Since the beginning of January, I've been trying to follow a schedule of readings that will take me through the whole Bible in a year. I have to admit, three chapters of Exodus can be a tough chunk to get through in a morning. Especially before I've finished that vital second cup of coffee.
For every sloggy day, though, God laces a verse into my life like sweet water, and I see sinblind ideas rinse away like so much sediment. Like a few mornings ago. I was camped out in Exodus 14 with the Israelites:
"When Pharoah drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, 'Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.' "And Moses said to the people,
'Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.'"
(Exodus 14:10-14, English Standard Version)
There I am, scared of the "disorder" (fanged chaos!) behind me, trying not to panic at the task that is if anything more horrible, impassible in front of me. And God says He's going to fight the battle for me.
Here I am, so afraid that I'll fail at the struggle ahead of me. Thinking defeat is so certain I might as well go back to Egypt. And He reminds me that it's not my struggle. It's His. And He's already won. I know Him, His love, His power, His trustworthiness. It doesn't matter that I can't win. I can -- I have the incomparable gift of being able to "delight myself in the Lord," and trust Him to bring me where He wants me to be, in His time.
"For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery," Paul writes (Galatians 5:21).
And now for proof that God does, indeed, have a sense of humor. When I looked for pictures related to "Red Sea crossing," I thought I might find a classical painting of the Biblical scene I could link to. Guess what I found instead?
The bad part about gaining weight is that you get bigger. The good part is that you get to eat. This is a recipe for lasagna that is truly AMAZING. When I first read the recipe, I was skeptical -- white sauce instead of oodles of cheese? Believe me, it works.
(6 generous portions)
Begin by preparing your meat sauce (this sauce is also good used anywhere you would use basic spaghetti sauce):
RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE
3 tablespoons butter
1 minced onion
1 minced carrot
1 minced celery
4 oz diced pancetta (or use bacon or smoked ham)
10 1/2 oz ground beef (we use deer meat)
Pinch ground cloves
3/4 cup beef broth
1 tablesoon tomato paste 1/2 cup cream
Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the veges and bacon for a few minutes. Stir in meat and cloves, browning at high heat. Add broth, tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to the pot to cover the mixture. Continue cooking on low till the liquid is absorbed and you have a thick, smooth sauce (it will smell DELICIOUS). Turn off the heat and stir in the cream.
Now you are ready to make the actual lasagna. You will need:
Lasagna noodles to fit an 11x9 inch casserole -- use the no-boil noodles, or cook as the package directs. 1 small box frozen spinach -- thaw, drain, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
Prepare a bechamel sauce: 7 tablespoons butter 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 4 cups milk grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste
(Melt butter; whisk in flour till smooth. Gradually whisk in milk till smooth; cook over medium heat till the mixture becomes thickened and creamy. Season to taste.)
You will also need 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
Grease your baking dish and layer pasta - bechamel - ragu - cheese. Repeat layers to fill dish, finishing with a layer of pasta.
Bake at 350 - 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, or till heated through. Let sit a moment before cutting.
"My God -- my God! why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me? ... Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest."
In Sunday School at my church here, we've been going through a series on prayer in the Bible. Last week, we studied Christ's prayer from the cross -- the gospel accounts of Christ's prayer all quote from Psalm 22. King David first wrote the words of Psalm 22, but they point unmistakeably to the Cross.
There is so much to learn, so much for which to be grateful in these few verses. Every time I read the passage, I am struck anew at how shocking, how grievous is my Christ's sacrifice on my behalf.
Because of his sacrifice, I can be confident that God will listen to my prayers with the loving attitude of a parent. For me, this means not being ashamed at my weak faith. It means coming boldly to God in all my imperfections -- and asking Him to make up for them. And believing that He wants to.
Look, too, at the way Jesus prays. The prayer divides into two distinct sections. The first section is a prayer of lamentation -- a cry of deep spiritual and physical anguish. "Oh my God, I cry by day ... and by night ... but I find no rest. ...Trouble is near, and there is none to help ... I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint ... you lay me in the dust of earth ... I can count all my bones." Even while he cries out in agony, though, the writer of Psalm 22 affirms what he knows about God: Even though I am in anguish, "Yet You are holy" (v 3). He appeals to the covenant relationship He has with God (9-10). He remembers past times when God has delivered him (21).
