“In the economy I am a poor and begging man, but in the currency of grace is where my song begins.” -jon foreman
I sat on the white sand shore of an Encinitas beach, watching the sun come down through a haze of smoke from the northern fires in Malibu.
In a single moment, surfers played in the sea, while simultaneously, a few hundred miles north people were losing their homes; a juxtaposition crashing in on itself with force of a wave.
I had seen many sunsets like this one in my life before. As a boy growing up in Irvine just a few hours away, the pace of the beach feels like a forgotten first nature. The simplicity of interacting with a sea so wonderful — yet so powerful. Dangerous and kind; totally out of our control.
At some point, this lack of control becomes clear. A wave crashes with a force you didn’t realize it had, and power turns to violence. Weight, force, momentum combine and sweep away all in their path. Sometimes this happens even if you’re watchful. Other times, enraptured in play, you forget the power of what you’re dealing with. Turning your back, you find yourself experiencing the weightier side of the ocean. As a wave pounds over you, your mind reminds you that you knew this was possible all along, but figured it wouldn’t happen to you.
Yam - The Sea
In Hebrew thought, the sea was seen as all these things. Dangerous, untamable, violent, teeming with life and mystery, yet totally foreign to humans. An environment where we are weak, vulnerable, and at best visitors in an unknown way of life.
This is an accurate reflection of our life on land as well. Life can painfully remind us that we are at the mercy of something larger than ourselves, a force which we cannot withstand — and if caught in the wrong moment, can totally wipe us out. While often times we’d like to believe that we’re in control, that we can insulate ourselves from the weather, avoid the pitfalls, scheme our way out of trouble, there come a few moments of clarity and accurate self-reflection where we can observe our place in this ecosystem. Small; not as crafty, talented or important as we had considered ourselves to be. Yet, at the same time, perhaps more valuable than we thought. In the stripping away of the proud narrative of our accomplishments, direction and cultural currency, we make space to hear a voice that speaks meaning into our existence. A love that goes beyond performance. A relationship that isn’t looking around for a better option. A person who seeks the others best, even at tremendous personal cost. The noise of flashier, better looking, more immediate offers often drowns out this odd one. This feels like fiction.
As a young boy I had an incredible amount of innocence. My family gave this to me as a gift, and I can still vividly remember moments immersed in innocence. Unconcerned with targeting your words to catch someone’s eye, unflinching and open in relationships without memory of failure, heartbreak, abuse or pain. Trust, unbroken.
These things often feel as foreign as the sea.
After being crushed by a wave, you’re disoriented. Head throbbing, eyes stinging and mouth full of with salt water, the first instinct is to get out. Get somewhere familiar and safe where you can find equilibrium. It’s easiest to withdraw. And for a time, this is necessary, even healthy. It may not be time to enter the water again yet. But once on land, it becomes apparent that it might be easier to stay there.
And in many senses it is.
In a thousand ways, safeguarding, defending and creating distance in resistance to the pain, disorientation and loss of innocence. It can be done so subtly we don’t even know we’re doing it.
Nazgul Blades and Withdrawal
It is said of Frodo after he receives a wound from a Nazgul blade that he will “never really heal.” He will carry the wound with him for the rest of his life. And he does. Every time his enemies draw near, seeking the ring he carries, the wound reawakens, as if it were fresh that very moment.
Like Frodo, we live with the ache not of one, but of many wounds, reawakened from their dormant sleep through memory and re-injury. And we carry a burden on a journey on which it would be easier simply, not to go.
It is easier to withdraw to our insulated existences, and to avoid risk, loss or re-injury.
We cannot imagine innocence again.
But fortunately, our imaginations are not required here, but rather the our willingness to experience it firsthand.
A man named “deliverer” reached into the fullness of our wound, and was profoundly wounded. His scars remain as a memory, not of loss, but of victory. He was undeterred by our withdrawal, and simultaneously unabashed at encountering our hemorrhaging vulnerability.
He was a man who said to the sea “be still,” — and it listened.
He made a way for there to be innocence again.
And I am in the process of rediscovering it.
Contained within this are both the reality of allowing my wounds to become memories, not of loss, but of victory, and the commitment to learning a new way of not being a wounder. The irony of this conversation is that we also have power to bring life, or to wound. The way of Jesus is one where power is to be used, not as a weapon — not as a careless, crushing force, and not for gain, but as dynamic movement for serving others.
Jesus is our example in this.
Though he was God, didn’t consider equality with God as something to be used to his own advantage, but made himself nothing taking on the nature of a servant, and becoming obedient even to death on a cross, so that at the right time he might be exalted as the highest name on heaven, earth or anywhere else.
I’m far from understanding this life, but it intrigues me. It’s simultaneously foreign and familiar, like a stream running underground whose effects we had always observed, but never encountered its source.
…as if it was always the way things ought to be.
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