Love the Questions

The story of Noah and the Flood raises so many more questions for me than answers.  I keep puzzling over certain aspects of the story.  And for me, that’s the wonderful thing about reading the Bible:  Reading the Bible closely makes us ask questions, and the questions are the fun part!

My mother came to my house and shared this quote with me, which she heard at church last night:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.-Rainer Maria Rilke

Noah and the Flood

When I turned to Hebrews 11:7, which is right in the middle of the Faith Hall of Fame chapter, I wondered why Lisa Nichols Hickman chose to focus on this verse within this amazing passage as a point of reflection for asking the question:  “God, what are you preparing me for?”

It’s sort of a horrible thought:

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.  By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

I asked myself the question:  Would I be able to condemn the world to save my household?  All I could think was:  “It was good that I was not the person entrusted with this mission.”  I would have said to the wild boar, “Sorry that this may mean your extinction, but I have to make room for my neighbors.”  God is obviously not preparing me to be the next Noah!

Then I thought, maybe I’m reading this wrong, so I read Genesis 6-9 several times through, asking myself the question:  Did Noah condemn the world through his actions?  That’s the only question I hoped to answer from my reading of the text.  Quite honestly, I am more familiar with the children’s Bible version of “Noah and the Flood” than I am with the Biblical version, and I had trouble following and understanding these chapters in the Bible.  Then I learned (or was reminded) that there are two versions of the ancient story woven together into one story.  After struggling, I decided that it’s easier to read the stories one at a time and sort of fun to reflect on their differences.  I found the two versions helpfully broken down by verse here and retold each story in simple words for myself in the Excel spreadsheet below:

flood 2

I was curious to see how God and Noah worked together to accomplish God’s purpose in the story of the great flood, but I still think it seems a little harsh of Paul to suggest that by constructing the ark, Noah condemned the world; to me he seems more like a passive, necessary, obedient participant in God’s plan to start over.  He doesn’t ask a whole lot of questions—he just does as God commands.  It seems to me that Noah trusted God, probably like no other, through unimaginably difficult times.  The whole experience must have been excruciatingly hard on him and his family.  Just the thought of living in an ark while it storms for 40 days horrifies me; and the 150 days of waiting for the earth to dry doesn’t sound much better.  Reading between the lines:  the revelation that God let “fear and dread” of humans fall on the animals after the journey suggests Noah had enough togetherness with the animal kingdom.  It’s also telling me that God granted Noah permission to eat animals—No doubt that Noah suffered hunger and resisted eating the animals during the flood.  And after the whole ordeal, Noah just wanted some wine.  Who can blame him?  (I am getting this picture in my mind of a saintly yet rugged family man, a careful and good builder, not that intellectually curious, who might enjoy a simple, casual family barbecue party with beer if he were alive today, basically a good guy.)

I feel like we learn far more about God from the story than Noah.  As a life-long Presbyterian familiar with the Westminster Catechism, I know God as “Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”  The whole flood narrative challenges my perception of God, starting with the following verses:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

It’s like God conducted an experiment that failed; as if God wanted to make a being that could love, but it did not work out as God hoped.  Love, of course has this strange nature:  although it is written into the law as a command, love cannot be forced; it can only be freely given.  Humans are given the freedom not to love God, which also means freedom not to love one another.  This freedom can have disastrous consequences.  When we freely love God and one another it pleases God.  When we do evil, however, God grieves.  As humans we are given power to co-create our world and it can be a world of love and kindness or one of evil.  It’s our choice.  We learn that God set this world in motion and knows what may or can come to be, but God is not the author of sin.  And in a stunning and unusual twist, its God who seems changed by the story—at the end it is God who says, “Never again will I do that.”

After reflecting on the story of Noah and the Flood, I try once again to answer the question “God, what are you preparing me for?”  The answer I receive this time is simply:  “Trust me.”

[I’ve been wanting to play with background color.  I tried painting on gesso, using gelatos, and a Faber-Castell Pitt artist brush pen.  First effort?  I can always cover it up by pasting a bookmark sized paper over it.]

