Friday, 31 January 2014

A feeling for things

'Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.'
John 12: 1-3

I knew from the first time I met Jesus that he was special. 

No, I knew before then - I’d only heard about him but I knew in my heart. I have a feeling for things, and the older I get the more I’ve learned to trust that feeling. I heard about this teacher and the way that he stunned crowds with his words and I felt a longing to be close to him, to know him. I wondered for a while if it was the usual longing that a woman might have for a man, but disregarded that idea; it was more than that. It was something about the essence of him. I felt as if being close to him would feed me on a fundamental level, as if he were the answer to a question I’d never known to ask. It was as if my soul was reaching for him. 

I knew when he came to our house that everything in my life until that day had been unimportant up to that point. I didn’t want to miss a single word. I knew that my sister was rushing around preparing the food and arranging the table, and I understood what she was doing - we’d enjoyed making those plans together only the day before. We wanted it to be just right, and yet here was I discarding our timetable and abandoning Martha - to sit at Jesus’ feet. Nothing else seemed important. At first I wanted to catch hold of her sleeve as she swept past and whisper to her to stop, stay; but soon even that thought was lost, so captivated was I with my Lord. 

Jesus saw me; he saw my very heart. He knew all about me - all about the rubbish in my past that I don’t speak about, every hope, disappointment, dream and hurt. He saw every shadow in my soul and still he loved me. 

I think I knew then that Jesus was the Son of God, but I didn’t know what to do with that knowledge and while I held it in my heart, turning this this way and that, events just took over. 

There was the awful day that my brother died. We were beside ourselves, Martha and I. He was so ill, we knew that Jesus could help. We tried and tried to get a message to him, but still he didn’t come, and then.. it was too late. Ah, but it turned out that it’s never too late, didn’t it?  Not for him. 

Not for Jesus. 

My beloved brother had died, and we were lost in grief. We were overwhelmed. And then he came. You know what happened then - can there be anyone who denies that Jesus is Lord?

And here he was again at our table. I couldn’t grasp how blessed we were that Jesus would call us friends. That he would treat our home like his own and relax at our table. I watched Mary pour his wine, and I saw the light in her eyes as he laid a hand on her arm in thanks. I saw my brother  - the one who was dead and yet lives! - I saw him lean towards Jesus in concentration. I watched my Lord as he gestured, as his brow furrowed and smoothed, as his eyes twinkled and became serious, as he laughed, taught, teased and looked into the souls of these men who believed in him. 

I drank it all in, and I saw Him. I saw how precious he was, not just to me, but to the whole world. I saw that he was our Saviour, whatever that might mean. I understood something at the deepest level - I knew that time with our friend was drawing to a close. I felt the urgency, a foretaste of awful grief to come, yet mingled with deep excitement and hope. A sense of something terrible and mysterious. 

I had to do something. It had to be something big, something extravagant to demonstrate how much I loved him. I felt as if my heart would burst. Without really thinking, I took hold of the precious jar of perfume that we were saving and I broke its lid. Immediately the fragrance began to fill the room. It was delicious and ominous, that scent of spices. Sweet and heavy. I had often brought this jar to my cheek to try to smell the contents but it’s only when a jar is cracked that the fragrance can spill out. 

Quickly I sank to my knees at Jesus’ feet. All eyes turned my way, but I didn’t lift my head. Cradling his feet on my lap I poured the perfume over them. I was outside myself, watching as I did this crazy thing, and yet never more in the moment. Swiftly, trying to catch all the rivulets of oil as they flowed over his feet, I massaged with both hands. I used my thumbs, my palms, the tips of my fingers.  I felt the callouses of a man who has walked for many miles in sandals that have not always fit well. His feet were hot and dusty and the sweet oil smooth and refreshing. I will remember that moment all my life - the intimacy of it. I knew that Jesus was staring at me, and I knew that all conversation had stopped, and it was for those precious moments as if there were only the two of us in that place. I knelt and massaged my Lord’s tired feet with my best perfume. 

Tears ran down my face. This was all I could do for him. It was the best I could offer. The most profound demonstration of love and recognition. This man was heading to Jerusalem. Time was short. I had no words, only this moment. 

Who was I to even touch his feet? Yet here was the Son of the living God at my table, with his tired eyes and calloused feet. How I loved him. I didn’t stop to think of the consequences - that perfume was more expensive than anything else we had in the house and I had used it all up on my Lord. But he was beyond price. It was worth it; I would do it again if I could. 

