The author of the following and I come very different perspectives and I would be remiss to recommend much of her other work, but her thoughts here are beautiful and thought-provoking. So I thought I would share...
"Our theme is the world of life, the word communicated through... a word written in blood. In his blood shed for us Jesus signs the new testament assuring us of God's forgiveness and bringing us into a new relationship with one another... The litmus test of our love for God is our love for others, our love expressed not only in the giving of our lives but in the sharing of our goods, our livelihood, with the poor of the world.
And for some that has meant literally laying down their lives. For since we last met we have seen the body of Christ shedding its own blood through the witness of the martyrs... who died with clothes stained with the blood of sacrifice, blood freely given for the poor and oppressed in the struggle for justice and in the ministry of reconciliation.
The shedding of blood can be a symbol of creation and life rather than destruction and death. For a woman the shedding of blood which is sometimes thought of as a curse is in fact a blessing. It is a sign that her body is being prepared to give birth if and when life is conceived within her. And even if she personally never knows the privilege of motherhood, the instincts and energies released within her can be used by God in the partnership of sustaining and nourishing his children, deprived or robbed of their full human dignity. She is called to magnify life wherever it is diminished, as, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, she magnifies the Lord.
Jesus compared his disciples to a pregnant woman. While the world waits hopefully she must agonize and labour to bring to birth the life hidden within her.
We live in a world pregnant with his coming kingdom. We share the travail and the labour and the sweat of bringing to birth that new age of the son of God, to whom, as the writer of the epistles puts it, the spirit, the water and the blood bear witness."
- Dr. Pauline Webb based on 1 John 1:1-4, " " and Matthew 24:4-8, "
The moment he was through the hole in the roof, all the winds of heaven seemed to lay hold upon him and buffet him hither and thither. His hair blew one way, his nightgown another, his legs threatened to float from under him, and his head to grow dizzy with the swiftness of the invisible assailant. Cowering, he clung with the other hand to the huge hand which held his arm, and fear invaded his heart.
"Oh, North Wind!" he murmured, but the words vanished from his lips as he had seen the soap bubbles that burst too soon vanish from the mouth of his pipe. The wind caught them, and they were nowhere. The couldn't get out at all, but were torn away and strangled. And yet North Wind heard them, and in her answer it seemed to Diamond that just because she was so big and could not help it, and just because her ear and her mouth must seem to him so dreadfully far away, she spoke to him more tenderly and graciously than ever before. Her voice was like the bass of a deep organ without the groan in it; like the most delicate of violin tones without the wail in it; like the most glorious trumpet-ejaculations without the defiance in it; like the sound of falling water without the clatter and clash in it. It was like all of them and neither of them - all of them without their faults, each other them without its peculiarity. After all, it was more like his mother's voice than anything else in the world.
"Diamond, dear," she said, "be a man. What is fearful to you is not the least fearful to me."
"But it can't hurt you," murmured Diamond, "for you're it."
"Then if I'm it and have you in my arms, how can it hurt you?"
"Oh yes! I see," whispered Diamond. "But it looks so dreadful, and it pushes me about so."
"Yes, it does, my dear. That is what it was sent for."
At the same moment, a peal of thunder which shook Diamond's heart against the sides of his bosom hurtled out of the heavens: I cannot say out of the sky, for there was no sky. Diamond had not seen the lightening, for he had been intent on finding the face of North Wind. Every moment the folds of her garment would sweep across his eyes and blind him, but between, he could just persuade himself that he saw great glories of women's eyes looking down through rifts in the mountainous clouds over his head.
He trembled so at the thunder that his knees failed him, and he sank down at North Wind's feet and clasped her round the column of her ankle. She instantly stooped and lifted him from the roof - up - up into her bosom and held him there, saying, as if to an inconsolable child: "Diamond, dear, this will never do."
"Oh yes, it will," answered Diamond. "I am all right now - quite comfortable, I assure you, dear North Wind. If you will only let me stay here, I shall be all right, indeed."
"But you will feel the wind here, Diamond."
"I don't mind that a bit, so long as I feel your arms through it," answered Diamond, nestling closer to her grand bosom.
