Tarantella at Sea, Pt 1 — Lent Reflections

capsize-184167_640The older woman sitting to my right was a leader in our church; her manner was pleasant and light-hearted, as usual.

“God gave me a picture as I prayed for you this morning,” she said. “You were like a small boat with its sails tangled.”

Once again I was struck by the wondrous realization that our Heavenly Father knows our heart language like no other.

I had been determined to not let my Lenten reflections drag me down the road of morbid introspection this year. So when nebulous fears and old emotional artifacts started surfacing, from what felt like my 40-year desert wanderings instead of 40-day journey to fresh empowering, I pursued a prayer counseling session with Pat.

The Lord had been speaking to me through nautical imagery since Christmas, so the recognition of His personal word to me through this praying saint, was immediate. I knew I had been somewhat in drift mode, needing to stop and ‘drop anchor’; to take a sounding; to find my bearings; to re-orient my soul …ok. I was letting myself get carried along, mildly discouraged that things were not going quite as I wished and time’s relentless drag, that I strained to row against, felt like it was over-taking me like a monsoon deluge.

My orienting Scripture, Hebrews 6:19-20, so inspiring at the onset of the New Year, now felt stale and irrelevant, “What was the hope anchoring my soul? – the certainty of God’s promise to the heirs of faith in the God of Abraham? What is Jesus my High Priest doing on my behalf in heaven’s inner sanctuary, behind that veil, that would bring me to my desired haven, my expected end?

Fears had been leaving me unnecessarily becalmed, caught in the doldrums, anxiously looking around at circumstances real and imagined. Thrown off-course and distracted from the things I knew God wanted me to do I languished adrift and, at times, wore myself out trying to make it to some port in the energy of the flesh, now rowing hard against God’s timing, then second-guessing my every decision as life’s pending storms loomed. ‘Tangled sails?’ The imagery could not have been more accurate in capturing my heart’s condition.

As I later pondered the way I had been plying my life’s course, the phrase “…chancing, glancing, backing and advancing” hovered on the fringes of my mind till I finally recognized them as a line from the Hillaire Belloc poem, ‘Tarantella’. The association took me further down memory lane as I relived my student-teacher days in Jamaica.

la-tarantella-napoletana-del-700I smiled, remembering younger, idealistic me, goatskin tambourine in hand, and my eager, reggae-steeped, students, ready to demonstrate their idea of the Italian Folk dance which the poet had so artfully portrayed in a Spanish setting — the slapping, clapping, rattling, side-to-side head-whipping, flashing glances here and there, twirling and eventual fall to the ground.

They were restrained only by the fact that I had not given them permission to leave their seats. I remember being somewhat torn — not wishing to lose classroom control but wanting to free their imaginations to explore and enjoy the magic of Poetry. But it wasn’t long before I realized that my students had not necessarily needed a lesson in rhythm, but one in the language, methods and purpose of the Poet. My job as Literature teacher was to help launch them on the journey and provide the navigation tools that would ensure not just safe arrival at the next harbor or port, but also the confidence and patience needed for fearless exploration and enjoyment of the journey.

Awaking from my reverie I realized I had stumbled onto a spiritual bridge, as I began to wonder how like my tarantella-mimicking students I was, as the Divine Paraclete has sought to launch me on another leg of my life adventure with Him. Thinking I know the way, I surge out ahead, “chancing” rather than charting my trip by the Book & the Divine North Star; then, when off-course, “glancing” furtively about at life’s circumstances, rather than focusing trustfully on the Father’s Face and obediently heeding the Voice of the only One who rules the waves.

The doubts and fears which ensue find me “backing and advancing” just as James tells us will be our state if we choose doubt as a shipmate — ‘double-minded…driven and tossed about by the wind’ we risk shipwreck or at least tangled sails. In that condition,, says James, we can receive nothing from the Lord, being ‘unstable in all our ways’. Again I saw myself in my dizzily staggering students, after their tarantella imitation, and the Holy Spirit in the role of roping me back into order, as I had to do for my girls, that they could come away equipped to appreciate Poetry for themselves long after the student teacher had left.

Recalling the Apostle Peter’s own maritime debacle when, sinking beneath the waves, he cried out to the Lord for help, I was comforted in realizing that I was not the only ‘chancer, glancer, backer and advancer’ on the high seas of life who has needed some rescuing. In Pat’s and her prayer counseling partner’s careful questions, discerning insight, inspired prayers and Scriptural counsel, I was reminded of my tools and lifelines and felt Strong Hands untangling my sails, steadying and anchoring my vessel, as I let go of my imperatives and let the Ruler of the waves handle that which to me is still mysterious, — work that only He can do, behind the veil.

On a Hymn and a Prayer

The elegant relief engraved on the coin now dangling from a lamp in our home, is of praying hands on one side and spirit flames on the other. The tag attached reads ‘Spirit, bless the work of our hands.’

The clay token, given to us (Dwell Writers’ Retreat) by our hosts, the members of the Art & Faith community at Grunewald Guild in Plain, Leavenworth, WA, sparked the drive to hear Keith & Kristen Getty’s ‘Before You I Kneel’ (a worker’s prayer) from their Hymns for the Christian Life album.

The appropriateness of the gift was not wasted on my fledgling writer’s heart yearning for the discipline and diligence required to get to published status. This was the great motive behind my husband, Claude, and I arranging our 25th anniversary trip around this retreat all the way across the continent in Washington state.

At the retreat my desire distilled into one prayer,

‘Help me cease working with a slack hand’
– a worthy prayer for Lent.

