Beauty for ashes

I am not and alas, probably never will be, a linguist. I  do try whenever we travel, to learn a few basic words in the language of the people we are living amongst. Thank you, being the most important word. . ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱
in Greek. I must have said it ten or twenty times a day, these last couple of weeks.

A regular reminder of living life with eucharisteo at the centre. Whilst re- examining the Eucharist at college, theologically and spiritually, (see ‘bringing love where love was absent’)  I stumbled upon a book that I am still being formed by.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp was one of those books. A book that shook me, shaped me and challenged me to my core.

A mother of 6 and a farmer’s wife, Ann writes poetically of her journey towards the spiritual secret of thankfulness. Receiving everything from God’s hands with thankfulness. The good, the bad and the ugly. She does not gloss over heartache, brokenness and pain, but learns to find ‘the treasures of darkness’ amidst it all. Her journey was not a new one to me, but the way that she expressed it, spoke to deep places in me and connected.

‘”And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19 NIV)
I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.
I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift, and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelops the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Joy. Ah … yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about- that which Augustine claimed, “Without exception… All try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.”  

I breathe deep, like a soujourner finally coming home. That has always been the goal of the fullest life- joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three- letter word, joy, can be. “
… I longed for more life, for more holy joy. That is what I was struggling out of nightmares to reach, to seize. Joy. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? I look back down to the page. What was this clue to the quest of all most important? Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo– the table of thanksgiving. I sit there long… Wondering .. Is it that simple?
……eucharisteo, the Greek word with the hard meaning and harder meaning to live- this is the only way from empty to full. ‘  (From Chapter 2, a word to live..and die by of One Thousand Gifts.)

Holidays. Time apart, to mull and ponder. To breathe. To wonder.

Santorini is an island that has literally risen from its own ashes. Always an island of intense beauty (an ancient Phoenician name for it is Kalliste meaning ‘ most beautiful’), it is, nevertheless, beauty born of fire.

volcano

It has a moulten volcanic heart, that is still active. Over 3000 years ago, it was peopled by sophisticated Minoans, who lived in 2/3 storey, elaborately frescoed houses, with piped water and plumbed sewerage systems , to name but a few of their accomplishments. They prized beauty, art, and sport, and traded far and wide. Their seemingly idyllic existence (there is allot of speculation from some scientific & other communities that it may have been the fabled, lost Atlantis, as described by Plato) came to an abrupt end.

After a series of earthquakes, the volcano blew in a cataclysmic explosion that was off the end of the scale of those in recorded history. The centre of the island collapsed into the depths of the sea, leaving a caldera of 1000 ft high cliffs towering over the Aegean Sea that now fills what was once the heart of a round island.

IMG_2372
The land that was left, was covered metres and metres deep in volcanic ash. Unlike Pompeii, 1500 yrs later, there were no bodies left behind. The partially uncovered port city of Akrotiri, is a ghost town. Its citizens left it seems, in the nick of time, taking everything of value with them.

Akatiri
That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. The Phoenicians found it, several centuries later and re- peopled it. The ‘most beautiful island’ was a very different form and shape, but it was just as beautiful.
Beauty for ashes.

Isaiah 61:2-3 NIV
 … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. …

The island has reinvented itself many times since then, and the wind, and the fire of the volcano are still re- shaping it.

Pumice cliffs

Visiting this island has been a timely gift, ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱ . A feast of beauty, that has fed my spirit. I have had necessary time away to process, in particular, the most recent ‘becoming’ – my ordination as a priest.

I trembled under the hands that ordained me. Like the tremors of an earthquake, I felt the ground beneath my spiritual feet shifting.

In my experience, when God is at work – it isn’t always comfortable!
In fact, it rarely is.
The book that I took on pre-ordination retreat with me,                                                 Spirituality and the Awakening Self, The Sacred Journey of Transformation, by David G. Benner PhD, speaks of this type of experience.

” It is possible to experience a profound reorganisation of the very foundations of our identity, values, meaning, and consciousness. It is possible for our whole perspective on life- on ourself, on others, and on God to shift dramatically.” Everything becomes fluid or molten. Scary stuff.

I have quoted the following poem before, in Light in the Cracks. It expresses this same thought, beautifully. (The author’s own explanation of the poem is included in that post)

This Room by Imtiaz Dharker

This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
 empty air.The bed is lifting out of
its nightmares.
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.
 This is the time and place
to be alive:
when the daily furniture of our lives
stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together   
in celebration, clang
past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,
fly by the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.
In all this excitement I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.
 

