Friday, November 22, 2013

Filling the void with purpose

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. Genesis 1:9-13

And it is not that I do not believe that God could say the word and instantly the mountains and valleys and beaches and plains and apple trees and yucca and pungent mint plants were instantly in place and he kicked back another 23 hours and 59 minutes and then declared it to be good.

But from what I am learning from the LORD God Almighty is that He is a God of process. And if it were just about the happily ever after part of the story then why don’t we get an instant eject Get Out Life Free card the instant we cross the line into belief, skipping all of the messy and awkward and death and rebirth and death cycles straight into glory and the twelve fruit trees along the River of Life?

And the trees bearing fruit brought to mind a long ago post with the tree poem that Alan wrote. And Wali’s orange pants which would make a great example for my class today about showing and not telling in character sketches. And as I read over life a year and a half ago and reflect on Wali in the Honors College at the U of A and still trying to make ends meet especially when his car is an old beater that calls it quits pretty often and that costs more money than he has in his Tucson Federal Credit Union account but he knows that I know that he will always pay me back so fast. 

And God is at work. Steady. Steady like the rain that is wonderful but not so fun for the Tour de Tucson bicycle race for thousands including Dustin tomorrow. 

But, as He reminded me so very long ago, well a year and a half ago, and really just a blink of an eye ago, in the big scheme of things, 
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55: 10-11

And even if the earth is really 4.5 billion years old like scientists with radiometric readings estimate, that too is so blink of an eye in the face of eternity. 

And Wali was wearing his orange pants yesterday. His pants for making things happen.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to Me;
hear, that your soul may live.  Isaiah 55:1-3

So sometime this morning, I am going to pile into the little black car with Igor the Moldovan, Wali the Kurd and Zach and Emma the Mennonites, and head down the road to knock off yet another item on Igor’s bucket list of things to do before he heads back to Hell, Moldavia for the uninitiated, in three days.  Where is Marco the Italian when I need him?  Mr. Intentional Conversation.  

Marco used to have slumber parties with Igor to get those sorts of talks going.  He found Igor a hard nut to crack.  I would even say he got snitty because Igor had no interest in the free wine and milk he held out for the taking.  And Igor really likes milk.  But perhaps Marco dug his pick deep into the caliché under the very thin layer of topsoil.  Maybe chopping all that wood together was the right sort of language.  Jack just drove all the way to the Grand Canyon and back to have another of that sort of talks with Igor. And at this very moment Jack and Igor are curving up over Gate’s Pass to the Desert Museum.  Tilling the soil now that the rototill has made a couple of passes. For nine months. 

Wali went out and bought his very own pair of orange pants just like Marco’s.  Wali.  Five days ago he got word that the State Department was not going to protest his asylum.  The political asylum he applied for five years ago.  His first free day from work, yesterday, he was in my living room sorting through the universities of America with me.  This morning when I woke up there was a draft of his essay for the U of Arizona honors college and a draft of his essay for University of Texas at Austin and his résumé for me to revise.  And he is visiting three schools in Chicago next week.  And has a long list of other essays to write for Emory, UBoston, NYU, and Loyola.  University of Chicago was too much.  They wanted an essay addressing “What does Play-Doh™ have to do with Plato?” or “Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it.” That was a bit over-the-top for this kid who sells life insurance in his free time, when he’s not pulling down yellow cards for aggressive play in soccer game.  His Facebook post this morning: Stop making excuses and Take Action. Its your life! Be in the Drivers Seat.  We have some mechanical details to discuss.  But he is a hungry young man.

So the five of us are headed to Tombstone, the town too tough to die.  I have Gatorades in the freezer.  And a sack of apples.  And is it about these sorts of conversations?  Or is something bigger at work?  

Saturday night Alan read his latest piece to the cluster of rock and roll musicians gathered around the shish kabobs and baskets of homemade bread in the backyard.  His piece about the old eucalyptus tree which looms over the house, and that I pray for every time a windstorm hits.  

The Tree
June 2012

One cannot open the papers or watch the news without coming away with two jarring impressions: 1. The world is filled with injustice and 2. The scoundrels working the injustices are, for the most part, getting away with it. These impressions mock the notion of an all-powerful God who is the defender of the weak and a righteous judge. 

