Lift Up the Light of Your Face upon Us

The next verse that speaks to an illuminated life comes from Psalm 4.  After spending time in Job, I felt a little in awe of the bold beginning to this Psalm:  “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness.”  Sometimes I feel like we aren’t really quite ready for God to answer us.  Before long, however, I was singing a song I learned as a kid (Does anyone else remember this song?)….

The line from the song that was stuck in my head…”I know he’ll answer me when I call.”

But I really wanted to read this Psalm in relation to the question:  “What does an illuminated life look like?”  A couple points came to mind:

The Psalmist asks:  “How long shall my honor be turned to shame?”  I can only guess what happened to him, but it’s easy to relate these words to moments in our own lives where maybe someone misread us or chose to believe or spread untruths.  “Living in the light” means living with the awareness that God knows the truth about us and sees our heart.  It’s humbling to consider the Psalmist’s words that we have been set apart for God and that God hears our prayers.  Then the Psalmist says “Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your bed and be silent.”  This is wise counsel when unsettling, crazy talk begins.  The best advice is to simply trust God through these times.  The prayer that made it to my margins comes next:  “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord.”  When we feel the warmth and light of God’s love radiating all around us, it heals any pain we may have.  We feel the joy in our heart that comes from God alone, joy greater than knowing all our physical needs are secured.  And we can sleep in peace, knowing that God will keep us safe.  An illuminated life means joy and peace where others might have troubled nights

For my birthday, my husband gave me a set of PanPastels.  They are a little expensive; I’ve waited a long time for them, but I am so happy with them!!!  It is tricky to find the right way to add color to the background of the page.  PanPastels are a great option:  I love their vibrant and bright colors.  Using them for the first time felt easy and intuitive.  They are not at all messy, which is a plus for me.  The color is transparent which works well with my work flow:  pencil first, micron pen, eraser for stray pencil marks, add color last.  Since they go on dry, they don’t wrinkle the page the way water colors do.  I sprayed the page with fixative when finished, which also did not seem to wrinkle the page.  The colors can be layered and blended for all kinds of neat effects.  When I went to Michael’s for the fixative, I found a stencil with sunbeams from Tim Holz and knew that it had to go on this page:

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My Life Shall Look upon the Light

I am continuing on the theme of Bible verses that speak to an illuminated life.  The next verse listed in Writing in the Margins on this topic is Job 33:24:

He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.

As I was preparing to illustrate this verse, I enjoyed reading Elihu, the Forgotten Prophet, a blog post that made me pause and read Elihu’s words more carefully.  Before illustrating this passage I never gave much thought to the message of Elihu.  I remembered Job’s lament and his three friends and their failure to console.  And who can forget God’s long statement about mortal before the Almighty, the longest monologue from God in the Bible?  In between is the voice of Elihu, bursting to tell of God’s greatness.  There’s something both endearing and youthful, yet also very wise about his words.  Elihu reminds us of our common humanity.  He encourages us to keep looking to the light even in the midst of our troubles, to have faith in God’s greatness, and to be open to what God wants to teach us. He reminds us that God cares for us equally and is present with us in our times of trial.  He tells us that the God has imparted wisdom to us is to help us live better for each other, not that we can really do anything to God.

I read this passage in a number of different translations before it started to come into focus for me (Elihu is a bit wordy and hard for me to follow!).  It’s a happy accident that I really like the ESV translation of Job 33:24 best. The verse reminded me of a quote attributed to Helen Keller:

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.  It’s what the sunflowers do.

As I illustrated my sunflower, I reflected on how it blooms and thrives in harsh prairie conditions, often with little water.  I’d like my life to be a lot like a sunflower with my face always toward the light, even when the conditions of life are difficult and to always remember the wisdom of Elihu:001

Chagall

Under the category of one thought leads to another….

Randomly, I was reintroduced to the artwork of Chagall after a Facebook friend had her fashion colors selected for her by John Kitchner and learned that her palatte was like a Chagall painting.  I would characterize the palette as broody yet hopeful and mostly bright, thoughtful concern mixed with optimism.  And this seemed to suit my friend well!

