Friday, October 29, 2010

The Broken Heart

I'm not a big one on hanging onto childhood art projects. Don't get me wrong – I loved looking over projects brought home from school, but multiply six kids by at least six productive project-years each by forty weeks per year by one project per week, and the volume gets overwhelming. Add to that the ad-hoc kitchen table projects that occur throughout a creative childhood, and you've got the potential for construction-paper-and-Elmer's-glue overload. So, outside of a handful of projects that go up every Christmas season, our unwritten policy was to quietly and tactfully broom the artwork once interest faded.

With one exception.

It's sitting on my dresser in a 5x7 picture frame, and it has an interesting history. I think it was about Valentine's day, and one of my daughters set out to make a card for me to express her love. She got off to a good start, but muffed part of it along the way. Disappointed and discouraged that she'd “ruined” her card for me, she was about to throw it away when Ellen stopped her. Knowing that fathers have different standards for such things, Ellen assured my daughter that even a flawed card would be appreciated. So it was saved from the trash, and presented to me, and I'm sure at the time I gave it the usual “that's lovely, sweetheart” before tucking it in my drawer.

Some time later I came across the card while I was having a tidy fit over my cluttered dresser. Recognizing it as a childhood art project and wondering why I'd hung on to that one, I was about to pitch it when Ellen stopped me. She told me of my daughter's work to make it, of her crushing disappointment at “ruining” it, and how she'd been encouraged to present it anyway. Hearing that, I looked at the card in a new light. This was a hand made expression of love to me from one of my darling children, and in a way stood for all the birthday and Father's Day and Christmas and whatever cards they'd all made for me over the over the years that we simply hadn't been able to keep. It wasn't perfect, but it was all the more charming for that. A purchased card, no matter how elaborate and eloquent, couldn't have begun to touch the simple expression of love that the smeared paint represented. I decided that this one I'd keep, and found a frame for it. Now it sits on my dresser, where I can see it every morning as I get ready for the day. Over the years of mishaps the glass has cracked, but the frame still perches there, holding the card. And as I've been reminded every morning of my children's love for me, a deeper meaning has become more apparent.

We adults think we can do so much for God. In fact, we're so great that sometimes we wonder how He'd get along without us. But the truth is that we can't bring anything before Him but our own weakness and humility – our broken hearts. That's what He really wants of us, and that's all we can bring. Of course, we don't want to bring them, because they're smeared and smudged and imperfect and not at all as good as He deserves. But that's what He wants, because it's the intention behind the smeared and damaged work that interests Him.

Yet how often do we keep away from Him, not wanting to draw near because the project that is our life isn't ready yet? We keep Him waiting for us while we take another stab at it, because this time we're sure to get it right. We can't conceive of a love so deep that even our failures are precious to Him if we bring them in love. We scramble and scurry and hang back because He's so important that we want everything to be perfect for Him – even though He's assured us that we'll never be perfect, but that's okay, because He loves us and treasures even the smallest, most damaged things we do for Him.

It's a lesson I'm still learning. As a reminder, I keep on my dresser a Broken Heart that was given to me by one of my precious children. It isn't perfect, or expensive, or even impressive art. But I treasure it because it is a gift of love. I try to let it remind me that my Heavenly Father wants my imperfection, and my poverty, and my emptiness. He wants my heart, even though it's broken. That's the only treasure I can give Him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A matter of perspective

With the rest of the world, I anxiously watched the situation of the Chilean miners over the past couple months. I was amazed that they not only survived the collapse but were in circumstances where they could stay alive until help arrived. I monitored the progress of the rescue effort, half expecting to hear at any time that some obstacle had hindered or stopped progress. I could hardly believe it when the drillers finally punched through, and was overjoyed that all the miners were rescued safely.

I found myself wondering what it must have been like for the miners trapped miles beneath the surface, their lives in the hands of the rescue workers as they worked against terrible odds to get through. I can only imagine how ecstatic they must have been to see that shaft, and the promise of life that the rescue capsule represented.

