Tuesday, January 16, 2007
It was cold, somewhere in the 20s, and the fire didn’t want to burn.
We sat around it, bundled in our coats and long underwear, and heaped frozen wood on reluctant flames.
As the wood thawed and the flames grew bolder, our hearts warmed as well.
It was our monthly Moon Howlin’ last night.
Something about a fire connects to something primal in men’s hearts.
As the yellows and oranges and reds crept around frozen chunks of split oak, our conversation crept around the edges of our lives: music, politics, movies. About the time there was a solid bed of glowing coals we had also reached the center of our own personal fuels, asking each other tough questions.
We spoke of death. Those we have watched die. We shared about those times when people died well.
Not well as is in a John Wayne sort of death, a last stand against impossible odds. But well as when it seems an edge of a curtain parts enough so we see a glimpse of something wonderful, something mysterious and holy, of flesh dropping away and eternity opens like some interdimensional flower.
One of us shared about musical thanatologists, those who come to the dying and play beautiful music on harps and such, creating an environment open to possibilities beyond the corporeal. He shared about those who meet death with the reading of psalms and prayers and full hearts aching with the changes wrought of living in a mortal world.
Another of us shared about a near death experience, when he waited patiently for death, payment for sins he had committed. He shared about the experience of redemption and love flooding across him as he lay waiting for a just consequence.
The coals glowed brightly as the Johnny Cash music ended in the adjoining shed.
In the previous post I wrote about the struggle within us. How the divine beckons us, encourages us, while the base, the animal, the evil within our hearts threatens and cajoles and barters, demanding we relish the self-centered instead of the divine.
I have made new year’s resolutions. Ones which I know I cannot keep. It is my nature to throw aside what is true, to ignore what is right, to take delight in what I should not. It is tempting to take the path of most resolutions and say that once broken they can be abandoned. But such whispers are not from my Lord. I am determined to persevere in attempting what I cannot achieve... to love my Lord God with all of my heart.
Last night, as the wood changed from dark and frozen pieces dragged from a damp wood pile to glowing coals under the gaze of four middle aged men, we began to ask tougher questions.
What is the nature of sin? What is sin?
It seems to me that the answer is simple. It is the pulling away from God. It is saying: I am important. It is saying that I want what I want, and that is what matters.
So, if sin is what is not God... what is God?
God is the opposite of that pulling away.
Perhaps God is...
Perhaps God is: not self... not “me” not “I”...
He told Moses “I Am”... Yahweh. He is not a single entity. A lone being. In Genesis He is “Elohim,” God in plurality... a “we” and not an “I.” God is love. God is outward focussed, not inward.
In His very nature He is a relationship: The Trinity.
We sat looking at the coals.
We tend to think of God as The Number One. The Creator, the one with all authority. The main guy, numero uno, top banana. We want to be that. We want to be in charge, to have that sort of authority.
And there it is.
Isn’t that what Satan told the first man? "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)
Like all superb lies, this lie was filled with truth.
In our sin we make the claim of being number one, knowing what we would not otherwise know.
In sinning we make ourselves number one. We push aside what is about love, about others, and replace it with our own sense of being, about ourselves, about being number one.
That isn't the way of our Lord.
“...but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:7-9
If God in flesh could focus His existence to the service of others, to the service of His own creation... being God is not about being number one. It is about love.
A tornado of flame spun beneath a glowing chunk of wood, curling around and upward. Where it leapt from coals and bent around the wood it was a pearlescent green, changing to yellow and then orange as it turned to point flickering tongues at the stars.
Could it be that the whole point is about love? That the outward flow of the spark of divinity within us is most shown when we love each other?
I looked at my friends.
“I think I am closest to God when I am not thinking about myself.”
Eyes flicked from the embers to me, huddled beneath a hooded coat.
“I think there is something divine in those moments when I pull Jeremiah close to me, when I don’t say anything at all, and I simply lean my head against his.”
The fire crackled.
Then one of us asked the tough question.
“What is the chief sin in your life?”
We shared. We told secrets. We laid out the parts of us that are about being self-centered. The parts of our lives of when we do what we want to do because we want to do it.
We talked about placing what is hidden out in the open, confessing we are less than we want others to believe.
We talked about how good things, things He created for us, can be perverted.
We talked about the beauty of our wives. How the bodies of women are that way so we can draw close to our mates.
We talked about how sex is less than it should be when we are focussed on our own pleasure, but it is true and right and good when it is a part of the union of spirits God created for us, when it is about the merging of hearts and not simple pleasures of flesh.
As our minds turned to the warm beds awaiting us in our homes we noticed how the coals had diminished to the soft and safe glow prophesying its own slow death in the chill of the night when we had all crawled into those beds.
We bid each other good night, and cleaned up the couple of beer bottles and empty cocoa cups, the half eaten bag of peanuts and cookies.
I drove home.
I crawled into bed.
My wife pulled me close. She pressed my cold feet against her warm legs, taking the chill away. We drifted off to sleep.