Saturday, July 2, 2011

Whatever I Am

Last Wednesday evening, with children tucked in (if not sleeping) I snuck out the door and over to a friend’s house for the first week of a second-annual summer bible study. Last summer there had been three of us. We linked arms, did the daily lessons and found ourselves quickly in the deep end of the pool. It was a big summer. Big hopes. Big hurts. Big surprises. I was so grateful to have those women and the solidarity of our little band.

So, it was with great anticipation of soul-quenching refreshment that I opened up the study book to day one this week. And I was not disappointed. Sometimes the questions seem goofy or disjointed. Sometimes the study leader, who we watch by video, becomes for me a giant, bobbing hairdo, flanked by well-manicured nails and sparkly rings. But, despite my distractibility, God still finds me when I open the bible. For this I am very, very grateful.

The line of questioning in this week’s study caught me off guard, and had me squirming just a little. The writer asked: “What do you say about yourself?” I was supposed to write down my thoughts, seal them in an envelope and save it for the end of the study. I don’t think I will get to that. In fact, I am not sure I am even comfortable answering the question.

There are a few things I wouldn't mind being.

I wouldn't mind being a pineapple plant. It lives someplace warm and despite its sharp points and prickly skin, it makes something sweet and tasty once a year.

Or maybe a sunflower. It is bright and follows the arc of the sun.

Or something simple and nutritious.

Or a warm and well-woven nest.

The Bible does say that we are but travelers here, and so I guess that makes me, among other things, a tourist.

The study looked at the life of John the Baptist, concluding that he was strong and focused with a clear message because he understood and embraced his value in relationship to the life of Christ. Since his life was tied to and drawn from that of Jesus, he could do and say big things with genuine humility and unabashed power. The idea, of course, it that the same can be true of my life; defining myself through my relationship with Jesus gives me the freedom to be honest with myself about who I am and who I am not. Maybe even use big words. Or take big leaps. Or tiny steps.

When Jesus was calling some of the fishermen-turned-disciples in Mark 1 he promised to make them into something new. “Come. Follow me and I will make you . . .” So, what has he made me? I find the question really hard to answer. But I find it very easy to say this (in fact, I wrote it down in the margins of the study book five times):
Whatever I am, He has made me.
Whatever I am, He has made me.
Whatever I am, He has made me.
Whatever I am, He has made me.
Whatever I am, He has made me.

When I was in junior high school my parents sent me on a two-week mountaineering trip, of which one of the requirements was a 36-hour “solo” where each kid kept water, a sleeping bag, a notebook and their bible. No food. No shelter. No one to talk to for a day and a half. It was amazing. I sat on the sloping angle of a giant rock with my feet dangling in an icy mountain stream and talked to God. I told him that if he was real he could have my whole life. I also remember thinking I was clever, because if he was not real, no harm done – if nothing else I would have a nice memory of the day I enjoyed a warm sun and spent the afternoon talking to myself in an alpine meadow. But two decades later, that afternoon seems as real as ever and I can see the fingerprints of God in all the places where I have turned and dusted my tracks.

Sis took a picture of me a few month ago that I like.

I like it even better underexposed with a lower temperature. The shadowy darkness transforms baggy eyelids into dark and mysterious make-up. The melancholy blue makes me seem all-around more interesting and smarter-looking.

But I think I like the photo best overexposed with higher contrast and artificial saturation. Sleepy lines and wrinkles fade. Eyes brighten. I seem colorful, fun, and sharp. Wouldn’t that be nice.

When I was a kid, I went with my dad to an art lecture where the speakers did extensive color demonstrations. It really was amazing to see how different blue looked against a backdrop of yellow versus red. Textures and shapes and colors had drastically different messages depending on how they were layered and what they were framed by.

I know what I want to be. I want to be Rumi’s dance partner: “Find the real world, give it endlessly away, grow rich flinging gold to all who ask. Live at the empty heart of paradox. I’ll dance there with you – cheek to cheek.”

I found that bit of Rumi in Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. That is also where I met Jack Gilbert who says, “The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for the world.” Amen, Mr. Gilbert. A heart, pregnant with the things of God, is indeed driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this little world. And wrong-sized hopes hurt our hearts when we stretch and push from the inside.

Who am I? Anyone’s guess, really. I am not even going to try to answer. But I hope – really, really hope – that whatever I am sings a little song about Jesus and gives him credit for the bits that are right and good.

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