Today while out watering the garden I am presented with a disarming metaphor that affords me some helpful perspective.

A magnificent old tree dominates this yard. The tree was originally planted along a fairway of a golf course built at the turn of the last century, until developers converted the course into a housing subdivision in the 30s, but spared the tree. Almost a century later the huge trunk is gnarly and twisted with a thicket of massive branches stretching high into a swirling canopy that mercifully shades the house from the western sun. 

The huge size of the tree and its sprawling canopy are an irresistible draw for kids of all ages. I remember standing in the yard with the realtor when we bought the house. He stared wistfully up at the old tree and confessed to me that as a child he and his brothers lived in this house and they along with their neighborhood chums spent endless hours playing up in its branches where it took a romantic leading role variously as a pirate ship, a sniper's blind, fortress, etc. I found ample evidence to validate his claims - traces of old rope swings still clinging to the spreading arms, and vestiges of long-lost girlfriend's initials whittled into its forgiving trunk. Obviously it had a storied history.

As a younger man I built a tree fort with a look-out high up in its branches for my own adventurous daughters. The mighty branches cradled many a riotous tea party and sleep-overs with friends, silently overhearing whispered secrets of love and longing on languid summer evenings. 

As the last of my daughters headed off to college the abandoned fort grew weathered and rickety. I remember weeping as I finally tore it down, the demise of the tree fort a definitive symbol of the end of childhood and of the passing of an era. 

Later on my daughters came back to be married beneath the spreading branches of the tree in the yard. Glowing lights and paper stars festooned the highest branches illuminating the night, with long silks draping from the massive limbs to suspend writhing Turkish maidens celebrating the nuptials with dance and spinning fire.

In preparation for these events we spent a summer crafting stairways and an elevated masonry deck around the perimeter of the trunk. I remember examining the old tree and concluding that a tree that old was probably pretty much a spent force biologically. Still we put the footers well aways from the trunk, pouring the concrete footers extra strong with lots of steel to support two courses of concrete block. These stem walls were back- filled with tons of fill dirt and clad with flagstone and brick pavers. 

The weddings were a great success, but I could not have been more wrong about the inertness of the old tree. For while the weddings revelers danced on the lawn, the tree was dancing its own time-lapse tango beneath the earth, its powerful roots flexing and heaving like an enraged Ent on steroids. The first indication came with the shocking sight of the tree "eating" the last remnants of the old tree fort. 

High up in the tree's crown was a lone rung, part of a ladder that once went from the main deck up to a lookout. Unable to pull it out during the demolition, I just left it. Over time one end of the stout 2x4 completely disappeared into the rippling bark of the tree, exerting pressure on the other end pinched by a burly branch, literally folding the 2x4 until it burst into splinters. Beneath the earth a slow-motion tsunami flexed and heaved the ground above, the restless roots rebelling against the imposition of concrete and steel. Seemingly from one day to the next cracks ran up the side walls, chunks of stucco popping off with hairline cracks yawning into inch-wide gaping divides. Poured concrete ruptured and split, exposing the steel bones within, and the deck sheathing of heavy flagstones buckled and flipped back with the expanding girth of a tree that was anything but static. This was an unstoppable force of nature.

I have grown old and grey beneath this tree, and yet the tree appears to be the same as the first day I saw It. Today I water beneath this behemoth with newfound respect, suddenly cognizant that my perspective on the passage of time prevents me from seeing the dynamism of a living and animate object that moves in a chronology outside the limits of my perception. I cannot see it, but over time I can clearly see its powerful impact and dynamic persistence.

Just like our Father God. Just like God's justice. Just as His power and wonder grips all of history down to the tiniest details of my life.

There you have it.  The LORD God Almighty is at work.  That little day trip did not take Him by surprise.  Nor the gchat with Jerry Jordan this morning. Or the Facebook message with Igor yesterday about facetiming with a kid in the library who is studying Russian. Nor the trip Cate and I are planning to the cabin with her Young Life girls. And even, yes even as I drag ninth graders through yet another revision process all about lead sentences and strong verbs I am praying for eternal seeds to be sown as we consider who are truly heroic characters. 

And His Spirit is present. In full dynamic persistence.  From the beginning of time.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55: 10-11

Let it rain.