E-Letter 171

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Devotions | 0 comments

All of creation is a birthday card, and I almost failed to open it! With a multitude of tasks  pressing in on me and a weeklong mission trip looming, I was tempted to skip my morning walk in favor of a day of busy, busy, busy.  I would have been richly rewarded for this decision because we all know that it’s the early bird that catches the worm. But on this day, Tuesday, my birthday, I resisted the dawn’s temptation to work, work, work, laced up my mudder shoes, and set off for my favorite hiking trail, leaving the worm for someone else to claim.

From the road, I could see the destruction lining the red mud trail tipped toward heaven.  Trees felled by the power company replacing outdated wooden poles, beer and soda cans crushed by the wheels of countless illegal weekend ATV joyriders, discarded tires, water-soaked cardboard boxes, crumpled fast food wrappers, empty plastic Walmart bags, and the rusty remains of a stolen bicycle littered the path through the meadow. I bent down and scooped up some fresh dirt from the tire tracks of a newly-created bend in the path, a detour that destroyed the meandering curves of a stream shaped by the lazy, persistent flow of water to the lake. A profound sense of sadness washed over me as I scuffed some stones into the water, and for a moment, all the winged creatures of the meadow joined me in silent lament, their very stillness a mute witness to the pain caused by our human disrespect of wild places some call home. The more I walked, the more I noticed the extent of man-made changes in the landscape; truthfully, it was all I could see.

The more our ancestor in the faith, Jacob, walks with his father-in-law, Laban, the more he notices the changes in the landscape of their personal relationship (Gen. 31).  Jacob flees his relative and is caught in Gilead.  Laban thinks he has been defrauded by his wily son-in-law, and Jacob is convinced that he has been gypped by his conniving father-in-law. For twenty years, the two men walk a cautious, fine line around each other, eying each other suspiciously.  Both men are invested in believing the worst about each other because that is what they choose to see. They talk about each other behind each other’s back, and they make up stories about one another’s supposed misdeeds. They cut off all communication, and meanwhile, a profound sense of sadness washes over the women and children who call these men, “Father.”  Helpless, they join together in silent lament, their very stillness a mute biblical witness to the pain caused by two men’s disrespect cultivated over the years by their willful blindness.

The past catches up with the two in Gilead, and, face-to-face, the two men, bound together through a network of family ties, come to an understanding.  Through much argument and prayer, they fashion a covenant, set up an altar pillar, and share a meal in its shadow.  They name the pillar, Mizpah, Watching Place, and they agree to give up their suspicious watching of each other in order to let God watch them. The next morning, at the break of dawn, the two former antagonists part ways – Laban returns to Haran, and Jacob sets out for the unknown where, we people of faith know, he still must face the enmity of his brother Esau. However, now the morning sky is filled with the echoes of their prayers of reconciliation, “The Lord watch between you and me, while we are absent one from the other.”

As I continue my journey through the meadow, I think about how Mizpah is a fine line experience repeated as often as every morning.  The very thought moves me to watch what God will do with this particular assemblage of the hopes and fears I set before him on my birthday, a day that I stand on tiptoe between the old and the new.  I notice the beautiful, smooth bowl carved in weeds by a family of resting deer; I inhale deeply the soft candy cane of pale pink morning glories; I translate the buzzing drones of a legion of insects and hear, “Happy!” I touch the darkening fruit of a wild blackberry bush, and, for a moment, I consider picking four perfectly shaped berries to place on top of vanilla ice cream, but I refrain, leaving them instead for illegal weekend ATV joyriders, four-footed creatures longing for a safe place to rest their weary heads, birds of the air searching for a sweet meal, wary hikers…anyone willing to open a birthday card signed by the Creator God who loves us with a Love that opens our eyes to the beauty of the path before us.