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Be Watchful, Stand Firm in the Faith

First, I want to say that this was the most fun I’ve had with a Bible verse yet!  There was a little more space to play on the page.  As I thought about this verse:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, and be strong.

I visualized it as square with four parts, and I thought about putting the verse around four parts of a Celtic cross.  I started searching for some images and found a mandala with a cross at the center, which captured my imagination, and I just traced it onto my page.  Then I colored it in with colored pencils.  As I colored, I found my mind get quiet, and I could really focus on the verse.

This verse speaks to the part of me that can only be pushed so far, that part where others often find surprisingly deep conviction.  Generally speaking, I am open to entertaining different ideas positive ideas and exploring possibilities, more so than many people that I know and many might say to a fault, but there are some things that are non-negotiable for me.  Chief among them is the deep understanding that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Once again I find myself asking the question:  “God, what are you preparing me for?”  Mmm…..004

God, what are you preparing me for?

This next prompt from Writing in the Margins worries me just a little.  (Note to self:  Remember Abraham Lincoln’s Prayer:  “I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”):

In his Bible, Rich asked, “God, what are you preparing me for?”  Turn to these texts that speak to being prepared.  Choose one.  Then journal in the margin about its meaning to you.

Of course, I can’t just choose one.  I want to do them all.  But the first one is a little intimidating:  Jeremiah 1:5.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

Of course, this is the call of the prophet Jeremiah, but let me do my best to simply read this verse and ask “God, what are you preparing me for?”

Why does the question make me cry?

[Long pause]

I read this verse at night and woke up in the morning feeling better as if a voice whispered to me:

“Shhh.  This is the call of Jeremiah not Sally.  I just want you to know before I even formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you.  I’ve prepared you for this life and everything you are called to do.”

I woke up thinking:  “Great lover of my soul.  You know me better than I know myself.  You understand me more than I can ever hope to understand you.”

I felt reassured that whatever God has prepared me for, I’ll be ready:  being a wife and mother, serving my current employer, teaching Sunday school, being a friend, or sharing my random, deep thoughts on my blog!

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Lincoln’s Prayer

I saw this prompt in Writing in the Margins and wished that I had seen it in time for President’s Day:

In your Bible, next to Psalm 34:4 write, “Abraham Lincoln’s Prayer.”  Now, write a prayer asking God for a transformation of your own fears.

After reading Psalm 34, I read what I could find on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.  I was curious to learn that he never joined a church, but through personal friendships and a friendship with the Bible itself, he appears to have come to a deep and very personal faith that I think would resonate with many today.  I was touched by the following words from this President:

On his journey of faith:

“Probably it is to be my lot to go on in a twilight, feeling and reasoning my way through life, as questioning, doubting Thomas did.  But in my poor maimed, withered way, I bear with me as I go on a seeking spirit of desire for a faith that was with him of olden time, who, in his need, as I in mine, exclaimed, ‘Help thou my unbelief.'”

On the Bible:

“Nothing short of infinite wisdom could by any possibility have devised and given to man this excellent and perfect moral code.  It is suited to men in all the conditions of life, and inculcates all the duties they owe to their Creator, to themselves, and to their fellow men.”

On the Psalms:

“They are the best, for I find in them something for every day in the week.”

On why he never joined a church (The honesty and integrity in this statement brought me to tears):

“Because I have found difficulty, without mental reservation, in giving my assent to their long and complicated confessions of faith. When any church will inscribe over its altar the Savior’s condensed statement of law and gospel: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and love thy neighbor as thyself,’ that church will I join with all my heart.”

On God’s Providence:

“We are indeed going through a great trial—a fiery trial.  In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid—but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, he wills it otherwise.  If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; if I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that he permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it.”

As I reflect on the times that President Lincoln endured, my thoughts and prayers turn to war-torn areas of our world today.  My heart aches and my understanding fails me when I think of the persecuted Christians and their families in hostile areas.  The news is too horrific to read.

