A Love Story in 3 Parts
I never knew God as someone to find, but rather as someone to meet. And meet God I did, in the dewy, green grass before nightfall in my childhood backyard, in the stars over my head while I lay flat on my back in a plastic paddle boat in the middle of our pond, in the light coming through the tall trees while walking through the woods behind our house.
God as Creator was as tangible as other realities in my life: Mom, cooker of all meals, Dad, teller of stories, Brother, runner with all the energy and oxygen available, never getting tired.
I’ve tried to boil down my childhood into a formula of knowing God, but I always come up without an answer. Was it because I spent so much time outside? Was it because I knew the wonder of the deer crossing the snowy fields before I heard of the deer read in the Psalms? Was it because big parts of my life were so elemental – bonfires licking the night, storms raging over my head, fields harvested and planted and grown, just like the imagery of Exodus and the parables Jesus told in the Gospels?
Or was it just an early development of sacred space, holy ground, spiritual geography? That home on the prairie was a place God met me – in the smell of the wet, black topsoil and the sight of my Grandma’s homemade noodles drying on the backs of chairs.
Jesus made most sense to me when the Creation story was read as part of the liturgy on Christmas Eve – there was darkness and BAM – the Earth was flooded with light. Everything changed. My church would keep the lights off until it was read that Jesus was born in the Gospel – BAM all of the church was lit. The only other time this darkness to light trick would happen was the night before Easter when Jesus rises from the dead – BAM church flooded with light.
I’ve always pictured Jesus as a hearty traveler, stopping to sit around fires to enjoy dinner and life with his friends, hooded, dusty, more fire in His eyes than the burning kindling in front of Him. And it’s around that fire, cloaked in darkness, that life is questioned and unravelled and rearranged, while on the way to the destination we’ll pack up for tomorrow.
I’ve always wanted to be a good traveler – only the essential materials in my backpack to make room for the more important, nonmaterial parts of the journey – courage, hope, love, patience, laughter, eyes to truly see.
I learned in college a definition of sin: a bending back on ourselves, a distortion of the created good. And there’s more evil and darkness that weighs on the world daily. But like that small fire is a pinprick of light in a vast desert landscape, like prayer candles flickering in a dark room, Jesus offers us grace – an otherworldly, never be the same substance, so supernatural that it can only be described- a cup of water for the thirsty, sight for the blind, forgiveness from sin, freedom instead of slavery.
Jesus invites us to Holy Ground every day, and so I anxiously respond to the invitation to sit around the fire.
The Holy Spirit is like rhythm – the backbone of the collected response of music. Music is sheer delight. There’s so much of it to be explored and sung loudly and created haphazardly to soothe sleepless children.
It makes complete sense to me that we sing our prayers in church. It is our global communication, much like bread is our global food and water our source of life.
We saw the Lumineers on tour in St. Louis a few years ago and my favorite part was when everyone left the stage except for the lead singer. He sang Slow It Down by himself with only his guitar.
Halfway through the song, his brother came out to play one more instrument: the kick drum. When the drum came in, something new was realized, just in keeping time to his brother’s guitar.
The Holy Spirit is punctuated like that, making things real and powerful in this space and time. Peace in the middle of anxiety. Hope in the midst of an awful circumstance. Joy surrounding life. Kind words that seem just for you. Love that arrives faithfully in the form of a spouse, a parent, a friend.
All of it a glimpse of the beating heart of God, of the eternal, of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I collect doxologies – the simple hymn sung before meals and before benedictions at church. If someone has recorded it, it’s on my computer. But I also collect moments with the doxology, like at college chapel when we’d begin each service with it. When I was far away from home it would find me, hauntingly beautiful and simple. Our new church sang it at Easter, right in the middle of our move to our new home. There was God, reaching out to me, “You’re safe and sound and on Holy Ground.”
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.