As I was reading about Chagall, I learned that he did a series of paintings illustrating the Bible, which further intrigued me, and I ordered a small book with his artwork from Genesis, Exodus and Song of Solomon along with the Biblical text.  In my personal art journaling in the Bible, I’ve been focused on word art centered around particular verses, but as an artist Chagall captures the feelings evoked by the Bible stories.  I was moved to tears looking at his portrait of Abraham weeping over Sarah:

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In the Bible, Sarah dies after Abraham takes Isaac up to the mountain and only nearly avoids killing him as a sacrifice to God.  As Christians, we tend to read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac as a story that prefigures the death of Jesus on the cross and his atoning sacrifice.  We take joy and relief that God provided a ram as a substituted for Isaac.  The story works out for us as readers, but Sarah’s death after the event reminds us again of the very human element.  Was she beside herself when she heard the story?  Did this event break her heart?  She dies.  Seeing Abraham standing over his aged wife in tears recalls their whole journey together, stepping out in faith into new territory, their long wait for a child, visits from angels, the joyful birth, the laughter, the troubles with Hagar and Ishmael, the almost sacrifice of Isaac.  You can look at this picture, feel the love and feel the loss in one couple’s extraordinary journey together.

I love Chagall’s painting of Rebecca at the well, too.  I love that he paints Rebecca as a strong, capable woman and the look of wonder on Eliezer’s face.  He was sent to Abraham’s home town by Abraham to find a wife for Isaac, and the look says “She’s the one!”:

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The more I read about Chagall, the more curious he seems to me.  He was raised in an orthodox Jewish family in Russia, yet somehow found the passion to be an artist, which took him to Paris where he no longer visibly practiced his faith, yet his art is infused with a sense of identity in his past.  In my online wanderings, I learned that Pope Francis’s favorite painting is Chagall’s White Crucifiction:

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Images from the holocaust surround Jesus on the cross.  I can’t speak to why Pope Francis loves this picture or why Chagall, a Jewish painter, included a picture of Jesus on the cross amidst the unthinkable sufferings of his fellow Jewish people.  What I see, is that sometimes life is full of suffering.  It’s hard to know why God lets things happen.  The cross is a symbol of hope in the midst of the worst, a reminder that suffering is not the end of the story.  I suspect, like my friend, who wears the colors of Chagall’s palette so well, that Chagall was fundamentally a person who looked to life for hope and love.  Anyone who searches for hope and love earnestly through the worst of life will ultimately find themselves at the foot of the cross.  Jesus is with those who suffer, present in the midst of chaos.  When the suffering of humanity is united with Christ’s, an opening is created to God’s powerful, healing, resurrection love.  At the same time, when we see clearly our common humanity, it also leads us also to be better people, more responsive to the suffering of others.

Some Marc Chagall quotes to ponder…

If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.

Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.

All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.

For about two thousand years a reserve of energy has fed and supported us, and filled our lives, but during the last century a split has opened in this reserve, and its components have begun to disintegrate: God, perspective, colour, the Bible, shape, line, traditions, the so-called humanities, love, devotion, family, school, education, the prophets and Christ himself. Have I too, perhaps, doubted in my time? I painted pictures upside down, decapitated people and dissected them, scattering the pieces in the air, all in the name of another perspective, another kind of picture composition and another formalism.

A Prayer for Understanding

Reading through the chapter “Marginal Writing in a Digital Age” in Writing in the Margins, one passage really spoke to me:

It is precisely because so much has changed, in this day and age, that we need that sacred text.  When lulled by the trance of the screen, all the more do we need that transcendent dimension in our lives.  When we are beguiled by our ability to “shape worlds” through gaming or voting online, all the more do we need a deeper understanding of the story that reveals God at work shaping our world and our lives.

Recently I had a conversation with an eight-year-old that left me feeling unsettled.  He told me that he believed in science, not God.   I’ve heard this said before, but hearing the words bolding spoken from such a young person was most unexpected.  He seemed to know little about the God in whom he did not believe.  (A book of Bible stories is in his future!)

Shortly after, I was outside playing with my three-year-old daughter.  She carried my thin travel Bible outside.  (Randomly, she told me she needed the book to know how to make rainbows.)  When she got busy doing something else, I had one of those moments.  I was just sitting with a Bible in my hand, praying for a verse to pray for this boy, and I opened the Bible right to Psalm 49.  The Psalm speaks to me of the deep understanding, which is better than riches.  I wrote a prayer for the young boy:

Praying for a young friend to know the wisdom that is better than gold and the understanding that is better than silver.

Praying now that he will also come to know hope and the peace that comes from knowing God.

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Livable Streets

The next assignment from Writing in the Margins was to go digital:

If you are a digital mark-maker, try pen and Bible.  If you are a pen and Bible margin-writer, try online marking.  What do you learn from this alternative way of working the margins?