Abraham Lincoln may not have been a margin writer, but a historian noted a very distinguished thumbprint next to the verse below in his Bible and it’s easy to see how these words were close to Lincoln’s heart:

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The Lord’s Prayer

With the start of Lent, it feels really good so spend time in the Bible, and I can’t think of a better place to enter the season of Lent than with this next prompt from Writing in the Margins:

Matthew 6:9-13 provides the prayer that Jesus taught us.  Here, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Consider Veling’s phrase that margins provide “millions of moments of encounter.”  Write in your margin prayers for heaven meeting earth, and earth meeting heaven.

Is there a more perfect prayer than the Lord’s prayer?  I’m kind of freaking out at the moment because as familiar as this prayer is to me, I just made a seriously cool discovery.  Now that I see it, I can’t unsee it.  And I can’t stop saying the Lord’s prayer!  (I want to talk to my yoga instructor now!  And I apologize in advance for being the world’s most eclectic, mixed-up Presbyterian!!!)

A little bit of back story will help: A Facebook friend inspired me to learn more about chakras, seven centers of spiritual power (in Indian thought).  My friend suggested that everyone has a chakra that governs their life.  She asked me which chakra I felt most in tune with.  Without knowing much about the subject, my first thought was the heart charkra.  If I could trade all my powers for just one thing, it would be to have the power to let the people in my life know that they are totally and completely loved unconditionally.  And it really was an ah-ha moment for me to say to myself:  “if I could just trust that others would feel unconditional love from me, I might be more willing to explore other powers”—like I might be able to respectfully say what’s on my mind, which is something that is ridiculously hard for me.

A recent situation in my life brought to mind just how hard it is for me to speak up about minor problems—when I finally do, it just never goes well.  I dropped my daughter off at her preschool, which is at my church, and went into the sanctuary to pray about the problem.  I was just sort of crying, really.  The man who cleans our church walked into sanctuary to start cleaning and was very apologetic upon finding me there.  He said, “Let me turn the window light on for you, then I’ll leave and give you time to pray.  It’s a good place to pray.”  At the front of our church is a big stained glass window with a picture of Jesus.  He is standing in a mountain pose with his hands at his side facing out, and there is a crown floating above his head.  With the light out, I couldn’t see the image.  Once the power was on, I could see Jesus clearly.  It was just one of those moments.  The message seemed to be: “Keep your power on!”  So putting together the problem I had in life, the Facebook conversation, and my prayer-time, I signed up for a home study course about chakras.  And now I can’t read the Lord’s Prayer in the same way again.  Oh well.  Life is kind of random like that for me. (I probably should resist writing about this until I finish the course on chakras–seriously I’ve just barely begun–but this is where my thoughts took me today!)

So I returned to Writing in the Margins with a tiny bit of chakra knowledge in my head and here’s the cool thing that came into focus for me a little bit as I revisited the Lord’s prayer: The Lord’s prayer follows the order of the Chakras pretty closely:

Our Father:  The crown chakra connects us with God.

Who Art in Heaven:  The intuitive chakra helps us to know without seeing.

Hollowed by your name:  The throat chakra relates to how we speak God’s name.  As we pray, we can be reminded to speak all words with respect.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven:  This is the heart of the Lord’s prayer, and also the heart of what Jesus teaches are the great commandments:  “To Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Heart chakra!

Give us this day our daily bread:  These words speak to the personal power that we have to meet our needs and suggest a reasonable approach to personal power–leaving space for the power of God.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors:  It’s through forgiveness that we are able to stay in communion with one another and with God.  (In the Christian faith, spiritual union is more a more comfortable topic than physical union.)  Forgiveness means, even though something happened between friends, they can still reconnect!

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil:  A strong root chakra helps us stay grounded, safe, and on the right path in life.

