Combines dance, hand to shoulder, waltzing with grain carts big as houses through fields, their song like water pouring. They hand their grain to semis to haul to bins that rise like cities over the fields. I watched these trucks rush past our house, park, then whirl back the way they came. At night when farmers’ lights splatter fields I think of mystery, but soon those disappear, leaving pools of darkness with a smattering of dooryard lights.
After harvest, giant floaters and limestone trucks pour fertilizer into the ground, readying it, with hope. Then the tractors knife stubble back to the dirt, laying in the fertilizer, and opening the soil for moisture to sink deep.
We’ve entered the season of waiting and rest. Darkness continues to fatten, but only for a few weeks. Then slowly the sun will top the horizon sooner, lay down later. But the cold will wrap itself around our hands and thighs, the trees and bushes, squirrels and birds. It will slap our faces. The ground will rest, growing hard, walled against our footsteps and plows.
Sometimes winter calls us to a stillness that doesn’t push dreams to come true, that doesn’t speak. Even walls like that hard ground, as painful and lonely as they can be, can wrap around us like a chrysalis that cradles our melting selves so we can awake up as a new creation, just like the ground awakens, seeds throwing over clods of dirt, plants like hands lifted in thanks for the sun and rain.
I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.
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This darkness, this being buried in earth, is not fun. It’s dark. It’s lonely. It’s sometimes so dry we wonder how our hearts could be so hard. Sometimes it’s moist with our tears. It’s where our obedience calls us to wait. We’re dead. There’s no promise we’ll live again, at least that’s what we see, hear, feel, taste, touch. We are so dry. We are so wet. We can’t breathe. We sleep. We can’t sleep.
But slowly roots slide out of us deeper into the dark. A stem pushes up against the dirt, away from claustrophobia, away from suffocation, right towards air and sun.
We have heard the command, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27: 14 ESV). We have waited longer than a few seasons, holding onto the words before the command, “I believe I shall look on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”(Psalm 27:13 ESV).
We have waited through fear that comes from being alone, wondering if that would ever end. We have waited through anger, running our thoughts round and round like a toy train around a Christmas tree. And we remember, “The Lord is the light of. My salvation, who shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:10).
So we crawl into the crag and stronghold, gripping those fears until our knuckles are white. Or do they matt our hair like clumps of burdocks? We light a fire to keep warm and realize that light, that warmth come from God himself. We swap stories with him. We toss the easy fears into the flames, to keep the flames alive. Slowly we tease and pick the other fears out of our hair, and lean to the fire, the heat almost unbearable and we drop them in.
God Himself, we are hiding in God, even his Son, Jesus, who’s supposed to be meek and mild, speak words that strike terror. Words about weeds sown with the wheat. (Nowadays farmers kill the weeds before they can begin to grow, and if they defy the chemicals, they spray more.)
Jesus himself tells the servants leave the wheat and the weeds, let them grow together. The angels will separate the weeds from the wheat at the end of the age. I think how straw is thrashed from the grain, the straw itself like the weeds, useless, only good to catch manure, soak urine, bed animals. Those angels might just be like the Greek heroes who were told to sort seeds. He says, “They will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Suddenly the crag and stronghold, roars with a fire that has begun to burn because I can’t stand apart from those wicked people—a terrorist, an adulterer, a corrupt politician where I say good, they will get their just deserts, they will be burned in fire; where I think I’m safe because I said the sinners prayer, because I asked Jesus into my heart, because I believe I’m saved by grace. But I know every time I walk down the road talking to God or I crawl into the crag, the cave in the rock, I know when I talk to God, my stubborn heart, says I won’t or I can’t and here’s my complaint. I know I need the fire to clean up. And like Solzhenitzyn, I realize “that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” I want the fire to clean up. The fire is my beloved, fearsome yes, but my beloved.
I peer into the fire, that glows magenta and white and gray. I imagine a city there. And I remember the three Hebrew boys who were thrown into the fiery furnace. The boys who told the king, when they wouldn’t worship his statue, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand oh king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up” (Daniel 4:17). We know those boys walked with a man whose eyes burned like lamps, whose thighs were burnished bronze, who glowed brighter than the fire. When the king called the boys to come out, I wonder if they wanted to stay with the one who looked like a son of god, in that eerie safety where the fire didn’t scorch? When they climbed out there was no smell of smoke, not even singed eyebrows. Not even their clothes were destroyed. And the king believed.
As far as weeping and gnashing of teeth, who hasn’t grieved like this, when we realize just what we’ve done, just how that has not been good. Being in God’s presence, feeling the sorrow and nakedness of “woe is me I am a a man of unclean lips. I come from a nation of unclean lips.” And yet we are told over and over that God draws near to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit. This outer darkness is fearsome. I know. I’ve been there. But God has drawn near. I’ve felt his presence, his wiping the tears from my eyes.
Theologian Chris Green explains it better in his essay,“Jesus Does Not Leave Us at the Altar” about the parable of the ten virgins. “Besides, even if in some sense we are at times ‘locked out’ or ‘left behind,’ he always appears—outside with the outsiders, knocking at the door of our hearts. We may have forgotten him, but he always remembers. We may have been unfaithful, but he remains faithful. He cannot deny us any more than he can deny himself. And unlike the Lord in this parable, Jesus does not send us away but comes to us, especially when we are so lost we cannot find our way to him.
When I walk out at night, when I am buried in darkness. It’s lonely. It’s sometimes so dry I wonder how my heart could be so hard. Sometimes it’s moist with my tears. It’s where my obedience calls me to wait. I’m dead. There’s no promise I’ll live again, at least that’s what I see, hear, feel, taste, touch. I am so dry. I am so wet. I can’t breathe. I sleep. I can’t sleep.
But slowly roots slide out of me deeper into the dark. A stem pushes up against the dirt, away from claustrophobia, away from suffocation, right towards air and sun.
I hear words whispered in the darkness. Paul in the First letter to the Corinthians shines a light, “Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (I Cor 4: 5). Let him who has ears, let him hear. Commendation. There is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Well done good and faithful servant. Commendation.
He that has ears let him hear. He whispers in the dark and the flame. He says something mysterious, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father” after he’s explained what happens to the weeds. (Matt 13:43). Maybe we will shine because we will be cleansed by the fire that is love, that perfect love that drives out fear, all lack, all shame, all that’s not good. Maybe we will shine like the stars in the heaven.
I hear, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great. joy to the only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority before all time, now and forever” (Jude 24).
Oh and that seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living? He’s hawked and spit on the ground. Rolled a ball of mud. Thrust into our eyes. We see men like trees walking. We see trees and sun and blue sky and stars and water lapping. We see the goodness of the Lord, here, now. It might not be what we imagine, but it’s better than good, better than what our minds can think up. Here. Now.
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