Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Swimming in the Mystery

As I reflect on the last year and the renaissance of spirituality that I’ve experienced, I can’t help but marvel at the ways that I’ve experienced God and how my perspective of the world, myself and my ministry have been transformed. I’ve come to terms with the indefinable mystery of spirituality. I know that I am simply not able to describe the nature of my relationship with Jesus with the same precision (if you would call it that) that I might describe my understanding of who Jesus is (Christology). This is a difference for me and a striking one at that. So what is a theologian to do when trying to describe the indescribable? While words and concepts may not be up to the task, I have discovered the power of memory, metaphor and image to describe the mysteries of spirituality.

The image of swimming in the mystery of Christ’s presence in my life is an image that is rooted in childhood memory but speaks so powerfully to what I’ve experienced in the last year. Before moving to California at age 15, we lived on a small private lake in Michigan named Jeffrey Lake. Up to the time we moved west the lake had always been a part of my life as the house that we lived in had been built by my grandparents in the mid 1950s. This beautiful little lake was always quiet as no motorized boats were allowed on it.

Summers at the lake were life-giving. There was a small raft just off shore that made for a wonderful swimming platform. The lake itself was clear and pristine. A rock dropped off the raft could be seen for 20-30 feet before it disappeared into the murky depths. The lake itself was very deep with a soft bottom, so no one was really sure how deep it was. Through the years people who drove cars out onto the winter ice when it was too thin, would lose there car forever. In all the years my family was there, I don’t ever remember something being recovered. The water on the top layers, when heated by the summer sun, made for excellent swimming. By the time I was a teenager I could swim across the lake and took great pride in the accomplishment. As I swam across the warm surface waters of the lake I was often surprised with a spout of cool water rising from one of the many springs that fed the lake. As shocking as it was, it was always a joy. Only about half the shoreline was developed, leaving much of the lake a wild mystery occupied by swamp and forest, lily pads and giant bullfrogs, all manner of teeming creatures including water moccasins. To explore these wild edges in the family paddleboat was always an adventure for me. Even though there was a lot of unknown and even some danger around the edges and below the surface of this charming little lake I knew it as a place of comfort and peace.

In the last year, as I have explored and been challenged by a deeper spirituality and a more profound relationship with the risen Christ, it’s as if I’ve returned to the time of summertime swims in Jeffrey Lake. As I explore the edges of my relationship with Christ it is with that spirit of adventure and discovery. I know that I will find things that may challenge me and even create discomfort within me at the edges of my faith. I also know that there are depths to this experience that are beyond comprehension. However, I also know that the waters are warm and inviting, even with the occasional burst of cold water that comes unexpectedly I am comforted in its normalcy. Even though I feel now similar to how I felt when I swam across the lake for the first time, feeling that sense of conquering the lake, I know that I’ve only just begun to swim in the mystery of Christ’s presence in my life.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Spiritual Cataracts

One of the most compelling stories (and one of the most important stories as well) is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Transfiguration is that extraordinary story of Jesus’ trip to the mountain with Peter, James and John very shortly after Peter’s confession at Ceasaria Philippi. In that moment on the mountain Jesus appeared before the disciples with his face and garment gleaming white “as no fuller could bleach”. With Jesus appeared Moses and Elijah and the voice from heaven, the same voice that spoke when Jesus was baptized, spoke clearly again testifying to the identity of Jesus. I’ve always heard this story from the standpoint that it was Jesus who was changed before the eyes of the disciples and when Jesus changed, Peter’s confession took on new meaning. There is a lot about this interpretation that roots deeply in our experience.

This week, however, I heard an interpretation that has turned my relationship to that passage upside down. What if it was not Jesus who changed on that incredible night? What if it was the disciples who had changed? What if the truth of Peter’s confession hit critical mass in that moment, quiet and separated from the group? What if, for the first time, the disciples, Peter, James and John, truly saw Jesus as he truly was and had always been? What if the scales that covered their eyes fell away and for the first time they truly saw their Lord and Teacher?

This interpretation has exploded in my spiritual awareness and simply won’t be denied. The powerful truth of that interpretation became more than an abstract idea this week. It became a living, breathing, even visceral reality.

I can see in recent weeks a movement in my spirit away from living in an abstract reality of Christ presence and to a more conscious awareness of Christ presence as a physical reality. What I’m finding is that this is affecting my daily awareness of the world around me. It is affecting my prayer. It is affecting my service. It’s not that I hadn’t before lived in awareness of a risen and present Christ. Just as a seed grows, matures, bears fruit and goes through its ongoing cycle of fruit bearing so has my awareness and understanding of Christ grown. But this is different! No longer is my understanding and experiencing of Christ hermetically sealed and tucked away as a curio in the dust free environment of my intellect. My eyes have been opened; my spiritual cataracts have been stripped away. I see Jesus now more clearly than at any other time in my life. What once was a dimmed awareness of Christ’s presence has exploded onto the terrain I walk each day.

Jesus was not the one who changed. It is my life and awareness that has been transformed. This transformation has been a gift from a patient Christ who has been waiting to greet me not in the recesses of a well reasoned theology, but truly right be my side. The incarnation of Christ, which we speak of at Christmas, is now so much more than a good idea. It is the fundamental truth of my life with God. In the Jesus who walks at my side I truly greet the God who created me, loves me and has forgiven and redeemed me. I believe this not because I can describe it in words in concepts. I believe this because I have experienced it in my heart, in my eyes, in my ears and in my hands.