Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thirty-six years later

Psalms for the 6th day are Psalms 30 to 34.

Reading them and meditating on the meaning they've had for me these many a year, I spoke them in prayer, and received back, as the Lord never fails me, He's the faithful one.

Hear, Yahweh, take pity on me;
Yahweh, help me!
(Psalm 30:10)

Back in 1975, we were still on the trail of that elusive commodity, the ‘perfect’ commune.

Chuck and Tish owned a half section of land on the western slope of a mountain outside of Harrisburg, Oregon, and another half section down in the valley. The upper section was organized as a commune called Ahimsa (Sanskrit for ‘non-violence’), and they had invited us to live there if we could make it work.
They were letting their friends build homes out in the wilds, and the commune was going to be very (as we say in Greek) idio-rhythmic. In other words, people did not share everything in common materially or spiritually. They only shared the land and each other's company. Everyone was expected to have their own income and build themselves a home at their own expense. The ethos of the commune was to be ‘spiritual,’ but in the New Age sense—all paths ultimately lead to God.

Before we moved down here, we visited Ahimsa in the spring of 1975. That's when I took the photos that illustrate this post. At that point, I was still a New Age spiritual seeker myself, though Anastasia was a ‘born again’ Christian. We didn't go to church, though, because I had a problem with the hypocrisy I heard tell of. Our visit left us both with a positive impression of the commune, and so we packed up our transportable belongings in about a hundred and twenty boxes and shipped them via Canadian Freightways to the Portland terminal. Our irreplaceables went into a car carrier that I built out of plywood and mounted to the top of my 1972 Pinto hatch-back. (In the end, we didn't join Ahimsa. Chuck and Tish ended up becoming Mormons. We became Christians. I don't know what became of the others at Ahimsa.)

We arrived in Corvallis the evening of Rosh Hashonah, September 5, 1975, and stayed with a young Jewish couple we had known in Edmonton, Debbie and Harold. (Next morning we drove to Salem with them for our first experience of synagogue worship.)

This is not going to be the story of how I smuggled my wife and child into the U.S., but rather how I found myself, on the Thursday morning of November 6, 1975, ready to meet the Lord.
(Let the reader understand: I'm not now talking about just any Lord.)
Let me cite a verse from the psalms for the 6th day…

Happy the man whose fault is forgiven,
whose sin is blotted out;
happy the man whom Yahweh
accuses of no guilt,
whose spirit is incapable of deceit!

All the time I kept silent, my bones were wasting away
with groans, day in, day out;
day and night Your hand
lay heavy on me;
my heart grew parched as stubble
in summer drought.

At last I admitted to You I had sinned;
no longer concealing my guilt,
I said, "I will go to Yahweh
and confess my fault."
And You, You have forgiven the wrong I did,
have pardoned my sin.
(Psalm 32:1-5)

That morning I was at work, a rough sawyer in an old furniture mill in Albany. It was cold outside. The wind was blowing through the cracks in the barn-like plank walls. My fingers were freezing, even though I had gloves on. Behind me, a large planer was roaring. My off-bearer was shivering as he slid the scrap off the saw with one hand into a waste bin, while with the other guiding the good rips onto a cart.
I heard a voice inside my head, Why do you resist Me…?’

I will instruct you, and teach you the way to go;
I will watch over you and be your advisor.
Do not be like senseless horse or mule
that need bit and bridle to curb their spirit
to let you get near them.
(Psalm 32:8-9)

Quickly, I sensed this was not just my imagination. I waved my off-bearer a signal, ‘Go empty the wood box!’ That would take him at least fifteen minutes, maybe longer, because it meant dragging a heavy load of wood down to the boiler hut. ‘He's probably going to want to warm himself there,’ something in me quipped. As he hauled his heavy load away to be burned, another heavy load was going to be hauled away and burned, one only I and the Off-bearer could see.

You, who have seen my wretchedness,
and known the miseries of my soul,
have not handed me over to the enemy,
You have given my feet space and to spare.
(Psalm 30:7b-8)

The talk began, slowly at first, then more heatedly. I argued with the voice. Sometimes I seemed to switch sides. I wanted to surrender, but then, I had investments. How could I give these up? Would I get something to replace them? What? How can you bargain with Him? What are you expecting? He's already told you everything, and you know it's all true.

The Word of Yahweh is integrity itself,
all He does is done faithfully;
He loves virtue and justice,
Yahweh's love fills the earth.

By the Word of Yahweh the heavens were made,
their whole array by the breath of His mouth…
(Psalm 33:4-6)

My temperature was rising, in spite of the biting cold around me. With every last ounce of my will, my flesh resisted the voice, and I kept feeling hotter. ‘This can't be happening to me! You know I want to accept You, but I can't, I can't!’ Finally, I asked Him to remove what was binding me.

Hear, Yahweh, take pity on me; Yahweh, help me! (Psalm 30:10)

That which I couldn't do of my own power, somehow He called forth from me. ‘All that I am, and all that I have, I surrender to You, Lord, to You, Jesus. I don't want anything now, nothing but what You want me to be and to have.’ This was the jist of what came tumbling out of my lips, along with sobs, because by now my face was a liquified mess. A coolness like a stream of icy water flowed over my head and then my body. I don't know what it was, but it pacified me. The planer with its attendee still roared behind me, none hearing or seeing what was happening to me, and me hearing and seeing nothing outside of me.

Every face turned to Him grows brighter
and is never ashamed.
A cry goes up from the poor man, and Yahweh hears,
and helps him in all his troubles.

The angel of Yahweh pitches camp
around those who fear Him; and He keeps them safe.
How good Yahweh is—only taste and see!
Happy the man who takes shelter in Him.
(Psalm 34:5-8)

Something that can't be put into words really, yet I've tried on this and other occasions. This time I'm only hinting at it. What is this thing that happens to us? Years ago I wrote a post, Born again? When? in which I tried to recount what happened to me that morning. That's my testimony, or at least part of it, because the new life in Christ, the birth from above, is really an event in kairós time—though you can sometimes pinpoint it on a calendar, it really encompasses more than a moment. You can't look at it, you can't even remember it, as it really is, was and is to come, because it's hidden with the One who will give it back to you on the last Day.

Our soul awaits Yahweh,
He is our help and shield;
our hearts rejoice in Him,
we trust in His holy Name.

Yahweh, let Your love rest on us
as our hope has rested in You.
(Psalm 33:20-22)

1 comment:

Andrew Kenny said...

Augustinesque for sure: The spiritual journeying of a man of God.