Monday, July 14, 2008

Walt W. and the Love of Jesus


Visiting with my new pastor and his wife, on a warm July night, we talk about everything. Friendship and love, writing, preaching, how to make to-die-for zucchini snacks... and how God speaks.

Somewhere between talking about our kids and chatting about the challenges of marriage my pastor says, God speaks primarily through His word. And just as I begin to assent, there's a little catch in my throat. I... I'm not sure I agree... my voice drifts off. I've been thinking about this very thing as I struggle to write my next chapter in God in the Yard.

I am thinking about how God spoke to me about the importance of family, through seeing the lost and homeless on the streets of Washington, D.C. I'm thinking about a filmed art piece called The Way Things Go, in which sometimes imperceptible changes caused a chain reaction of events, that caused another chain reaction, and so on... and God spoke through that too, about life and living it consciously and well.

Maybe more than anything this night, I am thinking of Walt Whitman, an unlikely bard of the inexpressible love of Jesus. There is this poem, see, and it manages to speak of grace. The inexplicable ability of Jesus to see us as we are and not turn away, to gently touch all parts of us, both glorious and inglorious. Reading this poem makes me weep, and I find myself practically laid out flat with the wonder of what it means to be loved, really loved, graced by Jesus.

I pick up a paper-thin zucchini, dripping with vinegar, sprinkled with salt and fresh ground pepper. I turn it over on my tongue and let myself revel in its texture. I smile at my pastor and his wife, and bite into the words of God to my heart. Love, grace... in a fresh, ivory, green-bleeding slice of zucchini...

Red Design photo, by Sara. Used with permission.


Andrea's gentle Book Review

Ted's book club post Goldsworthy's Wall: Sacrifice


LL's Word, at Love Notes to Yahweh

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Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

Man, do I love Walt Whitman.

I agree with your pastor that God speaks to us through the Logos--but Christ himself--not merely the words of the Bible--is the Logos.

And the Logos extends his truth to folks like Whitman through common grace. Then Christians can test the truths of Whitman against their deeper understanding of Christ's specific grace. That way we'll know which bits to keep and which bits to discard.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Wonderful post.I found you via Ann Voskamp's recent post over at Holy Experience!So glad I did for I have book marked all of your sites!Blessings~Sharon

1:23 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

You've really opened up a can of worms...... *smile*
I tend to agree with Goodyear on this one.
You have to go back to *something*, and His word *primarily* prevails.
And with that, I'll close the can......

1:27 PM  
OpenID sometimespoetry said...

... in the reading of your words and Walt's, He speaks to me about His illimitableness. before He ever spoke to me from His word, the Word spoke to me and asked me to follow. because i listened then, today i am your sister ... biting into the same love and the same grace and reveling in its texture!

1:41 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Even the Bible says, "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."

I think we can learn about God in many ways.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Sometimes I think we believers minimize the fact that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Why wouldn't He bring to mind the truth of God's word when we read a poem, see people on the street, or whatever?

But there is the critical issue. He brings to mind Truth, already revealed Truth. I suspect for those who don't own copies of the Scripture as we are blessed to own, He may teach in a special way. I just read about a woman in Somalia, I think it was, who became a believer when some Christians prayed over her son who was sick. When the boy became well, she knew the Christian God was different from the god her family prayed to.

God can do the miraculous, whether it's to shine the light of Truth into our hearts through His Holy Spirit or something physical. He can. But if that was the best way, why then the Bible?

I tend to think the work of the Holy Spirit to teach Truth would be so clouded by false doctrine and our on desires, that we would be so confused, so caught in error, we would be no better than wandering sheep.

But because we have Scripture, you can see grace in a poem. Scripture informs you of the gift of grace, the poem brings it to life. And the same with love for the lost, the poor, the hopeless ... in other words, for our neighbors. Scripture teaches that, but seeing the very ones in need, the Holy Spirit makes the dots connect.

That's the way I see it, any way.


4:47 PM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

i think that God can speak to us any old way He wants to and whenever He wants to. we are the the ones with the limits.

i loved your post...wonderful words.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

LL, I've been on somewhat of a Princess Bride kick lately. You're post reminded me of a line from the movie by Miracle Max:

"Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world - except for a nice MLT - mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe [smacks his lips] they're so perky, I love that."