I decided to try some digital art.  I found a lot of info and tutorials about digital Bible journaling in this Facebook group dedicated to the topic, and found the whole process surprisingly fun and intuitive.  I can see how illustrating verses digitally could open up a lot of possibilities.  I used Photoshop Elements and vector graphics from Creative Market.  Isaiah 58:1-12 was still on my mind and I had a simple idea for illustrating verse 12. I found this translation of the verse in Lisa Nichols Hickman’s book, and it caught my attention and captured my imagination:

Restorer of livable streets BLUE

I love the image of restoring streets to dwell in and how it speaks to the power of God’s word to shape our world for the better.  Many people think of reading the Bible as a personal spiritual practice, but I think there is a network effect to reading the Bible (and my hope is to encourage more people to pick up their Bibles!).  By “Network effect” I mean the same thing that makes Facebook harder to avoid once more and more people use it or Amazon.com reviews so popular.  Somethings are just better when more people jump in!  Long before Facebook and Amazon or even the phrase “network effect”, the Bible has been a widely shared text.  The power of the Word has changed history, enlivened art, music, and literature, as well as making positive changes to individual the lives of countless individuals.  When I am talking with another person of faith, I know I can draw on words of the Bible to offer encouragement, words that carry with them the promises of the one who breathed life into the scriptures and us.  But the power of Scripture extends beyond me and my friendships.  The stories of the Bible, the Ten Commandments, the prophets, and Jesus speak to the possibility of a Kingdom of God where humanity flourishes like a watered garden and where all our streets are livable.  Imagine how different the world would be if more people read the Bible with wisdom and understanding and could simply live love for God and neighbor!  We all benefit the more this happens!!!

I printed my little picture and used washi tape to put it in my Bible:

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Like a Watered Garden

I probably should have read ahead before filling the margins of this page in my last post.  This prompt led me from the margins of the page to the gutter:

Isaiah 58:9b-14 describes a changed world that will emerge.  Write in the margin what actions we need to do to live into that change.  Write in the margin what actions God will do.  Draw a picture, using the imagery of Isaiah 58:12 to depict this changed world:

The actions that I listed:

  • Take away the yoke.
  • Stop pointing fingers and speaking wickedness.
  • Pour yourself out for the hungry.
  • Satisfy the afflicted.

I simply underlined the list of actions God promises to do.  Most of all, I love the promise that God will continually guides us as we walk in His ways!

The image that captured my imagination was “Like a watered garden.”

(I used the washi tape to fix a small tear at the top of the page.)

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Shine for God

The next prompt from Writing in the Margins

Isaiah 58:1-9a concludes with a powerful affirmation that God will say, “Here I am” to the individual who cries to God for help.  Use note-taking in the text to make not of the flow of this verse.  Circle the questions asked.  How do these questions lead to the three “thens” in verses 7-9?  How do the questions and affirmation work together to move the reader to the culmination of verse 9a?

I’ve been wrestling with this passage for about a week.  After pondering the passage I reached some fairly simple conclusions that probably should have been obvious to me from the beginning:

  • When our will is aligned with God’s, God is there to help us to do the will of God.
  • God cares for the oppressed and the poor.
  • God says that when we put aside our own interests to care for the oppressed and the poor it is a worthy fast.  (And when fasting from food, the reason would be to draw closer to God and to be awakened to the needs of others.)

God is present when the bonds of wickedness are loosed, when the oppressed are set free, and whenever someone stops to help another in need.  This passage is a call to move out of darkness into the light, to shine for God and to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

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What God Hates

The eleventh chapter of Writing in the Margins begins with a quote from Cornel West, an American philosopher and the author of Race Matters:

Love and trust and justice, concern for the poor, that’s being pushed to the margins, and you can see it.

The first prompt at the end of the chapter is…

Cornel West speaks prophetically when he names what is being pushed to the margin in the world today.  Read Amos 5:21-24.  What does the Lord God hate in the world of Amos?  What does God hope for in the world today?  Write responses to these in your margin.  Then, consider our world today.  What would be the parallel for what God might hate, and for what God might hope?

This was a tough one for me.  At one point, I seriously considered writing to Lisa Nichols Hickman for a consultation!  Amos was a challenge for me to understand and Cornel West speaks form an intellectual tradition that is unfamiliar to me.  I can write of God’s goodness from now to eternity, but I feel totally unqualified to comment on what God hates.  Nevertheless, I persevered.  What I discovered:  the harsh words that Amos directed at Israel were to shake up the nation and help them see more clearly the needs of the least in society, and the reason for God’s anger is that God loves each and every one of us so dearly.  Every life matters to God!

