excitement, retreating to the wilderness to crash when they are absolutely exhausted, before returning home to the hustle and bustle again.

Here are some further thoughts from a fellow who really did choose to go and live out in the sticks by himself.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

that the moon is more significant than we may think

This reflection started when my husband, Andrew, was putting his song list together, for his one-man-band performance at Nursing Homes and Elderly care hostels. He aims to give them a whole hour of music from their past, and as he flipped through the pages, he said, "Back in the War era and '50s, people used to draw heavily on the moon as inspiration for their songs." He quoted a long spiel including Moon River, Fly Me to the Moon, How High the Moon, Moon Glow, Blue Moon and By the Light of the Silvery Moon.

I might have not have given it further thought, except that I drove off to the shop and turned on the car radio. It was in the middle of LeAnn Rimes', Can't fight the Moonlight. I made a mental note to tell Andrew that the fascination wasn't restricted to the war era. Then I started remembering other more modern songs from the later twentieth century which highlight it. Cat Stevens' Moon Shadow, Van Morrison's Moon Dance, and Credence Clearwater Revival's Bad Moon Rising.

Human kind have had a love affair with our satellite all through history, highlighting it in stories and folklore as well as music. It's an aid to romance, making a beautiful, shining focal point for young couples to gaze on. Even Shakespeare had Juliet tell Romeo, 'Swear not by the moon.' And we all know when vampires are said to come out to do their mischief. It's on full moon nights. Anything that has earned its place in both romance and horror stories alike, just by being itself, deserves respect.

There's no doubt that it serves a vital role in science too, as the magnetic pull of its gravity has a significant effect on our ocean tides, and hence, our climate patterns. And whether or not we realise it from day to day, each of our schedules is built around its waxing and waning, as the cycles of the moon are responsible for the months in our calendar.

I wasn't around back in July, 1969, for the moon landing, although I was just five months away from being born. My sister and brother remember everyone being allowed a half day off from school so they could watch it being televised. I can imagine what a significant historical moment it would have been, when something so lofty and unattainable was stepped on by human beings. How everyone must have thrilled to hear the words from the crew.

My younger son, aged 10, asked, 'Why hasn't anyone been back to visit the moon since then? That was ages ago.'

We were quick to tell him, 'It's because a whole lot of money would have to be poured into another expedition, and there's really no point, because we all know there's nothing much up there. Lots of dust and rocks, some craters, and an atmosphere so thin, you can't take a breath without special suits and breathing apparatus.'

That's an interesting thought. Not much up there, in spite of the allure humankind has always felt for it. As a person, have you ever felt insignificant? If people were like landscapes, we might consider ourselves to be dry and barren, like the moon. Have you ever said, 'I don't have much to offer?' Well imagine there really is a man living on the moon, not far from where the Apollo 11 Crew disembarked. Apart from that one flash of excitement in his otherwise ho-hum life, I can imagine him getting discontent and saying, 'Everything is just the same around here all the time. I wish I could have a change, get away somewhere where there's a fantastic view, be important for once.'

Back to the start of this reflection, little does he know how vital his place is for the functioning of life on earth, or the fascination with which earthlings have always regarded the moon, weaving it into their stories and songs. He's so far away from Earth, it doesn't register to him. He's missing the long-range view.

Maybe if we call our own lives dull and dry, we're missing the long-term, long-range view too, with which people far from the confines of Earth may be regarding us. I can't help thinking of how the Bible tells us we're each the subject of angels on assignment, that we're of vast importance to celestial beings, who cheer when we make sound, life-enhancing decisions, and can't contain themselves from popping up at certain times in history. It also tells us that each of us are deeply loved by God, who knew us completely when we were being knit together in our mothers' wombs and has every hair of our heads numbered. We may never find out in our lifetimes how important, and even fascinating, we may have been to others, just as the moon is to us.

We need to keep our chins up as we go about our daily lives, remembering that for all the apparent boredom of routine, we're like the moon. For all we know, songs may have been written about us, maybe even as we speak. We may be impacting the right people, either human or celestial, unbeknown to us, and we may even be scaring the unsavoury, bad influences away, just as we should be doing. I'm sure we won't know our individual impacts in this lifetime, and later we may well be very surprised.

Okay, when I mentioned the beginning of this blog post to Andrew, it inspired him to go searching for other moon songs. We didn't even mention the ones without the moon in their titles, but still featuring it in their lyrics. I find myself humming, "When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's Amore."

 Here is another reflection about journeys into space helping us find perspective.
And another one about being too close to realise the true significance of our lives.

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