Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Strangely Clear"

Remember the old song, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus/ look full in His wonderful face/ and the things of earth will grow strangely dim/ in the light of His glory and grace"?

Quoting Philip Yancey from Christianity Today, July 2009: "Church historian Mark Noll remarks that the song...plainly errs when it says, 'and the things of earth will grow strangely dim...' No, he says, the rest of the world grows clearer, not dimmer, in the light of Christ. God created matter; in Jesus, God joined it."

I know what the old hymn writer meant. He was talking about the ugliness of this world, when trouble seems to blind us to grace, and hardship strips away our peace. In times like those, as we focus on Christ, the difficulties seem to fade just a bit as the glory of God restores hope. He was right, just as in the song Bette Midler made popular, "From a distance, the world seems blue and green and the snowtopped mountains white...God is watching us...from a distance." In the same way as the old hymn, the contemporary song speaks of the truth that God sees the big picture, the end of the story, the final triumph, the right side of the tapestry rather than the knots of string below, the forest and not just each individual tree. It is a message of hope.

But I also know what Mr. Noll meant when he said that the things of this world grow clearer as we welcome Christ into our lives. An intimate walk with Jesus changes our perspective on everything and enhances our view of all things.

With Jesus in my heart, though I may hear a diagnosis of cancer, I am strengthened by the knowledge that He took stripes on His back to provide for my healing, and that even if I die, I will live eternally with Him.

With Jesus in my heart, when I feel alone and lost, I have hope and peace because He has promised never to fail me or forsake me.

I was 24 years old when I first experienced the forgiving grace of Jesus in a truly profound, life-altering way. By that time, I had been a believer and follower of Christ, by my own volition, for 15 years. But I had also strayed from Him and found myself living at the bottom of a deep pit of despair. When I knew in my heart that He loved me, cleansed me, and welcomed me back into fellowship, my entire world changed. My spiritual perspective was certainly new -- the darkness in my heart was flooded with the light of His love and I knew that I was forever free from guilt and condemnation. My emotional perspective was transformed, as well -- the heaviness of shame had almost crippled me in relationships, and now I found myself able to give and receive love again.

In addition to seeing things differently in my very soul, the essence of my being, I also noticed immediately that I began to see things in the physical world differently. Suddenly, I had eyes to see the beauty of creation in ways I never had before. It was as if my spiritual blindness had also rendered me near-sighted with regard to things physical. Now, even barren winter branches had a stark beauty that took my breath away. The sky was bluer, the sun brighter, colors were deeper and had more contrast. With Christ nearer, the world was clearer. The Creator had come into my life in a new way, and He opened my eyes to see all things created with new eyes -- the veil was gone and I saw, literally, without the shadow of sin.

Of course, seeing more clearly also means that one sees the meanness and ugliness that has infected our world more clearly. But that clarity of vision only serves to spur me on to do more to affect the world in positive ways, because of His love, because of His intended and eternal purpose for beauty to surround us, because He longs to fill our lives with Himself instead of the brokenness that threatens to overwhelm us.

A couple of days ago, after a solid month of heavy rains (20+ inches in just 3 weeks, a record-setting September for rainfall in Mississippi), I awoke to a crystal clear sky, with stunning deep blues and a crisp fall breeze. Not wanting to waste even a moment of what might last for only a day or two, I suggested that we pack a picnic and make the trek to Jeff Busby State Park, where, at 603 feet above sea level, Little Mountain towers over most of Mississippi. We could see forever! And, oh, what a sight we had! It's much too early for the best fall color here, and truthfully, Mississippi doesn't get the startlingly beautiful shades of autumn that are on display in New England and other places where the sap runs to oranges and reds, but the greens we saw that day were deep and verdant and throbbed with life.

A little closer to where our feet trod, we saw nuts and pods, spiders and bugs, toppled timber and hollow logs, even a pretty little finch that had met its life's end earlier in the day. We marveled at the creek appearing here and there below our trail, and we stood amazed at the incredible variety of wildlife all around us. We even built a shelter (a very small one) of logs and sticks and bark, and dreamed about how we might be able to survive a night on the Natchez Trace, where Indians and postal carriers used to travel on horseback.

I'm sure that many people never have to be awakened from darkness in order to appreciate beauty like this, but I must admit that I believe that I enjoyed it that much more because of the last six weeks of darkness. Since we moved from Missouri to Mississippi 42 days ago, we have had more rainy days, literally and figuratively, than we have had in a long time. The move itself would have been enough darkness, but it was compounded with all the frustrations of lost mail, delayed bank accounts, too much rain, scattered possessions, the aching loss of friends and community, of fellowship with believers we knew and loved well.

I needed some sunshine in the darkness of my heart. I have grasped at every glimpse of His Light in my daily quiet time, and when He allowed the sun to shine so brightly on Mississippi this Monday past, I was compelled to rush into it, with arms and heart open wide for whatever new vision of His loveliness I might find.

"And the things of earth will grow strangely CLEAR in the light of His glory and grace." I know you agree with Mr. Noll, at least from this perspective, as I do. I pray your eyes are open to see.