I decided to order two books to help me think through this assignment:  Cornel West’s newest book Black Prophetic Fire and Gregory Boyle’s Tattoes on the Heart.  While I was waiting for the books to arrive, I started to fret, maybe what God hates most is those who claim to know what God hates.  So I decided to look to scripture and keep close to God’s Word on this subject.  I found this passage in Proverbs that provides a remarkably clear answer:

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After reading, my first thought was of how Judas Iscariot embodies nearly everything this passage says the Lord hates.  But I’ve been taught that we all have a hand in shedding the innocent blood of Christ through our sin, and that JESUS PAID IT ALL!  His death on the cross is ultimate injustice.  And how can we respond?  The only way I cans see is to live the goodness Jesus teaches:  Not to be haughty, but be poor in spirit; not to have a lying tongue, but to have a pure heart; not to have hand that sheds innocent blood, but to mourn our sin and the loss of innocent life; not to devise wicked plans but to hunger and thirst for righteousness; not to make haste to run to evil, but to be meek; not to be a false witness, but to be willing to suffer persecution; not to sow discord, but to be peacemakers.  In short we honor the injustice suffered by Christ, described so well in this passage, when we live the beatitudes.

I read Black Prophetic Fire and then I read the book of Amos.  As I read, I kept a list of things God hated about society when Amos was prophesying.  The original list had 30 complaints, about a third of which I struggled to know what Amos meant.  The very first complaint stumped me:  Damascus…threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron?  Mercifully, I found a good online study of Amos, which helped.  For instance, regarding the first complaint, he suggested that this meant that Damascus was unnecessarily cruel when they defeated Gilead in battle.  I did my best to boil the complaints down to a simpler list and put them in my own not-so-fiery words:

God hated to see the cruelty and brutality of the battles in the nations that surrounded Israel; the slave trade in Tyre and Gaza; and to know that Judah reject the law of the Lord.  God also had a crazy long list for Israel, which made it to my margins:

Seek good and not evil that you may live.

Do not oppress the poor or crush the needy.

Do not let lending practices become onerous or overtax the poor.

Take care that your justice system does not take bribes or treat the poor badly or ignore the crimes of the rich.

Be fair and honest in your business affairs and do not be overly anxious to be constantly engaged in trading and profits.

Respect the vows of religious people.

Listen to the prophets.

Learn to do good.

Don’t be puffed up with pride or boast in your strength.

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Curiously, so much of the criticism that Amos leveled against Israel applies to our own times, and the themes in the book of Amos also run through the Cornel West’s Black Prophetic Fire.  Brother West condemns the slave trade, the brutality of war and the loss of innocent lives, the treatment of the poor, our criminal justice system in the United States that lets white collar criminals off the hook and puts poor people in jail for minor crimes, the materialism of our culture, and our banking system that bails out the banks and left so many homeowners caught by the sudden drop in home prices.

At the time Amos prophesied, God hoped:

Let justice role down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

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As I illustrated this passage, it occurred to me that there is a sense in which justice is a lot like rain.  On the day of a picnic or parade, nobody wants rain, but when rain is gone for long, it is the ONLY thing for which we hope.  If God’s love is like sunshine, God’s justice is like rain.  As I illustrated this page, I prayed for our country and the world that we might be renewed and refreshed by God’s justice and true righteousness.    Justice and righteousness are absolutely critical to a thriving society!  And if you can overcome some of the difficult political rhetoric, Brother West’s voice simply reminds us:  There are too many places where there still exists a drought of justice!

God tells Amos that he has set a plumb line in the midst of his people.  Some words from the Pledge of Allegiance came to mind as I thought of what plumb line God would set for us in the United States today:

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I thought I would turn my attention to what God hopes.  I think one thing God hopes is that Christians will heed the prophet’s voice and remember what God tells us to do:

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A recent cover story on Barron’s (of all places!) caught my attention, gave me a little hope, and reminded me that God mixes things up all the time!  It featured Danny Lubeman who left a successful banking career at Wells Fargo to attend divinity school and head up a prison outreach ministry, Project Cope.  I’ll just give thanks the prophetic voice was heard and keep him in my prayers that he will live our true purpose according to the prophet Micah:  to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God!

