The aftermath of any ravaging hurricane leaves an impression so deep that no puny wave can seek to alter. Such was the indelible rash I quaffed while lazily playing Cowboys and Indians in my father’s cave. I was pretending a chase while throwing my weight towards the bed, the pillows were rocks, the blanket was creek. The savages were in hot pursuit and I took cover. Just then, there was the unusual scent of stateside gloss, a misplaced reading book with a winking beauty adorning the front cover. I mumbled at the heading: Pl …ay..boy. There was something seductively glorious about the magazine. I rubbed the genie pages and in seconds, I set foot in a whole new world. I was a meager and eager five-year old boy thrown into the cistern of prurient men.
The centerfold material was a spreadsheet of everything that seemed ethereal yet alien; the bliss was suffocating to say the least. I was holding on to my eyeballs for fear that they might pop out from their missile-shocked sockets. My body temperature revolted with feverish angst until I heard the footsteps of my enemies … the Indians, well, not quite … my mother, searching for her boy. It was lunchtime; but my hunger was instantly transformed from my guts to some inner sphere. I suddenly felt possessed by some plague. As I heaved, I kept the book where it originally sat, making sure that I had attached a low jack to track its whereabouts, from now hence.
My father did not have the slightest clue on who was sharing his imaginary hetaeras, every single turn.
What I did not realize was my pummeling descent unto Aladdin’s cave. There was free entrance but no known keys for the exit. The scent of flesh decay was organically revealing a putrid cancer yet delicious in its cruel assault. My visual universe took on a tsunami that was mysteriously too wild to tame.
Lust became my adjunct lens wherever I looked for delight.
A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you whose throne is in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the
hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he shows us his mercy.
Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us,
for we have endured much contempt.
We have endured much ridicule from the proud,
much contempt from the arrogant.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
John 15:11 NIV
The decision to choose life with God grants the pilgrim a firm guide while imbibing an incredible accession of joy. Although this may seem to be most formidable in being able to navigate through the maze of our daily crossroads, the pull of other gods can be most trying.
The allure of pornography is subversively graphic. A virtual relationship is offered through the photoshop displays of unclad lovers. Who would not fall prey to an arrangement of affections where there is absolutely no need for committed accountability? Who would not be flattered by multiple flings, baring all, except their concealed languish, for a few cents per minute? Who would not hitch with a centerfold spouse or a web porn-star who never gets wrinkled and gets unstrung when the dishes are dirty and the toilet gets clogged?
Similarly, the attraction of opulence is its claim to omnipotence. The promise of money propels a sense of security and abiding trust that we shall remain on top of all things, ad infinitum. The insatiable greed that accompanies the pursuit of this delusion is deemed conventional and ethically impressive. We amass enormous amounts of wealth in a race that seems to preclude a finish line.
In parallel, the appeal of power is towards a desire to dwell at Mt. Olympus in affiliation with Zeus. The drive to control others translates into our convictions to herald the summa cum laude, the top jock, the beauty queen, the Silicon man, the face of the book, et al, as demigods whom we must emulate at all cost. Since they possess the eternal fountain of wisdom, theirs is our allegiance. Theirs is our delight.
To all these, our syllabus clamors for a serious audit.
Delight is the fourth crucial peg in our walk with God. Without the accompanying bridle of this volitional trait, we shall fall prey to the slightest provocations of any charlatan.
We are called to experience the realm of true delight by affirming our solitary allegiance to the LORD, our God.
The posture of this approach is determinedly upward. It conveys our humble, yet true place in God’s economy. We look up to our worthy Deity for we are His’ and not the other way around. We revel our attention to his majestic presence, firmly convinced of his integrity and life-giving mercies.
The metaphor of slaves and maids points to the benevolent arrangement that occurs between two loyal persons: the master to the slave; the mistress toward the maid. Both of these relationships flow forth from a seasoned recognition of trustworthiness. There is an overriding sense of delight in conveying what needs to be done, while there is an equal relish in being able to serve well. There is not a hint of oppression, greed, or lust. All that is on the table is the matter of delight on what needs to be done, because it has to be done. Only the One who seats enthroned in heaven is able to initiate such a disposition.
The practicum of our call to delight in the things of God must be bounded by mercy. Mercy belongs to God alone. When mercy is granted, delight multiplies. When we receive favor for what we clearly do not deserve, our existence gets radically altered. When we turn to God with utmost concern for His delight, our eyes are resected. Suddenly we see things differently.
