Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Valley of Vision

A beautiful song came onto my iPod yesterday at a moment when I needed it the most. The words rang true to my head, and it cut me deep to the heart.

The song, by Bob Kauflin, is called "In the Valley." Always before I have thought of the difficult times of life as being the "valley of the shadow of death." Though this is a biblical term, this song put things into perspective for me.

When You lead me to the valley of vision
I can see You in the heights
And though my humbling
wouldn’t be my decision
It’s here Your glory shines so bright
So let me learn that the cross precedes the crown
To be low is to be high
That the valley’s where You make me more like Christ

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley

In the daytime there are stars in the heavens
But they only shine at night
And the deeper that I go into darkness
The more I see their radiant light
So let me learn that my losses are my gain
To be broken is to heal
That the valley’s where Your power is revealed

The Valley of Vision . . . think about it. Is it not when we are in the valley of the shadow that we most feel the power, love, and support of God? Despite the fact that it is tempting to be angry at God during these times, they are the times when I most feel that I cannot be angry with God because I feel His love surrounding me, uplifting me, and urging me to press forward. It is during these times that I can see God most clearly. The last verse of the song, especially, struck my heart. There are stars in the heavens during the daytime, but they only shine at night--God is always with His children during the good times, but His glory shines the brightest when we are at our darkest moments. This song really encouraged my soul yesterday. The rest of the world thinks that God abandons His people when they go through trials and tribulations, but the truth is that He is never with us more than at those times.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Stormy Seas

Today God showed me once again that it is one thing to sing "It is well with my Soul" when things are going well and that it is quite another matter to keep singing it when you are on the stormy seas in a sinking boat, surrounded by white-capped waves. Lord, hold my head above the water and fill my lungs with the air to sing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Lesson Learned about the Potter from a "potter" Who Can't Pot Pots

I MADE SOMETHING in ceramics today. But you have been taking this class all semester, you might say. I'll leave it at mentioning that there is a reason that I am a music/English person and NOT an art major. The potter's wheel is totally not my gig. [As a side bar, the song "Hands of the Potter" by Caedmon's Call would play on my iPod while I worked on the wheel . . . I used to like that song . . . and it always made me groan inside because God did not give me any kind of artistic gift when it comes the the pottery wheel.] Anyway, today we worked on a hand-building project. Mine actually LOOKS like something! It'll (hopefully) end up as a really neat looking pitcher when it is all finished. Needless to say, when I think of God as the Potter, He'll be hand-building and not working on a wheel from now on! Not only did I actually enjoy the class today, but I found hand-building to be very relaxing, rewarding, and fulfilling (anything is fulfilling to me when it doesn't flop!).

All this being said, ceramics has definitely given me a much different view of and appreciation for God. For those people who are like me, pottery is HARD! To actually form a perfect cylinder on a quickly spinning wheel is impossible. Why even try? After weeks and weeks (and hours and hours--like eight a week) of practice, my cylinders STILL were slightly (I'm being nice to myself here) misshapen, lopsided, and more like 6.5-7'' instead of 8''. As I said, two words describe using a potter's wheel: IM-POSSIBLE! There were those, I admit, in the class, to whom God has given a much larger portion of potter's talent. Even for them, however, it took a lot of practice and, more importantly, patience. I know that all things are easy for God, but it really says something that we are compared to vessels that take so much care to make.

Think about God when He is described as the Potter. In order to make anything that even slightly looks like anything on a pottery wheel, one must devote much time and effort, love and patience, and passion to his project. The work is not easy, but when you do actually have something finished, it almost kills you just to move it because you do not want to destroy that which you put so much into making. If I feel that way about a short, droopy "cylinder," how must God feel about us, His creations?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Risky Conversation

Recently I had to write a paper for one of my English classes . . . one of the few things that I truly enjoy about college life. For this particular paper, I took a little bit of a risk. It is rather obvious (at least to me) that many (if not most) of the professors in the English department are not only not Christians, but that they are also antagonistic toward faith in God (every English professor that I have had at Towson has been this way). Therefore, when I decided to weave doctrine and a Bible verse into my latest essay, it was a leap of faith (not to mention that I made it more of an analytical narrative than an actually essay). Surprisingly, I received not only an "A" on the paper (the highest grade that I have ever received from this particular professor . . . I took her last semester as well and received B+ grades, which she considered excellent), but I also got back very positive feedback from her. An amazing blessing, right? The paper is posted below.