I want to offer Jesus Christ, each day that I live, work well-researched, well-crafted and well-presented. Each piece that I write, each blog I post, each hour I spend preparing for my own or reading the writings of others, also a worshipful act — a pursuit of His Presence and purpose.

Keith & Kristen’s ‘a worker’s prayer’ captured the fullness of my prayer in word & tune – may it serve you similarly as you consider the way you take this Lent.

Before You I Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer) – YouTube

 

“Before you I kneel, my Master & Maker,

To offer the work of my hands.

For this is the day you’ve given your servant

I will rejoice and be glad

For the strength I have to live and breathe,

For each skill Your grace has given me,

For the needs and opportunities

That will glorify Your great name.

Before I kneel and ask for Your goodness

To cover the work of my hands.

For patience and peace to shape all my labor,

Your grace for thorns in my path.

Flow within me like a living stream,

Wear away the stones of pride and greed

‘Til Your ways are dwelling deep in me

And a harvest of life is grown.

Before You we kneel, our Master and Maker;

Establish the work of our hands.

And order our steps to seek first Your kingdom

In every small and great task.

May we live the gospel of Your grace,

Serve Your purpose in our fleeting days,

Then our lives will bring eternal praise

And all glory to Your great name.”

—Keith& Kristen Getty, Jeff Taylor & Stuart Townsend (c)

As we slow down this Lenten Season to consider the way our Lord prepared Himself for His great work, may we offer, along with the meditations of our hearts and the words of our mouths, the work of our hands.

Of Lent and New Wine

“Give up the habit of giving up” 
…encouraged the man of God. Seemed like a good idea to me, especially since this season seems to be one which has necessitated the relinquishing of so much already.
 Give up the habit of giving up on the idea of a forever safe hobbit hole in the Shire, or anywhere in Middle-Earth anymore? He, upon whose shoulders all government rests, is our shield and strong tower! – the ultimate Hobbitt Hole. Abide under the Shadow of His Wings!
Give up on the habit of giving up the illusion of control – unless you understand your vantage point and privileged position in the Grand-scheme: Consider the mouse, invited to ride high on the back of the massive elephant as they cross a bridge, who quips “We sure shook that bridge, didn’t we!” A picture of the ‘control’ we wield in prayer. Pray!
     Perhaps the way Zechariah felt when he looked up and saw an angel in the inner sanctum of the temple telling him that his barren wife would conceive… give up the habit of giving up; 
     Or the way Naomi felt as she looked into the eyes of her son’s widow Ruth, whom she had earlier advised to return to her family of origin and their false gods, but who had now placed, on her lap, the man-child Obed , who would be the grand-father of King David, of the line of Messiah. She gave up the habit of giving up! In fact she dandled fulfillment on her knees with greater joy than when their new wine abounds – the tune of an eternally joyful lullaby. Persevere in hope!
Lent: A time to persevere in hope.
Lent: Because no one wakes up on resurrection Sunday with full appreciation of the Atonement, who has not set his soul to ponder These Things, to meditate, to worship, to lay hold upon the exceedingly Good Thing – The Gospel.
Lent: An old wine skin? Not if it means giving up the  habit of giving up… and laying hold; persevering until The Dawn.

Unmasking for Lent

Ironic that Mardi Gras, the huge celebration of the flesh (bacchanal, similar to Trinidad’s Carnival), held just before Lent each year, should involve the use of masks. Seriously funny, given Jesus’ admonition against assuming a persona to impress others or even oneself, a potential pitfall involved in seeking to apply any spiritual discipline to one’s life. The third reading for Ash Wednesday (Methodist hymnal lectionary, Matthew 6:16-19) records His words, “…when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting”: masking with a certain countenance to give a desired appearance… hmm.

Looking over my daughter’s shoulders last night, as she scanned for picts for face-painting, we were intrigued by the way facial structure affected the appearance of the figure painted over it. No matter how cute the cow, painted on the human face, the appearance was disturbing. Underlying factors, it seems, affect what’s seen on the surface… hmm.

No wonder Jesus underscored heart motive so thoroughly in these epic sermons in Matthew. The religious leaders’ observances were intended to impress others or themselves. Remember the example of the one described as “…pray[ing] with himself thus, ‘I thank you God that I am not like other men…'” Jesus urged His disciples, rather, to obey His Words out of a love for God. This undergirding manifests in earnest, private, devotional pursuit birthed out of one’s awareness of his total inability to do the good he desires in his own strength. The result of obedience thusly motivated is sweet communion with the Godhead. The Gospel of John is littered with such assurances. Chapter 14:20-26, for example, outlines promises such as the love and entrance of both the Father and Son into the Believer’s life, the promise of the Son manifesting Himself specifically, as well as instruction and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; all in the secret place.

In a culture whose favourite Bible quote is “Thou shalt not judge”, Jesus here agrees except for the time factor. Through the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 4, He instructs, “judge nothing before the time, until The Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of  darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” Masks, held up, strapped on, painted on or assumed by grimace, have no lasting impression on the soul thus concealed, though the disturbance visited on the onlooker may be of some duration. Whereas a day in His courts or 40 in the wilderness can yield eternally wonderful transformation. 

So let’s waste no time this Lent in vain efforts to impress man but seek instead to be the one whom God regards, “…who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at His word.” Let the show and public parade go by, and seek Him instead, in the secret place. Then from that place of private counsel with the Wonderful Counsellor, “…your light shall break forth like the morning,…” Isa 58:8a.