"Brave boy!" returned North Wind, pressing him closer.
"No," said Diamond. "I don't see that. It's not courage at all, so long as I feel you there."
"But hadn't you better get into my hair? Then you would not feel the wind; you will here."
"Ah, but dear North Wind, you don't know how nice it is to feel your arms about me. It is a thousand times better to have them and the wind together than to have only your hair and the back of your neck and no wind at all."
"But it is surely more comfortable there?"
"Well, perhaps; but I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable."
"Yes, indeed, there are. Well, I will keep you in front of me. You will feel the wind, but not too much. I shall only want one arm to take care of you; the other will be quite enough to sink the ship."
"Oh, dear North Wind! How can you talk so?"
"My dear boy, I never talk; I always mean what I say."
"Then you do mean to sink the ship with the other hand?"
"It's not like you."
"How do you know that?"
"Quite easily. Here you are taking care of a poor little boy with one arm, and there you are sinking a ship with the other. It can't be like you."
"Ah! But which is me? I can't be two me's, you know."
"No. Nobody can be two me's."
"Well, which me is me?"
"Now I must think. There looks to be two."
"Yes. That's the very point. You can't be knowing the think you don't know, can you?"
"Which me do you know?"
"The kindest, goodest, best me in the world," answered Diamond, clinging to North Wind.
"Why am I good to you?"
"I don't know."
"Have you ever done anything for me?"
"Then I must be good to you because I choose to be good to you."
"Why should I choose?"
"Because - because - because you like."
"Why should I like to be good to you?"
"I don't know, except it be because it's good to be good to me."
"That's just it; I am good to you because I like to be good."
"Then why shouldn't you be good to other people as well as to me?"
"That's just what I don't know. Why shouldn't I?"
"Because I am. There it is again," said Diamond. "I don't see that you are. It looks quite the other thing."
"Well, but listen to me, Diamond. You know the one me, and that is good."
"Do you know the other me as well?"
"No. I can't. I shouldn't like to."
"There it is. You don't know the other me. You are sure of one of them?"
"And you are sure there can't be two me's?"
"Then the me you don't know must be the same as the me you do know - else there would be two me's?"
"Then the other me you don't know must be as kind as the me you do know?"
"Besides, I tell you that it is so, only it doesn't look like it. That I confess freely. Have you anything more to object to?"
"No, no, dear North Wind; I am quite satisfied."
"Then I will tell you something you might object. You might say that the me you know if like the other me and that I am cruel all through."
"I know that can't be because you are so kind."
"But that kindness might be only a pretense for the sake being more cruel afterwards."
Diamond clung to her tighter than ever, crying: "No, no, dear North Wind; I can't believe that. I don't believe it. I won't believe it. That would kill me. I love you, and you must love me, else how did I come to love you? How could you know how to put on such a beautiful face if you did not love me and the rest? No. You may sink as many ships as you like, and I won't say another word. I can't say I shall like to see it, you know."
"That's quite another thing," said North Wind; and as she spoke, she gave one spring from the roof of the hayloft and rushed up into the clouds with Diamond on her left arm close to her heart. And as if the clouds knew she had come, they burst into a fresh jubilation of thunderous light. For a few moments, Diamond seemed to be borne up through the depths of an ocean of dazzling flame; the next, the winds were writhing around him like a storm of serpents. For they were in the midst of the clouds and mists, and they, of course took the shapes of the wind, eddying and wreathing and whirling and shooting and dashing about like grey and black water, so that it was as if the wind itself had taken shape, and he saw the grey and black wind tossing and raving most madly all about him. Now it blinded him by smiting him upon the eyes; now it deafened him by bellowing in his ears; for even when the thunder came, he knew now that it was the billows of the great ocean of the air dashing against each other in their haste to fill the hollow scooped out by the lightening; now it took his breath quite away by sucking it from his body with the speed of its rush. But he did not mind it. He only grasped first and then laughed, for the arm of North Wind was about him, and he was leaning against her bosom. It is quite impossible for me to describe what he saw. Did you ever watch a great wave shoot into a winding passage amongst rocks? If you ever did, you would see that the water rushed every way at once, some of it even turning back and opposing the rest; greater confusion you might see nowhere except in a crowd of frightened people. Well, the wind was like that, except that it went much faster, and therefore was much wilder, and twisted and shot and curled and dodged ad clashed and raved ten times more madly than anything else creation except human passions. Diamond saw the threads of the lady's hair streaking it all. In parts, indeed, he could not tell which was hair and which was black storm and vapor. It seemed sometimes that the great billows of mist-muddy wind were woven out of the crossing lines of North Wind's infinite hair, sweeping in endless intertwistings. And Diamond felt as the wind seized his hair, which his mother kept rather long, as if he, too, was a part of the storm, and some of its life went out from him. But so sheltered was he by North Wind's arm and bosom that only at times, in the fiercer onslaught of some curl-billowed eddy, did he recognize for a moment how wild was the storm in which he was carried, nestling in its very core and formative center.
