Old: A Poem

randomlychad  —  July 25, 2017 — Leave a comment

Looking in the mirror and what do I see?
Whose is this face staring back at me?
Familiar in outline, but foreign in detail
Craggy, careworn features all over prevail

But who is he?

Is this me?

Inside, he feels the same small boy
Curious, quick, and ruddy of mind
Rich inside life bringing joy
But somewhere, having lost track of time

The visage reflected, as in a mirror darkly
Yet somehow still so very, very starkly

Shows one thing above all others:

The face is

Old


You’ve heard of the lifting up of holy hands, or lifting up a brother (or sister) before the Lord? The former is demonstration of worship and/or praise; the latter, a metaphor for intercessory prayer.

You’ve maybe heard of these, but have you heard of praying someone in the back? Or perhaps the prayer ambush?

No?

Well, it’s kinda like this:

Imagine you’re out somewhere, and run into your friend. You exchange greetings, and your friend introduces you to their friend–a real prayer wolf. They ask if they can pray for you. Thinking that it’s going to be quick prayer lifted reverently to the Lord (you are, after all, in a public place), you acquiesce. 

That isn’t what happens.

They flank you like guards walking a condemned prisoner down the green mile to the execution chamber. And then they start ululating in a language which can only be described as early tribal. Right there, in public, in loud voices (because God, apparently, is deaf) they begin to declaim your deliverance from:

Demons

Health problems 

Marital woes

Halitosis 

Indigestion

Slow motility

Depression (you’re not down yet, but after this you will be)

Like the violet, you want nothing more than to shrink away out of view. People are beginning to look. You’re saying, “Stop! Stop!”

“In Jesus Name!! Stop!!” you yell at the top of your lungs.

“Amen, amen!” is what you hear in reply. “That’s right! You tell that bad old devil to stop.” Your eyes roll so hard into the back of your head you’re afraid they’ll stick there. You throw your hands up in utter disgust and frustration…

“Yes!!! Lift up those holy hands to the Lord!” Your hands clench involuntarily into fists, and before you know what you’re doing you lay hands on those dedicated prayer wolves with a couple of choice roundhouses and upper cuts.

“Now how do y’all feel about being slain in the spirit?” Like Ananias and Sapphira they ain’t getting up.

You walk off, perhaps feeling lighter than you have in quite some time.

Prayer, apparently, is good for the soul. Especially when you pray like Stands With A Fist.

Fear from Flickr via Wylio

© 2010 Vic, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Hi!

How are you?

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

I know, I know… You think I’ve forgotten about you.

That’s really not true. Like the Willie Nelson song says, “You were always on my mind.”

It’s not that; it’s just that there have been other things on my mind.

Like exercise. You’re right–it’s been three years now since I started exercising regularly. (I still have a “dad bod”). That takes time–and energy.

Then there are other things–more important things. Like my wife’s health. She’s probably going to need two serious surgeries. And my own sleep apnea all but kicking my butt. My son growing up, spreading his wings, about to fly the coop.

And there are job stresses. We’ve reorganized, transitioned to a Shared Services model of IT support, and reorganized again. I’m left, for all intents and purposes, right where I was before. Things were said, promises made, but it all fizzled out. Yes, I’m pretty good at what I do. It’s not that. It’s that by being good at what I do I’ve painted myself into a corner.

But mostly, I’ve been afraid. Afraid I didn’t have anything to say, afraid to say what was on my mind, afraid of change, afraid of not changing, afraid of the uncertainty around my wife’s health. When the fears ramp up, all my latent insecurities bubble up to the surface. Leading me to irrational places. It’s true what they say about fear; that by-and-large it’s False Evidence Appearing Real. Like when a friend didn’t return a text, did I assume this person was just busy and/or presently unavailable. No, sadly I went to so-and-so-just-must-be-blocking-me-in-iMessage.

I was just so sure of it.

You might judge me, or consider me pathetic. Lord knows I do much of the time. I’m particularly good at beating myself up.

Everything is up in the air, in transition, but at the same time other things feel as if they’ll never change. And I don’t know to make them change–or how to change me.

I feel stuck. Running to stand still, never catching up.

Stuck, and afraid.

