The Shining River

Creativity, Icons, Imagination, Italy, Ministry, mystery, photography, Prayer, Spirituality, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, vision, Work

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  ~~ Revelation 22:1-2

I have never visited a more beautiful city than Venice, Italy, with her

The river of God, flowing from the throne of God, with the tree of life bearing fruits in every month & leaves for the healing of the nations.

The river of God, flowing from the throne of God, with the tree of life bearing fruits in every month & leaves for the healing of the nations.

ancient mansions on the canals, her grand piazza opening up to the lovely Basilica of San Marco’s domes, and her delightful bridges, museums, and churches. Most tourists who visit here love to feed the pigeons, while I think they are a public nuisance. Then these birds take flight heavenward and I’m inclined to think of angels’ wings and brushes of glory.

With all these earthly visual delights, my eye still is drawn heavenward to the sky, for the clouds and the atmospheric haze of Venice give this city a unique ambience. If a painter were to lay the colors of the South Italian sky upon the watery bogscape of Venice, the discord would be marked immediately.  At dawn and twilight especially, travelers don’t need a GPS to recognize the location or even a town sign to mark their arrival, for the sky alone says, “Welcome to Venice, weary traveler! Rest your soul!”

Most of us are used to living on a city lot with trees and grass that is bounded by a concrete walkway, a grass “neutral ground,” and a street that separates us from a mirror image of our own property across that same road. Venetians live on canals in multistory buildings that double as homes and warehouses. The lower floors were for work, for the cargo hauling gondolas easily accessed these, while the upper floors were for the family retreat, since they were more private. Everything in Venice moves by some form of floating contraption, since the city was built on marshy land in the middle of a lagoon between several small islands.

Because there aren’t any motorcars, there is a different feeling to the city. On the larger canals, the big boats ferry people on the tourist routes and smaller motorboats act as taxis. The classic gondola with the human powered oarsman is a premium priced experience, much like a carriage ride in downtown Hot Springs or Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Travelling to the nooks and crannies of this jeweled city is by foot over one of the many bridges and side paths, so it is a sightseer’s paradise.

This slower travel allows a visitor to feel the rhythm of the place, to smell the air, to note the patina on the marble facings of the homes, the worn indentations on the entry steps of the ancient homes, and the variety of colors in the handmade bricks. Walking down the narrow corridor between the homes doesn’t prepare the visitor for the sudden opening into a larger space and the overwhelming, all enveloping softness of lush rose, moist yellow, and puffy crème that make up the clouds of a Venetian sky. Perhaps someone else sees only a cerulean blue sky and a titanium white cloud, but I know what I see. I visited this beautiful city only once, some forty years ago, and I still remember images from those blessed days.

As I think about this crystal clear memory from my past, I wonder how we see our own world today and how we envision the world that is to come. Many of us have a very negative view of this world: the problems, the people, and the pains are all overwhelming. We have divided our world into an “us vs. them” place: rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat, Developed world or Emerging world, Christian or Muslim, and the list of dualisms goes on and on.  Even in the Bible, folks were divided, until Paul set them straight, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

We aren’t meant to separate ourselves from one another but to find a way to come closer to each other. “If only we were all Christians,” you say, “and everyone belonged to MY church/denomination.” I think that what Paul also means by “one in Christ Jesus” is that all human beings share the image of God, no matter what church they belong to, and no matter what God they call upon. No matter how different they look from you and me, they still hold the divine image and imprint within them. If we are to truly live out our call to be “the living image of God in the world,” just as Jesus Christ was the living image of God in the flesh as the Incarnated Son of God, then we have to take that incarnation in our lives and the recreation of this world seriously.

In the Celtic Tradition, heaven and earth are only three feet apart. The “thin places” where we feel the presence of God are even closer. What if God intended all creation to be a “thin place?” The Garden of Eden seemed to be such a spot, for Adam and Eve not only lived and cared for the land here, but they had daily walks with the LORD in the cool of the evening breezes (Genesis 2-3). Unfortunately, our spiritual forbears decided that equality with God was more desirable than companionship with God, so they lost their daily privilege of the presence (Gen 3:22-24). This is called “The Fall.”

