Walking our dog after the rain had swept through I noticed, caught in the shrubs along the drainage ditch plastic shopping bags caught in their branches. Looking more closely I realized that most of them had been there for some time, dirty, tattered, deteriorating from sun, mud, wind and rain. They have no value.
Later in the day after paying for my purchase the sales clerk placed in another plastic bag not unlike those along the ditch back. That bag placed on the seat of my car continued to serve a purpose. That bag contained something important and was needed until the contents were safely home.
With a new year has come the ever renewed resolution to take better care of our bodies. In some ways our bodies are like those plastic bags. Their real value is not in the bag but in what they contain. Our bodies are NOT us. Our bodies DO serve the purpose of containing “us”, holding us, keeping us alive in this world and able to do what we were put here to do.
Sooner or later, these bodies fulfill their responsibility and are set aside. We call this death, passing away, or just “passing”. We may spend a moment looking at them but then they begin the same journey as those abandoned bags along the bank.
Resolutions to work on our bodies are important. But infinitely more important is the care of our souls, the contents of “the bag”. Feed the body. Feed the soul.
At times it may seem hard to bring a quiet and calm to our soul. It is not so much finding calm as it is how deep the calm. Here I describe five depths or degrees of quiet and listening.
The first degree of quite is being in a constant state of stillness. This kind of quiet is like a quiet pool of water interrupted at times by pebbles or rocks thrown into the water or by branches falling into the water. These ripples sent across that quiet interrupts it to some degree. These disturbances come from living in a world alienated from God and from that in ourselves which strains against the reign of Christ.
The second degree of quiet means pulling away from this. This is harder and requires greater movement to become part of a more undistrubable quiet. The first quiet can exist even in a crowd. This second degree of quiet is discovered alone.
The third degree of quiet grows from the second. In the second degree there is something inside that longs to go back to the place of activity where ripples often come upon our pond. There is a longing for the world around us with all its activity and distraction. But in the second degree of quiet if we persist long enough or deeply enough we find ourselves transported to another place. This third degree of quiet is one where we no longer wish to leave. We sing of this “In the Garden”;
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
The fourth degree of quiet is found at that place between the two words; the seen and the unseen. It is the place between life and the life to come. Mostly people only come to this place one time. Sometimes they venture there in a coma or in those hours or days as their body is beginning to lose any ability to return to the place where ripples come. The quiet is deeper here for from it there is no return. This is not a place of quiet from which there is retreat. This is the deepening place of quiet which I have often observed in those dying from illness and lingering nearer and nearer the time of departure to the final, the fifth degree of quiet. Here the presence of even those nearest and dearest to us fades and the presence of those inhabiting eternity, that vast cloud of witnesses who have traveled this road before grows ever clearer.
What is faith? One dictionary definition describes it as a belief in something not proven. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith in some ways reminds me of gravity. We know it exists, we know it keeps us anchored to the earth, yet we can’t see it or feel it. We know much about it, much has been written on the subject, and yet we don’t fully comprehend it. Faith and trust are what hold our relationship with God together in much the same way that gravity holds matter together. As gravity is to the physical world, so faith is to the spiritual world.
It would be a very foolish thing indeed, if we tried to live our lives as if gravity did not exist. Along the same lines, it is equally foolish to live our lives without faith. As we have learned to experience gravity in the physical world by seeing things fall, experiencing weight and weightlessness, we can learn to navigate in the world of the spirit by faith. But how do we learn about the way faith operates in our lives? First of all we can examine scripture and see the many wonderful examples of faith and how it impacted God’s people. We can examine our own lives for times when we acted upon faith and God acted in response. Conversely, we can see examples of times in which we lacked faith and the results of this. Like gravity, faith needs to be so deeply ingrained into our sprits that we operate in the world without even giving it much conscious thought. It is just always there. Unseen, but ever present, impacting all that we do in our daily lives. Amen