The Wallpaper of Metaphorical Significance

I have my own bathroom at the house where I’m staying.  It’s a fine place with a shower and a mirror and even a skylight.  The door doesn’t like to stay open and there’s carpet in weird places, but as bathrooms go, it’s pretty swell.

One of its many interesting features is wallpaper.  When last Interpreter and family remodeled, I guess, wallpaper was an in thing, especially two different kinds of wallpaper in the same color scheme separated by wooden chair rail molding.  Wallpaper is less an in thing these days, so Interpreter’s wife (I do hate calling her that as though that relationship is what defines her, but Interpreter in Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t have a wife and there isn’t a ready character in that list onto whom she really maps for me.  So we’ll stick with it for now and my poor feminist heart will just cringe) has decided that the wallpaper needs to go.

As with most household chores connected to redecoration, though, wallpaper doesn’t go without a fight.  It takes time to peel it off, especially if it’s not a priority and especially if you can’t be bothered to get the specific tool for removing it.  So part of the “rent” of this bathroom is taking down the wallpaper when I think of it, when I have time for it, when I feel like picking at loose edges.  It’s an exercise that’s good because it has concrete and measurable outcomes when my day job has neither, but it’s also rife with possibility for someone like me who likes to see metaphors in pretty much everything.

photo-13-e1342148421962See, the thing about wallpaper is that it doesn’t come off like a lid.  There’s no magic corner that you pull and the whole sheet of it peels with a satisfying shrrrrrrip!  At least not this wallpaper; no, this wallpaper has some large chunks that come off neatly and many other that are tiny strips, little scraps that leave other corners to pull.  And wallpaper has the decorative layer and also a second layer, and the two layers don’t always like to come together, so sometimes you peel the same area twice—and the second layer really, really likes to stay on the wall.  It’s a very interesting look in that bathroom right now, that’s what I’ll say about that.

But this is my life right now, Reader—not pulling off wallpaper but the wallpaper itself.  Like that bathroom, I will not end this summer looking the same as when I started.  There are some events—weddings, patients who die, friendship shifts—where huge chunks of the paper come off in sheets of change.  There are other events when only the top layer obliges removal, the bottom layer of who I think I should be stubbornly clinging to the ways things are.  And there are other events where nothing comes off, nothing changes, where change has to come in tiny little strips that gradually change the shape of the wall piece by piece.  Some places are hard to get to, and some you have to remove huge things like the towel rack to really get at; there are pieces of me that are getting wholesale shifted around right now, and that’s not always pleasant and is rarely easy.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to you, this idea of God randomly pulling off my wallpaper self with patient fingers rather than a wholesale chisel to show me what’s underneath, what He wants me to look like, to get me ready for whatever new coat of paint He has in mind that will make me even better.  But when I stand in this bathroom on the weirdly-present carpet under the long skylight and peel wallpaper, I feel like I’m scratching away at my own ready-made metaphor.

Here’s to hoping neither God nor Interpreter’s wife is really gunning for pastels next.

 

 

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)

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Lent, Week Four: When We Call

My apologies for the delay this week, faithful Reader.  I’ve had a very unexpectedly busy couple of days, filled with both my own stuff and that of other people.

In the absence of a truly prayerful heart this Lent, I’ve taken to spending time with the Psalms.  They’re often called “the prayer book of the Bible,” so I’ve been trying to borrow some of the expression they have since my tongue has been stilled these forty days.

I take one psalm and read it every day for one week, trying to get to as many translations as I can (or have energy to care enough to do) as well as poetic spin-offs and such.  I’m trying to read at least once every day to make it sink into my bones.  Rather arbitrarily, I’ve decided the psalms by starting with number five and going onto every multiple of five (I like multiples of five); this week is Psalm 20.

This week especially I’ve had great need of the prayer that God answer me in my day of trouble—I’m into some really stupid stuff and having a lot of difficulty maintaining my vows to God instead of doing whatever I feel like doing.  This psalm is spot on, then, except for the fact that it makes it my problem to start the conversation.

I am not a fan of this.  I am not a fan of asking for help from anybody ever, or of talking about what’s bothering me, or of saying I can’t handle this.  But this week I have had to talk to Interpreter, Mr. Great-Heart, Discretion, Magister, Reliever, and Mr. Worldly Wiseman to say, “I am not okay, I need a hand, please help me out.”  That’s a lot of people.  That’s a lot of talking.  That’s a lot of really taking a look at how I trust my friends and guides with my self.

And then I come home and read this psalm that says I have to go through all that again with God?  No thanks.

But that is the nature of prayer and of relationship—yes, God already knows all that I’m going to say and all that I need to deal with and all of how that’s wrecking my life.  But to engage the fact that this is a personal God is to have the conversation anyway; to ask such that God would have to answer, to send up the burnt offerings.

And then to pause.

Some of the translations take out that “selah” that comes in after verse three because we don’t actually know what it means.  It’s one of those words that pops up in the Hebrew Old Testament (almost exclusively in the psalms; the only other place it’s found, I think, is in Habakkuk, and really, how many folks read Habakkuk?  Not enough, that’s how many) that no one has ever really translated, but I like the ideas some scholars have to take it as something like a rest in a musical score (because these are musical, remember), which is great to me as a singer.  Sometimes you need to breathe, to pause and think on what just happened.  Let God savor your burnt offerings, the psalm says; pause.  Selah.

I like the CEB version of the next verse:  “Let God grant what is in your heart.”  Not only do I have to talk to God, I have to let Him answer.  I have to give Him the space to be in this conversation with me, to respond to me.  I have to respect that He is in this, too, and that’s kind of a big deal.  I have to respect God’s space?  In a relationship?  Between a human and a deity?  Just how free do I think God made me?