Ever since this Fall, all of human kind has attempted to recover the intimate relationship with God and nature that we once had in the Garden. Today some focus only on their spiritual lives and separate their souls from their flesh. Both Christian and New Age groups will do this: we deny our body sleep, good nutrition, or healthy exercise. We also see it when a proponent of some “spiritual doctrine” proclaims that the body is unimportant, so that it can be treated either well or ill, or can be used by the cult leader for “higher purposes.”  Or we claim that since our bodies don’t matter, we can use them for any purpose we want, for only our soul matters.

Since God created us with both a body and a soul (Gen 2:7), both must be valued by God. Moreover if God sent his Son into the womb of a teenage Virgin, so that he might be born fully human (both body and soul) and fully divine (still the Son, still part of the Holy Trinity), then God distinctly values the human body, both female and male. God sent his Son in human form to the earth, not just to redeem humanity, but to set all creation free (Rom 8:21).

When we spend time in a thin place, most often we are isolated and silent. Most of us need that time away from the hustle and bustle of life to settle our minds so we can hear or feel the presence of God. We need a “Garden of Eden” that is our place to meet God daily until we are able to meet him in the midst of the fallen world in which we live. How can we learn to feel the presence of God while we are within the “maddening crowd?”

I practice times of “tuning out” or letting my mind drift. Some call this daydreaming or a failure to stay on task. Creative people are task slaves until their idea has fully formed well enough to get them excited about working and then you can’t tear them away from their fever until they drop from exhaustion or realize they are about to overwork their piece.  We know our own work habits, and it usually isn’t on anyone else’s time clock. The creative idea is their master, not the schedule, the calendar, or some outside influence.

I will be in the car at a red light and hear a voice in my inner mind prompting me to look up and photograph the sky. I do this for no particular reason, other than I feel impelled.  It’s not an actual voice of a person; it’s more of an intuitive feeling that now is the time to take this photo. Perhaps I’m just bored, or I have better peripheral vision, or I need something to occupy my time so I don’t go silly waiting at the back of this long line. I think of these moments as “intersections of heaven and earth,” for these are windows in which our everyday world opens up into a world in which God is present and touches our world and our space and our time.

The painting which graces the headline is from a photo of the street outside of my condominium, beyond the small creek, looking over into the wooded lot beyond. The old asphalt road has become the River of Life, bright as crystal. There are many trees there and the golden sky tells us that we are in the presence of the glory of God. I go in and out of this gate every day, into a world in which God is ever creating and recreating. I have a much better attitude toward all the ugliness I see out there when I know it is passing away before my very eyes.

 

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Generation to Generation: Learning to be Free

Creativity, Imagination, photography, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Uncategorized

old photographs, mostly unmarked, in decaying cigar box, found at grandmother's house.

old photographs, mostly unmarked, in decaying cigar box, found at grandmother’s house.

The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” ~~ John 8:35-36 

With all the Paula Deen jambalaya on the airwaves lately about her treatment of African-Americans and her misplaced desire to have a plantation themed wedding reception with “slaves attending their masters,” I thought I ought to spend some time researching my own Southern ancestors.  Creeping age does that to one, as does the addition of yet another life to our family tree. I flew to Florida to celebrate becoming a grand aunt for the first time. Bringing gifts embellished with the family emblem, the fleur de lis, as well as handmade gifts that harken back to a simpler, earlier time when I was young, this child will know that he is a true DeLee.

I also brought a gift that has been another long-term project, my nephew’s family tree album.  When my parents died, as the oldest child I inherited the photos and memorabilia of their lives. This is that detritus of accumulated treasure of the deceased that they didn’t organize, identify, or otherwise “get a round tuit,” but they also wouldn’t get rid of it because of the love and memories they had locked up in those old photos and letters. This is the debris that the rest of my family either didn’t have the patience to deal with, or their emotions were too raw at the time, so they said, “Just set a match to it and burn it all up.” I knew I might not have the time or emotional capability to handle this task in the days or months after our last parent died, but the day would come when I would have that desire and the gift of time.