It seemed to Diamond likewise that they were motionless in the center and that all the confusion and fighting went on around them. Flash after flash illuminated the fierce chaos, revealing in varied yellow and blue and grey and dusky red the vaporous contention; peal after peal of thunder tore the infinite waste; but it seemed to Diamond that North Wind and he were motionless, all but the hair. It was not so. They were sweeping with the speed of the wind itself toward the sea.
I don't believe in God's goodness towards me. It is something I want to believe in and an area of faith where I am progressively growing, but it remains true that at the core of my heart, I doubt God's goodness. It is easy for me to believe all of his other attributes and I consent rationally to his goodness, but the degree of stress, anxiety, worry, etc. that I keep around in my life shows that regardless of logical agreement and correct theology, there is a doubting disconnect between my mind and my heart.
Two weeks ago, God used some frustrating circumstances to give this disconnect a lesson. I was with friends in Siem Reap, enjoying the first delicious days of vacation and very ready to move on to the beach so I could completely unwind and let go of an exhausting semester's lingering stress. In a twist of events, though, my passport was stolen and I lost any chance to rest as I battled embassies, immigration control, crowded international buses, and sickness just to be able to return to start a new semester. The stress was almost unbearable, primarily because its roots lay in my anger that God wasn't giving me what I needed. I needed rest and he wasn't being good enough to give it to me.
As I sat on a bus from Cambodia to Bangkok, I read something in George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind that has started to dissolve the head/heart disconnect. MacDonald tells the story of Diamond, a little boy who meets the North Wind and progresses through a series of adventures with her. North Wind is at times an allegory for God and in one particular chapter, MacDonald uses North Wind to give one of the best illustrationa of God's infinitely wild love and goodness towards us, even though it is often almost impossible for us to comprehend this kind of love.
Two keys aspects of the story stand out to me. First, being as close to North Wind as Diamond is brings pain with it. Diamond could choose to stay on the safe side of North Wind, benefiting from her and having relationship with her, but keeping a safe distance. Instead he desires to be close to the very heart of North Wind, regardless of the pain it includes. Being at the center of God's loving heart is simultaneously the best and most painful place to be. Diamond makes the statement, "I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable." Knowing God's love is a tremendously powerful thing, but there is nothing comfortable about it.
Second, it is only possible for us to doubt God's goodness when we think we have done anything for him; when we realize we have never done anything for God, that only he has done on our behalf, we can start to make sense of God's wild goodness. As North Wind holds Diamond in her arms, she sets out to sink a ship. Horrified by this, Diamond questions her goodness. He knows there can't be two North Winds, one good and one bad, so he is faced with deciding if North Wind is completely good or completely bad. Diamond admits he has never done anything for North Wind and therefore their relationship is based entirely on North Wind's goodness to him. Because of this acknowledgment everything about his relationship is based on North Winds desire to do good, Diamond has faith that sinking the ship is within North Wind's good character and they continue on their journey.
It's a difficult argument for me because at times I think I see God's goodness and at times I seem to see God's badness, for a lack of a better word. What is to keep me from deciding that God is entirely bad all the way through? When the ship is sinking in my life, why shouldn't I decide God is bad? And it can only be harder for others. It is one thing for me to flip flop back and forth on this issue because sometimes inconvenient things like stolen passports happen in my life. But what about the really bad stuff in this world? What about sex trafficking? What about people I love going to hell? What about starvation? What about earthquakes that kill thousands of people? Based on the collective experience of humanity, what is to prevent us from concluding that God is bad all the way through? Grace.
