Chocolate Rivers

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

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I started to cook again this week.  

 Food and the preparation of said food, i.e. – cooking, is an uncanny indicator in my life regarding the true state of my heart.  If my spirit is peaceful, cooking seems amusing and diverting, but if my soul is weary and overwrought, the very same task feels like a loathsome chore.

 In the Christian world, it’s common to hear the wise and mature folk ask younger leaders, “So dear, where are you at spiritually?” 

And my response would be, “well, my kids had a frozen TV dinner consisting of macaroni with a side of zapped peas last night.” Translation…my cup over runneth with too much activity and my kids are getting neglected again in the kitchen realm.

It’s such a vague question, really, when considering the totality of a human being, this “Christianise” vernacular of “where are you at spiritually,” as if we could point to a spot on the map or a quadrant and define our status.  Call me complex or multi-faceted as my friend Krista likes to say, but who, in all reality, could ever chart the condition of their heart on a graph?

Husband (9), kids(8), writing(7), cooking(2), status of garage(-10), ministry (7) health (5) workouts(3), quiet times (5), time for friends(1), time for me(-5), talks with God (7), rest(1), work (5), sex life(well, that’s private)

My graph would make Jack’O Lantern teeth; consistent only in the up and down, ebb and flow…of highs and lows and in and outs.  Nothing static…but a tornado of emotions, physical peaks and valleys, and spiritual growth and setbacks all tumbled together under the umbrella of God’s grace.

My points average out to about 2, which puts me right back to cooking.

These days, it’s popular for food to be referenced as a metaphor for emotional undercurrents. Cooking is suggested as an alternate form of therapy, sometimes revenge, and even self-punishment. 

I thought I was above using food as a weapon, but I was clearly wrong, because the first thing I did when my husband recently traveled for a week was to go directly to the store and buy all the food he doesn’t like or approve of. 

My shopping cart resembled the chocolate river from Willy Wonka; peppermint Jo Jo’s, peppermint chunk mocha sipping chocolate, chocolate dipped strawberries, and Swedish dark chocolate. The checker looked at me with disdain, a subtle suggestion that maybe my chocolate binge was hormonal.  I stared back belligerently.

It was passive aggressive at best…a defiant move that asserted my sense of self apart from my husband.  Call me crazy, but sometimes, I need those little moments for my soul to scream out, “I am woman. A chocolate fiend of a woman.  Hear me roar.”

Notwithstanding the  chocolate fiasco, my life has begun to calm down lately.  Rest has moved up the graph and peace has burst through the dam of exhaustion.  

So, where am I at spiritually?

Well, last week my girls and I ate pork-chops with mango papaya salsa and green bean casserole,  Lasagna and salad with fruit and pear-gorgonzola dressing, salmon with chocolate mole sauce, and divine home-made turkey soup from Thanksgiving left-over’s.

Translation…my spirit is fruitful with a little dash of spice, dark, meaty and sweet, sometimes nostalgic and often saucy.

Maybe that’s why God gave us manna, asks us to fast in prayer, and calls himself the “bread of life,” because somehow our spirits are mysteriously and deeply intertwined with food. No pun intended…but maybe we really are what we eat.

Thoughts on Beauty

images

The world defines beauty as a visually appealing attribute or quality that elicits a response such as a feeling of attraction, desire, or envy.  Men and women want to experience it, attain it, and hold onto it.

We capture its fleeting essence in pictures, art, and stories.  There is a yearning to slow down the moment or image, as if to milk every last drop out of it.  We glorify it, idolize it and elevate beauty beyond the ordinary.  This is beauty defined by societal norms.

Behind this yearning, there is I believe, a conviction that somehow in the attainment of this “beauty” one shall be set free from further pursuit of it and find fulfillment. But, as with other vain pursuits, this too, is a mere chasing after the wind.  The grass withers…and the flower falls, and we are no more exempt from the grass and the flower than from the inevitable withering of our physical bodies.

But because we perceive beauty as a thing to be captured, we try to hold onto it.  We Botox it, cut it up and distort the very process of ageing, that which is, in itself, a beautiful thing.

And yet even knowing the truth and acknowledging the lie, I still can not escape the deep desire in my heart to be beautiful.  Is that yearning bad?  Or is it the memory of paradise, deeply distorted by the world, manifesting in an ache to be accepted, loved and affirmed through an outward emphasis on appearance?

I think our definition of beauty is wrong.  We yearn for a perfect world and try to recreate it through distorted illusions.  Because of sin we have forgotten the source of all that is beautiful.

Psalm 90:17 Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands.’

Beauty is therefore an attribute of God.  It glories not in itself but its profit to others.  Beauty is giving not taking.

Psalm 27:4 King David says, “…one thing I ask of the Lord, that I will seek after, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”

Beauty brings life, healing and wholeness.  It is justice, truth, righteousness, peace and strength.  It is the ultimate desire to see and experience.  It is tangible and eternal. It is that which touches the soul.  Beauty is an encounter with the Creator.

