Look at Abel. Why is his face like that: contented and joyful? He does not suffer like I. He can’t.
He hasn’t endured what I have endured. This wrenching pain in his back or this hacking cough in his lungs? Or all these sneering looks in his streets? Of course not.
He doesn’t get these constant gripes in his stomach. He doesn’t get a single bug bite. There is no way. I’m sick of his smiling. There is only one reason he can smile like that: existence favors him and not me. It hands him the easier and better life.
So why—years later—alone, brooding and brooding in my murderous heart, does a question float in from the dark edges of my mind: “How is Abel?”
How is Abel?!
I have just annihilated him with my heart. Again today and again yesterday and again for a thousand years! How should I know? Who cares how he is?! Who cares where he is?! Who cares who he is?! I don’t think about him except only to hate him. Why would you ask me that? What about me? That is the only question to ask! I give! I care! But nobody gives to me! Nobody cares about me!
There is no Abel! He is nothing to me! Leave me alone!
1 John 3:11-12
"For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous."
What is the enjoyment of life? Where is it? Is it possible to see it and find it? Is it possible to find it today—suddenly—like suddenly finding you're in the middle of your own surprise birthday party? Is it possible joy is hiding right at this very moment, around the corner, breathlessly waiting for you—the guest of honor— to walk in and turn on the lights?
Shannon saw life in a different way. And this is key. All who came into contact with her looked and listened because a different way of seeing life is a different way of seeing God. And people may think they are busy little bees doing and thinking and seeing many things, but they are ONLY trying to see God. She understood something about joy and life. She understood what Abel was feeling as he presented himself before the alter of God: Life was funny. And funny things could be laughed at. Even God. And God and his cosmos laughed back at her and with her. To Shannon, life was something more like a song or a dance. So she sang along. Enjoying the harmonies. The high parts and the lows. And she danced. But not to get to the end, or get it over with, or get anywhere; she danced just to dance. Because it was fun. Life was a dance; a thing to be enjoyed for the thing itself. Which is love. She held God and He held her and they danced.
But the rest of us—the poor, blind rest of us— sit on the side. Waiting for something. Waiting in the wings of Elah. Waiting in the mouth of the cave for God to pass by. Always looking for him in the hurricanes, those rare and terrible things, but never in the gentle breezes; the daily, quiet voices. We see the mundane where Shannon saw everyday eternities. We walk outside occasionally reminded the grass needs mowing. Shannon walked outside constantly amazed that grass is green. She loved life. She loved the existence God gave her. She loved the bluebird that dropped briefly into her backyard as profoundly as she loved the grocer that briefly dropped groceries into her bag. These were not random events. They were anything but random. They were a rhythm and a melody to be enjoyed for themselves. They were the ever surprising spins and twirls of the dance.
Being like a Berean is like being in love.
But not in love with knowing, which is being right; but rather the opposite: being in love with not knowing, which is probably being wrong.
It’s like being in love with a person.
Like Solomon’s beautiful personification of Wisdom.
To be in love with a thing or a bit or a fact is to be in love with something dead. But it is better to be in love with something alive.
Better to be in love with life.
The pessimist: “Oh that’s not real!”
The optimist: “I know it’s not, but it’s awesome!”
“Making a choice” is when there are two things before you but you only get to choose one. It is the spoiled brat in you who thinks he can have both. It is the Cain in you who thinks he can have both.
At the fork in the road, you can’t continue down both roads at the same time or splits you in two.
You can chose hate or love. Not both. You cannot both hate your enemy and love yourself at the same time. Why? Because they are both you.
You cannot both nurse your resentment for life’s rejection and enjoy peace in its acceptance at the same time.
You cannot both nurse your resentment for God's rejection and enjoy peace in His acceptance at the same time.
What do you do when God rejects you?
I don't know. I guess you'll make your choice.
It took me a long time to figure this out, but I chose Him anyway.
I hate these bars.
I hate these chains.
I hate history.
Ok, but why hate? Why hate the thing you stand in the middle of?
Why not love? Or at least accept, which is the same thing since by any standard a good definition of love must include acceptance of a thing despite its limitations?
Bars, chains, and history just are. Limitations simply exist as a reality.
When Paul said—“I am exactly where I am supposed to be. How could I be anywhere else?”--
prison doors opened and chains fell off. This is the way to freedom.
When you hate your history you become the most hateful history.
Just ask the Bolsheviks.
Jesus connects things:
Like Sunday connects Saturday to Monday.
Like the rest connects two notes.
But not only does He connect things, he is also in the things he connects. He is in all, and yet he remains hidden to us.