One thing I'm certain didn't happen when the drill broke through: none of the miners said, "That shaft is all very well, but it's not quite to my taste. Let's wait a bit, and maybe look around - I'm sure we can find another way out of here." I'm also confident that nobody looked at the rescue capsule and said, "Fitting into that thing is going to be uncomfortable. I imagine they'll want me to hold my arms close to my side, or stand very still, or something. And look how small it is! Imagine squeezing into that for the long time it'll take to be hauled to the surface! No, thanks." Given the entombment they'd suffered for two months, they were hardly going to complain about the path back to life provided for them. They harbored no illusions about how desperate their situation was. I imagine a golden chariot wouldn't have looked as good as that cramped, rusty rescue capsule, and the minor inconveniences of using it wouldn't have been worth considering in comparison to the hope that it offered.

In our parish Bible study, we've been working through the Gospel of St. Luke. One thing that's struck me this time through has been how firmly Jesus tries to get His listeners to look at their lives and circumstances differently. "You think you want an honored position, so you elbow your way closer to the head table? That's a path to humiliation; think about taking the lower place and waiting for your Host to honor you." "You think you have to scrabble and scramble for the basics of life? You're forgetting your Father in heaven, who clothes the grass and feeds the birds. Be about His business, and trust Him to care for you." Much of what Jesus is trying to get across seems to involve not so much learning a lesson as changing our perspective, and looking at things as God looks at them.

Which got me thinking about the miners and the rescue effort, and how that in some ways represents our condition. It's easy for us in the peaceful, affluent West to be deluded about our true circumstances. Because our bodies are safe and our minds engaged, or at least amused, we think we're in pretty good shape. We harbor a lot of illusions about our condition.

But if Christ is to be believed, our situation is much more desperate. In our sinful condition, we're just like those miners trapped thousands of feet beneath the surface. We're cut off from the Light of God and the life with Him that we were made for. Being entombed alive is a good image, because that's exactly what we are: walking dead men. We're still animate and active for a while, but it's only a matter of time before our brief, miserable lives come to an end, and we're as dead as the rocks around us.

But just as the miners had people on the surface working to save them, we sinful ones had a loving God working for us. His rescue shaft is Jesus Christ, promised through the ages and finally breaking through at the Incarnation. His escape capsule is His Church, and the means of grace which He has provided for us. There is One Way out of our desperate predicament, a Way that has been provided by heroic effort and at terrible cost. Against all odds, a path has been opened from our tomb back to Life and Light, and a way to travel that path has been given us.

Yet how often do we scorn this Way, and the means that have been provided for our rescue? "Jesus? But are there not surely several ways to God?" "The Church, with all those burdensome rules and formalities? I don't think those necessary to draw close to God."

It's all about perspective. As beautiful as this life can be, and as wondrous as the Creation is, we need to take our predicament seriously. We live in the shadow of death. Sin is serious, and the possibility of damnation all too real. If we're not careful, we might be trapped in this mine forever. Yes, our God is a loving God - which is why we need to take His plan of salvation seriously. The shaft is drilled and the capsule is ready. It's no good continuing to poke about in the dark to find another exit that better suits our fancies. It's futile to hang back because we don't like the look of the capsule, or the procedures for using it. We need to believe what Jesus tells us about our condition, and do what He says for getting out of it. We need to help our fellow "trapped miners" to understand that we really are in a dark, dingy hole, and that we need to escape or we'll die down here.

The Chilean mine collapse gave us just a glimpse of heaven's perspective on our human condition. We were watching from "upstairs", hoping that the efforts would be successful, anxious until every trapped miner was safely rescued. Right now, the saints and angels await our decision. Will we climb in the capsule and be lifted to safety? Or will we hang back, thinking the dark hole is normal and hoping for a better deal?

It's all in how we choose look at things, and Who we choose to believe.