Preparing Through Parable: All Kinds of Fish

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Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 
Matthew 13: 47-48

 

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I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. 
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
– It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
– if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! 
And I let the fish go. 

~Elizabeth Bishop  from “The Fish”
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All my life, I’ve taken care of a variety of fish in tanks.  As a child, I would watch, mesmerized, as our tropical fish glided around, happily exploring their little ten gallon world.  I willingly cleaned away the algae, rinsed the gravel and changed the filter. As a teenager, I boasted at least three different tanks aerating away in my bedroom, my own little aquacultural world.

During college and medical school, I chose to share my room with goldfish and bettas, thriving on their contentment within a clear glass bowl.  I didn’t think of them as emotional support animals, but there was a joy obvious in their albeit limited existence: they still thrived when I was away, not missing me, but were always thrilled when I fed them, and tolerated my messing with their home maintenance.

My current aquarium is over thirty years old and boasts over two dozen fish and plenty of furry algae and plants. Some of my watery friends have lived a decade or more and when they pass, I miss them.  Even the dozen koi and goldfish in our farm pond have expressive faces and individual personalities that I’ve gotten to know well as they come when I call.

I’m not a fisherman so can’t imagine sorting these finned friends good from bad as the parable suggests will happen in the kingdom of God.  I know the heart of compassion I feel for these animals I’m responsible for, as I know and have experienced the compassion of our Creator.

I would hope when the time comes that I end up in His net, that He’ll look at me, at my blemishes and wounds and the number of hooks in my mouth from the times I’ve been caught and escaped, and if He’s not yet ready to take me home, or deems me not yet ready to leave this world, He’ll throw me back to keep trying to get it right.

He has promised us that.

Rainbows, rainbows, rainbows.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

tanks

 

koigold

 

 

Preparing Through Parable: A Pearl of Great Value

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…the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13: 45-46

 

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Suppose a person entering a house were to feel heat on the porch, and going further, were to feel the heat increasing, the more they penetrated within. Doubtless, such a person would believe there was a fire in the house, even though they did not see the fire that must be causing all this heat.

A similar thing will happen to anyone who considers this world in detail: one will observe that all things are arranged according to their degrees of beauty and excellence, and that the nearer they are to God, the more beautiful and better they are.
St. Thomas Acquinas from Sermon-Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles’ Creed

 

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Rather than stumbling upon the great treasure when least expecting it,  we can be looking for the treasure in every day moments, approaching closer and closer, feeling the heat, knowing what it will cost us to lay hold of it.

We know it when we find it, feel it in our bones and will sacrifice all we own to have it.

There is nothing more beautiful, more valuable, more everlasting.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Like a Mustard Seed

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30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Matthew 17:20

 

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When I was eight years old, I spent my hard-earned chores allowance on a little round glass ball necklace containing a mustard seed at the front and a scripture verse on the back.  At that tender age, I considered my faith very tiny indeed, so the necklace gave me courage and confidence that it (and I ) could somehow grow and flourish.

As was true of most things I said or did in grade school, I was teased about wearing the necklace, so I decided to hide it under my blouses and sweaters, tucked safely away over my heart, right where it belonged.  It was simply enough for me to know it was there, even if no one else did.

My faith became tinier as it became hidden away, eventually to end up in my little jewelry box along with my banished necklace, locked away with a little key and nearly forgotten over the years.

No seed grows without nurture and care.  No faith grows when invisible to others.  Yet the Kingdom of God thrives in such inauspicious places as our shriveling hearts, growing large and protective for those of us with the tiniest of faiths.

Nothing is impossible in the Lord, only because of the Lord.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

backmustardseed

 

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Turn Aside and Look: God’s Image is on You

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Some of you have probably heard me mention the simple conversation between Jesus and the one who was questioning him, trying to pit him against Caesar. And he looked at Jesus and he said, “Is it alright to pay taxes to Caesar?” (Mark 12:14-17) That is one question I wish so desperately Jesus had answered differently—then on April 15 you could be godly and rebellious at the same time!

Jesus, so brilliant in his response, he says, “Give me a coin.” And he took the coin and he says, “Whose image do you see on this?” The man says, “Caesar.” Jesus says, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and give to God that which is God’s.”

The disingenuousness of the questioner is noticed in the fact that he did not come back with a second question. He should have said, “What belongs to God?” And Jesus would have said, “Whose image is on you?”

Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar; give to God that which belongs to God. God’s image is on you.
~Ravi Zacharias

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The whole concept of the Imago Dei (or)…the ‘Image of God’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected…

This gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity.
And we must never forget this…there are no gradations in the Image of God.

Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard,
precisely because every man is made in the Image of God.

One day we will learn that.

We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers
and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.
– Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “The American Dream” sermon, July 4, 1965

 

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Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke frequently of a hoped-for day when all people would be united as God’s children,  joined together by our joint creation as the Image of God.  Not one of us reflects God more than another but together form His body and His kingdom on earth.

Dr. King’s words and wisdom continue to inform us of our shortcomings over 50 years later as we flounder in our flaws and brokenness;  so many question not only the validity of equality of all people of all shades, but even doubt the existence of a God who would create a world that includes the crippled body, the troubled mind, the questioned gender, the genetically challenged, the human beings who never draw a breath.

Yet we are all one, a composition made up of white and black keys too often discordant, sometimes dancing to different tempos, only on rare occasions a symphony.  The potential is there for harmony, and Dr. King would see and hear that in his time on earth.

Instead we unite only in our shared tears, shed for the continued strife and disagreements, shed for the injustice that results in senseless killings, shed for our inability to hold up one another as holy in God’s eyes as His intended creation.

We weep together knowing a day will come when the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces — all colors just as they are.  No gradations.

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Lenten Reflection–Birth of Dawn and Dew

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Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light. – C.S. Lewis

My husband and I have just spent our first night in Japan, traveling to share some precious time with our son who teaches in Tokyo, and staying with our close friends of thirty years who are serving as missionaries here. With our internal clocks off, we woke at 2 AM, so over the last hour, I have watched Tokyo awake cold, gray and overcast, much like dawns at home in the Pacific Northwest Although there was not the visible ‘rising sun’ this ancient land is known for, a birth of light still happened just as it does anywhere on earth to erase the night, even above and despite the cloud cover.

I am overwhelmed by the vastness of the ocean we flew over yesterday, the hugeness of this city and its multimillions of people, by the fact we are able to be here at all in mere hours in this modern age of transportation. I am overcome that I can witness the dawn no matter where I rise, insignificant as I am, that I am able to feel at home even in far off lands.

May I be confident, no matter where I sleep or awake, I can be witness to a dawning, inevitable, that rises over a vast Kingdom without borders, without corruption, without alienation, without end.

No matter where I lie, I will be covered in its cleansing dew.

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Already But Not Yet

springsunsetcolor(written originally in 2006)
The first full day of spring broke bright, sunny and full of promise.  After a hectic day at work, I turned to my barn chores, rushing to bring the horses in to the barn as the sunset began coloring everything on the farm.  I wanted to take a picture of the paint-streaked sky, but the sun’s descent was faster than I.  By the time I grabbed the camera and headed to the hillside to take photos of the red flushed woods to the east, the amber hue was barely visible as a cloak of gray dusk settled over everything.   I took photos in that mere light and when I loaded them on the computer there reappeared the light I’d lost outside.  Though grainy from the darkness, the red was vibrant and visible after all.  The sun had already set, but not quite yet.

It was an “already but not yet” kind of week.  Spring has already arrived if one looks at the calendar.  Yet there are not the typical signs of full-fledged spring.  The frogs have not begun to chorus at night, the orchard buds are staying stubbornly small, the tulip blossoms are staying tight and green, the grass is only beginning to show growth, the snow is still low in the hills.   So there is a “not yet” feel to spring. We continue to wait, hopeful.

One of our mares seemed “all ready” to deliver her foal last week when we needed to be away for the farm for a couple days, so a “horse sitter” came and stayed until we returned, and but the foal arrival time was “not yet”, so it was an exceedingly boring mare watch for her.

My 85 year old mother spent the week in the hospital after suffering a small stroke which affected her balance and coordination.  Though not a major setback for her physically, it was a blow to her confidence and makes her feel vulnerable to future strokes, which may be worse next time.  She knows, after a long healthy life, she should be “all ready” for the day the Lord takes her home, but it is “not yet” her time.

I am already in the midst of my own life transition with plummeting hormonal levels in my 50s as my teenage daughter’s peak.  I’m most definitely in the proverbial middle of the generational sandwich–whether I’m the meat, the cheese or a condiment is not clear to me. What I do know is that I’m not yet done with this very challenging and compressed part of my life.

Already but not yet.  There is tension in knowing that something profound is happening–a vanishing sunset, a vernal equinox, a life change or transition, but the transformation is not yet complete, and I’m not sure when it will be. I am still unfinished business.

In a few weeks I will be reminded of what is yet to come. I will know the shock of the empty tomb. My heart will burn within me as more is revealed, through the simple act of bread breaking.

It is finished on my behalf.

I’m all ready.