New on Cultivating—Healings Between the Fragments

“Gathering In” is the delicious theme of The Cultivating Project’s issue this Fall. My essay contribution to it, “Healing between the Fragments”, postures me in an odd reversal. It is my first piece written as one scattered versus gathered, yet again—this time from the USA to Germany, my home for the next
three years! (More on that next post! 🇺🇸🇯🇲🇩🇪)

Two other great reasons to pop over to this great free online publication: First, my dear husband Claude was asked by founder, Director of Cultivating, Lancia E. Smith, to contribute a piece this issue, sharing his perspectives on ‘Proximity’, as it relates to our current racial and cultural climate; and second, there is indeed included a delicious pumpkin bread recipe with accompanying story, Miss Lucy’s Pumpkin Bread Recipe, by fellow writer, Annie Nardone! This entire issue is well worth ‘gathering in’ to a comfy chair with a cup of tea, coffee or chocolate and settling down for soul-comfort on a cool Fall or breezy Caribbean evening.

Cain’s Real Problem (Hint: It was not difficulty finding a wife)

In their most superficial wrestlings against the veracity of Scripture, young people often throw out questions to Christian apologists such as, “Where did Cain get his wife?” However, today, apologetics ministries such as Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), report that on college and university campuses all over the world, the questions have gotten deeper, more honest and more desperate. Inquiries are much closer to the heart of the matter – the human heart, that is, as our world reaps the fallout of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the other humanistic and relativistic philosophies that rule the day in popular culture. Our youth are experiencing the perils of ‘freedom’ from a sense of accountability to God.

ben-white-148430As soon as Adam and Eve took their first punch at the button of autonomy, they realized they could not handle it, but like the contents of Pandora’s box, the consequences of choosing to decide right from wrong for themselves, could not be undone. The decision to grasp and determine good and evil, by one’s own heart, for oneself, is today celebrated, defended vociferously and even violently all over the World. It is especially so, here in America, on our college campuses and is even encoded in our Constitution, though hemmed in by guardrails which the Founding Fathers had enough Biblical grounding to know are a necessary component for the exercise of freewill. To answer this generation’s insistence that self-determination of right and wrong is mankind’s birthright, instead of submission to the will of Creator God, is every Christian’s responsibility.

Waiting quietly before the pages of the testament of God’s self-revelation, the Bible, yields Truth to the humbled heart, and points the way to go. Going through such an exercise recently, as centuries of seekers of God’s will have done, in my bid to understand this seminal point of mankind’s descent into the slough of pain, confusion, self-harm, and self-destruction that has resulted from taking our own way, I noticed God’s first assignment to Adam, when he sent him out of the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:23 says,

“ …therefore the Lord sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.”

This instruction made me wonder if the act of working the soil ‘from which he was taken’ was intended to keep before Adam’s eyes the fact of his mortality, and also to train him in submitting to the discipline of physical labor and thus provide opportunity to further observe the laws of sowing and reaping. The act of physical labor seemed to have been prescribed as a symptomatic treatment for hearts prone to go astray. Folks a few generations removed from ours warned, “The devil finds work for idle hands”.

Such considerations, taken to heart, kept them aware of man’s utter need for awareness of God and of the necessity of attention to His will.

002-cain-abelIt was also thought-provoking to note that their first-born, Cain, like his father, Adam, was also a ‘tiller of the ground’, while his brother, Abel, was a ‘keeper of sheep’. Abel’s occupation was quite intriguing since, at this point, mankind was still herbivorous, the eating of animal flesh having not been initiated until after the world-wide flood. Going simply by the written text, my conclusion has been that Abel tended sheep only for purposes of worship – to sacrifice to God, as the slaying of an animal, initiated by God had made temporary reparations for man’s rebellion at its inception in the garden.

But as man’s heart continued to warp and morph in its flight from God’s grasp, even at a time and place appointed for worship, envy, hate and murder were birthed. Cain, disgruntled that God had responded more favorably to his brother’s offering than to his, murders his brother in a field and conceals the act. What was interesting to note, for purposes of this discussion, was the precaution which God had issued to Cain, concerning his envious upset, prior to the murderous act;

“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it’.”  Gen 4:6-7 (NKJV)

In these first Divine ‘parental’ admonitions, recorded after the Fall, the Heavenly Father presents to Mankind, through Cain, guardrails for the human heart. He invites Cain to examine the source of his anger, (Why are you angry?), and also to observe its initial ominous manifestations in his physical body, (Why has your countenance fallen?). Then He appeals to the sowing and reaping principle, which Cain, as a farmer, ought to have apprehended, (If you do well, will you not be accepted?). Implied in the Father’s cautionary statement is that Cain knew what ‘doing well’ looked like, and even if he had not learned, up to this point, observing God’s pleasure over his brother’s offering ought to have been instructive. Then, knowing the heart of his son, Cain, God the Father warns him of where he is being led by its rebellious inclination, and instructs in how to resist, (“And if you do not do well, sin lies at your door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it”). James, Jesus’ earthly sibling, later in the epistles, elaborates on this process explaining,

“You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”  James 4:2 (NLT)

“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”  James 4: 7-8 (NLT)

abel-and-cainSadly, Cain refuses the Father’s counsel, follows his heart and is dragged away by yielding to it, committing the first murder. Curses of isolation, fears of retributions and restless wanderings, spring up from the ground of Cain’s rebellious course and the weight of the full out-workings of its prospect overwhelm him. “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Gen 4:13 NIV) he pleads.