The way the Lord’s prayer flows and is ordered has always been something that puzzled me.  Maybe I have my wires crossed, but I thought this was an interesting solution to that puzzle.  And I’ve always wondered why Jesus didn’t include words of gratitude in the prayer–increasingly I see this prayer as a gift to us for our own spiritual well-being!  To memorialize the moment, I wrote a rainbow-colored version of the Lord’s Prayer in the margins of my Bible.  I also wrote a quote that came to mind when I first read the Writing in the Margins prompt about the meeting of heaven and earth.  It’s really one of my favorite spiritual quotes:

Far away on the horizon heaven seems to meet the earth.  Do not forget where heaven and earth really meet is in the heart of a child of God.-St. Joesmaria

I am feeling so grateful right now that the Lord’s prayer has always been part of my life.  I am realizing what an amazing support it has been to me. 003

Illustrated Faith

I woke up in the middle of the night last night feeling a little bit bad for anyone stumbling upon my blog through a search engine.  Bible Journaling is such a wonderful way to spend time in the word in a creative way.  I dream one day of being a wonderful margin artist and filling my blog with helpful tips and resources as opposed to just random thoughts that pop in my head as I read various passages.  In the meantime I thought I could point any web surfers in the right direction.  The website Illustrated Faith is filled with all kinds of wonderful resources.  Definitely check it out!!!

Slow to Anger

After a short break, I’m continuing with the last of my family favorite verses.  I am looking forward to getting back into Lisa Nichol Hickman’s Writing in the Margins! A family member gave me this as a favorite verse in the Bible and even went to the trouble of making copy of it for me from his King James Version.

All this, my dear brothers, you already know.  Let every many be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness which God desires.

I’ve been pondering for quite some time:  Is this truly a favorite verse…or just one I should read?  How do I artfully respond to this?  Am I focusing on the right part of the passage?  But it’s the one that’s emphasized in the photocopy? This is a bit of a challenging verse for me.  If you met me in person, I would be quick to say hello.  I’ve never been one that is slow to speak.  And while I personally feel that I am exceedingly slow to anger others don’t always have the same opinion of me.   Not that I am proud of this, but there are times I yell, not often, but I do get frustrated and I yell and then I’m better in a few minutes.  I get frustrated when I am misunderstood and when others don’t recognize that I am being serious.  While I experience the normal gradual feelings ranging from mild annoyance to anger, most people don’t know that I’m upset until I hit #10 on the anger scale.  I can be very angry and still smiling, but by the time I finally start to look upset, I look scary upset—and then it’s “Whoa.  What’s her problem?”  I can really relate to Unikitty from the Lego movie: unikitty 2 My problem I think:  I am always smiling.  Here’s my resting face and my smiling face…. Resting Smiling If your face is always smiling, then people simply don’t believe that you are upset.  My husband has a more firm countenance.  He can simply state the word “Now!” and everyone jumps into action.  If there’s even a slight delay, he might calmly add, “You are playing with fire.” In eighteen years of marriage, I have never heard him yell, but he does have a way of letting others know that he means business. One day when I was feeling tired and did not want to chase my three-year-old daughter to get her in pajamas, I gave this a try.  I said, “Come over here, now.”  She didn’t come.  I calmly and firmly restated, “Come over here now.  You are playing with fire.”  My eight-year-old son overheard me and just laughed:  “Is that your best Dad imitation?  It’s not working for you.  You are too soft.”  I felt like Anna from the movie Frozen trying to tell Kristoff in a firm voice to take her up the North Mountain.  Some of us can’t carry a firm voice well.  (It doesn’t help that my high-pitched voice sounds like a twelve-year-old when I talk.)  So to accomplish the same purpose that a firm voice would achieve, I find that I rely on alternative methods:  I either make the request fun or make it appeal to reason—to help the other person see that it really is in their best interest to comply.  This takes a lot more energy, but along with an ever-present smile comes a high level of energy (so I figure this all works out fine)!   In this instance, I summoned the energy for a chase.  We giggled and laughed.  I got her in her PJs, brushed her teeth, read some books, and got her to sleep.  I was still in charge.  I got her to do what was needed, but in a way that’s more natural for me. When I do lose my cool, people remind me of this verse:  be slow to anger, bridle your tongue.

