Mirrors of Change

Just north of where we live sits the oldest farm in America. It was established nearly 400 years ago; several acres of open fields and a working dairy farm remain there today. It used to be a routine sight on my morning commute before I married and we moved onto our school’s campus. Now I only see it whenever I have to travel to the next town up.

One such occasion arose this week. It was late afternoon by the time I was driving back. I passed the familiar fields now covered in a late winter snow. It’s been warm enough lately that snow has started to melt though it usually drops below freezing  at night. I love winter so this change brings a tinge of sadness; I’m not quiet ready for it to go.

Driving past the fields I noticed the snowmelt had collected in little pools of water now frozen across the surface. Reflecting the late day sun it appeared as though the field was covered in a million mirrors, or perhaps one giant mirror that had been smashed and scattered about in a chaotic yet perfectly artistic fashion. Now those mirrors were reflecting the mirage of the sun from the ground and back towards the sky.

I know I’m changing; I can feel it like I can see the sunlight reflecting off a thousand mirrors of the late winter snow. I’m reaching, desperate to hold onto winter, the cold reality of who I know myself to be. In so I feel like I’m a child again, perched at the top of a slide. I’m sitting and I feel gravity pulling me downward. I know that eventually I will move but my hands are out and I’m bracing myself against the pull.

“Let go,” the voice in my head tells me, “it’ll be quiet the ride”.

“But is the bottom better than the top?”

I don’t know where or why change became something I resist and seek at the same time. I find myself wondering, searching, through the corridors of my memory for a moment in which I was utterly content: sixteen years old with a driver’s license, racing down the street for the first time. Five years old, nibbling a Christmas cookie in my father’s lap as he read “The Night Before Christmas” and snow fell outside. Twenty-one years old, with a pay check just large enough for the rent and to buy myself a drink afterwards at the bar with some friends. We sang till the place closed down, there on the coast, even though we had to be up at work the next morning. It would be the best damned morning in the world. Yes, then…in that moment, I tell myself, I was happy.

But at the same time, I still took a step forward. The clock ticks but I make the choice to look at it. And play by its rules.

The depth of my joy is created by the good that was, before me, in the beginning. Always. And it’s added to daily by the blessings that are. I cannot deny the presence of infinite blessings, grace beyond merit.

But there is still goodness and beauty that has slipped away and the reality of the melting snow haunts me. Where does it go? The fading sunlight, the beauty of a passing hour and breath? Hell ain’t things lasting forever, Toni Morrison penned, hell is change.

And as I’m walking into my apartment today I note that more of the snow has vanished and below is a muddy, salty, crusty layer of earth that looks like a dried out flower without the bloom. What a mess. But I’m reminded of the spring showers around the bend and the way the ground looks after a soaking storm. This reminder comes from a gentle voice atop the slide. It will take care of itself. Change usually does.

We will transform our lowly body, Paul wrote to his Philippian counterparts, to be like His glorious body. Transform, he penned in the Greek, using the same word from which we get “metamorphosis”. Nothing is shed, at least not in the permanent sense; it’s just completed. The becoming has become. It is finished.

And these days whenever I question what those words mean I find a good reason to drive north around sunset. Once there, I find myself staring at a shattered mirror across the surface of the field changing with the seasons. And what a thing it is to behold, a million brilliant reflections, beckoning in the to be with a reminder of what was. And when the sun’s rays hit the mirrors and shine back into the sky, it’s like the world is rejoicing with the news of the transfiguration all around, the news of renewal, redemption and becoming.

And, oh, what a sight to see.

Arrived, For The First Time

I was dashing around the apartment just the other morning looking for a textbook. I’d been reading it the night before yet it was somehow eluding me. Searching near a stack of books by the window, something outside caught my eye and I was compelled to take pause.

Behind our apartment is a small yard followed by a tree line. In the middle of the open space was a single brown leaf, one that had somehow escaped the clutches of winter. It sat atop the frozen tundra and as I observed it from the window it skated and danced across the yard, lifting and swaying with the slightest movement of the breeze. It reminded me of something, something I couldn’t articulate but wanted to embrace. And I could’ve watched that leaf for years. But I had to rush off to class.

Later I recalled a back road near my childhood home in Ohio. It branched off of an old state highway cutting between two large cornfields, past several abandoned farmsteads, then bridging a small river before cresting a ridge. Although it was just a small hill this was western Ohio and standing on a cardboard box in one’s driveway would qualify for elevation. Hence, from that point in the road, with the car cresting the top of the incline, I could see down and across a vast meadow, one which I imagine must’ve been quiet grand and remote in ages past but even now was majestic in its own subtle way.

I grew up with a keen sense of wanderlust and from the earliest years of my adolescence I was eager to escape the Midwest. This was one spot, however, I never wanted to escape. From the top of that hill, looking out across the meadow, I felt as though I could see the entirety of the world that I needed, the world that I could come understand and know. It was contained and manageable; even to my wandering heart.

Around this same time I remember being terrified of eternity. How long is it? I would ask.

It is forever.

It does not end.

So I would panic. I’d walk about the room clenching and opening my hands, trying to find some part of forever that wasn’t too magnificent and incomprehensible for me to grasp.

I admit that if I had a thousand lives, I’d spend a handful of them on that road in Ohio, right at the top of the hill, pulled over to the side, watching, breathing, living.

As I child I couldn’t wait to grow up so I wouldn’t be stuck in the limbo of waiting, waiting for Christmas, a drivers license, a girlfriend and college acceptance letters. Now my life is one of doing, jumping through the various hoops I call “responsibilities” but are really just excuses I use to avoid the reality that I haven’t changed that much and I’m still waiting. What I once labeled “bored” I now call “busy”. I’m busy building a virtual world on sand, hoping that the real world shows up. All the while it has. It’s skating by as a leaf upon the frozen snow outside my window. I’ll observe it some other time.

We shall not cease in our explorations, T.S. Eliot penned, until we arrive at the place we began and know it for the first time. Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said. And the more I think about it, I don’t believe he was talking about those who end wars. For the Psalmist praises the Lord alone for his ability to break the bow and shatter the spear. And Jesus knew the Psalms.

Rather, the peacemakers are the ones who embrace the peace around them. They make time for shalom, the peace of being still and listening to the voice that says “stop being busy for one moment. Look at this place, look at this world I’ve made. Look at it and know that I am God”.

But who can ever know a place? Who could ever have the time?

I reserve hope for an eternity that does not frighten but enlivens me. I reserve hope for a future when I will arrive on a quiet back road in western Ohio right at the crest of a small hill. From there I will look out and see a meadow that’s more spectacular than all my nostalgia combined. I’ll pull my car to the side of the world and I’ll sit.

I’ll sit for years, maybe decades. I’ll sit and watch as the seasons change, as winter arrives, the snow falls and a leaf dances across her surface like King David before the ark. I won’t be bored and I won’t be busy; I’ll have arrived.

And having arrived, I will begin to know my place for the first time.

A Thousand Objections, A Thousand Brilliant Heartbeats

When my wife and I moved to a new apartment on our school’s campus, we found ourselves about a half-mile down a large hill from where we both work and attend classes. From the get-go, we made a point of refusing to drive our car but instead walking to and from class. Because we’re on different schedules this means that most mornings I find myself walking up the hill alone.

The Tuka Dika Native American tribe of Northern Idaho had no word in their language for “wilderness”. For them there was no outside and inside; the world was all connected. It was only when “sophistication” arrived on the scene that lines were drawn between the two spheres. Because everyone knows Eden was climate controlled and the Sermon on the Mount was delivered in a covered arena.

Not long afterwards my parents were forced to walk to school, uphill both ways and through the snow. Thankfully humankind has progressed since then, now we drive. And sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we as a race will ever walk uphill again. We’ve reached the mountaintop of progress and the sun is setting. We’re not breathing hard because we didn’t exert any effort to get here; we drove the family minivan. We’re not feeling the weight of another day bearing down and settling into rest because we’ve injected five cups of coffee into our system. And we’re not looking at the sunset. We’re on our phone telling someone else somewhere else about the beautiful view, right there from atop the mountain. And it’s all downhill from here. We’ve doomed ourselves to convenience, separation.

I never used to wear gloves for my morning commute. Because even when temperatures were well below zero they weren’t necessary for the short trip form my apartment to my car where the heat would be cranking at full steam. But on my first morning strolling to class without them I noticed that exposed skin can become something of a painful experience. A ridiculously common-sensical thing to notice, but before there’d been no need.

There are some who believe the world is doomed for destruction, that in the end of all things God will purge the entire globe, throw it away like a used Kleenex. The chosen are redeemed, what further purpose could it serve?

But when I walk to class and consider this prospect I look around me at a thousand objections. The snowflakes rest peacefully on the dormant ground below them, a breeze pushes itself through the branches, tickling the dry winter air. Frost bites the tips of the pine tree above my head and beckons it to sleep, wait. He will come like a thief in the nighttime of spring and the new earth descending out of the clouds will sound the trumpet of renewal, transformation and redemption. I look around me and I see desperation joining hope floating as unsaid prayers like my breath in the crisp morning. I look around me and I see, as C.S. Lewis so memorably and famously penned, shadows of the magnificence to come.

But God, how can you begin the task of taking our pollution, our nuclear fallouts, our dumps, our hate, our prejudice, our pain… how can you even begin to contemplate taking all that and transforming all of it into the purity and peace of a single snowflake drifting to rest in front of my eyes? Why not just draw a line between the holy unreachable and the world. Why not throw it away when you’re done here? You can sew up the temple curtain; I’m sure it’s not too late. There are needles of divine convenience I’m sure you could use.

Sometimes I can’t help but look around me and think about what a beautiful, screwed up world we live in. It’s the complication that makes me believe it to be ordained by an Intricate and Loving Deity.

And I want to feel it. I want to feel the pulse of the seasons, like a thousand brilliant heartbeats dancing to the tune of a homesick romance all around me. Like an actor after preparing for his show, I live on a stage. The stage is my home and home is a complicated thing. It’s not perfect; the director isn’t done. But it’s so much more than the stage for my redemption. The story is much more complicated, constant. It’s unlike any I’ve ever heard. There’s too much beauty and truth around me to disregard that fact.

And so that’s why, lately, I’ve taken to walking to class. I wear gloves and a coat and most often a hat because the world is telling me to bundle up. It’s cold outside. It’s cruel, brilliant and cold. And I see it every day as I walk to class. Uphill, both ways.