It might be that our ability to see Jesus holding the world together at all, is precisely through His invisibleness at the fulcrum of things; at the hinge of events; at the transition points; at the center of the cross. Those places where life pivots are supposed to be pivotal, but they are often places we don’t notice (and ignore at our peril) because they sit in between one thing and the next. They are the valley between two peaks and the peak between two valleys—or as the Lord himself laments: “at every high place and under every spreading tree.” They are at the crossing of two events—two lines of thought. At the axis on which our world turns, although not visible or audible, He is nonetheless always there. Even in his body on the cross I can see his hands, east to west. I can see his crown of thorns and his feet—north to south. But at the intersection, it is his unseen heart that is truly on display .
When we disconnect—when we disconnect one event from another, one life from another, inside from outside, intellect from faith, church from state, emotions from reason, spirit from law, breath from prayer, news from good news, alpha from omega, first from last and last from first—we are leaving relics of idol worship at all those critical junctures, casting lots for Jesus’ clothes, trying to separate a seamless robe, desecrating the cross.
Strangely, Jesus is also the great separator: “brother from sister, mother from child”
In His moment of visibility to the soul; He cuts. He is both cut in two, and cuts in two. He is separated and separates. And in that separating, He joins anew what was previously un-joined. He connects again what had been disconnected.
A man with a great mind who lives by his heart is almost imperceptible to a man with a great mind.
I just had a great meditation this morning on a question a friend asked related to why Peter wrapped his garments around himself before he jumped in the water as he swam to Jesus at the end of John. Because, as she said, “Everything in the Bible is there for a reason. Every word.” And she’s right. John included that detail for a reason.
It is the last chapter. Peter has denied Jesus. In his rejection, he now pulls empty nets out of the water, fishing in the darkness. Then Jesus arrives at dawn and asks him to cast his nets one more time. And they fill and fill and fill. Now, let’s see where this goes:
Jesus watches Peter. As he watches you. He speaks to Peter. As he speaks to you. Then he watches Peter gather his garments and jump in the water and swim to shore. What an act of love! Of devotion! What a beautiful act of desiring only Jesus!
But then why doesn’t the scene on shore begin with a soggy hug and the joyous tears of a restored relationship?
Because of that garment.
The scene on shore begins as it must: Jesus teaches Peter. He tells Peter to go help bring the fish to shore. He then sits around a fire and teaches Peter about love. Because it is critical. It is everything. Because Jesus sees that Peter still has not learned what love is. And he must. He must . He must! Or it is all for naught!
“But, you know I love you! Right?” says Peter.
But then the teacher:
“See, Peter, you think love is like wanting; like desire; or devotion. But to ‘want’ me—to ‘want’ anything—to ‘want’…means you don’t have it. It is to ‘want’ for something—to be lacking. So it is something you must get. You must grab. Like, ‘I love breakfast.’ Which is, ‘I want breakfast. I am wanting…breakfast.’ It is a desire for something you are lacking. But like the tree of life, I am the opposite of desire. I exist outside of wanting. I am fulfillment.
See, you already have me. You have always had me.
Out there, in the darkness, facing the unknown, I spoke and you listened. You responded. And when you responded, I revealed abundance. You went to fish, right? You went for a purpose, right? Well, I showed you ultimate fulfillment of your purpose—of meaning. And remember, Peter, it happened precisely when you trusted a voice from the unknown.
And then, when I revealed what lies beneath what you can see, I watched. I watched your response. And what did you do? As soon as you knew it was me, you "thought" you knew what to do. You turned from that purpose; you turned from the responsibility that emerged as a result of your miraculous power to extract meaning. You turned from it and gathered your garments, and wanted me because you thought that was love. You thought that was what I ‘wanted.’
But wanting me is not loving me. I am teaching you the answer to ‘Do you love me?’ because you don't know. The answer is: ‘feed my sheep.’ Like the line I came from—David’s line--the line of the shepherd boy who knew that to fulfill his purpose, his father’s will, was the same as loving his father; and in that kind of loving is where meaning is found; is where strength is found; is where victory is found; is where dancing with joy is found; is where everything is found--as he was; so I am; and so you must be; like the boy with the heart of God. Loving me, immature spirit, is not getting me. It is not getting what you want and going where you want and gathering you garments, and then sitting at my feet; while the purpose and meaning I showed you sinks in the water for others to bear. If you love me…fulfill your purpose! I will show you abundant meaning and purpose if you listen. If you follow, mature spirit, if you will be lead, then I will reveal a miracle of meaning with which to offset the suffering and insufficiencies of the world. If you listen, if you respond, I will show you how to save the world—how to love me. And it absolutely exists outside of what you want."
Are you swimming towards Jesus while responsibilities that were revealed to you; that you know are full of life and life-giving; are left sinking behind? Put the garments back down. Go. Grab the nets, full to bursting with life. Help bring them to shore. And let’s eat breakfast.