Therefore, beauty is not a perfect body, complexion or fleshy form.  Beauty is not a man or a woman, or a kitten or a sunset.  Beauty is found in the artist and designer of all things-Jesus Christ.  My desire to be beautiful, if seen from this perspective, is really a cry for relationship and connection to God, to be naked and not be ashamed, to walk hand in hand with him in the Garden, and ultimately to behold his beauty with my very own eyes.

Confession Un-ritual

Confession is a nebulous buzzword in the Christian community.   Is it personal or public, ritualistic or spontaneous?  If I confess to an intermediary, do I hold back the groans that only the Holy Spirit can translate?  It may be a private moment alone kneeling before the Father, a hidden practice behind a curtain with a priest, or a corporate movement as one voice laments the separation of God from His people.

No matter what approach we take, Scripture considers confession as an acknowledgment of our sin to God.  [1] This idea of owning ones crime and seeking restitution to receive absolution seems to be hardwired in humanity by the Lord, as a way to draw us back into a closer relationship with him.  Our conscience becomes heavy under the weight of sin and we feel compelled to disclose our faults and be free from the burden of carrying them.

But how we approach confession has become controversial.  Because many of our parent’s generation vehemently rejected denominational tradition and strict Catholic practice, the children of these anti-ritual Christians are left void of any context for communal confession.

While the doctrine of imputed righteousness in the reformed tradition has alleviated the insecurity of assurance of salvation, it has not addressed our basic human need to cleanse our conscience. There have been many times where my own confession to the Lord in private prayer time has not been enough to fully remove the stain of “felt” sin and guilt.  I know consciously that I am forgiven, but the effects of sin may linger through memories and shame.  Luther may call this “faulty faith” and “terrors of doubt” that are common to man. [2]

While a ceremonial rite of penance has little appeal, memory verses said over and over by rote repetition also fall short to ease my troubled conscience. These are the times I crave a trusted advisor or a safe person to share my sin with, affirm my right standing with the Lord as forgiven through the blood of Jesus, and pray over me and with me.  James 5:16 tells us to…“confess our sins to one another and pray for one another for healing.” This verse must not be taken out of the context of a passage on healing, but I would argue that there are certain types of sins that wound the spirit, and physical illness can often be linked to emotional trauma. Through Jesus we are offered forgiveness, but a part of our healing seems to come from group intervention.

This context for group confession and prayer extends to a larger group as well.  When I am with a group of people who are authentic and share their own temptations, I am brought into community from the isolation of feeling alone and overwhelmed by my sin.  There is comfort in the recognition that “all have fallen short of the glory of God” and the sweet reminder that even my sin is not unpardonable. This leads me to believe that the corporate structure of confession in conjunction with a private declaration provides the structure and guidance to forgiveness that I crave.

In the Protestant or Reformed church, “confession” has often been reduced to accountability groups and pastoral counseling, leaving it almost entirely out of the main church service.  If it is included, it may be a very autonomous or personal moment before communion or as a ‘quiet” moment in prayer.  In the anti-ritual movement away from meaningless and routine acts to a detached congregation, we have robbed ourselves of the beauty of communal expression.

Not long ago, I was standing in worship, singing and offering praise to God, when it hit me that what I really wanted to do was throw myself on the ground and plea for God’s mercy.  I hadn’t done anything major or committed any crimes, but standing before a Holy God, I am overwhelmed by my sinful nature.  Like Ezra, I bemoan my blemished state, “I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God and prayed:  “O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” [3] 

But here comes the rub…in a mainly Caucasian upper middle class suburban neighborhood, charismatic displays of emotion are a sign of instability not remorseSome churches are now offering more creative methods of confession in a corporate manner, but still private enough to not intimidate those uncomfortable with a more traditional confession.  My church Mariners, opened a chapel which is apart from the main worship center. Inside the chapel are different experiential methods to worship.  There is a prayer wall to deposit prayers and have elders or a prayer team intercede, a candle lighting station, an opportunity to take communion during each service and a much longer time of reflection during worship.  At Good Friday each year, large crosses are strewn across the floor and sins are penned on small pieces of paper and then physically nailed to a large cross. Another demonstrative approach is to write down the sins and then watch them disappear in blood stained water (who knew ministry workers were chemists too?). These simple acts give a tangible symbol to an intangible imputation.  I appreciate these physical demonstrations of confession and absolution because I am reminded through the experience of God’s mercy.

Some may consider my desire for visual symbols and experiences as a lack of faith …but I disagree. I do confess a consistent and constant duality to my faith journey.  While I believe that Jesus has already paid the penalty for my sin with his life and blood, I also yearn for assurance.  Like the father confronted with his doubts, I cry out to God, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief![4]

It is this hope in the unseen and that of what is yet to come, despite my doubt, which best describes my faith walk.  If, our faith on this side of eternity will always be left wanting, and is often inadequate and faulty in its exercise, than an expression of repentance through a group seems less of a ritual and more of an approach to God.


[1] Easton’s Bible Dictionary

[2] The Dublin Review, Volumes 17-18, Nicholas Patrick Wiseman

[3] Ezra 9:5-6 (New International Version)

[4] Mark 9:24, New International Version(1984)

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