We look at people and we behold the image from which they were created. We begin to experience the stunning treasure of deep relationships. We give up control while allowing the spontaneity of flourishing grace. We cherish the jewels of forgiveness and intimate integrity. We do things for others, not to machinate our hidden agenda, but simply because of its joyful privilege. We cease undressing people, while constantly finding ways and means to clothe each other with beatified dignity.
We turn to our things for what they truly are: mere tools to advance the lumens of God’s work. We volunteer our glad labor while recognizing the mercy-favor that has gotten us to our points of responsibility. We discover the magnificent purpose of work: we toil not to secure our lot, but in order to allot the riches of the One who owns all, towards those who are truly in need. We become the true rich, secured in our favored heritage as recipients of opulent mercy.
We spot power for what it is. No one is more powerful than God. We rest content in our posture of utmost dependence. We simply look up and cease pursuing the myth of Olympus. God knows what we ought to do, where we ought to go, when we ought to move, how we ought to walk. We discover the wonderful distinction of traveling through life, being powerfully led by the Spirit within the sure cadence of God’s mercy.
The arrogant chooses to walk alone. Instead of looking up, the posture is reversed. Contempt prevails as their mother-language. There is no mercy. There is no grace. The eyes are forever staring on the mirage of self-absorption. There is no experience of delight. How can there be, when there is no accompanying light?
Our fourth call in the syllabus of our journey, beckons us to delight in the LORD. The posture of this delight is intentionally upward. Being true to our nature as mercy-laden creatures, we turn to our God for each and every concern. We start our day with a commitment to live it, according to what we are told to do. We end with a recollection of a string of delight that has been lavished upon us. As we fix our lives on this God-ward trajectory, we enlist in the practices of spiritual formation. We savor the work of God being coursed through our available lives.
As we look up to God, He peers through all our days, delighted with what He has granted by His mercies.
The search for one’s true love is perhaps the most knotty in terms of grappling with the ghost’s of one’s own pretensions. If one is to be honest with undiluted motives, the purpose for seeking a lifetime companion seems defiantly elusive. My own journey towards this desperate quest had been dolorous not because of what I discovered about those whom I pursued but on account of what got disclosed about my heart. All my honest explorations have gone to the black holes of this enigmatic universe.
It was all about looking for the perfect ointment to balm my narcissistic pain.
My first try, revealed a heart so inept; it could not even pass its own shadows. My second attempt accomplished nothing but validate my wild ego. The third episode revealed a script so cruel even to rewrite. And the fourth was catastrophic: inducing shrapnel wounds to innocent dignity, where the bleeding doesn’t seem to stop. My heart crimes deserve punishment and so I imposed a voluntary embargo, to stop any such seeking expedition and settle to be a eunuch.
But grace is an ocean. One New Year’s Eve, I made peace with God and myself, by rushing headlong to repentance. I lifted up my eyes and wailed for God’s mercy. I turned my heart’s restlessness over to the only One who can hold it still.
Freedom replaced my impulsive longings. At God’s opportune time, He led His chosen daughter towards my rested patience, while I was asleep in His garden. When I was roused, my flummoxed ribs pounded with joy!
There was no need to feign who I was not. In all my previous rendezvous, I was a complete stranger not only to the beguiled yet more to myself. But this was different. I was vulnerable, yet without shame. There was nothing to hide from her. She saw right through my soul and recognized the rib that she was to me.
One ordinary night, we were walking hand in hand atop a hill, circling a tennis court, just talking, when she somehow sensed the moment I was waiting for. The hour was ripe for my heart’s intent, but I was taking forever.
She said in a most kind and soft verse: “I know that you are intending to say something, but you are being hindered … Here it is …”
I just graduated from the seminary and had no financial leverage to impress with. Despite my lack, I never truly felt any degree of poverty. God’s affluence had been my sufficiency. But that night, I was desperately hoping for some decent engagement ring for I knew it was the night to be. In prayer, I silently mumbled my cry for mercy: “Father, where do I go to offer the seal of engagement?”
“… (She gently removed her own sapphire ring from her finger, taking my palms, saying) … there … now, you have a ring … speak what’s in your heart.”
I never took God’s provision as literally falling straight from heaven. But that night, it expressly did.
“Will you marry me?”
I set the ring back to her awaiting embrace while witnessing the delicious poignancy of her affirming “Yes, of course.”
It was bliss at first sight: nothing hidden, but the rib from mine own, concealed in her Father’s most intricate gown.
He who spins the universe restored my sight towards a Son-lit delight in knowing that I am truly beloved.
The eyes of my heart regained its proper place joyfully looking up towards God’s powerful mercy.