February 27, 2010. It was a windy, cold, miserable day. The sky was gray, and snow flurried down, swirling in the wind. I was driving along Dulaney Valley Road at around 4 PM in my old, beat-up, hand-me-down purple Saturn. As I sat at the red light that spans the distance between Towson Town Center and the wonderful shopping center that contains not only a Starbucks but also the area’s Ukazoo store, I noticed a man walking by the road. Ordinarily I would not have stopped—men often walk along the road—but this man was different. He was older, about my grandfather’s age, and he had white hair and a white beard. Garbed in a black robe, he was clutching a rosary. Peering closer, I saw a look of bewilderment and panic in his eyes. I looked over my shoulder and saw nobody coming behind me, so I quickly pulled into the left lane and caught the tail end of the green arrow. I turned into the shopping center, and I parked my car in a two hour parking spot. Jumping from my car, I pulled my green scarf tighter around my neck and made sure that I manually locked the front door.

“Sir!” I cried.

He turned and looked at me. When I saw the front of his face in full, I knew. My suspicions had been correct. This man was indeed Geoffrey Chaucer himself, looking as if he had stepped out of his portrait in the Norton Anthology of English Literature.

“May I buy you a cup of coffee?” I queried.

“Coffee?” he replied. “What is coffee?”

Realizing that both coffee and tea had come to England a few centuries after his death, I quickly changed my question.

“How about a drink?” I asked.

“A drink would be very nice, thank you.”

I introduced myself as we walked toward a crowded Starbucks. As we approached the entrance, he chivalrously opened the door for me. Understanding that, though his English now was much more understandable than anything I read from the Canterbury tales, he would have no idea how or what to order, I told him to sit down in one of the big, patterned, oversized chairs.

Moments later, I returned to his side with two mocha chip frappuchinos (the cost of which is a small fortune for poor college students like me, but considering the wonderful opportunity that this could be, I did it anyway). After taking a sip, he smiled.

“My, my. This is delicious! Things certainly have changed,” he said. “What year is it, anyway?”

“Well, Mr. Chaucer, the year is 2010.”

I watched him nearly choke on his drink.

“And things have not changed that much,” I replied.

“Well then, young lady. Suppose you inform me how a world with steel horses and candles without flames and buildings made of glass is the same as the world that I knew.”

“Sir, the things that you have spoken of are indeed changes and signs of progress in the world, but the characters of the people in this world are such that you would easily recognize,” I responded.

“Indeed?” asked he quizzically. “Go on.”

“I will compare your Wife of Bath, your Pardoner, and your Parson to their modern day counterparts.”

And so I began my tale to the master tale teller.

Wommen desire to have sovereinetee.[1]This was the desire of the Wife of Bath. She desired to rule over her husbands, over her money, and to be equal in society. In the same way, there is a woman today known as the Feminist Woman. While she and her friends say that they merely want equality with men in every way, what many of them really mean is that they want power over men. They desire not to be subject to men; rather they want the authority of the men to wield over them.

In a more comical similarity, the Wife of Bath gives her heroine exactly what she herself wants: youth, beauty, and the magic to keep them forever. For by my trouthe, I wol be to you bothe—This is to sayn, ye, bothe fair and good . . . Caste up the curtin, looke how that it is.[2] The Desperate Housewife of today is the modern day Wife of Bath. However, the Desperate Housewife has what the Wife did not—the power to attain these things! As the Wife of Bath, the Desperate Housewife wants to look gorgeous and young at all times. With the magic of a piece of plastic known as a credit card, she buys herself a facelift to remove the wrinkles from around her eyes and to firm up the skin on her cheek. Using the same power, she can buy herself new breasts, remove unwanted fat, and dye her hair a lovely new color.