The tears fell and the oil soaked into his skin and my hands stilled. I bent over and wept and tears dripped onto the feet I had just anointed.  My hair had come loose from its braid and fell forwards over my shoulder and I used it to wipe away the splashes.  My breath was ragged and the scene blurred as I cried. I smoothed my hair across his feet, spilled more tears on his toes, bowed low in front of him and kissed his feet as I wept. I was undone.

My Lord and my God. 

Even when Judas, the keeper of the purse, spoke harshly about me, I didn’t raise my eyes. It made no difference to me what anyone thought but he whose feet I cradled in my lap. When I heard his voice it was as if he had reached and lifted my chin so that my eyes met his.

‘Leave her alone,’ he said. 

‘She has anointed me for burial.’ 

He understood. I laid my cheek against his perfumed feet and I knew that one day in this manner I would cradle his lifeless body.

Matthew 26:6
John 12:1
Mark 14:1

Linking with Ruth Povey and Sabrina Fowles for the Unprompted link-up. Every second Tuesday. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Climbing to get nowhere

I’m climbing. 

Hand over hand, trying to find footholds and holding on so tightly that my knuckles are white and my fingers hurting from gripping the cold metal.  I am halfway up a telecoms mast of some sort. It’s on the very top of a tall skyscraper, the part that reaches up beyond the concrete and glass almost into the clouds making the very highest point.  It’s an aerial, a mast to pick up a signal or something. It’s thin and sways in the wind – and there is quite a wind up here.

I’m afraid I’ll fall. I’m using the narrow rungs and handles that fearless maintenance men use, but I am not fearless; I am terribly afraid. My breath is coming in shudders and gasps and my progress is painfully slow as I have to check each cold, rusty handhold and foothold before I can raise a leg or an arm to get higher.

I know that if I fall, it’s a very, very long way down.

God is with me. He’s right there, and I know that He won’t let me fall, but this is not a comforting security as it was when we stepped through the door marked Fear and flew together miles above the earth. He is watching me carefully. He is on a level with me – I don’t know if He’s standing on thin air or floating somehow, but he is a few feet away, watching me as I struggle to climb the mast.

He isn’t pleased with me. He’s not angry, He’s sort of sad - He doesn’t like what I’m doing. He watches, protecting me, but He is not approving.  I know that He won’t let me fall, but He has withheld the sense of safety and peace from me.

I climb. Ragged breath, painful hands, cold against the rough and sharp edges of the metal. I have no gloves and insufficient clothes in the bitingly cold wind that threatens to blow me off.

I am high. I am almost at the highest point, the tip of the tallest building. The view should be breathtaking from up here, but I am so full of fear and looking for the next step, the next rung, that I cannot look around. It’s a technical climb and it takes all my concentration. I have climbed this high to see all that I could see, but now that I’m here, I am too preoccupied to take it in.

I am exhausted.

God is showing me that it’s a fruitless climb. I am as high as it’s possible to get climbing in my own strength up a man-made structure. I am as high as I can get and yet it is frightening, risky and unsatisfying. He will never leave me, but the enormous effort I am putting in to climb so high is ultimately fruitless.

With God I flew, high up in the clouds – much higher than this. Holding His hand I stepped through a door that frightened me, and with His arm around me I was no longer afraid. We flew, glided, soared, and it was effortless. It was exhilarating and the view was so, so beautiful. Time stopped still so that I could appreciate the sunlight glittering on water, birds flying in formation, fields in a patchwork of green and yellow. There was a gentle breeze, but it was cooling, refreshing.

I was free.

Contrast that with this. I am worn out and in pain, trapped on the mast. I am frustrated and afraid and so, so cold. Far from that feeling of weightlessness, I know that my own body weight is causing the thin tower to bend and I hug the mast close to me, fearful of the swaying movement of the metal.

The wind fills my ears with loud, distracting sound.  I worry that I couldn’t hear God’s voice up here even if He chose to speak to me, but He is silent. In any case, I am too preoccupied with holding on.

God is still there, just as He was when we flew together, but there is no joy in the way we relate to each other. He looks at me with sadness and concern in His eyes, and my glance is resentful; that He is watching but not helping me. In the sky, when I trusted Him completely, He looked at me with delight and we laughed together. Now, He seems resigned, disappointed.

My experience in the sky with the Lord God was characterized by freedom, joy, peace. A sense of space, of being able to breathe. Climbing on my own up the mast above a skyscraper I am terrified, vulnerable, hurting, and I cannot catch my breath. Up there, with Him, the clouds we sailed through were refreshing, stimulating. Here, on this tower, they are deadening. I feel suffocated.

He is showing me that when I am with Him, I can go so much higher than I can on my own. No matter how hard I try, how high I climb using my own energy, my own skill, my own strength, it will never bring me the satisfaction I want. On a man-made structure I will sway dangerously in the wind, I will hurt myself trying and still I won’t get very far. The view from up there will always be disappointing.