First I did research on the generations of our family tree for a Family Systems Class. I learned that each family or organizational system is interconnected across the generations, and our own lives today can’t be understood outside of this generational legacy.  Our history affects our present relationships: family, friends, and workplace.

I discovered some interesting “myths” about my Dad’s family that were told to “keep face,” for it seems not all my ancestors were such fine, upstanding citizens as my parents were trying to raise in their generation. I also discovered that my Mom’s people were all fairly straightforward folks. Maybe the fact that their history goes back much longer than my Dad’s people makes a difference, for my earliest ancestor I’ve found on his side is from the early 1800’s in South Louisiana, just after the Louisiana Purchase.  Jonathan Livingston DeLee married Mary Day, a young widow with a child, after she lost her husband who died of the measles after helping Stonewall Jackson defend New Orleans in the Battle of 1812.

My ancestors in Louisiana were all slaveholders before the Civil War, or “The War Between The States,” as my unreconstructed Daddy was wont to call it.  I discovered that I had great and grandparents in the KKK. I wondered how they could sleep soundly at night or keep their souls at peace by day. Their sons and daughters in my parent’s generation formed “private clubs” from public restaurants so that they wouldn’t have to integrate their dining establishments. This ruse didn’t last long, and now no one bats an eye, thankfully, because my generation marched with MLK in Atlanta and turned the world upside down for justice’s sake.

The question is today, how would any of us know the difference between the life of a slave and the life of the son/daughter in the family? If we are all “free people in these United States of America,” are some of us yet living in bondage, while some others have been set free? In the matter of faith, some of us are still slaves, while some of us have the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (same verse). To have this abundance is to live by faith in the work that Christ has done for us. The thief is our delusion that we must be good enough to earn God’s love or that we must work hard to be loved by the God that already loves us beyond measure (“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ*—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” ~~ Ephesians 4:4-7)

Some of us have spent our lives trying our hardest to earn our parents’ approval, our loved one’s approval, our child’s approval, our boss’ approval, or our friend’s approval.  We can’t turn around without trying to please someone else, only to discover that what pleases one displeases another! Now we are caught up in the anxiety circle, for we are stuck halfway and please no one, not even ourselves.  There is the third party whom we can never please, The Contrarians, for this group isn’t happy with anything we do and will surely find fault in us!)

We think that God is also like this, only bigger and more difficult to please. We have heard the verse, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We pile rule upon rule for our lives and the lives of others to measure up as “good enough.” This is why we are not “free to love God as a son or daughter,” for we are like slaves always looking out under the corner of our eyes to see if we are going to be punished for doing the wrong thing.  We can’t allow God to love us freely, for we are in bondage: slaves to the managed life, the life of rules and regulations, bound to the prison of punishments for failure to attain perfection.  We cannot love a God who keeps us in chains, for we are slaves and slaves want to be free.  If we only knew that “perfect” in Greek meant “complete,” then we might have a different take on how we live our lives.

The daughters and sons of God love their Father freely, for they will inherit all that their parent has. I may have received the house and the bric-a-brac along with all the photos from my earthly parents, but I will inherit the kingdom from my heavenly Father (Matt 25:34), as well as eternal life (Luke 18:18). If our goal as a person of faith is to live our life with a heart so full of the love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists, surely then we will be “perfect/complete in love” in this life. We live by faith knowing that God enables us to grow toward this goal of complete love day by day.

As you reflect in your journal on the faith of a son or a daughter versus that of a slave or a servant, consider: are you just a hired hand for God, showing up faithfully when God rewards you with a blessing, but being scarce or quitting on God when the “paycheck” seems short? Journal your feelings or use a stencil to make word art that sums up your feelings.