The past is a cloud. A memory. A collection of thoughts and ideas as immaterially vast as it is materially insubstantial. An eternal memorial whose sole purpose is to help me live in the present. It is NOT a place I should live or even can live. For who can live in the sky?
My past permeates the heavens, looking down to inform my present; but it is not my present. In the same way my reflection on my experience, is not my experience: it is a reflection.
The “great cloud of witnesses” in the Book of Hebrews is a list of great and awful acts of faith from the past. It is both my personal and collective cloud. An "I" cloud. A storehouse. Not a dead and dusty one. No, it is a living storehouse on whose contents I may gaze and to whose clamor I may listen. But only if I lift my eyes and listen honestly, with the proper attitude--with my feet firmly on the ground of today--does this great cloud of yesterday look down and proclaim: judging each act of my faith. It floats above my ever-present life: praising and condemning. This cloud is a thriving witness of my life—not the other way around. I am not to drift upwards and away, bearing witness to yesterday's artifacts while turning my back on today. Otherwise my vast and light cloud condenses and ossifies. Then I become trapped in my cloud-turned-sarcophagus; and together we plunge into the sea.
I am not the past. I am alive.
The most damnable condemnation handed down to me by this immense shouting, screaming, bloody, struggling, joyously cheering cloud of witnesses from the past was this:
That I failed to recognize my present.
I was the brood of vipers to whom Jesus proclaimed: “The Ninevites will condemn this generation!" Jesus stood directly in front of me; but I could not see him.
To live in the past, to be defined by the past, was to become stuck and stagnant—to become memorialized. It is to become incased in stone, instead of contemplating the terrible and marvelous monuments of the past while shouldering the cross in the present.
But miraculously I, paralyzed in the past, was able to shoulder my mat and walk home. A miracle of strength only made possible by the Forgiveness of Jesus. The man-child fish who swam to the bottom of my soul and set me free.
I am low today. I don’t understand things very well. I don’t understand people very well and because I am a people, I don’t understand myself. It means I can’t cary the burden. I can’t cary the burden of Being. I am no atlas. Yet it is from this low vantage point, I have learned that looking up just requires opening my eyes.
The lowering of the paralyzed man on his mat is more than a story of four men doing the right thing. It is the story of how to go again. How to get moving again. How to get unstuck. I am stuck. Which is not very different than saying that I am afraid. Paralysis grows over a lifetime. The byproduct of an ego constantly exposed to the unknown—with its withering glare—its slithering, changing nature—with its ever rotating swords of flame. I close my eyes to it. I lay hand in hand with sleep and death. Fight or flight?… I choose neither. I choose paralysis. There is a viper far below what I know. In my lowness, I feel it—I freeze—I petrify. The world I cannot see is precipice and pit. Don’t move. But in that spirit world, in that divided kingdom, I am Lazarus entombed. I am the paralytic. I can not find my way in to forgiveness—to salvation—to healing—to moving again. I can not lift a finger. I hear the riot within. Who can bear up? How to get in when I can no longer move? I need the shipmates of Jonah, I need the hands of Mother, I need balaam’s donkey, I need that which listens to a voice I can no longer hear, I need that which carries me—flawed and flogged as I am—flawlessly, faithfully—to my destiny. My errors, my near-misses, draw me to the face of the Son of Man. Can I change? Can I actually walk again? A portal opens to the unknown. I am lowered down. The four men—the shipmates of Jonah—look down with concern as I sink: Will he make it? I must go within. In humiliation. In trust I descend. Servants of Mother, donkey, body, nature, flesh, material world, ship and shipmates—your job is done. I thank you for your service but I am no longer your burden. I have hit bottom. It is the one who is sick who must face the healer.
There I lay—paralyzed—wretchedly immobile—finally and utterly in between my reason—my pharisees— and the One who says, “Trust.” Exposed for all in Galilee to see. In the depths of who I am, my life is laid down. In the face of Truth, yet still under the mocking glare of “another reasonable argument”—I trust. I have so much to be forgiven. I have so many I need to love. Change begins. I feel the heaviness drain away. Lightness in my limbs. My strength is returning. I can move. For the first time since I was struck with this deadly palsy, I can move. To move is to live. To stand up is victory. I can pick up this mat I made so long ago. I can once again carry the burden of Being and with the joy of salvation, go home.
Some meet Jesus with arguments through the front door. To trap him. To surround Him with reasonable arguments. Determined to hide one miracle inside of all that reason. To make sure He understands all the laws of physics. Then be quiet you! I’ll do the rest.
Others meet Jesus with expectations through the side door. Excited to see something new, but certainly not strange.
But the only person who truly meets Jesus, meets Him though brokenness, blindness, sickness and death, while grabbing at hems, in the lowest places, in not understanding—meets him outside of expectation and rational arguments—neither through front door or side door—but beyond all reason, from outside and lowered down—helpless and paralyzed.
And the most difficult thing--the strangest thing--for everyone to understand except the man who can't move-is that forgiveness of sins is the same as standing up and going home.