Eden in Exile

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Babel and Eden. These places wrestle within me.

Eden.

Rich and green and plentiful. There, all is provided, given, granted. I am only to receive and respond. The trees of the garden nourish me. In the cool of shade I make my bed, embraced by God’s friendly earth. I am precious, and I am creaturely. I am queen, and I am child. I am dependent on grace; God will provide all that I need. And Faith; I trust God is faithful to do as He says.

Babel.

It is not enough. I can do more. I can be great. From the earth I can cut, tear, command and use. I do not receive, I take. I do not subdue, I break. I have ripped the apple from the tree to feed myself. I have cut down the tree of knowledge to build cities. I have made myself great. I drew up a contract; this land is mine. I am a queen and I am a criminal; I have stolen. I am dependent on only myself; I can provide all that I need. I have faith in only myself; only I can provide.

Exile.

He had to cast me out. My city has fallen. I cut down the trees of my garden. I claimed my inheritance, and I spent it all on crumbling brick and clay. I have no more to barter with; I sucked my garden dry. I am not great. I am not a queen. But, as I wonder, I come to my senses. He always provides; He always makes a way.

Gethsemane.

In that garden, He wrestled with Babel and Eden. He, who was great, humbled himself. He who rightfully owned all, gave. He was King and he was Son, but he submitted himself to death. He is grace; He gave all that is needed in himself. He is Faith; He entrusted himself to the father. Where I uprooted, he planted himself as the seed of the resurrection. He is the first fruit of the new garden.

Return.

So, in this life I wrestle. Eden receives, and Babel takes, and the exile is long. But, I look for the coming and I remember that He wrestled. I wrestle to rely in Grace: He has provided all that I need. I hold onto Faith: what has been begun will be completed. And I wait for the New Kingdom, rich, green and plentiful. Where He will say again… It is good.

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You’re probably missing out.

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I had been off Facebook for 24 hours.

“Joy, you may have missed some popular status updates.”

I always find it amusing how websites and companies with automated email systems address their emails with first names. Are we on a first name basis, Facebook? I don’t quite think so.

“You have notifications waiting!”

Well, yes. Probably. Thanks for the heads up, Captain Obvious.

“So-and-so, your friend’s mom, and that random kid from highschool have posted pictures you may want to see.”

Okay, so it didn’t call them that, but you get the gist.

***

I have given up Facebook for lent. Truth be told, though, I have been looking for a reason to give it up for some time. Lately, life seems to parade by with highspeed internet persistence. Oxford, my last semester in College, my last months in California… They march on to the beat of a drummer I cannot persuade to slow down. But in this marching season, I want to take in, to give out, and to embrace this time. I want to practice being fully present to the path before my feet, the people before my face, and the God so patiently and persistently present to me.

That’s why I gave up Facebook.

Lent, you know, is not meant to engender spartan-like demonstrations of self control. That smacks of Matthew 23: “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men… because you fasted facebook and sugar and your favorite TV show (*note. this is not in the actual text, in case you were wondering*)… but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

No, that is not the purpose of Lent. Rather, Lent is about loving. My pastor this week, said something similar to this:

“Lent is about love. It is about loving God and loving our neighbors. It is about removing that which distracts or detracts from our ability to love. To fast those things is to remove the barrier to love.”

***

“You’re missing out! The rest of the world is doing exciting things, and you don’t know about it!”

I think that was the message Facebook conveyed in their appealing email. With its broad net, and wide web, we fear that if we withdraw from the constant engagement, we may be forgotten or we may miss out. In a strange way, it even seems to suggest that if we really wanted to be engaged with people and love them, we wouldn’t withdraw our presence from the online community.

I think, however, that is why Facebook is not helping me love. Rather than fully and truly engaging with the people in front of me and around me, I feel a strange obligation to my 1,100 friends. Instead of personally writing to a friend, asking them how they are and getting a real answer because its not on display for all to see, I settle on liking their status. Instead of sitting in the stillness and sometimes loneliness of my days waiting for the Lover of my soul to speak to me, I rush to fill the empty hours with roar of voices found on the internet. At least then I am not alone.

I do not think Facebook is evil; I think it is a tool. It connects people, ideas, communities. However, I think it also creates a world of constant alternatives: if we are bored, lonely, pressured, angry, sad, procrastinating, Facebook offers us an outlet of distraction. It is a constant promise of “more!” It is a promise of something else.

That is why I have given it up.

I want this moment, these people, this struggle, this silence, this place to be enough. I want to love by choice, not by default.