David/Christ's knowledge of Who God Is shapes the second part of his prayer. From verse 22, the psalm shifts from a present-tense cry for help to a future-tense certainty of God's goodness. Praise our great and worthy God, he says, even while he suffers (22-24).
We don't see how the psalmist's particular situation turns out -- whether he escapes persecution and suffering. What we do see is that his hope is that God hears the suffering of His servants. "The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever." (26) What we see is the psalmist rejoicing that God will be worshiped as triumphant King (27-31).
Especially when I'm confused and scared, my prayers tend to sound like "Oh God, oh God, oh God, help me! What can I do? I can't handle this, God, oh God!" stuck in the stormy now, full of fear for the future.
So I've been trying to pray more like David, more like Christ. Say, "Oh God, hear me! I'm angry, I'm scared, I'm sad, I'm at the mercy of my emotions and my fears. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for getting me through this difficult time. Thank you for using this situation to make Your goodness known."
Just saying out loud those things I know are true -- that the present I hate and the future I can't see are in God's good and mighty hand -- helps me to persevere.
Y'all probably all figured that out a long time ago, but for what it's worth.
It's winter. January covers the browned hills in soft bluewhite, colours the sky a tender, rosy gray. The short walk over to Grammy's house next door turns into a fairytale trek; the muffled, hollow sounds of the trees, the boys in the trees, my boots crunching on the dead grass make my steps seem innumerable. I hunch over against the cold, see yesterday's shallow puddles frozen at my feet. Snow falling onto the ice has frozen into silver star shapes, delicate flowers, like a hand-beadedvintagedress. The cows in the field beside me are dressed in their own winter coats, snow powdered. They hunch over, shaggy and massive like buffalo. Stolidly ignoring the chill wind, while their winterborn calves frisk behind them like so many delicate fairies. At thirty degrees, the sky above is blank and tender, and every indrawn breath traces itself inside me, cold and sweet.
Since I was young, I was told that I was brilliant. For a while I believed it. This is who I wanted to be, the creator of astonishing beauty. This is much of what drove my efforts in artwork, music, words.
I wanted, also, to be a good person. To be self-sacrificing, honourable, strong.
It's hard to confront the fact that the person I thought I was doesn't really exist. That I am a lover of beauty, but not a creator. That I am much more selfish and frightened and weak than I wanted.
How much of my life has been running away from that confrontation? I've poured so much energy into staying thin enough to "feel like myself." Does looking at my thin or not-thin self in the mirror keep me busy enough not to have to look at my character, my true self?
God tells us throughout His word that we are created to show forth His glory. He made me to reflect Himself.
Thomas Merton writes,
"Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. ... My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love--outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves--the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honour, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface. But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.
"The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God. ... Ultimately the only way that I can be myself is to become identified with Him in Whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence. Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him." (New Seeds of Contemplation, 31-36)
"In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be, and in order to find myself I must go out of myself, and in order to live I have to die. The reason for this is that I am born in selfishness and therefore my natural efforts to make myself more real and more myself, make me less real and less myself, because they revolve around a lie." (47)
After regeneration, Merton says, "life becomes a series of choices between the fiction of our false self, whom we feed with the illusions of passion and selfish appetite, and our loving consent to the purely gratuitous mercy of God." (41)
Christ didn't die to save the beautiful person I want to be.
He came to save the person that I am. He looked at me -- me -- and called me His beloved bride.
So do I keep trying to believe I am the person who I want to be, the sad and shining heroine of my own lifestory? Do I distract myself from existence entirely?
Or do I take what I am -- what I really am, so much less than I desire -- and bring it to God? Humbly, gratefully, forget my own desires and seek only to know Him? Forget about the genius I wanted, and take up the small talents He gave me, and say, "Here am I for Your service"?