In the exponentially increasing suicide rates, the epidemic of self-harming behaviors, and drug imbibing habits of our youth culture, I hear the cries of Cain. “It’s more than I can bear!” The course, along which our heart, unguarded leads, dead-ends in unbearable pain, loneliness, confusion and a fearful expectation of judgement. We must identify the enemy – our errant heart, and access the guardrails of the Father’s instructions, even welcome them like the Psalmists did, ‘How I love Thy Law’ and ‘The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places’. Failure to do so leaves us vulnerable to the sin which lies at the door of our every temptation to compare, covet, take offense and self-justify. And as the Father warned, it will devour us, having run us ragged in the wilderness of sin, where finding a spouse will be the least of our worries.


Compass for Lost Islands

     Made freshly aware this week of how much more painful life is for my children’s generation, I pause my Dwell retreat reflections to raise a cry on their behalf for us to reach out even more intentionally to the Millennials and any other category of youth, set adrift by our God-hating culture. We hold in our hearts the Antidote.

     “Man is lonely by birth…” are words from a song I first encountered in the context of morning devotions at a Catholic High School in Kingston, Jamaica. It was my first full-time job as English teacher and Sister S ran a tight ship conducting ‘Assemblies’, for example, by two-way  telecom set up throughout the classrooms and other buildings of the school adjoining the Church of the Divine Childhood (names changed to protect identity).
     As the thought came flooding in this morning my mind cast about in search of the Truth to counter the allurement to despair that the idea engendered.
     The subsequent thought was no more encouraging, “It’s the uniqueness of our individual pain that isolates us”. Here the Proverbs readily supplied Scripture’s relevance, from 14.10, “Each heart knows its own sorrow, and a stranger does not share its joy”.  My own previous musings supplied the next thought, that “Our own various efforts to deal or cope with our pain, in isolation, traps up even more firmly in loneliness”. ‘Shared joys are made even sweeter by the sharing’ and ‘tears shed alone are bitter’, are proven maxims of past generations.
     Another chorus sung devotionally throughout the school system in the Jamaica of my youthful years flooded in…
“No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.

We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend

I saw the people gather,
I heard the music start,
The song that they were singing,
Is ringing in my heart!”
     I realize, now, that the benign, ecumenical nature of the song’s non-specific bridge, worked just fine in our context because we were a Christian school in a Christian nation, in a world that still held to the one grounding, centering worldview, of Christianity —
     The people we “saw gather” would be the Church, our ‘gathering’ would be unto the Lord of all the earth; the ‘song they were singing’ would be the music of our worship to Him, and its lyrics exalting His gloriously excellent attributes, His love for mankind and the Truths associated therewith. These were the thoughts that filled my mind and those of my peers back then. 
  But today, for youth (Christian or not) inundated as they are in the secular worldview of popular culture, it’s like being launched out to sea, having had all your navigational equipment smashed (deconstructed?) and being told to enjoy the free ride…to nowhere.
     The bearing of each other’s “joy” and “grief” is a distinctly Christian value, exemplified supremely by our Lord Himself.  The Apostle Paul, elaborating, writes to the Galatians (6:1-5) to… 
     “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  
     The primary ‘bearing’ being the conveying of the burden to the Triage Room of prayer, where the Great Physician Himself makes clear that He alone, ultimately, bears all our sorrows and griefs; as the great Prophet Isaiah foresaw and fore-wrote…
     “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.” (Isa. 53:4)
     His suffering, His substitutionary death: the ultimate antidote for both our pain and its source – our individual and universal sinfulness.
     But like petulant children we foolishly turn our faces away from the cup bearing the healing elixir – demanding the spoonful of sugar, not ‘to make the medicine go down”, but ‘instead of’ the medicine itself, because it makes our taste buds happy.  Like a good parent to ailing children reluctant to take the pill, the Apostle Peter admonishes (in the wonderful spirit captured by the Message Bible) in I Pet. 5:6-11…
     “So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; He’ll promote you at the right time.  Live carefree before God [casting all your cares upon Him!]; He is most careful with you.” Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you  napping [in front of a screen, perhaps?].  Keep your guard up.  You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times.  It’s the same with Christians all over the world.  So keep a firm grip on the faith.  The suffering won’t last forever.  It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ – eternal and glorious plans they are! – will have you put together and on your feet for good.  He gets the last word; yes He does!”
     My own devotional musings complete, I sat back, relieved at three certitudes: 1) Despite seasons of loneliness, God provides good friends, grace-gifts we can call on at any time; 2) Biblically-based houses of fellowship still exist (I’m a part of one; not perfect, but being polished); and, should even those fade, 3) The faithfulness God who assures that,
     “…neither death , nor life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor powers,  nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from ( His Love)  which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39)
     Reminded thusly, that pain was still securely on my Father’s leash, I rose to face my day with its challenges, including the worthy challenge of communicating, to the most informed generation ever, these unchanging  truths supplied by the One who Himself became the compass, the Way, for every pain blinded soul or island adrift. May we all sign up for this urgent task.