Totally free, if I believe what I say I believe.  Which means that, when I engage God in conversation (which is what prayer is), I have to be willing to let that be a conversation—I talk, He talks, we both listen.  And then I have to believe that His listening actually does something.

Verse six has the very powerful verb “know” regarding the psalmist’s understanding of God.  “Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed,” says the ESV.  Do I know that—or do I just believe it?  Or think it?  Or, in what is likely most accurate, hope it?  Do I hope that God will save me from the hole I’m bent on digging or do I know in the dark parts of my guts where I know that I’m not going to fall off the ground when I lift one of my feet because gravity will keep me anchored?  Do I have that kind of certainty when I talk to God?

Nope.

Do you, Reader?  What would it look like if we did?  What would our relationship with God be if we stopped hoping and started knowing what God does?  For me, it would radically change things.  My whole prayer life would be different, and I don’t mind admitting that to you because it is something I believe God is calling me to work on.  I do not trust God, not really, not enough to know.  And that is holding the whole of my possible ministry in check, because God can do a lot with a willing heart but can do so infinitely much more with one that trusts.

“Save, Lord,” says verse nine in the KJV.  I don’t know Hebrew, so I don’t know if it’s just the bare-assed imperative in the original language, and my Greek isn’t strong enough to sort out the differing numbers of the Septuagint.  It isn’t an imperative in the Latin Vulgate, but I love that translation that has no bones about it.  “Save.”  No direct object, no subject, just a flat-out cry for salvation.  “Hear us when we call.”

Give us the courage to call in the first place.

 

May He send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.  (Psalms 20:2, KJ21)

I Am the Lord of the Dance, Said He

And come we again to Good Friday.   I apologize if my thoughts are disjointed; so am I, at the moment, due to the sudden attack of a rather befuddling cold.

I’m all prepared for Good Friday’s despair this year; I have my CD of Faure’s Requiem in my car, and I’ve had To Mock Your Reign, O Dearest Lord stuck in my head all morning.  I’m even in black, as mourners should be.  I’m ready.  Bring on the dead God.

What a vain, silly little fool I am!  I have taken my synergy with this Passion and built it into a wall, created a charade, a front, a mask behind which I don’t have to actually deal with this day because look, I am feeling this day so deeply, don’t you see?  Don’t you see my grief for our crucified Lord?  Don’t you see how in tune with Holy Week I am?

Liar.  My body is fighting me, my soul is fighting me, my heart is fighting me; this is not embracing Good Friday.  It is acting Good Friday in an effort to distance myself from the reality that is Holy Week, that is this journey reenacted of a Man Who loved and laughed and died, died amidst the self-supporting satisfaction of a thousand voices calling for the destruction of this Truth that couldn’t be classified, that couldn’t be quieted without drastic measures.  All of Lent has been like this for me, this half-conscious parade of knowing what should happen and not having any of the energy to actually experience it.

And what is wrong with that?  I have other things to do right now; I don’t have time for your wilderness, your dinner, your death.  I have a cold.  Ask again in a month.

Interpreter has been trying so hard lately, may God bless him, to get me to think about my relationships with God and other people in the form of a dance for a number of reasons, but partly for the trust that partner dancing requires.  Objectively, the trouble I have with this is amusing because I used to be a dancer and I miss it terribly.  I was totally on the bandwagon when Riverdance had its heyday at the end of the 90s and early aughts; I had “Lord of the Dance” stuck in my head when I woke up this morning at 2:30, which was what made me think of the connection.  I knew the tune as the Irish dance song first; it blew my mind when I found out it was a hymn, albeit an odd one.  Have you ever sung it, Reader, and noticed the lyrics?  “I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black; / it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.”

In a long and totally unplanned conversation with Mr. Great-Heart earlier this week, we talked about this mourning phase that I do every year because I am the devil on His back.  I am the one who calls out “crucify Him!”, I am Peter who says I am not with that Guy, I am Judas who wanted the security of money instead of the uncertainty of a blasphemous hippie.  I mourn during Holy Week, and I hide behind the mourning, because I can’t face my part in this passus, this suffering.

Not news, right?  Guilt was part of my thing a year ago, so nods to not having made any progress—but that’s not it, not really.  I’m beginning to understand that a part of me has to acknowledge that complicity, not so as to beat the crap out of myself for it, but to know that I am still creating distance between God and myself.  I do not dance with Him, I do not trust Him, I do not follow Him when He goes down the roads that make me uncomfortable.  I choose my skin over His, not always and not irredeemably, but part of the intensity of Good Friday is that I have to face up to the ways in which I have not walked in the wilderness, the ways in which I get so angry with God when I am the one who is not listening.

What if I went through Good Friday knowing that Easter Sunday was coming?

What if I allowed the grief and intensity to exist in its space—because I do think the reaction I have with the whole mess is something I need to honor for the time being—and then left it behind?  What if we were to live as people with a risen Lord?

How many doors would that open, to know that I serve One Who lives, Who has defeated death, Who went through the most excruciating pain of physical torment and the dark blackness of being utterly alone so that I would never have to?

What if I believed in Jesus as Christ?

Having been at least nominally Christian for some five or so years now (actually, Easter will mark my 6th “birthday,” if we’re counting), it’s daunting as hell to ask myself how I believe in Jesus as Christ, but it’s also necessary.  When it is so easy for me to go through the motions become familiar and gloss the lyrics that make me uncomfortable, this relationship, this dance demands that I pay attention, that I weep when I am sad and sing when I am joyful, that I recognize that sometimes those can be at the very same time, that I back off of trying to own Jesus’ death or manipulate it in any way because I am not, in fact, lord of the dance.

God is.

Dance, then, wherever you may be.

And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”  (Luke 23: 45-47, KJV)