God hopes that Christians will carry the light of God’s love wherever they may be.  Lisa Nichols Hickman referred to the book Tattoos on the Heart:  The Power of Boundless Compassion in this chapter by Gregory Boyle, so I read this book in preparation for this assignment as well.  I was a mess of tears as I read story after story of God’s love reaching into the darkest of places.  Father Greg modeled God’s perfect love that shines on the just and the unjust!  The verses Luke 1:78-79 seem to define his ministry and Father Greg is an example of what St. Francis said:  “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”  Even if we don’t minister to gang members in Los Angeles, we can all be rays of light for each other in dark times:

011Father Greg’s book is a reminder that God’s powerful love is ready to shine on us no matter where we are in life.  In the book of Amos, God tells Israel that he will hold up a plumb line against the society, but God does not seem to do the same thing to us as individuals who have embraced Jesus Christ.  God wants us personally to know only unconditional love, and when we experience the vastness of God’s love, it becomes harder to judge others.  Father Greg reminds us of God’s boundless compassion for each of us as individuals, beloved in his sight:

How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have.  More than anything else, the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval.  This joy just doesn’t know what we’re talking about when we focus on the restriction of not measuring up.  This joy, God’s joy, is like a bunch of women lined up your parish hall on your birthday, wanting only to dance with you—cheek to cheek.-Gregory Boyle

After reading Tattoos on the Heart, I found myself shopping at Walmart, filled with the most beautiful and intense awareness of God’s amazing love for everyone around me.

I heard in a sermon that the local church is the great hope of the world, and I believe that God hopes for the light of the true church that circles the globe to shine brightly!  It would be awesome to hear people note the exceptionalism of the church and Christian communities around the world and the power of Christ.  A little wisdom from the Bible goes a long way toward making this whole world better for everyone.  God’s slow work for thousands of years now has been to create a Kingdom of God that transcends all boundaries of race and nationality.  It is such a rich blessing to know that we belong to it!

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To Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever

The next prompt from Writing in the Margins…

In the margin next to 2 Timothy 3:16 write your reflections on the purpose of scripture in your life and for your life in this world.

I’ve already illustrated this passage, but I love the questions in the invitation above.  My recent study of the fourth commandment made me rethink the purpose of scripture in my life.  As I reviewed the Bible passages, I did so one-by-one as I found them in the Bible (with the help of BibleHub, an awesome online concordance!).  I just took my time with each passage, and I finally got to the point where I could see what God intended in the law by asking his people to take a day to rest and enjoy, and I felt willing to conform.  Then I turned to the letters of Paul and felt like I had the rug pulled out from under me.   Paul’s advice regarding treating one day of the week as special was simply:  “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

After I finished my long post, I took a walk and sat on a swing outside my front door.  There was a quiet conversation in my heart that went something like:

“Sally, you can take one day a week to rest and enjoy; this will be good for you, but you don’t have to; it’s not binding on you. “

By this point, I was ready to protest:  “But in Scripture it says, ‘Above all keep my Sabbaths.’”

And then I heard the quiet whisper “now you know what freedom in Christ means.  You are saved by faith not works of the law.”

It’s not that I didn’t know this before, but I still always felt some kind of tension to get things right in my life and “sin no more.”  I suddenly had new appreciation for Paul’s assertion:  While we were sinners Christ died for us.  The fact is:  I am terrible at resting—and as it turns out, that’s a sin!  (Not just the main reason that I am on only child–my mother says I never took naps!)  But I wasn’t aware because I totally resisted reading the text the right way!!!  And it’s perfectly clear, but I had a ridiculously bad case of “Already knowing!”  I just had it firmly in my head that to keep the Sabbath holy simply meant:  “Make it to church”.  It never occurred to me to look into it any further.  My sins were like scarlet, but I was completely and totally color blind!

And just as I felt like a discovered a really big problem that needs corrected in my life, I heard God whisper:

There is nothing you can do to earn my love.  Oh restless child, I couldn’t love you any more than I do now.

I still plan to make some life changes just because I can see the good in doing so, but the changes I’ll be making will be done with an awareness and appreciation of just how radically free we are in Christ.  So I will keep Sunday as a day of holy freedom!!!

Regarding the purpose of scripture, I was reminded of a quote I posted a while ago by Rich Mullins:

I always find it interesting to hear those who read the Bible so they can find answers.  Just about every time in my life I thought I found an answer, if I went back and read the Bible, it would blow it out of the water.  I’ve given up trying to find answers in the Bible and am looking in the Bible to meet the weirdest character of all, God Almighty himself.

I felt like I discovered this for myself!  Since I’ve already journaled Timothy, I decided to put the quote next to the moment Job met God:

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And as for life purpose….I ‘m gaining fresh appreciation for the Westminster Catechism, which seems to fit nicely with Psalm 84 (I used gelatos over the text with the help of homemade stencils for the background color):

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