The Quickest Way to Get Home

"What would take you away from Texas?" he asked and I paused. It's a good question, but it isn't the right question. "The real question," I said, "is what would make me stay?" And I can't answer that.

Planes, trains, and automobiles have been my home the past four months. I have traveled thousands of miles, had my affections stirred by mountains on the east coast, the southwest, far countries, and from airplane window seats. I have laughed hard, lived well, come home for short spurts of time, and it has been good. But tomorrow I go home for a long time and I cannot wait.

One who knows me well, who has survived my transient feet and wandering heart, said to me recently, "Lo, sometimes I think the thing that would make being in Texas okay is for you to just decide you're going to be here for a long time." Those words, and the question above, have been constants in my mind the past few weeks.

Zack Eswine, in his book, Sensing Jesus (which you should buy right now and buy for everyone you know), says, "The quickest way to get home is to stay there." Zack isn't making a case for staying when God says "Go," but he is making a case for staying still in a world full of reasons to leave.

The past five months, since the signing of the lease, I have been begging God for a reason to leave. The list is long and the opportunities many, but the longer the list grew, the more my love for here grew. I told a friend yesterday that I thought it was sweet of God to give me that love as a going-away present. "You're terrible at putting things where they belong," she said while laughing at me. What if that love is God's call to stay?

I can't ask that question without feeling an overwhelming sense God's love for me. It has been a long, long time since I've felt His love—I can mark the date and time when it started to unravel for me and it hasn't stopped. Lesser loves, golden calves, little foxes, and craven images: these crept in with aggressive and deceptive stealth. Always seeming to be good and always falling short.

For a long time I have felt the withholding of good things in my life, feeling as though God would give me a fish or bread only when I could not be sustained without them. That he would only give me necessary gifts, but not just-because gifts.

Charles Spurgeon said, in this morning's Morning & Evening,

If all these things are to be had by merely knocking at mercy's door, O my soul, knock hard this morning, and ask large things of thy generous Lord. Leave not the throne of grace till all thy wants have been spread before the Lord, and until by faith thou hast a comfortable prospect that they shall be all supplied. No bashfulness need retard when Jesus invites. No unbelief should hinder when Jesus promises. No cold-heartedness should restrain when such blessings are to be obtained.

Generous Lord, I'm knocking. I'm knocking for a great many things, but I'm knocking most of all for the belief that you are not only a God who gives what is necessary for life, but a God who gives what is abundantly beyond what is necessary.

Tomorrow I get on a plane to fly home from these New Mexico hills. I am homesick for my home in Texas—and that is a miracle, a secreted blessing I'm thanking Him for. But even more, I am homesick for Texas, for the people I love there, the church I can't believe calls me to it, the coffee-shop where I belong, the small pockets of joy, the conversations that bring me life and the life I can bring in return. That is abundantly beyond my expectations from late July when I only resented Him for making me stay.

I am learning the beauty of stilled feet.

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A Thousand Pages Turning and a Common Liturgy

I tell a friend yesterday that I miss liturgy, but the truth is I have never had it. I was raised on the hard pews of a stucco church in southeastern Pennsylvania. Our only liturgy was the blessed quiet life we lived. My first communion was in a house-church when I was seven, the bread baked fresh, the grape juice drunk from small glass tumblers. This was before the Big Baptist church with its plastic cups and small, round, salty oyster crackers. There was a brief pass through an old Catholic sanctuary, our services were non-denominational though and we only rented the building. I have never forgotten the stained glass. In college I had a brief fascination with the Episcopalian church across from campus, mostly because when I left church, church didn’t leave me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the motions, the liturgy, the order, and the smallness of it all.

What I really mean when I say I miss liturgy, is that I miss the order. I have never had order, but I long for it.

A friend of mine has converted to the Orthodox church. He told me once the confession, prayer, and fasts remind him he is human and needs someone to expect more of him than he expects of himself.

But isn’t grace so much more beautiful? I want to balk. Wouldn’t it be better to see Christ as the fulfillment of those rules and boundaries, instead of something you still have to do? I think my friend would say to me that every time he presses against those boundaries, he is reminded again and again that Christ has fulfilled them. I think it’s a beautiful thought, but I am a recovering legalist and rules of any kind are my Jack Daniels and my pain pills, so I have to say no-thank-you, and move on.

. . .

What I miss most about liturgy is the community of it. Community means to “Gift together,” and I miss the gift of gifting together. Gifting to one another, to God, and, in some ways, to ourselves. We are saying words, rote and memorized perhaps, but the same words forming on our tongues. We are asking the Lord to hear our prayer—not just my prayer, but our prayer, because if only my prayers are answered and never yours, what have we gained, any of us?

. . .

In my church we read the same bible version, and if we don’t have a bible, we use the one in the seat-back in front of us, which is our gift to you if you don’t have one. (These words are said every weekend at every service because Baptists have liturgy too.) We collectively open to the passage, read together, and then listen. Sometimes we are reading from a passage in the lower right hand part of the bible and something beautiful happens, I hold my breath and wait for it:

A thousand people turning their pages at the same time.

I forget to turn my page sometimes because I love the sound so much. That is the sound of my people. We do not have the liturgy of confession and repentance built into our service, but we do have the liturgy of turning pages. The collective confession that we are literally on the same page and going in the same direction. These are my people, and I am theirs, I say in my head. This is what it means to gift together, to community.

This is our liturgy.