But to me it feels like I am very slow to anger and others just miss all the warning signs.

So here they are:

  • Level 1-3:  Laughter.  I tend to laugh when others would get a stern look on their face.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel annoyed.  It just means at this low level of aggravation I would rather feel better (and I feel better when I can lighten the atmosphere for everyone).
  • Level 4-5:  If you pay close attention, you might briefly see a slightly clenched face.  I might try to change the subject or come up with some distraction.  And it’s entirely possible I might still relax with a good laugh.  (What’s going through my mind:  I am trying to decide if it’s worth saying anything.)
  • Level 6-7:   At this level, I will usually feel the need to say something, but still nicely, maybe indirectly, with a smile on my face.
  • Level 8-9:  At this level, I might try saying something directly, but I just end up sounding ridiculous.
  • Level 10:  Angry unikitty!

A stern, but firm early warning look is not in my repertoire of facial expressions, but I don’t think that makes me any less “slow to anger” than someone who easily lets others know that he or she is level 2 or 3 upset. What does it mean to be slow to anger?  What does it look like? If everyone got upset and angry about the same things, there would be so much less misunderstanding.  Most of the time when I am upset, I am told, “I just don’t understand why that would bother you.”  We are all wired a little differently.  I heard a story recently about a person who becomes enraged just listening to the sound of people chewing?  My goodness, we all have to eat?  None of mean to get on each other’s nerves, but we do.  I do my best not to annoy my family members and to be understanding of what bugs them, and I hope that if I share that something really bothers me that they simply will be understanding and respectful, too.   It doesn’t help things to say “What a stupid thing to get upset about.”  If I had someone in my family who became enraged at the sound of food being chewed, I simply would do my best not to chew food around the person even if I couldn’t understand.  That seems like the obvious solution to me.

I think it’s important to recognize that people get angry in different ways.  The little things that bug me—most of the time I don’t want to get into it with people especially if I feel they are unlikely to understand, but sometimes I just can’t take it anymore and I dig my heels in–I may even have a short-lived outburst.  Other people find themselves in tears when angry and then a bad case of the worries follows.  Some people get super intense and need to fix what’s wrong and just won’t let it go until the problem is resolved.  Some people might get physical, throw things or even get violent.  Some people just can’t help telling it like it is and end up offending others more than they would expect.  Some people retreat and stop talking altogether—often for long extended time periods.  Anger expresses itself in many ways.  Anger can even express itself as a bridled tongue. A co-worker sent me a link to a video where Pope Francis addresses the challenges in family life and two common, but very different, expressions of anger:

“I say—plates are smashed hard words are spoken, but please listen to my advice:  Don’t ever let the sun set without reconciling.  Peace is made each day in the family:  Please forgive me, and then you start over.  Please, thank you, sorry….Let us say these words in our families.  To forgive one another each day.  Sometimes it’s not the arguments that are painful, but rather the silence.  What weighs more than all of these things is a lack of love.  It weighs upon us never to receive a smile, not to be welcomed.  Certain silences are oppressive even at times within families, between husbands and wives, between parents and children, among siblings.  Without love, the burden becomes even heavier, intolerable.”  -Pope Francis

We all have our angry moments—and keeping them quiet doesn’t make them any less angry.  I would counter James, by saying, “Forgive quickly!”  That’s an easy one for me. I wasn’t exactly sure how to illustrate it, but somehow this funny pink face with a straight smile captures my feelings about the verse….Sometime simple is best. 001

As a post script:  After praying about this verse and talking about feelings of anger with some like-tempered friends, I’ve decided to add the following phrase to my warning system:  “I may be smiling, but I am deadly serious.”

As a super post script:  I got a call from the person who gave me this verse.  “I read your blog, but you missed the point of why this verse was on my mind, and you are right it’s not my favorite verse.”  It was a sweet conversation.  It was still a helpful exercise to explore how anger expresses itself in my own life.  And I think I better understand the verse:  “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”