Friday, June 20, 2008

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain

She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be comin round the mountain,
She’ll be comin round the mountain,
She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes.

I’ve heard that song over and over and over through my life. Seems like a silly song but there’s something in the repetition and rhythm that makes is stick out in my mind. At different times in my life, the song has brought to mind different images.

This morning it makes me think of the person who caught in a particular trial. In the midst of their frustration they exclaim, “I’ve gone around this mountain several times. I wish I could learn my lesson and move on.” I know that person because I’ve been that person more than once.

Whether in the areas of finances or job or friendships, I’ve often felt like I was circling, re-circling and circling the mountain yet again. Driving up the side of a mountain on a swtichback road has a similar feel. I see the same sights again and again, but each time I see them from a higher altitude.

It might just be that when we feel like we circling round the mountain again and again that we could be repeating a pattern but at a higher altitude each time. So we’re not really in the same place, we’re actually moving higher and higher.

Sometimes I’ve drawn two diagrams on a board to demonstrate the way many Christians perceive the spiritual life. Some might think of it as a gradual incline leading higher and higher and higher to a peak, which is the place of glorification. Depending on their tradition, this promise of glorification may happen before or after death.

Other Christians might think of their life more like a line pointing up breaking through a barrier to reach a plateau where the life of faith is lived in fullness. A key event marks this breakthrough—usually either their initial salvation experience or a secondary experience of the Spirit’s infilling. Their “testimony” normally will consist of discussing the events prior to the moment of breakthrough and the dramatic impact the breakthrough had on their life.

I think both of these pictures are helpful in thinking about different aspects of a spiritual journey but I might also suggest that, “She’ll be comin round the mountain” offers a third and valuable image as well.

The image of a circling a mountain with a gradual incline captures the image of repeated patterns in our life. I would suggest that one aspect of growth in our lives can be characterized by a series of repeated patterns.

One way to explain this understanding is to consider the seasons of the year. Each year we pass through spring, summer, fall and winter. Then the seasons are repeated. And again. And again. And again throughout our lives.

If we don’t move every year, this repeated pattern of seasons in our region will be layered into our memories. Certain smells, sights and experiences of the different seasons will bring back memories of past seasons. Driving with my window down in late spring often takes me instantly back to 1982 and my senior year in high school.

We may associate certain activities with certain seasons. For example, we may connect vacations with summer; football with fall; hot chocolate with winter; and flower gardens with spring. But we don’t have to do the same thing every season.

Some years, I may chose to follow the birds and fly south in the winter. Other years, I may head north to a snowy mountain and ski slopes for the winter. In other words, I experience the repeated pattern of the season, but I am free to improvise my response much like a jazz musician might do with a standard.

In addition to the repeated patterns, we impose a calendar upon our year with repeated celebration or patterns. Many Americans might celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July regardless of their religion.

Add to the big four a series of lesser holidays and we have a repeated holiday in most months of the year. Add to those celebrations the personal celebrations in the lives of our friends and families like birthdays and anniversaries. Then add the weekly worship services, yearly VBS, graduations, weddings and more.

Soon we discover that our life is filled with repeated patterns.

I would suggest that we learn through repeated patterns. Just as our calendar reflects this rhythm, our personal lives reflect seasons of learning. There are times when we may actively learn and other times when we may actively create and other times when we may focus on serving or relationships or prayer or mission’s work.

These seasons of intensity and focus may repeat again and again. But each time, we may remember our previous experiences and lessons from the past to play upon our experience now.

We may also pass through repeated seasons of joy and sorrow, struggle and victory, grief and comfort, conflict and forgiveness and so on. But just like the jazz standard or the repeating seasons, we don’t have to respond to the same rhythms in the same way.

One year during lent, I meditated upon the joy of the Lord. This taught me the pattern of joy in suffering. When I find myself in the midst of a repeated trial, I am free to choose a different way to respond. Jack Taylor once told the story of his son growing through grave financial difficult. In response, the family had a celebration.

This decision to alter their response to something depressing and discouraging could then give them fresh eyes and perspective to the struggle and possibly see new opportunities ahead.

So today, I think I’ll rejoice that, “She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes.” I may think I’m coming back round the mountain, but I know I’m moving upward to a place of glory. So I can improvise respond in new ways, bring new expectations to this similar season.

And even in the midst of my current circumstances, whether good or bad, I can rejoice and know that my faithful Savior is leading on the path. And in the end, he present me as blameless before the Father.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rhiannon and the Pursuit of Woman

Bobi Jones captures the one of the Welsh myths from the Mabinogion in verse with his poem Rhiannon. This love story centers on the pursuit of a woman by a man over hills and into mist. No matter how fast his servant or his horse travel, Pwyll cannot reach the object of his affection. In desperation, he calls out to her and she stops and tells her tale and ends up marrying him.

When he beholds this vision of beauty, Pwyll proclaims,

She was dew: if the mournful sun should dare
attempt to lure her away, it would not deserve to dawn.

Then Jones' poem (in Pwyll's voice) describes the rapturous vision of Rhiannon by saying,

To see her like precious life fleeting away,
Nervous maidenhood raining along her shoulders
And everyone slaking his thirst in watch her:
As smoothly as blood in a vein she glided
On the white stallion-heart through the morning mist.
How shall one sing her purity?...Not like one
Moving in the outer world was her going,
Unless like a breeze softly wooing the ear,
Like a shadow of waters slanting the mind.

Is she a goddess? Is she a human? Has she crossed over from a thin place? Reading Jones' poem the other day, I was struck by how vision of Rhiannon mixes physical attraction with spiritual longing. In the woman, he beholds something, someone that touches him deeper than simple lust for the other.

In Rhiannon, Jones's stirred me to think of a vision beyond the Celtic myth to the pursuit of woman. Why do men respond the shape, movement, touch, smell, and voice of woman? The powerful warrior is powerless before such beauty. The intellectual falls dumbstruck in the presence of woman. Is this not part of the mystery of Song of Solomon and the passion between David and Bathsheba.

Then as I reflected on this response to the beauty of woman, I was moved by the decision of God to reveal his relationship with humans in the context of man pursuing woman. This pursuit is not the violent conquest of predator but of the Prince running toward His beloved in the folds of a misty morning.

In the midst of the pursuit, He speaks and His words capture the heart of the maiden.

With all our books about pursuing God and our songs about our love for God, we must not forget the real story. Our feeble responses and pursuits are but dim reflections of a God who runs to His bride. Though she seems to elude Him, He runs straight through the curse of sin and death to pursue His beloved. Then He speaks but a word and she, we, His people are overwhelmed by a love beyond knowing.

Again and again we fall back into His faithful loving arms, and by His grace we are learning to trust the Lover who defines the eseence of love by selling all that He has (giving up His life) to purchase the pearl of great price.

Tomorrow when I arise, I would do well to remember Jones' poem Rhiannon and expect the Lover of my soul to pursue me through the hills and valleys of my wandering life.