I could see Mr. Chaucer’s eyes widening in amazement, and the look on his face made me smile.

“Oh my!” he said.

Your Pardoner, I must say, was a very unsavory character. His tale concerned the sin of Avarice, something that he himself was afflicted with to his very core. I would say that he struggled with it, but that would be incorrect because he does not seem to strive against it as much as he appears to embrace it wholeheartedly. However, he is honest about his dishonesty, and it is through this that we learn more about him. The pardoner speaks of how he swindles poor people in various towns out of their money, convincing them that he has the power to forgive their sins if they pay him money. Of avarice and of swich cursednesse is all my preching, for to make hem free, to yiven hir pens and namely unto me, for myn entente is nat but for to winne, and no thing for correccion of sinne.[3] There are still those in the church who prey upon the innocent and weak. In this, the Pardoner is similar to what is known as the Televangelist. I have no doubt, Mr. Chaucer, that there were good Pardoners in your day, men who were driven by love instead of by their greed. So it is in this era; however, the Televangelist has a reputation for tending to favor the bad Pardoner rather than the good. The bad Televangelist pretends to speak the Truth of God, but really he speaks with the cunning of a snake. People are led to believe that, in order to further the Kingdom of God, they must send their money to the Televangelist. Many of these people are poor, and they do not realize that their money is not being used for good, but rather to fund the luxurious lifestyle of the Televangelist.

“Yes, yes,” Chaucer murmured. “How very interesting. But tell me; is there no good in the church today? Is it all evil? There was some good to be found in my time”

I smiled.

“Yes, sir,” I replied. “Or else you would not find me in church every Sunday.”

This brought me to the Parson. The Parson was a good man, a man who stood faithful even among the wolves found in the church. He was poor, caring, loving, and good. Furthermore, he practiced that which he preached—he was no hypocrite. He served his parishioners humbly, and taught only Christ. But in his teching discreet and benign, to drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse by good ensample—this was his bisinesse . . . He taught, but first he folwed it himself.[4] The Parson is like my Pastor. He does not live in a grand house, he does not steal money from any man, he can be found in the rooms of the sick, in the homes of the broken, and offering assistance without being asked. About the Parson is said, God loved he best with al his hole herte, at alle times, though him gamed or smerte. The same can be said of my Pastor. Whether grieving over the passing of a friend or dealing with the cancer of his daughter, he can always be found praising God and loving Him still. As you showed, Mr. Chaucer, the Parson was a rare man among men of the church—the good Pastor, though more plentiful than the Parson, can be hard to find. In the Bible, in John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” Pastors also are to be shepherds of the church. A shepherd cares for the sheep, protects the sheep, and feeds the sheep—unlike the other members of the Church among your Pilgrims, Mr. Chaucer, the Parson was the only true Shepherd. My Pastor is a good Shepherd.

So you see, while things in my world may look very different from the world that you knew, there is nothing new under the sun. People are still the same as they were—there are still people who are obsessed with beauty, power, and fortune, and there are still those who help and love others without expecting anything in return. Technology will come and go, advances will grace civilization, and the external things will change, but humanity will remain basically the same for the rest of time.

I finished my statement and realized that my mouth was very dry since I had been doing more talking than drinking. Stopping for a sip, I looked expectantly at Mr. Chaucer and waited for him to say something.

He smiled, but as he opened his mouth to speak, there was a loud beeping sound. While I looked around for signs of a fire alarm, Mr. Chaucer began to fade. I looked back. He was disappearing.

“Erin!” a voice spoke my name.

“Mr. Chaucer,” I called frantically.

“Erin, wake up!”

I started. The voice belonged to my husband, Patrick. The beeping belonged to his alarm.

“Can you make coffee? I’m running late!”

Patrick’s voice cut through my dream. And thus was the end of a wonderful dream and the beginning of a very long day.

[1] The Wife of Bath’s Tale, line 1044.

[2] The Wife of Bath’s Tale, lines 1246, 1247, and 1255.

[3] The Pardoner’s Prologue, lines 112-116.

[4] The General Prologue, lines 520-523, 530.