main menu

August 11, 2013

so long, impossible

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch her movement. She's lighting a wick. She's raising her scarf to cover her head. She's waving an incense stick. I don't want to be distracted from the conversation at hand, but I can hardly help it; I'm discreetly watching this ancient practice. The small wick glows, throwing orange light on the framed deities, miniscule statues, and water from the holy river, all of which rest inside a wooden box. The smell of the incense scents the space, as the sky squeezes out the last drops of daylight.

As she finishes her worship, a sound begins behind me. It is a steady, resounding chanting. It spreads over the housetop terraces, over the open field with its tufts of grass and stretches of dust, over the hibiscus blooming on the sill...filling the room. At dusk begins the evening prayer time at the local m0sque.

Incense before me.
Chants behind me.
I'm small and I sit somewhere between them.

My friend listens to my story that night, and says,
"Sometimes it seems impossible, right?"

Today I saw a sticker adorned with some text and a graphic of a turbaned man. It had a pantheistic phrase on it, about the life that dwells in all things, making all things part of god. On another continent it could have been a John 3:16 sticker, I muse. But this is their version—their token summary of belief pasted somewhere as a good omen.

The thought comes unbidden: This is what they've been taught for We grew up with a J'sus with fabric wrapped around his middle section, hanging on a cross. And for just as long or longer, they've grown up with images of men wearing wraps too, just that their wraps are around their heads and their teachings are quite different.

And these practices, they are so ancient. When I read Old Testament passages, I see versions of similar routines around me. Head coverings, sweet incense that floats up to heaven and men in robes. Rules about what household tasks women cannot do while menstruating. It's like I've entered a time warp where somehow ancient ideas have sought to blend themselves with modern realities.

Before me there's the flowered veil, the scent, the waving. Behind me, the chanting. This is nearly as ancient as humanity itself: we look for ways to reach Him. We are Cains. We think we can impress Him with our vegetables. We wrap ourselves in rituals and tasks, but He is the reality that any rituals were only meant to point toward. And the task is done. By Him. It is finished.

How long, O Lord?
This earth is groaning.
Fill it with the knowledge of your glory. 

If our ancestors said "yes" enough times to truth, our own "yes" comes easier. And if they said "no" some ways our "yes" becomes harder. Who said "no" here? How many "no's" were repeated, generation after generation? An ancient civilization built on a billion "no's". Our unbelief, it seems, is almost written in our seed after a while. Each one chooses a personal "yes" or "no", but our personal choices have far-reaching consequences.

At times, I have mentioned to my friends that one of the Twelve came here. The man who had to put his fingers in the nail prints in order to believe: tradition says he came here. I want my friends to know...
(when the world's greatest suffering 
and the world's greatest joy met in that Israeli man,)

(when all the powers of darkness reigned 
and then were conquered,)

(when the people bowed down with rituals and routines 
were met with spirit and truth,)

...that the news of that joy and power spread to their corner of Asia, too. To their land. To their ancestors. What I don't mention to them is what their ancestors did with Thomas. In 72 AD his blood wet this soil in martyrdom. That was a "no". One of many "nos" that still have effects today.

Today, with the m0sque behind me and the temple before me.
I'm small and I sit somewhere between them.
"Sometimes it seems impossible, right?" says my friend.

Even the warmest coals feel a bit cooler today. There are few sparks, as if the humidity has affected even our spirituality. And indeed, we are small. But in our hearts, the cry "How long, O Lord?" is met with a calm, a stillness. We know that it is in the "impossible" that He delights to show Himself strong—because when it happens, we will know it was not our doing. It was all Him: from Him, to Him, through Him. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit.

Our prayers rise t
o the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Like a cloud of incense before His throne. Like the thrumming of voices, we join our hearts with others who are asking in truth. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

1 comment:

  1. Impossible, it may seem, but you are living in a land that has so many seeking. May your path be directed toward them. I am preparing a study of the great leaders of the reformation for our 20-somethings group. One thing I learned was that they were unified in their hunger for truth and they found their answers in the word. They did something impossible in their day and we can participate in the impossible in our day too. Blessings. :)