Taking away Facebook even for this week has made me realize something. I have been missing out. I’ve been missing out on silence, contemplation, and listening.

Coming back to school has been, in many ways, a bit underwhelming. I live off campus, my job requires very few hours actually working on campus, and everything seems easy compared to Oxford. I have had many hours to myself. maaaaannnnnnnnnyyy. I love time to myself, but, if you know me, you know that I am an extravert and love being with people. So, I looked for anything to fill the moments.

Going off Facebook made me look the empty spaces in my life in face, made me sit with them, made me read more, and ponder constantly. In these short days, I have already felt the Lord working out questions and struggles that have been in my heart for a long, long time. I believe much of it is simply because I have been still and accepted these quiet moments as precious. It is not immediate.. I still have to settle my mind into a different rhythm, but the tune is already changing, and I like it.

I have been missing out. But not on the “popular status updates.” I have been missing out on the quiet lessons of God’s love and the deep satisfaction of writing and receiving a long letter with someone’s real handwriting.

Ah, what a delight it is to reach back into the richness of the present.

This is the Church

Book of Kells

This is the church I am going to be a part of.

The words crossed my mind as we exited, organ music ringing in the rafters. It is an architectural mix of cathedral and California with its high ceilings and frosted windows letting in the coastal sun. After returning from Oxford, and having been gone from California for nearly 9 months, this place felt like a crossroads of my experience of church in England and my current abode. What a rejuvenation and relief to have a church.

My friend and I shuffle out of the church. My soul gently descending from the power of the last hymn.

Thou of life the fountain art,

Freely let me take of Thee;

Spring Thou up within my heart;

Rise to all eternity.

The last lines of the hymn stick with me. I think every church service plays out a small version of the drama of history. Rejoicing, repenting, praying, receiving. Members before me have lived and died by this rhythm. Saints and martyrs and sinners alike have trod this path of life through grace. And beneath all the ancient rhythms is the tight held hope of coming glory. The cornerstone of the risen Christ.

I look around and laugh to myself as I look at those around me. This church most certainly has a target audience: Students from my university, of the academic bent. I suppose I fit in… sort of. But we are here to love and serve the Lord together.

This is the church I am a part of.

After curry bowls and conversations, Elena and I return to the important task of nail painting. Finally, I sit down to begin my work for the evening, but before, I look at the news. My stomach drops. 21 Christians dead. grief. fear. anger. prayer.

This is the church that I am a part of.

If I allow myself, these stories seem distant and strange. I could separate them from myself, not feel their heaviness in my spirit. But I cannot separate. Their God is my God. As they pray, rejoice, repent and believe, so do I. Together, we rejoice in love and renewal. Together we sorrow in persecution. Together, we wait in readiness for Christ.

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)

This is the church I am a part of.

I went to Ireland last fall. While we were there, I was able to see the Book of Kells. It is the oldest gospel manuscript in Ireland, magnificently illuminated with designs so beautiful one could hardly attribute them to human hands. The Book of Kells came from a time when the monasteries of Ireland, England and Scotland were frequently pillaged and burned by the Vikings. The manuscripts themselves had traveled a great deal due to the fact that, if I recall the exhibit correctly, the abbey at which they were kept was burned down something like 17 times in 50 years. But in that destruction, the monks and scribes preserved and created the beautiful manuscript. The worst happened, but their response was to create one of the most beautiful manuscripts of scripture which, more than a thousand years later, encouraged my own faith.

This is church I am a part of.

Lent begins on Wednesday. Lent is a time of penitence, waiting, withdrawing distractions that we might love God and one another better. Like Advent, in Lent we practice and rehearse the tension of life on earth: awaiting the redemption of our souls. And the redemption of our souls and the restoration of all things is no small hope. Not only that, the church is depicted in Revelation as being gloriously redeemed, all wounds healed, all wounds made beautiful.

This is the church I am a part of.

The world is not redeemed yet, but what unites me with the church I attend, the church I mourn with, and the church that has gone before me, is the pulsing, thriving hope of glory. Our faith is based on the belief that God will make all things new. Therefore, I do not interact with the world based in fear, but in fearsome hope of the renewal of all things. When I encounter darkness, I want to do as the monks and scribes who created the Book of Kells; I want to bring light to darkness, beauty to ugliness, to live in a way that acknowledges the coming hope we truly have. We are the church that, as Jesus said, the gates of hell will not overcome. This is a hope based in God’s love; it is a hope that embraces, heals, and endures.

Let us live with fearless love knowing God will redeem all.

This is the church I am a part of.