SkyFall. The words of the theme song to the latest Bond film, sung by Adele, keep repeating themselves in my head. I can’t quite make out its meaning, or even it’s connection with the film, but it could have been written for Santorini on the day that the sky did, indeed fall.

I read about those long ago Minoans and my imagination travels with them. Feeling those first temors. Then more. Gathering up their lives, and sailing far from all that was familiar and known.

“This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together”

A later verse connects on a deeper level, yet.

“Where you go, I go
What you see, I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand”

Shifting paradigms. Moving further into the unknown, on this journey of becoming.             I may not know where I am headed or have any idea of the shape God is forming me into, but I know that I am surrounded by His love. That he stands with me, and will help me face whatever that process of transformation involves.

Eucharisteo. Gift. Grace. Thanksgiving, even when the sky falls.

Becoming a priest allows you the immense privilege of presiding at the Eucharist.                 The heart and centre of faith and encounter.

A mystery, about which the more I know, the less I know.
The book I took on holiday with me is called Take this Bread: A radical Conversion, by Sara Miles
I think I thought it would be an easy read.                                                                                      God, however, had other ideas. Another of those books. (do you ever wish God would let up on you?)

Back to the meaning of eucharisteo. Becoming broken bread, and poured out wine.

bread and wine

I will have to let God continue his challenges to me with that one, and perhaps blog further about it, when the dust settles…

In the meantime you might want to read any of the three books I have mentioned, yourself. If you dare.

They come with an earthquake warning.

Looking up

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Soaring mountains. They draw out the superlatives in us. Majestic. Awe- inspiring. Scary, even. Living among them briefly, last week, did me the power of good. What is it about such stunning beauty that lifts the heart and refreshes the spirit? For me, it is because they shout the glory of the God who made them. They feed my soul. I don’t want to conquer them or climb them. Soaring around their heights would be more my style. I watched hang-gliders do just that, and looked on in wistful wonder. But I was also happy just to sit and feast my eyes on the ever changing lights and shadows and colours. It is a view I would never tire of.

Looking up is always good.  It changes my perspective. Reminds me how little I am, and how big God is.

David ( who wrote alot of the Psalms) and I are old mates. We go way back. A shepherd boy poet/musician who poured out his heart and soul to the God he knew and loved. I could wax lyrical about many of the Psalms he wrote, but I’ll restrain myself to one . Psalm 61. (It is also about mountains.) It burned itself into my consciousness in my early teens.

Hear my cry, O God;

Listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you , when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. “I” …such a little word. But it can tower over us,  It can block our view of others, and of God and it can certainly dominate our inner landscape.  Whether we view ourselves positively or negatively, self absorption is a habit that is ridiculously hard to shake off.  Young children go through a wonderful stage of unselfconsciousness. They just are. Like flowers or stars or mountains.   Then they start comparing themselves to others ( or are compared) .. and the trouble starts. Before they know it, puberty has hit and self consciousness goes through the roof.

The big ‘Who am I? ‘  questions really  start.. something I think we go on answering for the rest of our lives.  I had a strong sense of self from a very early age. I was one very stroppy toddler I am told ! ( individuating is the child development term… “I can decide things for myself and know where I begin, and others end” or “I can flex my will” )  I didn’t need to be a rebellious teen, I had done it all at 3!  My early teens, however coincided  with me being introduced to the Holy Spirit for the first time. ( God the Father and Son, I had been familiar with since birth). This encounter was in once sense, very ordinary and un-dramatic, and simultaneously, totally life changing. Perhaps I will make that encounter the subject of a blog post one day. The purpose of describing it here, is more about one of the effects.

It made me review myself with fresh eyes. I recognised the strength of my will, and personality, and wanted to reign myself in.  I was too big for me to handle, if that makes sense. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I . I needed to look up. I needed to know that my life rested in bigger, wiser hands than mine. Someone who knew me better than I would ever know myself. Someone who had loved me from my earliest beginnings, and had called me by name.

External pressures can be overwhelming at times, but internal pressures can be even more so. The deep, half hidden pressures we put on ourselves, to perform, to be perfect, to live up to whatever we think or have been made to believe we should be/do… these are just some of them. These are the real stressors, in my experience. They can be what takes the load to breaking point. “From the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

I long to dwell in your tent forever, to take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Sometimes we need to take refuge from the world, but more often I think, we need to take refuge from ourselves. Our wills, our self consciousness, our inner drivers and pressures. I know I do.        I need to look up . I need to get myself in perspective, and lose myself in the vastness of God.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth. ( Psalm 121)

 

Paul Baloche has interpreted Psalm 61 in a song. From a CD called Compassion Art.