It just makes me die laughing. That movie has so many fun quotes!
Peace, Kim

8:06 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Mark... yup, Walt's pretty lovable. I like the way you explain the interplay of Word and word and word-in-everything.

Sharon... Welcome to Seedlings! I hope you'll find a cozy place to make yourself at home here. :)

Andrea... oh, I like worms. :) (Ask my kids... I'm always rescuing them from sidewalks and so forth.)

Sometimes... lovely way to express our kinship.

Ruth... Romans. I love that passage.

Rebecca... I like that idea of the Holy Spirit being like a big Connect-the-Dotter. :)

Nancy... your straight up comments always tickle me (and comfort and relieve me too.)

Kim... Great quote! True love and mutton sandwiches; I guess as a vegetarian, I might have to ditch true love for a hummus sandwich. Or maybe some really great Swiss chocolate.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

Yeah - I agree with your pastor but I suspect you knew I would. Yes, I know God speaks through vignettes of life and experience - He also speaks through nature (Psalm 19)- but I think He speaks in a special way... clearly, authoritatively and sufficiently through His word.

I experienced this several years ago when my wife and I had to go through unusual, life challenging, trials. When you're at a low point and feel helpless, there is no substitute for the written promises of God. It's wonderful to know He loves us enough to articulate His unfailing love and wisdom to us in words...words that really matter.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Sam Van Eman said...

My first reaction is to your description of eating zucchini. I don't even care for it (except in zucchini bread with chocolate chips), but words themselves - when composed just so - have a way of bringing something to life. Maybe I like zucchini after all. :)

Second, if "by His word" your pastor meant the written word, then that seems rather limiting since the canon of Scripture wasn't officially formed until well after the days of Jesus. And at one time, the word was entirely oral. Yet we know God spoke to people. (I'm guessing your pastor implied spoken word, too, but hey, it's easy to forget that Jesus didn't have a pocket-sized NIV, nor Moses a King James version of the Old Testament.)

However, I do like the comment by Rebecca above: "But because we have Scripture, you can see grace in a poem." Without the word, The Green Mile, for example, is just a decent film. With the word, it is a poetic and very moving picture of Jesus' grace. I can't NOT see that movie outside of the Bible.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Dianne said...

My mind's been wandering along these same lines of late also. Is it maybe that all God has to say (his truth), he has already said (i.e. no "new" revelation), but that he speaks over and over to us in many ways, every day? The awesomeness and magnitude of a God who chooses to speak to, dwell in and work through mere humans is way too big for my little peon brain to comprehend! It's something we tend to want to grasp but the minute we try to, we reduce God to a very small god. We are better off just living in the wonder of it.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Real Live Preacher said...

Yay, good for you. And good for Marcus who put the truth of it into such a succinct package. You know, the theology of the Church has always been, as Marcus said, that the Logos speaks to us. And the New Testament is FILLED with examples of this, from Joseph the father of Jesus, who received so many dream messages that he began to resemble the man he was named after, to Paul on the road to Damascus. Ironic that modern evangelicals - out of fear for some understandable extremes, would cut themselves off from this.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous heather said...

You know, I've been thinking about this--about the "hierarchy" (for lack of a better term) of how God speaks. For example, in words posed by Robert K. Johnston in Reel Spirituality, do we approach art (I'm expanding what he speaks of in film) merely in dialogue, or is it possible that it actually appropriates theology. Even that art becomes a divine encounter?
And then comes the question of hermeneutics. Have we limited the power of the Bible by our scientific examination of it? Have we removed the "living" part of it?
Note: I agree that The Word refers to Christ, that He is the culmination of all we hope for.
Really, this brings up the question, is there a difference between common grace and special grace, or did we just make up those words (it doesn't actually use those terms in Romans).
I do believe that we're always checking things, like the Bereans, against Scripture (and I'd even add, to a certain point, against the work of the Holy Spirit in the past 2000 years of Church history). But does that mean God's not speaking just as strongly outside of Scripture?
How personalized can we get? When does claiming to have heard something become more individualistic and even selfish (with disregard to the community and communion)?
A lot of questions here...

12:12 PM  
Blogger bluemountainmama said...

wow... that poem touches me in a deep place today. i have to agree with you, l.l., just from my own personal experiences. i don't think God is ever done giving new revelations... some of them deeply personal to us as individuals.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Miriam said...

