Posts Tagged ‘mystery’
Why I haven’t looked up the dictionary definition of gazebo until now, I do not know. We’ve been thinking about gazebos for months. I just haven’t felt the need to consult the dictionary, thinking that the significance of this thing lay only in what God wanted to say through it, not in the thing itself. And it is a simple word: it is not from the ancient Greek, not theologically significant, suggests nothing profound in its sound or sense (some in our community simply dislike the word). But when I finally saw the definition this last week, it sent me spinning into a reverie about the nature of grace and revelation.
Back in January, I put up a post called Mystery, which encoded a short piece of text in a QR code. A QR code is a two-dimensional black and white image that can encode text (vs bar codes which only encode numbers). I gave no explanation for it, just put it out there, wanting to see how much people would work to understand something that was not immediately obvious. Here’s the code again:
If you scan the full-size version of this with a QR reader (apps are available for smart phones, and decoders are available online), the following text would appear:
“Jesus often left things unexplained, yet invites us to pursue understanding. Why would he conceal truth behind cryptic statements? A better question: ‘how hungry are we for the truth?’”
One of the proverbs says “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (25.2). There’s an interesting tension in this text. God, who could be understood to hold answers to the great questions of our lives, somehow includes mystery as an aspect of divine glory. God ‘conceals matters’, and that’s apparently one of the great things about God? That feels like a kind of a bummer … but there is some hope in the second half of the text. Somehow human glory (like the best qualities of the best king) is to not be satisfied with mystery, but to go knocking, asking, seeking. We are meant to go after God. We can see God welcoming this kind of trouble throughout scripture. Consider how the epic troublemaker Jacob was allowed to best God in a wrestling match, while demanding a blessing.
The reason why I hid my text in a code was that I wanted to make the point that if I ever say or do things that are incomprehensible, I would want people to come after me … to try and understand (vs. settling for not understanding). I have spent enough time working with people to know that we generally do not try to understand. For example, if a person does something we don’t like, we write them off as the kind of Person That Does Things We Don’t Like … instead of asking them why they make the choices they do.
I’m for a community contract that says we don’t ever leave a mystery unexplored. Especially when the mystery is a person.
My daughter was born at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, though, honestly, I can’t remember why: we lived a couple hours away in Pasadena. The hospital was far away by measure of miles, and it was a long way from where we were philosophically: 3 years later, our son was born at our home in Redwood City while our daughter slept in the next room. When I think about the new thing that was born on Saturday night in my home in Los Altos, it was way more Redwood City than Beverly Hills. Of all the ways that comment could be interpreted, none would be bad.
When babies are born in hospitals, almost every potential problem is considered and planned for–the long history and vast community of medicine has had it’s influence on the array of machines and policies that a mother is plugged into. It’s what doctors are trained (and paid) for. But patients can be forgiven for concluding that all this technology is applied primarily so that, should anything go wrong, there can be no questioning the doctors, because they provided the Standard of Care. This is not a criticism of doctors and nurses, who are amazing, no question, but it is a criticism of a wider system that seems to function at such times according to a cover-your-backside ethic.
So when our daughter was being born, the doctor’s first (angry) words upon entering the delivery room were, “Why does this woman not have an IV?”. Answer: we’d refused it on principle–we didn’t want interventions that weren’t expressly called for (note that we wouldn’t have refused any care if child or mother were at risk). But our posture was a problem for this doctor, who was thereafter set in opposition to us, because he knew that if we were refusing the standard of care, he would have to go slightly off his map, which clearly made him uncomfortable. And this wasn’t the only conflict we had with him: there were other moments when we would have preferred to focus on the Awesome Miracle instead of trying to argue the reasoning of our decisions. The only way to avoid conflict in such a setting seems to be to do what’s expected. Maybe our experience doesn’t represent what happens in hospitals today. Here’s hoping.
When babies are born at home, you quickly learn (if you are talking to a good midwife) that pregnancy is not a disease, and childbirth is not a health emergency, so why plan to spend this particular day in the hospital? Women are, in fact, biologically capable of giving birth, and they do a good job of it. If anyone is asking, my vote is to let them keep doing it. It looks painful enough, and I think it would be worse for me. But while pain hurts, it’s not always an emergency. I can hear a mother-in-labor asking, in between contractions, how exactly would I, a man define emergency? How about, a great deal of pain that you did NOT expect. I hope that’s helpful.
To the degree that Something New came into existence this last saturday night, it was definitely a home birth. I lead the meeting, and I did not … 1) follow a map, 2) conduct surveys, or 3) design a meeting that would offend nobody. If had done that, and someone went ahead and got offended anyways, I could always say that I provided the standard of care, did it by the book — you can ask no more of me. But I didn’t do that. I am naturally wary of standardized systems anyways, so it wasn’t hard to look for a different way. But I still had to resist the temptation to put safeguards in place and follow well-warn routes.
What I did do was trust that coming together in community is something that people are are made for; that community isn’t a problem that needs solving–it’s a miracle that needs a space to happen in. So that’s pretty much what we did: we prepared a space for community to happen. Then we did our breathing exercises.
True, things sometimes go wrong and you need the help of a specialist … the midwife who attended the birth of our son had been an E.R. nurse. That was nice. But we never heard a thing from her about the problems she’d witnessed in delivery rooms or birth-crises that she’d dealt with. I was glad to know she had experience and the training to recognize trouble and respond. But we didn’t need her to prepare us for the worst: we knew childbirth would be painful and that there is always some risk to the mother and child. But that story gets enough air time: whenever childbirth is depicted on the TV, it’s a terrible crisis. If anything, we needed to be reminded that what what we were doing was God’s idea in the first place and a natural thing. Our midwife never said, “You need to have an I.V. because we might need to quickly administer drugs if you’re in too much pain or if something goes horribly wrong.”
She did say, “You’re going to do great.”
We felt confident that between the three of us, we would be able to meet any challenge. Anghelika did experience some serious pain when Timo was born, but she’d decided that her help would be … us. We helped her breath, talked to her when it seemed right to, and when it hurt, she squeezed my hand. I remember that part. Clearly.
So, back to Saturday night. I can already see that God took advantage of the space we made for this miracle … I see blessings I would never have been able to plan for, had I tried to. As with our Redwood City delivery, there was a little anxiety: I found myself briefly worrying that our choice to give birth at home might have put this brand-new life in danger. But ultimately, as with the birth of our boy, I was blessed to see a miracle take place without great constructions of watch-out-for-the-piano safety nets and just-in-case insurance policies.
For the record, a midwife is a very good idea when considering home birth. We have our ‘midwives’ for this new thing. They are sharing our joy and, yes, keeping their eyes on the horizon for signs of trouble. But they haven’t put us in a hospital room of their own design. They’re content to watch the process unfold in our living room. I’m thankful for that. Instead of a fear of what-could-go-wrong, what I feel the most is the freedom to be an awestruck witness, and an excited parent.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself …”. (Mark chapter 4)
Something about the growth of the divine community is a mystery. It’s like this: a seed, dead and buried in the dirt, yields a flower. The farmer doesn’t know how that happens (doesn’t need to know), but the soil knows.
The kingdom is like that. A mother doesn’t know how the child grows in her (nor does she need to know), but she’s made for it nonetheless. The soil knows how the flower grows.
The community of God, the kingdom, the place where God’s grace is active, grows in strength and effectiveness in this way. We get up early, throw seed, pull weeds, go to sleep tired … and in the end we trust the soil to know.
The church is growing.
woodcut by Spyros Vassiliou, c. 1945