Monday, 6 December 2010

Closing the gap

If you can fight your way through all the ads and eye-catchers, here's a reminder of Dave Bryant's song Jesus Take Me As I Am

What brought it especially to my mind is the part asking God to make me like a pure, precisely cut crystal through which the light of Jesus can shine clearly.

Thinking of that song reminds me of a man I met when (a long time ago now) I and a handful of friends had the privilege of going each week to join in the Christian fellowship group at a prison a few miles along the coast. 
As new men came into the prison and wanted to join the group, the first attendance of each was very revealing.  Some came in quietly, desiring self-effacement.  Others came in with swagger and loud bravado, obviously stretched thin by life and afraid of being seen and known.  One man came at first unkempt and hostile, principally to gibe and sneer, but ended up being the most eager in the waiting queue, having showered and combed his hair ready for the weekly meeting now held precious because there he was accepted and loved. I remember forming a completely wrong impression of one man the first time I saw him.  With a wickedly disarming smile and a cheeky line of humour he chatted and befriended us.  Then we settled down to worship, and he spoke up to request (I remember it still, 30 years on!) No 136.  I thought it would be some kind of joke - like the times men asked innocently to sing It only takes a spark to get a fire going (!) 
But he was not joking.  The song he requested was 'Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me' - and he meant it too.  That made me stop and think.  He was someone I grew to love and respect, for he was Christ's man, a most gentle and beautiful friend of Jesus, for all he'd made mistakes in life and done wrong things, ended up in prison.  The Lord had lifted him.  "Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me; my glory, and the lifter of my head" (Psalm 3:3).

The memories of those songs that have meant so much to me all came flooding back as I meditated on a short phrase I came across in Cynthia Keller's excellent novel An Amish Christmas, which I have been so enjoying reading in the last few days.
The phrase, ESSE QUAM VIDERI, quoted from Cicero, is apparently the motto of the state of North Carolina, and it means not 'eat until you are sick' (as you might at first think) but TO BE RATHER THAN TO SEEM TO BE.  It is the focal theme of the novel as the story unfolds and, ever since I read them, the words have been on my heart and on my mind.

People often describe me as 'transparent' and believe me to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person; and I guess that's true up to a point.  What you see is what you get - but I do select very carefully what I allow you to see; and I think that's prudent.  Letting it all hang out is rarely wise and never lovely to behold.

But that means what I seem to be and what I am are often two different things.  They have to be.  I speak and write what I believe regardless of whether I achieve it, and that's my intention.  I want to point your thinking toward the truth I believe in, not the depressing shortcomings of the way I live it.

A few weeks ago I listened to a friend teaching about some religious belief that God forgives only three times (not his own belief - he was teaching about a tradition).  I hope that tradition is wrong.  Tonight as I came into the quietness and peace of my room to let God's gaze of love search my heart at the end of the day (and don't run away with the idea I'm a holy mystic vigiling my way through the night, I did this for about five minutes), I had to say sorry once again for moaning and whingeing and gumbling and complaining and being unfair and unkind about other people.  This is what I said sorry for yesterday too.  Maybe it will be the last time and I will never need to say sorry for it again, but somehow I can't help thinking.... 

I felt that hopeless 'Here I am again, Lord' feeling.  Only three times?  I hope not.

So I pick myself up, or He picks me up or something, and I carry on.

Where I want to travel to is that place of real transparency, 'light of Jesus shining through', where the beauty of Jesus is seen in me, and the gap is closed between what I am and what I seem to be.


Do you know this hymn?

Dear Master, in whose life I see

All that I would, but fail to be,
Let thy clear light for ever shine,
To shame and guide this life of mine.

Though what I dream and what I do
In my weak days and always two,
Help me, oppressed by things undone,
O thou, whose deeds and dreams were one.
                                                                       (John Hunter 1889)
That's what I mean.


Ganeida said...

Ember: I think we, all who are Christ's, strive for that transpency, living our lives in such a way that no man can condem us while acknowledging we are still sinners in need of grace. What is true & beautiful & good is still true & beautiful & good however ugly I may become. We shine what light we have as it is revealed to us & trust God for the rest. Bless you for shining so bright a light! ♥

Anonymous said...

Transparency. Honesty. I grapple with this all the time because I value truth, clarity, honesty. I don't have time to put up with plastic, sculpted relationships and words.
But how to juxtapose this with modesty, restraint, gentleness, esp. being God's woman AND a writer? Like you, I don't want to let it all hang out.
I claim James 1 and 3 as my guide--that teachers will be judged more strictly but God will give wisdom when we ask. Beyond this, I have no answers! Thanks for your honesty here.

Julie B. said...

I have seen His Light shining through that precisely cut crystal that is Ember. And am very thankful...

Pen Wilcock said...

Ganeida, I'm very interested in your comment, "We shine what light we have as it is revealed to us."
That has echoes for me of the insistence in the gospels (especially Mark & John) of the importance of seeing (the Light). Our progress is led by our visio is what they teach. The importance of keeping one's eye on the ball. x

Hi tisagifttoreceive! For me, the chances of getting it right any of the time are maximised by maintaining a discipline of simplicity, so I give myself the space I need to make considered choices. x

Hi Julie :0)
When I was a child, my granny had a prism. I loved it, and spent ages holding it up to the light, turning it this way and that, my soul fed by its rainbows. When she died, I was asked if I wanted anything of hers, and I asked for the prism. By that time I had young children oof my own. We kept the prism on top of the piano, and within a week or two one of them had got it down to look at, and dropped and broken it. I feel that the soul within me is something like that. There is an aspect which *is* faithful and therefore clear and beautiful, and another aspect which is clumsy and breaks things and ruins what was clear and beautiful. Like all of us I guess. xx

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time being completely transparent only because not too many take kindly to who/what I *really* am. I try my best to be kind, open minded, honest, to let the Light shine through in my actions and words.

I *adore* Cicero and much enjoy the quote you shared. I wish more people would read him. Perhaps then it wouldn't be so hard for some us to be transparent.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Cora :0) Waving!