Your words here and Walt's poem were such a gift to come across today... thank you. :)

3:07 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

LL, How about this?:

"Sonny, God's word is the greatest thing in the world - except for a nice HLT - hummus, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the hummus is spread nice and thin and the tomato is ripe. They're so perky, I love that. I turn it over on my tongue and let myself revel in its texture. I smile at my pastor and his wife, and bite into the words of God to my heart. Love, grace... in a fresh, perky HLT!"

3:56 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Every Square... thank you for sharing about how tenderly God spoke to you and your wife in time of need, through His beautiful word.

Sam... oh, you've given me a good laugh over the zucchini. It really is superior when prepared this way! Let me know if you take the plunge. And as for your thoughts on the Word, yes, I was thinking about how it used to be oral. Also, I'm reading this wonderful book about Torah and Wilderness, which points out that Torah was given in the wilderness and often describes manifestations of God that are wilderness oriented. Pretty interesting.

Dianne... yes, He has said it all. And yet, we each long to hear it again, in words, in visions, in touches that come specially to our souls.

Real Live... oh! The dream theme. Now there's a good one. :)

Heather... you would have perhaps enjoyed the medieval period of church history. All that art, speaking the truth without a single word.

BLUE!!! So good to hear from you. I think of you often. And I'm glad the poem spoke to you. It is pure grace, isn't it?

Miraim... thank you for opening you hands to receive it. :)

Kim... oh, you make me laugh!!

6:28 PM  
Blogger spaghettipie said...

Wow, such deep insights. I love the idea of the Word being our lens and the Holy Spirit as the Great Connect-the-Dotter. :)

11:10 PM  
Blogger 23 degrees said...

Laura, love the thoughts on this post, and I am turning them over in my mind like a thinly-sliced cucumber.

I will have to find "The Way Things Go" sounds very moving.

I am wondering how much further the conversation progressed. Seems like a very canned response from this fellow, and it may be good to hear him expound his answer.

In Matthew Jesus says, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

"Rhema", not "logos" is used here for "word". Rhema means "spoken" word. "Comes from the mouth of God," does this imply that it's ongoing? Could this imply revelation, that He still speaks?

John 6:63 The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life."

And if His Spirit is like the wind, we can see it's effects (where it's been) and thus it's workings.

When God showed Moses his "backside," I have heard that this could imply, "I will show you where I have been."

Just talking out loud here...thanks for the peppered slice.

12:59 AM  
OpenID sometimespoetry said...

would you mind sending along the title/author of the book you are reading about Torah and Wilderness?

thanks L.L.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Yikes LL; have you been speaking to my "Sunday School" teacher?! (We don't call it Sunday School, we call it something else.) We had a big discussion last week about how God speaks. I was and remain carefully guarded about anything other than the written word. Only the Scriptures are infallible. When fallen man goes interpreting nature or visions or voices or whatever, it is possible that the Holy Spirit may be getting a point across, but it is also possible (and more likely, I think) that there's a good chance of processing things subjectively and standing on a shakey foundation. Only the Bible is solid enough to stand on and we measure other things by it, not vice-versa. So when your pastor says God speaks primarily through His word, I think he hit the bullseye.

For the record, our Adult Bible Fellowship teacher tends to be a lot more open minded than me.

1:59 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Spaghettipie... yes, just the sort of conversation that stirs my soul!

23 Degrees... oh wow, so many thoughts you bring! I will definitely have to mull these over even more deeply as I work on the chapter I was mentioning in the post (it's about, no surprise, how God might speak to us as we enter into a contemplative stance). As for my pastor's words, yes, I guess they were kind of standard. He, however, is not a standard kind of guy... very thoughtful, deep, touching. We didn't keep on with this line of conversation for too long, so there's not much more to tell. Maybe as I get to know him and we have more talks, I could bring further thoughts. :)

Laure... done. :)

Craver... okay, I'm just going to muse... here are my drifting thoughts... It's interesting that we frame discussions of the bible in terms of right and wrong, accuracy and inaccuracy. Not that these things don't matter. But I wonder why they tend to take center stage. And then I think about people. I wonder if when you say "I love you" to your wife and then also to your daughter if these words are sufficient or if they are fleshed out by other things that communicate far more than the words ever could and that help explain the nature of the words. So. You make love to your wife and it gives a certain meaning to "I love you." And you wash your daughter's car (or something like that) and it gives a different meaning to the exact same, true, sufficient, and accurate words. Just musing...

