By: Amanda Lindamood
Readings: Isaiah 54: 9-10; Hebrews 2: 10-18; Psalm 31: 9-16
“Didn’t I conquer this, last year. Tell me what I missed, because I feel that it’s coming back up again. Must be something I ate, some song, some show, some hate. The devil wants to extend the game, free throws, and when it ends, he wants to make, the sequel, because if he has another chance, he feels like he can take, my joy, my peace, my faith. See the devil, he learns from your mistakes, even if you don’t, that’s how he keeps you in cycles, cycles, cycles, but I’m not going in cycles, cycles.” – Cycles by Jonathan McReynolds
At my dad’s funeral, the pastor used a metaphor about travel in his sermon. I was six, but it made sense to me then as it does now. He described a sense that my family had planned a vacation, and gotten on a plane to Italy, yet when we got off, we found ourselves instead in Holland. It wasn’t beautiful for the reasons we were excited about traveling to Italy for, but we would find our bearings and discover beauty anyway, just maybe not in the same ways or for the same reasons.
That Pastor followed his sense of call and moved away from my church before my dad died, but he accompanied my family while my dad was sick and under hospice care. His metaphor was from a place of knowing my dad and my family very well, but it also wasn’t an attempt to smooth over the disruption.
Years later when I was a senior in high school, a mentor of mine wrote in a card, “I hope that as you leave from here you know God more than you know about God”. Her prayer for me was one of personalization, and a rooted relationship. In Young Life when you apply to be involved in their ministry, you first spend a year in discernment. Throughout that discernment you collect ministry ideas, the first of which is, “you cannot forget that this is a relational ministry”. Not said in these words, but this is an articulation of the temptation to lose sight of your motivation for being there, and in so doing lose sense of what there referred to.
I started this devotion by typing the first verse of a song entitled Cycles. In thinking about temptation, there’s a monotony and a reoccurrence, manifesting as disillusionment. When treated as short lived, the nature of temptation as perpetual is obscured, probably because there is a humanity in needing to know an end is coming. Scripture and hymns are filled with images of dawns breaking and seas being parted and what was heavy being made light, and yet when binds us and tempts us and moves with us as loss is too often chronic. Perhaps feeling more like a cycle, or Deja Vu, or one unbroken day in a place you didn’t set out to travel to.
I think one of the things we’re being asked to struggle with in our spiritual lives is our ability to receive comfort from God amidst long suffering, and to ground ourselves with an openness to seeing our own patterns and tunnel vision. To receive an expansion of the metaphors we use for Jesus as fully human, speaking in greater specificity about the ways we struggle with temptation. To receive a narrowing for God the sustainer compared to God the fixer or the punisher or even God the parent and protector. We journey toward Holy Week and hear how we are holy, when what I think we need to hear too is that we are human. Humanly violent, humanly forgetful, humanly cyclical, humanly burnt out, humanly numb.
“To me this is like the days of Noah”, our passage from Isaiah starts. Full of promises, full of covenants, full of floods, and not yet peaceful. In the not yet, we still have time to learn what we haven’t learned. To act with urgency, and remorse. To cry and be comforted, and to cry because nothing comforts us. To not take for granted that we aren’t left alone in our suffering, and to remember the clarity that grief allows. The clarity that brings submission, and repentance, and here again a looming crucifixion.