And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world...
“I will give all this... If you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
And Jesus answered... “‘You shall worship the Lord your God..." Luke 4.5-8
Julie came up with my trail name after Jeru told her story of the mysterious birds following us to the Whitney summit. To be honest, it wasn't just the Mt Whitney birds, it was the two cooing doves outside our Presidio window every morning that kept me company during my morning prayers, from February through June. And the owl, how could I forget my wise old friend, who met me on Lover's Lane late one night, just sitting there on the ground looking at me. And so it was settled, I was christened "Birdman" by "Glasses" (that was the name hikers gave us because of our funky sunglasses).
Looking back over my life I am not sure where the awe began, there were many moments of the unhealthy kind of fear and terror, the ugly fear of feeling God was always disappointed in me. But the awe, I would be hard-pressed to find a more in-the-face-of-God moment than when I was 19 driving down 101 returning from Eureka, Ca in my Jeep, alone, somewhere north of Humboldt County, the top down and looking up at the stars and seeing this long empty corridor, a kind of tarmac of nothingness, that opened up into a hollowed out forever of midnight ghast. I pulled over. Starting from my heart, through my eyes, I gazed right at the dread of the Unknowing, the Foreverness that gushed and thrashed around my periphery moved with a force into a single bobbing speck beyond the scope of my eyes, past the Constellations. I was afraid (not the kind that makes you angry, but the kind of fear that makes you real). In that instant, I knew what mattered and what didn't, what was real and what wasn't. My soul connected, like eyeballs locking, and I felt exposed. The flow seemed to reverse and I felt all of that energy and power rushing into my heart, the force of which I could not sustain. I hurt all over with these infinite thoughts of eternity. And then these words:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.--Ecc. 3.11
The feeling and experience was terrifying. I never knew what to do with it. Was I crazy? Was I having an existential crisis from being alone for so long? I had mixed conclusions, part of me thought it was God, but another part of me kept saying, over and over, "God has not given us the spirit of fear..."
Over the years I have had more abbreviated visitations, usually, as I am falling asleep, it will hit me and I am wide awake. I've rebuked it, tried to think of happy thoughts, got up and grabbed some water to drink or paced it off.
The Spring of 2010, on a Saturday, our leadership team finished up a two-day journey through the Story of God. We concluded it with communion, prayer and a renewed sense of mission. 4 A.M. the next morning, I woke up with the Eternity thingy happening. I was frozen in complete fear by the tormenting thoughts of infinity. I went to the tried and true, rebuking-the-fear-in-Jesus'-name-tactic, when a cacophony of thoughts hit me, all at the same moment. What if that is God? What if you are rebuking God in Jesus' name? Wasn't Daniel seized with fear in the Presence? And Isaiah? And what about John on Patmos? What if there is something the Eternal wants to communicate with you? What are you doing?!?!?! Should the right posture be one of worship?
I rolled off my bed, hit the floor, bowed my face to the ground and started worshiping God for revealing himself to us in Jesus as compassionate, gracious, human-able, a friend and an older brother. I had scarcely got the words out of my mouth when my heart erupted with gratitude. It started somewhere with me thanking him for the carpet, I rubbed my hand over it and felt so ashamed for the times I had complained, it was real carpet. I felt the polarity of my utter fallenness and ugliness before God, my selfishness and complaining over against the vast, expansive intimate and gentle love of God. "You've been so good to me. You have given me a life I don't deserve."
Peeking over the bed at Julie, I whispered thanksgiving to God for her. Tears, lots of them. I said things like, "I don't deserve her, this life we have together. Why have you loved me so, blessed me so."
"Should You take my children today, should they die in an accident, I want you to know how thankful I am for the 12 years with Jeru and 11 years with Jed. (the tears were hot, my voice cracked and broke). I don't deserve the moment Jeru came into this world. What did I ever do to earn her existence, what have I ever done to be given such grace, such kindness, such love from you..."
I don't know how long it lasted, but I knew I had experienced the Kingdom of God. This is how I wanted to live. This was the heart I wanted to have. I was tired of complaining, self-loathing, self-pitying. I wanted this to rule my heart.
There is a story from the late great rabbi, theologian, and civil rights leader, Abraham Joshua Heschel that has always resonated deeply with me. Several years before he died he suffered a heart attack. One of his students went to visit him and the rabbi said, "When I regained consciousness, my first feelings were not of despair or anger. I felt only gratitude to God for my life, for every moment I had lived. 'Take me, O Lord,' I thought, 'I have seen so many miracles in my lifetime.'" Then he added, "That is what I meant when I wrote: Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”
Heschel's quote has all the elements of Jesus' 2nd temptation. Heschel says, "I asked for wonder." This is the most sublime way to describe worship, to be awe-struck of God, to never lose the sense of miracle, mystery, and mystique. Like a 5-year old on a beach jumping up and down exclaiming, "Mom, mom it's a real live starfish!" Heschel says, "I want that with you, God." Recently, a violinist came to Lighthouse, when she walked in carrying her violin case with her two beautiful children in tow. I said, "Wow, we have been praying that God would send us a violinist." Her young daughter, looked at her mom, her mouth wowed-wide open, and said, "GOD SENT YOU HERE."
I am finding Julian of Norwich, to be a friend to me in this season of life. Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, published in 1395 was the first book to be published by a woman in the English language. This quote shows awe and wonder at work in a simple little hazelnut.
“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”
Here's the thing. God knows we are made for worship, made for it. We love it. We eat it up. We love to be awed, wowed, and mystified. We love to love. We love to give affection away.
Satan offered Jesus a cheap substitute. Something he teased, he could have authority and control over. An idol whose shape and form he could decide on, a talisman fitted to a jean-size pocket. Something definable, controllable, and manipulatable. Something that has no ambiguity, no mystery, but a simple 2+2=4-god. That's the thing with the worship of idols, we make them, we control them (our so we think), and they give us the illusion that we are god of our own life.
Jesus says, "Worship the Lord God, and him only will you serve." In other words, Don't lose sight of the mystery, the ambiguity, the paradox. As C.S. Lewis says, "He'll be coming and going. One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down... He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
FOUR GESTURES (I THINK THIS SOUNDS BETTER)
Prayer. Pray Abraham Joshua Heschel's prayer.
Conversation. Have a conversation with Cleopas about a time in your life when you were in total awe of God.
Reflection. What stuck out to you in the reading? Why do you think you were struck by this?