My days are often spent like a pinball; I bounce between here and there. Oftentimes I circle like a ziggurat, working my around, and up through, the building in which I work. So it was on this day, the day a homeless man asked me for beer money. The day was clear, bright, not hot; in other words a perfect Spring day. The kind of day you wish would last forever, stretching out into eternity. The air was clear as crystal, the sun a golden disk in the azure sky. Nary a cloud scudded by.

It was as I passed through this day, scurrying from a lunchtime game of racquetball, on my way to grab a bite, that I was brought up short. Working in an urban environment for a great number of years now, I’m somewhat inured to the plight of my less fortunate fellow man, to the human pain and tragedy which faces me daily. Yet there was something about this man, something in his careworn face, in the cornflower blue of his eyes, that stopped me. I think it was the eyes, how they reminded me of my grandfather’s. Eyes which had seen so much pain, heartache, loss, had seen accident, illness, injury. The eyes of an alcoholic, spidery veins zig-zagging around the nose between and beneath them.

Eyes which somehow still had a sparkle, a twinkle of mirth and mischief, to them.

So I stopped. He said something; I didn’t catch it.

“You think I’m homeless. I’m from Las Vegas. I had a seizure this morning. Listen, I’m an alcoholic. I need beer. I feel another seizure coming on. I’ll be a big one.”

“I don’t have any cash.”

“You’ve got a card, right? Please, I need your help.”

The naked, plaintive need was plain for me to see, but my mind was a whirling chiaroscuro of conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, I wanted to believe him, but on the other I’ve been burned enough by similar situations over the years to have developed a veneer of cynicism. I was on my way back to work, with my credentials on display. I couldn’t be seen buying beer.

“Listen,” I said. “There’s a Chipotle right there. They have single serve.”

Clutching his weather worn leather bag a little tighter, the man with eyes like my grandfather’s replied, “I’m not going in Chipotle.”

“They’ve got beer.”

“I just need a couple bucks.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, walking away.

——————

I saw him again a short time later, in line behind me at the drugstore where I picked up a prepackaged lunch. He didn’t seem to recognize me, asking about how I was, how my day was going. In his hand was a six-pack of Busch beer. I went back to my busy workaday world.

I’ve wondered about that man.

I keep asking myself, “What would Jesus do?”

What would He have done?

I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe I never will. Jesus did turn water into wine to keep a party going, but would He have given this man that for which he’d asked? Knowing that it was killing him daily by degrees? I wish I had the faith of Peter and John, could shout, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. I the name of Jesus Christ…”

But I didn’t.

What would you have done?

I believe in the Gospel of grace. Grace here defined as a free gift of God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon sinful humanity. None of us deserves it, yet it’s given freely. I don’t understand that. Yet I embrace it. For I know my need.

As with any gift, the grace that is given must be received. While the invitation is open to all, while there are seats at the table for all, not all want God’s grace. I don’t understand that, either.

For those that receive His grace, and freely come, we’ve not found a license to sin. We find salve for our wounds, balm for our souls. But we find something, Someone, else as well:

Jesus.

And that encounter with Him must fundamentally alter the course of our lives. He gave His all upon the cross; died a death which wasn’t His, payed a debt He didn’t owe. When we come to Him, as with any loving parent, He in His grace, will gently, lovingly, yet implacably, remove from us (as we let Him) all that is not Him. Anything that is not Him, to which we run for comfort, try to assuage our brokenness, fill our emptiness, in which we find identity, He will inexorably take away. There can be no other before Him. In other words, the Gospel of grace is the Gospel of death: a death to self.

Grace is found in, and fills, the cracks, yes.

But make no mistake: it is grace which takes our our sacred cows, everything we exalt above Our Lord. Take it from me (with generous portions of sodium chloride, naturally) that when Jesus comes asking to take that thing away (whatever that thing may be), yield then. You really don’t want His graceful two-by-four upside your stubborn head. Because He will.

Make no mistake: He loves as we are, where we are, but loves us enough to not leave us there.

So, yes, grace is free. But not pain-free. Jesus is the cosmic cow-tipper. Upending our comfortable, carefully controlled lives He longs to give us something so much better.

James Prescott has written, and just released, a book called Mosaic of Grace God’s Beautiful Reshaping of Our Broken Lives, wherein he writes so much more eloquently than I ever could about grace. Consider this your not-so-gentle reminder to pick up a copy of James’s book at your bookseller of choice. Find James on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog, James Prescott.