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Pockets of Treasures

Last week I rounded a corner in a Nashville convention center and came to face to face with three elders from my local church. One hugged me and I nearly cried. I haven't been home in three weeks, and was only home about two weeks before that, and will only be home a few weeks before I leave again, this time for overseas and then other states. I don't know where home is right now.

Tonight I sat on the far left side of the sanctuary, where I always sit when I'm home, and I hardly recognized anyone sitting around me. We are a big church, but a small service, and I still felt the ache of everyone moving forward but me.

I told someone tonight I feel like I'm a kid with a pile of treasures, none of them making sense, all of them seeming valuable, but no idea where they belong or when.

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

Like life is one series of mountains and molehills and ebbs and flows and you're always waking up wondering where time went and if you're too far behind to catch up, or too far ahead to stop now?

I don't want to waste my life. I don't want to waste it and I'm terrified of wasting it.

Faithfulness seems so mundane in a world ripe with success and achievements. I want to live a minimalist's life, but I do it loudly, punctuated with images of what I'm doing and quotes of what I'm reading, hoping my simplicity will stick—if to no one else, at least to me.

But I do want to live a quiet life, and sometimes I resent the Lord for not allowing me the wallowing permitted to those who live behind closed doors and high fences. I dream of a house on a mountainside or an ocean inlet surrounded by pines. I dream of poetry and a fire in the fireplace and dinner on the table, a husband-partner, and children too. I have always dreamed of those things, unwaveringly since I knew how to dream. And those things have always been withheld because He knows those treasures are not what is best for me today.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet," but the questions I'm always asking are, "Where is my deep gladness? And what are you hungering for, world?"

The world's hunger, as best as I can see, is to behold His beauty, and this I find is my deep hunger too. And if my gladness is found in his temple, his Holy place, then it turns out the pile of treasures in my pocket are not many, but one. Just one thing: to dwell in His house, to behold His beauty, to meditate in His holy place. This is the one thing I need and the one thing for which the world hungers. This is the unwasted life.

10,000 Little Moments and the Minute Particulars

A friend and I have been talking about the little moments, the decisions we make with each movement, namely that necessary organ we generally consider the seat of our emotions: the heart. He quoted Paul Tripp the other day: "The character of your life won't be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments," and I couldn't help but think of the 9,999 little moments in my life and day that seem to careen me completely opposite from where I want to go. I read a quote from William Blake last night, "If you would do good, you must do it in Minute Particulars." I've already quoted it here so forgive me the vain repetition; but perhaps it will not be so vain after all.

Ruth is the heroine I fancy not for marriage advice (who wants to encourage girls to lay at the bed of their desires?) nor for life advice (who of us would be content with the leftovers from anything?), but for these words: "Where you go, I'll go."

It is the minute particulars, the 10,000 little moments, the one foot in front of another, the going that makes the difference in our lives. I have been learning, or letting God do the difficult work in me, of the little things, the small life, the life that may make no noticeable difference whatsoever. The life that may only be a hand on the shoulder of a friend, to let her know I am here and I love her, the life that may make the same two eggs and pile of spinach every morning, the life that wouldn't be missed if it was gone because it pointed to the One who never leaves. The small life.

The small life is made of counting those moments, going where He goes, and this is the life to which I am not predisposed. I feel lost in details, confused, self-shaming and God-doubting. Give me the mountain top and let me run free of cares and commitments and I will shine. But in the valley there are rivers to navigate and trees to see around and torrential rains and hills blocking my view of the light. In the valley the small details matter because there is no way up but around them.

Richard Wilbur used the words, "The punctual rape of every blessed day," and it catches me every time. Such vulgarity to describe such meniality. But isn't that what it is? A thousand times a day we feel the scraping of world against flesh and flesh against spirit. We know what it is to be taken advantage of and shamed in every direction. How then do we live? How do we see past the minute particulars?

We, like Ruth, say," Where you go, I'll go," and then we do it. One foot in front of another, one painful lift of atrophied muscles after another, one stalwart look after another, 10,000 times until we have arrived on eternity's shores and look into the blessed face of our Kinsman Redeemer.

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All Theology is Rooted in Geography

Now is the time to rediscover the meaning of the local, and in terms of church, the parish. All churches are local. All pastoral work takes place geographically. ‘If you would do good,’ wrote William Blake, ‘you must do it in Minute Particulars.’ When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Nineveh. He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living – heard what they were saying, smelled the cooking, picked up the colloquialisms, lived ‘on the economy,’ not aloof from it, not superior to it. The gospel is emphatically geographical. Place names – Sinai, Hebron, Machpelah, Shiloh, Nazareth, Jezreel, Samaria, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethsaida – these are embedded in the gospel. All theology is rooted in geography.

Pilgrims to biblical lands find that the towns in which David camped and Jesus lived are no better or more beautiful or more exciting than their hometowns.

The reason we get restless with where we are and want, as we say, ‘more of a challenge’ or ‘a larger field of opportunity’ has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds forth that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are ‘spiritually deep,’ attuned to each other, and quoting a cabal of experts.

The gospel, on the other hand, is local intelligence, locally applied, and plunges with a great deal of zest into the flesh, into matter, into place – and accepts whoever happens to be on the premises as the people of God. One of the pastor’s continuous tasks is to make sure that these conditions are honored: this place just as it is, these people in their everyday clothes, ‘a particularizing love for local thing, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance.

From Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 128-130.

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