t“The Wall” is a very good image or term or metaphor. It matches a question I have been thinking about the past couple of days: Why are the waters are always at flood-stage when it is time to cross?
And I think it something about real change. Real change. Real growth. Not small incremental change, but massive transformation. We “small increment” ourselves to death—right up to the Wall. Then we divide the distance to the Wall in half, like Achilles, literally forever. Which is a great way of never hitting the wall, but also of never going anywhere.
The Wall is like the flood-stage: It is only when the waters are at flood-stage we finally realize there is no way that “I” could ever do it; “I” can never cross it. It is impossible.
And at that lonely, terrifying place, the ONLY choice is to allow the transcendent in. “I” must no longer continue the journey of half-lengths—it isn’t working; “I” must turn a new direction—inward. “I” go deep. On the surface, near the Wall, I leave the husk of Adam Hankins, a cocoon; I must leave and go down—I am shrinking. Dissolving. Making contact with something new, yet at the same time ancient—the self-organizing principle. My DNA is restructured in the primordial soup. Out comes something different—changed. No incremental thing. A thing with wings.
Jesus is my best friend.
Because he is the best kind of friend. He’s says hard things. True things. True things are hard things. Harder than diamonds. They have to be so they can split coconuts. So they can split the hardest heads before the hardest heads split everything else.
What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?
Heck if I know.
All I know is the collision between myself and the hardest thing left a crater a thousand miles wide, east to west. And the person who walked out found existence softer and easier than he ever imagined. He could somehow feel the earth again in his fingers. A new ability to flex; to bend but not break.
Are you better now than before?
Are you better at the end than the beginning?
Then you are watered-down wine in a barely touched cup; forgotten on the table after the celebration and waiting to be pitched . A weak consolation prize handed out to second, third, or fourth best. Thanks for just showing up!
The amazing thing is not that you can be diluted. Rather it’s that you can be concentrated.
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.
In the hush of night; in the wilderness of Zin I ask:
What is life age-to-age? What is life age-during?
Is it knowing what to do? Is it having a valid plan for the future? Is it a clear grasp of good or bad, right or wrong, power, will, choice, transaction, and relationship? Is it understanding the Plan of Redemption? Understanding how to make it through? Understanding change and rigidity? Understanding that life flows just beneath the surface? Is it knowing the map says the promised land is just over there.
It is obedience. Obedience to an infallible guide precisely outside my fallible understanding. It is the simple obedience to speak. To speak life. Is it really that hard to speak with tongues of flame? To yield my will to another’s, to His, is a life-giving force that opens not only the door barring my way; but every door beyond it; in the same moment winning the battle within and creating peace without. To speak from obedience to what my Father says in my heart is far greater than speaking from myself: rashly wielding my shepherd’s staff; my powerful, but limited understanding—my trusty gift from God.
The water flowed in Zin. I was right. But it wasn’t the joyous replenishment I wanted. The spring somehow throbbed bitterly from its crag. My friends, my strangers, and my children drank quietly from their cups. “Your welcome!” shouted I, leaving them to their empty skins and jars.
That night I watched the unnamed waters as I pulled up stakes to leave. The waters ebbed with my contempt as they drained into the desert, carrying with them the promised land.
What is life age-during?
I travelled far that night through Zin. Yet no matter how far, the thinning line of those distant waters shown red in the fire of my God.
“...because I spake not from myself, but the Father who sent me, He did give me a command, what I may say, and what I may speak, and I have known that His command is life age-during; what therefore, I speak, according to the Father hath said to me, so I speak.”
I cried twice yesterday. Once in sadness. Once in laughter.
We are pinned to the ground by the serpent who once looked like us. Our achilles spiked through, the nail driven deep in to the earth—forever to the spot where our shadow begins. And yet we also reach; stretch our hands to the stars: we aim , we point—our finger almost touching the Father. This is life. Tethered to a star, tethered to the earth. Will we tear in two?
The firstborns have a name I do not know. It is marked on their thigh, each one has a name. I look at my thigh: on the left it is “Maher Shalal” on the right it is “Hash Baz.”
This is where the sacrifices to the River Gods and Thunder Gods go. They did not disappear, they—the sucklings—are here.
How does it come out? That new person. That changed life. The ampule must be broken, to release the ammonium—to wake up. The glass case must be shattered in case of emergency. You are trapped in a room on fire with the glass case unbroken, the hatchet unused. Why? The paintings on the wall are melting. The smiling faces in flames. The trophies are ash. Are you not willing to break the walls down—even to escape—to save your life?
The king of commitment chains himself with links made of adamantine. Unbreakable. Is it comfortable?
The greatest act judgment the Lord will ever render is when the individual, once again; after a long period of blind, arrogant naiveté— a long period of seeking a relationship with a corrupt culture to get what they have—finds himself a slave, working for a culture that sneers at him. In his pit he begs for one last feat of strength that only comes from God ...believes his strength is a gift of God, not himself, and chooses, in the depths of his blindness, to transform who he is into who he was always supposed to be.
Am I a “young” person or an “old” person? Are you young or old? Today—right this moment—which are you? Young or old? The answer is, interestingly, not immediately clear. Like many things it depends on something like, “compared to what?”
In John 21, Jesus told Peter what being “young “ was like; then what being “old” will be like. John, the one whom Jesus loved, watched Jesus possibly closer than anybody. The gospel writer then compressed Jesus’ life—the full account of which could never fit in all the libraries of the world— into a cosmic diamond. Each word part of a crystalline structure. Natural, yet no less perfect for its naturalness. Its hardness only outmatched by its beauty. Held to the light, Jesus’ own words; his own questions and answers; surprise at every turn. They are packed and folded with such density, that should I be granted a thousand more lives to live, I would never be able to fully unfold them and, must often simply gaze at the cross-shaped kaleidoscopic lights that shine forth. In verse 18, one small example is the lesson of “young and old.” Notice the absence of what a person’s life looks like who is neither young nor old. (Or…uh oh…are you like me—smack in the middle of your lives?) Jesus is making the point to Peter, and to us all, that there is no in between—you are either aiming up or down, reaching for heaven or hell, walking in light or dark, following Jesus or Satan, proclaiming curses or blessings—being young or old. As you gaze into this facet, you must ask yourself: just when—exactly—and how, does that transfiguration occur—where is that inflection point between going where we want and being led? Jesus describes it—like a compass describes an arc—he describes this continuum from “young to old” with his life. He tells Simon Peter—the same Simon Peter who thought he knew…what? What was best? He thought he knew more than Jesus? As we also are; he was always quick to step in front of his Master:
“Our victory—my victory—will surely not have to go through suffering and death!” says Peter. And Jesus’ emphatic answer: “Get behind me Satan!”
Jesus tells that same Simon Peter on the shore of Capernaum—at the end of their journey—at the very end of John’s gospel:
“I am telling you the Truth: when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Jesus was always going to the cross. That is what made him the ultimate leader; He always knew exactly where he was going. He goes there still.
Relent control. Become old. Let go.
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship