Thursday, May 28, 2009


II Corinthians 4:16
"So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day."

Today, I read an article by Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline. In it, he describes this verse as expressing tenacity, "we do not lose heart"; realism "outer nature is wasting away"; optimism "being renewed"; and progression "day by day."

But the main emphasis and thrust of this passage focuses on the "invisible nature of the undertaking to which we are to give our lives."

Lately, I have been frustrated with the idea of the hiddenness of God. The truth which I have been wrestling with is epitomized in Romans 12:2: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is: his good, pleasing and perfect will."

I have always believed in the fundamental truth and promise of this particular verse. I believe in the physics of it, the mechanics of it. In theory.

Yet it seems, the longer I live and the more I experience life and see of this world, the more I encounter confusion and complexity, with no specific voice, no writing on the wall, not even an inner voice. It's been all process, internal revelation, a slow burning transformation that rarely finds its way to the surface. It seems no matter how hard I strive or surrender or even fail or abandon, I cannot seem to gain clarity on a specific path or vision, the way most others seem to.

And I know comparison is a dangerous game to play. I recognize the fallacy of such thinking.

But it seems that former dreams and visions and passions have shed their idealistic fervor and have been more or less placed on a spiritual back burner of cynicism and a reality check.

I often forget the invisible nature of this kingdom of which I am supposedly a part.

I forget that God is Spirit, and that His most intense, glorious and divine work is often done in the invisible--not the visible--realm.

I have to remember this on days when I feel like all my preparation and experience has come to nothing.

On days where dreams and visions that once seemed so vibrant seem to have been swallowed up in the culture and chaos and confusion of life.

When it seems that for all of my most valiant efforts (and also lack of any effort at all: I am guilty of both extremes), my own end goal is ultimately thwarted. This goal, poetically enough is often, unbeknownst to me, an attempt to control, rather than to surrender my own will and purposes.

Despite the constant call and command to manifest the life of Christ before us through love, community, service, I am compelled to now balance this manifestation with an understanding of an invisible, greater spiritual reality.

And it is this hiddenness of God that supposedly holds the greater blessing. This is what all the saints were commended for, as we read in Hebrews 11 and 12.

Richard Foster writes: "Faith involves an entering into the knowledge of the invisible, spiritual world and a living on the basis of that knowledge. And as we do this with regularity and persistence, we will discover that "our inner nature is being renewed day by day."

Though this does not necessarily grant me any more specific direction (with no proverbial light shed) in regard to career or vocation, this is enough to silence the pessimist in me at least for today, replacing my slip shod cynicism with minute amounts of hope and faith. And to also trust that ultimate reality--centered both on an invisible, all powerful Creator as well as a living, breathing, fleshed-out God Man--is some unique combination of both mystery and clarity.

While discussing my frustration with all of this yesterday, my good friend Chalis told me: "I wonder these things too, sometimes. And maybe I'll wonder them until the end. Or maybe purpose just unfolds as we go, and God is more the one laying it out, instead of us nobly pursuing it."

Perhaps the real journey simply lies in day-to-day pursuit of God and God alone-not even his gifts, blessings, or even purposes-just Him.

What Chalis said struck a chord with me deep within my soul because she reminded me that this trajectory of faith is neither a noble, idealistic pursuit, nor is it a resignation to cynicism and unbelief. It is simply a constant surrender, a laying into the wind of the Spirit to simply KNOW Him, to trust that relationship that He himself builds, initiates, and causes to grow.

I am now aiming to follow a trajectory of faith, rather than infinite resignation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

portrait of the artist by an easel

First, blank.

With all the pure vision
of the glory self in mind
a far-off, luminous sight
Now, shrouded and mysterious
by an eternal, ephemeral cloud bank

Creation begins.

A singularity
A kiss
A brushstroke.

Then, with pure and tentative movements
You, slowly and deliberately
Pour Your colors deep into me

Every earthen fiber
and golden sunrise
I breathe in Your breath
still gasping
rough edges of
a stiller rougher canvas

Swift and risky
and always tender motion
is the dance of Your hand
upon me.

Sometimes harsh angles
Overlaid with softer curves
a pattern, emerges,
Intricate and beautiful

and I imagine
in my mind's eye
Passer-bys pass You by
and, overlooking your shoulder,
Scrutinize the surface
and marvel at the making
critique the composition
and wonder at the source

while still You paint on.

the pattern, oft hidden from their eyes
as well as mine
unfolds in the rarest of times
and the cloud bank rolls its chaos away
but only too briefly
to reveal
in one breathtaking moment of clarity

(like the angel trapped in marble)
we are ever-chiseled and ever-freed
by Love and Truth

and we are all works of art
in progress.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

the universe (infinitely expanding?)

I waved hi at you.

The universe, eternal in its expansion.
I reside here, trapped in a bubble which will never quite reach
You waved at me through galaxies
and planet rings and dying stars.

The sadness hidden in your confident gaze
pierces my soul,
sending twinges and tiny pints and packets
of regret

Because of this shared knowledge
you and I, our paths collided
one sweltering afternoon.
And together we stared down the beast.

Laughing, resigning, with a carefree grin,
and a seared conscience in tow
You tore after the beast, chasing her
down, across the galaxy,
passing through a rift in the sky
where the universe is rent apart
and through that tiny, impenetrable tear,

you disappeared.

The planets danced and sparkled
and you found solace, in skin upon skin
in breath and tears
mingled together.

I stood watching part of myself
tear through the night sky
marveling at your path
twisting out of sight,
departed from mine.
until you were nothing but a memory
a conversation on a darkened porch
a gaze I once held
a voice I once recognized,
and loved.

since then, I've paddled along
quite calmly
along a starlit river
never once sensing my world
to be muffled with
so animal a presence.

that universe pulls farther and farther away from me

and I watch, waiting silently
as it stretches on by.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

on Romans 12...

I've been incredibly thirsty for Scripture lately. Traveling throughout Australia has brought a lot of wonder, beauty, enjoyment deep into my soul lately, but there's something about the incessant transience of life that occasionally makes it difficult to find true moments of reflection and solitude. And so I've felt that lack in the past week, leading up to the past few days.

I'm reading a book called Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Mitchell. Following a personal crisis, she traveled through three countries (Italy, India and Indonesia) in order to connect with herself and something divine, through food in Italy, meditation in India and love in Indonesia (so the book says... I haven't gotten to Indonesia yet).

I've appreciated this book because in its own quirky way, it's forced me into a place of self-reflection. Not overanalysis, which I've been incredibly guilty of over the course of my life in various times. I'm realizing more and more that while introspection has its merits (this coming from a someone who has been journaling since the age of 7. True Story!), often overanalyzing situations, other people and their motives and even the innerworkings of my own mind has the potential to be incredibly destructive. Overanalyzing, I'm slowly realizing, is often a symptom of my attempt to control situations and other people, rather than a genuine search for truth and understanding that transforms.

THAT kind of truth is what I'm thirsty for.

Before I left for my trip to Australia, my good friend Josh lent (indefinitely?) me a book called Invitation to Discipline by M. Robert Mulholland Jr. I think he initially gave it to me due to my ongoing obsession with all things Myers-Briggs. It's a book about spiritual formation, and incorporates Myers-Briggs as a means for understanding our own tendencies and how they relate to spirituality.

I'm not going to get into it right now, but suffice it to say that this book has been sinking deep into my consciousness over the past couple of months. It's the kind of book that you digest slowly over time. And must be internalized. And I highly recommend it to you, my lovely readers, who stalk my blog, unbeknownst to me.

But, as a warning... only read it if you are prepared to get your butt kicked.

Anyway, I was reading something simple in Romans, and it caught me off guard. It's a simple verse: Romans 12:12. It says "be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer."

Seems innocuous enough. But then I realized what each of these simple commands does. All three of them combat three specific dangers. Three specific tendencies that seem so prevalent in our culture: cynicism, bitterness and self-sufficiency.

"Be joyful in hope..." combats cynicism. I'm learning over and over that hope is the antithesis of cynicism. I still believe that hope firmly rooted in reality is not a blind optimism, nor an avoidance of harsh reality. If Christ really is who He says He is, than hope is the ONLY thing that can truly deal with reality. I've long looked at the eventual destinations of two separate trajectories, those of a heart fixed on cynicism and a heart fixed on hope. One mars the soul, while the other uplifts. And helps the soul find its true identity.

"patient in affliction..." counters bitterness. Suffering and affliction has the potential to ruin a person. It can break a man's spirit, cause the most open-hearted person to retreat within herself, and feed desires of vengeance and hatred and an unforgiving spirit.

But as Jesus shows us through His life and death, suffering and affliction also has the overwhelming potential to redeem and transform. Suffering can either break your spirit or bring you incredible freedom. I think of Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela or the apostles or Oscar Wilde locked in their cells of suffering. Suffering in those cases led, not to bitterness or despair or destruction, but to freedom and a revolution of the spirit and transformation of entire communities of people. Choosing patience over bitterness in times of trouble heals the soul.

"and faithful in prayer..." combats self-sufficiency. Humans are self-sufficient, bent on our own way of doing things, asserting our own control and fixing things the way we like it. Prayer bends and breaks us out of this self-absorbed mode of living, and puts us in a posture where we are humble and listening to Someone who is more powerful and infinitely more loving than we can ever be. Prayer brings us into a conversation where we are not trying to control things, but rather, being led into a relationship with God: a relationship that transforms and heals us and actually brings about CHANGE.

I share these things because I realize how easy, how unconsciously easy it is to slip into any one of these three modes of living. This is when I truly see how counterintuitive and countercultural Jesus really is, and how a life fixed on following Him and loving Him ought to look. People within the church as well as out of the church can just as easily succumb to cynicism, bitterness and self-sufficiency. No one is immune to this.

But this is what I love about Christ and what He calls us to: it's like any other relationship. There must be communication, constant vigilance, but also time to breathe and just be. It's always changing, always dynamic. Things shift, and there are always potential weaknesses and tendencies to be aware of.

So yes, for now...Mel in Australia will Eat, Pray, and Love.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

books and falling from the sky

We are at Airlie Beach, on the northern coast of Queensland in Australia.

We're staying at Backpackers by the Bay, a small, laid-back hostel that seems perfectly fitted for this breezy, tropical weather. It sits on a hilltop that overlooks Boathaven Bay, a curved shore that hugs the blue and green water which is dotted with dozens of sailboats.

There are stencils of tiny blue fish and sharks sponged around the room. Our sliding glass door is open to bring in the afternoon breeze and I can see a clothesline from the top of my bunk bed. Shirts dancing in the wind.

Walter is reading the English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I bought this book for Jeanne for her 28th birthday while we were in Adelaide. First she read it, then I read it, now Walt's reading it. The first book of this trip that MJW is reading.

We attempted to watch the film. Jeanne, formerly excited about the movie, was utterly disappointed with the film, calling it a "bastardization of the novel."

That book was like a fine meal that lasted over the course of several days. The words by themselves were compelling to read. Michael Ondaatje has taught me to slow my pace in reading, to allow my mind to slow to the speed of the author's pen. Difficult in my Instant Message, blog-skimming, web-surfing mind, but it's well worth the extra time.

The English Patient is a feast for the senses. So many beautiful passages. There is a stark eloquence to it and I love all the main characters.

On the lower bunk, Jeanne is reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I hear a gasp below me and an barely imperceptible "Oh my God" escape from the bunk below me. I lean over the bunk and look at her quizzically.

"He just had sex with her!" she said incredulously.

"Are you doing okay down there?" I've not read Lolita but I know the intensity of the subject matter.


I return to my book. I am reading Oscar Wilde's De Profundis. Barely 12 pages in but I already love Oscar more than I did when I read all of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

With the breeze, the quiet, and the sudden realization that I can once again use my eyes. And I am grateful.

I remember last week's stay in Cairns.

Cairns initially was not kind to me, but that was mostly my contact lens' fault. I strongly advise against sleeping with your contact lens in your eye, should you ever find yourself on an overnight Greyhound bus trip from the middle of the Outback to the northern coast of Australia...

Just sayin.'

Cairns--originally MJW's El Dorado--was this gleaming haven of our deepest Aussie longings come true: it housed our lofty dreams of skydiving, scuba diving, snorkeling, beaches galore, whitewater rafting.

Unfortunately, that was before bacteria attacked my eye, rendering me incapacitated for a few days. This infection necessitated daily trips to the hospital--I became very closely acquainted with the resident ophthalmologist in Cairns Base Hospital.

Finally though, after Walt and Jeanne's endless patience with my perpetual state of waiting in hotel rooms, hospital waiting rooms, and everything else, Cairns began to unfold to us in all its glory.

Exhibit A: MJW go skydiving. We opted--almost spontaneously--to go skydiving over the city on Wednesday afternoon. I had an 11 a.m. appointment at the hospital, I explained to our tourism booking agent downstairs at the hospital. She told us that we could go that afternoon immediately, or we could wait until Friday morning for a jump over the beach, which was a good 2 hours away.

While jumping over the beach sounded fantastically cool, I was certain I would lose my nerve if we didn't decide to go immediately. The three of us were watching the video overhead that showed happy, crazy people jumping out of airplanes left and right.

Jeanne and I trade information, trying to make a decision about plans.
"We should book the 4:30." "But what about going on Friday? That way we can wait and not rush. Plus doing it over the beach rather than the city sounds way cooler" "But the weather's supposed to be rainy." "Oh good point." "Let's do the 4:30." "How about we do the 3:00 in case you get out of your appointment early enough." "That sounds good."

We ramble on, then make an executive decision. Meanwhile, Walt is sitting in his chair, suddenly very (and uncharacteristically) quiet.

I ask him about this later. He told me he was silently hoping we'd go on Friday instead of today. I laugh at him. I'm just as scared as he is.

An appointment and lunch and phone call later, a dingy white bus pulls up in front of our hostel and a bright eyed, toothy Aussie greets us. "Going skydiving today?"

"Yep, that's us!"

They whirl us just a block down the street to the skydiving office. They pair us up with our skydiving guides and we begin to get suited up. My partner is Jason, a slightly hyper dude with a long braid. All three of us opted for the DVD/handicam option, so our guides are documenting every step of our skydiving adventure.

Suddenly, we're in a plane and we take off and I realize: there's only one way off of this plane. And it's an open door on the side of the plane that says "EXIT."

Walt and Jeanne and I freak out, squeal, smile, laugh nervously and wholeheartedly soak up every second of our ascent.

Jeanne goes first. She's got her arms crossed and her head braced back. She and GJ suddenly just roll and fall out of the plane. Jeanne disappeared. My best friend just fell out of a freakin' airplane, I realize. I look at out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse, but she's long gone.

Before I know it, it's Walt's turn. He's already slid up to the edge of the plane. One, two, he's gone.

I am the last one. Suddenly, I'm sliding to the edge. Jason asks me if I'm ready. He counts, and suddenly we just roll out of the plane, easily and lightly. As we're falling, I'm trying to scream, but I quickly realize when I do that I can't breathe. So I stick with trying to smile and keep my mouth closed at the same time and fully wrap my mind around the reality that I am freefalling through the sky.

Falling is not quite what I imagined it to be. Nothing like a roller coaster.

I'm pretty sure I gulped down part of a cloud on the way down.

Jason taps my arm about a half a dozen times before I realize it's okay to stop clutching my own shoulders and let my arms out, Superman style. I can't believe how much fun this is. Not scary at all once you're falling.

The chute opens and we are jerked back and suddenly we're spinning and I can see all of Cairns, blue and green and shining in the sun.

I smile and I think, this is the city I've been missing, holed up in a hotel room all week. I give a shout out to Chris Slankard in my handi-cam ("Yes, Chris, Mel is in the sky," a tribute to our endless Scattergories debating. Jason lets me grab a hold of chute and lets me steer for a bit. And he tricks me into violently spinning.

"Well, hopefully we don't crash into that powerline."

WHAT? I see Jeanne and Walter below me, turning lazily in the wind with their parachutes. I see the field where they descend. I glide into the field, nice and easy.

I remember one of the guides asking an exuberant Walter (he picks up Jeanne, then me, spins us each around in his excitement) if he would do this ever again.

"I'd do it again right NOW," he says gleefully.

All three of us are glad we got DVDs of our trips, because the moment of freefalling was over too quickly.

I realize, after a week of simply eating, waiting in a hospital room, not sure if I would see out of my right eye again, and being generally frustrated and homesick, that I'm happy to be alive again.

And I like this Cairns.