Side by Side

Written February 13, 2017  

   He held his young son and although I could not understand what he spoke, how he uttered the words foreign to me showed such enthusiasm as to be in wonder and awe.  He pointed, jabbering awake the senses of this child: the water, the lighthouse the ferry slipped past, the sea gulls whose cries seemed to echo the father’s delight.  And then, oh what’s this he sees coming?  A sea plane hanging and whizzing overhead, the sound of buzz rushing away on ahead to descend earth bound on ocean runways!  The sound of the father’s voice rose as though he himself were flying, finding landscapes of beauty, exclamations drowning out explanations.  It was a voice of joy and love.

     Human interaction.  I claimed he was the father of the boy, but I really don’t know that for certain.  So much of what we think we see isn’t how it really is at all.  As I sit back, inside the ferry now, to my right I see a Korean couple, she sitting on his lap, he holding arms of love around her, rocking left to right, softly singing.  Delightful, I thought, and then I saw her eyes looking ahead at the cloud clothed mountains.  Her eyes seemed sad sort of, and I wondered, thoughts tumbling on top of each other like a box of stuffed animals being dumped.  Was he going a little crazy, and she accepting that things were off?  Or, was she the one coming unhinged, he attempting as best he could to comfort, to soothe, to heal?  Again, only guesses, perhaps as wild as the Pacific salmon I had just eaten.

     A few days before, I was part of a conversation that seemed human enough.  It was a family misunderstanding.  Tensions snapping and crackling and busting through in ugly sounds.  Human emotions.  Frustrations, ragged and ripped as from howling winds.  Defiling sentiments.  Impure, like soiled laundry, filthy rags, unclean, dirty.  The words came out of my mouth as though I’d been stretched too thin, and at last was splitting apart.  My limits had been exceeded.  A voice of accusation, a taunt.

     Human interactions.  Shortly after the flashed and lashed words spewed, I thought, “deceiving spirit.”  Someone else saw a snake slithering by.  Not so human I think.  Delight and degradation sailing by each other in a matter of a few days.  Deceiving spirits clothed in human emotion.

     Her voice was loud and full of opinion.  What she said was attention grabbing, ranting about climate change and water shortages and the solution that sounded familiar to me.  “It was just a trickle of water, and I thought,’What’s so little going to do to make the plants grow?’  What was startling was how the plants were flourishing, the weeds were not.  The trickle of water reached the roots of the ones they wanted water to.”

     One of the first proddings I received was just as I was below the sleep spot of arriving awake.  The words brought me swiftly to wakefulness, and they came to me in Revised Standard Version: “If you abide in me and my word abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you” (John 15:7).  Something of the weight and way the words came told me it was Jesus himself speaking.  To me!   The thought poked me fully awake.  I did not doubt it was he.  I only thought, wonderingly, “I wonder what he means by, ‘ask whatever you wish ‘?”  I did not want to ask for the typical North American wish.   I wanted to ask for something significant, something crucial, something not human created, manufactured.

     Around that time I was meeting regularly with a young seeker, a perky woman, flamboyant and fun-loving, yet serious.  Every week we read the story of Jesus as recorded by Mark.  Every so often a trickle of conversation would reveal a need, and into this I would direct my “ask whatever” to the Presence.  A child was born to her and her husband.  A song at a service which, as I recall, was not particularly well played.  She’s holding her daughter, and receives a revelation.  “How can there NOT be a God?”   Revelation followed more over time, and the curtain was slowly drawn back, the seed being watered with a slow dripping.

     It was after we had gone through Mark, and I had just assigned a reading of the little letter of Ephesians.  An answer so life-giving was received in response to another “ask whatever.”  She was alone in her living room.  “There was this Presence right there next to me, sitting beside me.  For the first time I really prayed.  I cried.  No one needed to tell me I was dead in my trespasses and sins.  I knew it, was pierced through with it.  I felt it. And I became alive again.”  (All these phrases from Ephesians 2).  

     The Presence, the Glory of the living God who met her in her living room, gave me a “ask whatever” I could not manufacture.  She told me that soon after the Encounter, when she went walking with her husband and daughter, the colours of creation seemed more vibrant, more alive than ever.  Not only was she delighted.  I was encouraged!

       A song I know swings into vivid imagery when he sang of sadness in the joy, crashing words up against the shore.  In the same way there is much joy and amazement in the Presence, rushing in after also.  But there was also sadness rotting in fear, even terror as other voices of discord started blaring out their music.  The trouble was that often they sounded sane, not off key.

     I remember early on in the journey of renewed intentionality of seeking “ask whatever,” how the beautiful lyric was interrupted, interfered with.  Someone answered the phone, gasped, then hung up and excitedly cried, “He’s got hit by a bus!” stating the man’s name. We were stunned and the first thought that pierced in was, “See what happens when you pray?”

     We quickly got into the car and swift as speed limits allowed (I ignored them), arrived at the hospital.  Entering Emerg, we inquired where he might be.  He hadn’t even been brought in yet!  We exited out and there stood the wife of the accident victim, watching them remove her husband from the ambulance.  She went to him, held hands.  We went to her as they wheeled him away.  “He has some broken bones, but he’ll be all right.”

     That blaring voice had sounded in tune.  It wasn’t until later that insight was given that that voice was singing out of harmony.  Deceiving spirits deceive because they sound horribly convincing and true.  Even though it sounded true and authentic and sincere, in reflection it sounded like a taunt, an accusation, roughly roaring, intended to dismay.  No encouragement.  There was joy and there was fear, and these tunes would join me often and consistently.

     We all need training to distinguish the Voice of Love, from the voice that moves us toward the d’s: dismay, discouragement, desolation, demolition, disappointment, distress, despair. These often come layed out side by side.

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