3:40 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Great post and comments, L.L. Sorry I'm so late, but enjoyed the thread.

I like Marcus' open comment and concur, along with other comments here. And I think there's truth in what everyone is saying, even if not worded the way most Christian orthodox theologians might word it.

I do think God wants to speak to us through so many things in life, but in those cases, we test what we think we may be hearing from God, by the word/Scripture. I don't mean to say we have to be reticent, as if we need to think maybe we aren't hearing from God in some unusual way. Yet we're to test the spirits.

While I believe that God probably does speak primarily from Scripture and the words in it, I have to think, it seems, that God is trying to teach me lately to hear him in other places. Without leaving behind the standard or basis for judging whether something is of God or not.

I don't know much of what I speak here, but the richness of God's revelation surely is lost to some extent, if we limit it to the words of Scripture alone, even though they have a special, unique place in this.

And a person of artistic bend, such as you and Blue Mountain Momma, would be more apt to pick up this side of God's speaking of which you refer to here, I would think.

5:22 PM  
Blogger The Oho Report said...

A month ago I was talking with a new friend, Clint and he said "what we listen to comes either from":
I have tried to test his words and am finding there is truth in his list.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Christianne said...

well, you know how i feel about grace. :)

loved this post. loved learning about you and God in the Yard, how it's going, where your mind tends, how different thoughts converge to make up (maybe?) one whole chapter.

also loved the poem. hadn't read that one by him before. wow.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

This picture came to me tonight, as flawed as it is, it helps me grasp the developing momentum and story of the Word in my life.
My first French class was in third grade. I had never, to my knowledge, heard, seen or spoken the language in my life. It was foreign to me in every manner possible.
In high school French class, I became a student of the language. Reading the text book, parroting my French teacher, listening to it on audio CD, reading French literature. While it was still a foreign language, I could recognize French amongst all the other languages in the world. It was becoming familiar to me and I at least knew what language it was when I encountered it.

Then I moved to France for several months and became completely submerged in the language and culture. While it took me some time to function fluidly in the French world, I eventually did it. The language surrounded me on every billboard, in every conversation, through each song on the radio, in every museum guide and literary work. I even brought along my French textbook so I could brush up on what I was speaking and hearing in the "down time" of life in my own apartment.

Acquiring an awareness of the language of Logos seems much the same. We begin with a near assault on our senses, His language might seem so foreign to us. We rely heavily on our "textbook" to guide us in correct usage and conjugation. We listen a lot, we repeat a lot, we learn from a more experienced language speaker. Eventually we get to a point where we find our scope widens enough to embrace a lifestyle of this language. It is not just a spoken or a read word, it is living, breathing and active. Piercing us. Dividing us. We eat it. We breathe it. It is in laughter, smiles, sorrow, meadows, billboards, radio programs, zucchini...
And yet we are constantly going back to our "textbook" to correct our perception and sharpen our pronunciation. Because we're still not an expert.

(I don't consider the Bible a textbook from which we graduate and leave behind, so there is a glaring weakness in my illustration.)

I did this funny thing in France; I told myself that everything was special and different because it was French. "This is a French stairway. This is a French zucchini." Somehow that gave it a great amount of significance to everything in that time of my life. Oh, that I would see my daily life with the same spiritually special significance...

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus said the rocks could cry out and Paul said all nature groans--so we know God speaks through nature. Also, if God only spoke through His Word, we'd be shutting out His method of teaching through experiencing His life in us. That said, I believe the Bible our standard for evaluating what what we "receive" via other means.

1:17 AM  
Anonymous tonia said...

oh, i totally *get* what you said here. i hear His voice in so many places...

since i count ann and andrea, both, dear friends, i knew i would find a peaceful, kindred heart here. i'll be back.

btw, i'd love to hear more about your reasons for being vegetarian. do you perhaps have some old posts you could point me to?


11:55 PM  
Anonymous Ann Kroeker said...

Have you read _The Reflective Life_ by Ken Gire? Your post reminded me of that book.

3:45 PM  

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