Friday, April 25, 2008

No straight line

Yesterday, I talked to a friend I went to high school with; Rick. In fact, we went to prom together, but that's a whole other story. We had not spoken in 18 years, which seems unfathomable to me. Yet I experienced what one often experiences when talking to someone who shared space with you during significant years in your life ... the ease of being present with them again.

And yet.

It seems kind of crazy to ask, "So, how have you been?" after so much time. The truth is, there is no straight line that leads from there to here. I find it easy to say, "Well, when I was this age, I did this....." and "When I was pregnant with this kid, I thought that..." and "When I worked there, I was thus and such..." but to try to sum all that up into one statement? It leads me to ask, "How much time do you have?"

In truth, I am the person I was and yet I am not. The fingerprint of my personality is in tact, but somehow more intricate details have been added to it. Lines exist where once there was smooth skin. There is expansion of what was clearly present and expression of what previously had no voice. It is exactly what you would expect in the life of any person who is not comatose.

How do we explain ourselves? Describe ourselves? Understand ourselves? When we stop to consider the metamorphoses that have taken place in our lives, do we suddenly say, "Hey, good question, how have I been? What am I like now? What will I be like in 10 more years?"

In contrast, my father has settled in to something slightly more than a shell. For him, the question of "who am I?" is more of a literal one. Watching him gives me a clearer understanding of the deliniation of body and spirit. He struggles to stand and slowly drags his physical tent across the room. Until he actually sees me and registers that he knows me, his face is completely void of expression. It prompts one to ask, "Is anyone there?" I try to make small talk with him. I prompt him to tell me stories of when he was overseas, in the army. I repeat back the memories he has shared previously, but the best he can do is nod his head and perhaps feign recollection. I find I have no language left that engages him and this disturbs me. Yet I am strangely emotionless in this disturbed state, as if I have already disengaged before crossing the threshold of his residence (which I have). I find the only "conversation" that we can still share is in music. I begin singing familiar songs to him and he joins in. There, there's something resembling dialogue. It's sweet. It brings him peace. As I thumb through the song book looking for another duet, I realize he is sound asleep next to me. Sweet dreams, Dad. I pray that your sleep somehow delivers you out of this present reality.

The fingerprint of my father's personality was already significantly altered before I was born. I would have loved to have met someone who knew my Father as a child, a teenager, a young man. I did meet "Aunt Myrtle," a woman who took my father under wing while he lived in an orphanage. But she never talked about how he was as a boy. And I was so little, it never occurred to me to ask. I have seen a few glimpses of his true person in moments when his disease has lowered the wall that he kept so carefully erected throughout his life. I would like to know more of what that person was like. In this life, I will never know. Perhaps in our next destination, our next shared space, I will.

Yes, we change. Sometimes the change is frightening.

In contrast, God never changes, only our understanding of him changes. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Isn't that a little difficult to wrap your mind around? It's comforting to have this unchanging rock to cling to. Certainly, if we are going to spend a lifetime pursuing a passionate relationship with our creator, it's nice that we don't experience the frustration so typical of human relationships -- that of trying to get to know someone who is in a constant state of becoming. But knowing God? That's like talking about knowing the grains of sand or the blades of grass; being able to identify, distinguish and explain each one. It's a daunting task, but worth the effort all the same.

Jesus spent a lot of time explaining who he was, yet also dancing around the issue. People weren't usually ready to here the truth of his identity; they weren't receptive to it (they still aren't). So in an attempt to protect them, he skirted the issue and spoke in puzzles. Yet in one particular conversation with the religious leaders, Jesus takes a step out and makes a pretty bold claim about his identity:

54Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."
57"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!"
58"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
-- John 8:54-58

Jesus baffled and infuriated the religious leaders when he intimated that he was the Alpha and Omega. Add to that his use of the sacred phrase "I AM," God's name for himself, and you can understand the ensuing fury. His statement was so offensive, the resulting bristle so profound, that they could not even begin to consider his words.

I'm certain Jesus struggled with feeling constricted by people like the religious leaders who would never understand him. I imagine he still feels pigeon holed today by humanity's interpretation of him (present company included). Perhaps we feel the same way from time to time about ourselves. Yet there is that comfort in acknowledging that the Lord knows us better than anyone. It's not terrifying. It's validating. Jesus knows there is no straight line that connects me from 18 years ago "there" to eighteen years later "here." Even more profound, he has a "here" in mind that is far beyond my wildest imagination. That destination intrigues me, and so I follow him in pursuit of it.

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