He will not leave me, but I will not see the things I long to see. I can only do that if trust His strong arm around my shoulders and hold tightly to His hand and go where He leads.

I cannot do it on my own.

I want to fly, free and effortless, with my God, not try and try to climb and wear myself out trying. I want the peace, the freedom, the breathtaking beauty of the view on His terms, not mine. I want to hold His hand, and when He is by my side, when I have His strength coursing through me, replacing my own flimsy courage with something perfect and invincible, I can do anything.

‘I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.’
Philippians 4:13

See also The door marked 'Fear', January 2014 for the one about flying with God.

Image credit:  Top_of_The_Rock_IMG|_6522.JPG by rose vita, courtesy of Used with permission.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The door marked 'Fear'

I was in a room. A square room like a line drawing, painted beige. Like an illustration from a corporate manual for fire drills or something. A square room with no windows and no furniture. But there was a door. 

The door was the door to Fear, and it stood wide open. Not inviting but threatening. From where I was standing, I could see that out there was nothing. Well, I could see sky, wispy, high clouds, but nothing else. A void. Empty space. It was so frightening that I backed away as far as I could until my back was pressed against the opposite wall. I desperately didn't want to go anywhere near the doorway. 

Then I realised that God was in the room with me. He was a man, but I can't describe his face. He was tall, and strong, wearing a cable-knit sweater. He smiled at me, and walked over to the door. He looked out, and I called him to come back away from the edge. It's dangerous, I said. He half turned to me and smiled. He leaned against the door frame, and held out his hand to me. 

Shall we go? He said.

He wanted me to walk through the doorway with him. I refused, shaking my head vigorously, eyes wide. I pressed myself harder against the wall. He held out his hand again and leaned towards me. 

I won't let you fall. We won't fall, we'll fly. 

Really? I asked, doubtful.

We won't fall, we'll fly. 

Moments went by. The room was still. Me, pressed tight against the wall full of fear and anxiety; God, relaxed and patient, encouraging, his hand outstretched. I wanted so badly to trust him. My heart was pounding and my head ached. 

I walked towards him a few small steps and he met me in the middle of the room. I took his left hand and it closed around mine, big and warm and rough. I held on tightly. We stood on the threshold of the door for a second and then simultaneously we stepped out.

My eyes were tightly closed.

I fell forwards as if I'd tripped over something, until I was in a lying position, my left hand held out in front of me as if to break my fall. God held onto my right hand. We didn't fall. 

We were flying. 

I opened my eyes. I could see the world far, far down beneath us. I could see fields and forests, towns and lakes. The sunlight glinted on the rivers and we flew over hills and cities and over the edge of land and over the sea. I could see everything. It was very beautiful. 

I was still tense and anxious. I was afraid that God would let go of me. I was afraid that he'd pull his hand away and leave me to try to fly on my own, or to fall. He understood, and he pulled me towards him until he could reach over me, arm around my shoulders, and hold both hands, one in each of his. 

Is that better? he asked.

Yes, I replied. I could feel the warmth and strength of his body alongside mine. I was close to him - under his arm. I felt safe. 

God looked at me and laughed at the relief and wonder he saw on my face. He was delighted that I was enjoying myself. He squeezed my hands and I squeezed back, nestled close. 

The air was cool and clear, refreshing. When we flew through wisps of cloud they were made of sparkling droplets. I felt exhilarated, thoroughly alive. Free. Gliding, soaring, somehow flying. It was effortless. I was so relaxed that I could take in the earth-scene below, I could look around - look into the laughing eyes of God, full of love and kindness; I could look up into the patterns that the clouds made far above as the sky became a darker shade of blue. 

I could breathe. I was filling my lungs with clean, pure air. The wind was in my hair but it was silent, gentle, invigorating. I was laughing with the sheer joy of freedom. 

With God beside me, I could fly. 

I looked behind me to see if the door was still there; it was. There was a box hanging in the sky some distance away. The door was now closed - there was no way back even if I'd wanted to go back into the square room. I didn't want to go back there. How could I ever have thought that I was safer in there? A small box, hanging in space thousands of feet above the earth? 

I realised how small and claustrophobic that room had been. How stifling, suffocating; hot and oppressive. And out here, holding onto the hand of the living God, soaring and gliding in the open air among the clouds, cool and fresh and free. 

I would never go back there. I glanced back once more to see the sealed door, but it had disappeared. 

I looked at God, and he smiled and held me closer. 

We laughed, and we flew. 

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