George MacDonald got it right when he highlighted grace as the evidence in our lives that God is good. If I think I have contributed anything in my relationship with God, or on the large scale, that people have contributed anything, then yes, there is enough in this world to think God is bad. But if I believe that I have not been able to give God anything, that even my best is worthless, that God is in my life simply because of his own desire to be in my life, then that is enough goodness for him to be thoroughly good. MacDonald's point is that if I accept God's grace in my life, then I also accept his goodness, even when I don't understand the sinking ships.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of this. No, I am trying to wrap my heart around it. I want it to transform the way I see my life and my God, so that stress and anxiety don't define me. If I lived like God was good to me, fear would have nothing to control. I want belief in God's goodness to sink down into me, deeply and completely. And it will. Just as the North Wind's billowy and blustery presence changes Diamond and leaves her mark in his life, so will God's powerful and loving presence leave its mark in my life.
By no means am I a cultural expert, especially concerning the culture in which I currently live. But I do try to notice things and observe what exists around me. I struggle with this observation, though, because so often it turns to judgment and furthermore, I haven't decided for myself when it is or is not ok to judge a culture. Allowance for cultural variety and regard for higher morals or ideals do not easily compliment each other and I tend to fall off one side of the horse or the other. For now, my goal is simply to question. I can't come to conclusions and I can't pretend to understand the way people live around me, but I can pay attention and ask questions.
Since moving here, I have started to think about the ways in which people observe death and question whether we can gain insight into the spiritual health of a people through their customs for the passing away of life. It started last fall when I came across a funeral and wrote the following:
Death is a loud and noisy thing when it does not offer hope for eternity. When we do not acknowledge what is truly taking place – that a soul has left this world for the next, either to enjoy an eternity of satisfactory fulfillment and peace or to face eternal and excruciating separation from God – all of the ritual we produce is nothing more than empty, meaningless, destructive, sinister noise. All of the memories, all of grief, all of the talk are nothing more than smoke to cover the eyes of the living, satiating the screams inside them with clattering numbness.
Yesterday, I witnessed my first funeral in East Asia. The empty gaudiness of is made my soul sick. From what I’ve seen, funerals here are no time for meditation or reflection on life and its meaning. They are a time of loud and showy distraction from reality. In this society of disbelief in any higher deity, or for that matter, in any higher meaning, moral, or reality, death has been reduced to a crowded tent in the middle of the street, filled with neon lights, karaoke singers, and bored looking passers-by. Women put on make-up at a table and attempt to look grieved. Family shuffle through the music selection, picking songs that seem appropriate for the memory of the departed.
Christ said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” In this context, in this society, I take those words to mean, blessed are those capable of mourning. Humanity lives brokenness and thus to be fully human, we must know how to mourn it. If we don’t acknowledge our brokenness on any other given day of our lives, death, at least, is a time for our nature to slap us in the face. How wrong not to mourn when such a beating takes place! How can you declare with Paul, “Where, O Death, is your sting?” if you cannot feel death’s knife piercing your heart?
When a people are religious it at least enables them to realize what takes place in death; they are more fully human in their acknowledgment of the eternal and desire to touch the holy. The East Asians need something that is going to make them aware of their own human nature. A prick that will teach them to mourn this existence and to yearn for release from death’s sting. They need something that will force them to turn off the noise machines, to forgo the glittering lights, to leave behind the show, and to bleed with reality for once. To scream in the night for rescue as the noise of distraction is left behind and the heavy silence of eternity settles in their hearts. For no noise we frail humans create can drown out the roar of an eternity without God. But what is more, that awful roar of hell cannot overcome the glorious and surrounding chorus of Jesus Christ’s triumph. The crack of death’s back on Christ’s empty tomb is a deafening sound that echoes throughout time and space, even to the back alleys of my little neighborhood.
Let us pray that it is heard from our lips every time we open our mouths.