Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Queer Ache

"It's so beautiful that it hurts me," said Anne softly. "Perfect things like that always did hurt me—I remember I called it 'the queer ache' when I was a child. What is the reason that pain like this seems inseparable from perfection? Is it the pain of finality—when we realise that there can be nothing beyond but retrogression?"

"Perhaps," said Owen dreamily, "it is the prisoned infinite in us calling out to its kindred infinite as expressed in that visible perfection."
~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams 

Autumn. Merely the word itself evokes waking to a crisp dawn, catching the scent of leaves and the tang of woodsmoke in the air. It is the time for apple cider and pumpkin bread, sweaters and long walks on clear sunny afternoons to see ochre and copper hues painting the landscape. Autumn holds some of my most cherished memories in her crinkly hands. Her cool, sunny days inspire me to study, to write, to read poetry, to dream and hope more deeply, to do new things, to bake, to dare to become fully alive. I practically skip on my walks, and prance to work. My soul cannot help feeling awake. When our souls are thus awake and aware, we are more attuned to the 'queer ache' of Beauty.

This morning I decided to take a jaunt to one of my favourite overlooks in Manitou. While collecting many shapes and shades of leaves, I wound my way up the back streets, stopping to smell the last of Summer's blooms. I stood as close to the edge of the overlook as I could. Grey clouds poured over the closest ridge of foothills, veiling the sun for a time. In the filtered light I beheld russet scrub oak, burnished aspens, deep green firs, and the majestic crest of Pikes Peak with a hoary mantle of snow.  

The pang of Beauty brought tears to my eyes, not because of what they saw, but because I felt hungry for something I cannot yet sink my teeth into. C. S. Lewis called it 'joy', Sheldon Vanauken labelled it 'Beauty', and Solomon called it 'eternity': "[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." (Eccl. 3.11) 

Today, as I felt "the imprisoned infinite" in me calling out to the divine Infinite, I wondered if God ever feels the pang of Beauty. If we are made in His image, if Jesus came and suffered as we suffer, and we feel this ache, is it possible that He does too? Is this what the Palmist really meant when he said that "deep calls out to deep at the noise of Your waterfalls" in Psalm 42? Was he saying, "Your infinite Spirit in me calls out to the Infinite Godhead when I hear the rush of mighty waters"? Does your heart leap when you hear the chorus of many waters, or at the sweet warble of a bird in an otherwise still wood? Is it eternity (the infinite) in us resonating with the Eternal One, who is Beauty Himself?

I am inclined to believe the pain of Beauty is the infinite part of us (our spirit), longing for the Infinite Himself and a fully redeemed world. The pain comes because we are still under the curse, even if we have received the Cure.  I return to what I pondered today: does God ever feel the ache of Beauty? I am tempted to say, "Surely not, He is the Infinite our spirit longs for, after all".  Yet when I began to ponder this earlier, I wondered if the pain we feel in yearning for God (the Beautiful) Himself is akin to what He feels when He holds out His arms to us and we walk away (Isaiah 62.2-3). It is as if the Infinite calls out to the eternity, or infinite, in our hearts and we turn away. Surely that is as wounding as longing for the Infinite, but being unable to enter fully into that Infinity. 

This is speculation on my part, as God is not a fallen human and does not come at things in a broken manner. I am still learning to think His thoughts after Him, rather than assuming He thinks like I do. I am still being healed of my brokenness, He has never been 'broken' in the sense of being fallen. What I do know is that the more attuned I am to let Beauty lead me to God, the more often I hear Him speak. Though there is an intense longing for the Infinite that cannot currently be fulfilled, I would rather have the stabs of Beauty to remind me that I am awake and that God exists.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
 — C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

~ Johanna (13 October 2012)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Golden Jubilee

Fifty years is a long time for many things, including having a solid marriage and running a successful business where the president himself is not above fixing sewer lines.

Tonight, Summit folks spent the evening talking about how much Doc and Mrs. Noebel mean to us, and the un-imagined impact their service, wisdom, grace, knowledge, and kindness have had on thousands and thousands of persons. Just today I heard at least two people say that they came to know Jesus because of Summit, and dozens more met their spouses somehow through Summit. I think several thousand persons can easily say that Summit has helped them learn how to be a thinking Christian, one who can reason through why they believe and behave the way they do. 

God could have used anyone to accomplish this purpose, if that 'anyone' were willing, humble, and self-sacrificing.  The truth is, the LORD knew that Doc needed a dedicated, disciplined, servant-hearted, kind, gracious wife to support him. God knew that the right man to begin Summit was one who was witty, intelligent, humble, soft-hearted and tough-minded, and who was willing to do every job at a 100 year old hotel in quirky Manitou Springs. 

When I think how many hundreds of people would gladly come clean toilets here just to be in and around the Summit community, my perspective about my job shifts. I am incredibly blessed to work for Summit. I would not be who I am today if I had not attended the two-week course, Summit Semester, and Summit Oxford. Nor would I have daily lessons in humility if I did not  labour alongside persons who really care about one another -- both at work and personally. 

Due to my time at Summit I am a better thinker, a more well-rounded reader, and I have known the love and discipline of Christ in ways I had no capacity to experience before. I have been stretched out of my comfort zone, been challenged to do hard things,  and been given opportunities to study, travel, and know more that I thought possible. I have met my best friends and kindred spirits through Summit. In fact, I have had more than just three or four very close friends in my very brief lifetime, all because of Summit.

Doc and Mrs. Noebel, Rich and Sherry Honken, Jeff and Danielle Myers, and the whole group of staff (past and present) continually show me what servant-hearted leadership is.  Because of Summit I know Jesus more - and I love Jesus more. I am who I am because God led me to Summit Ministries. I am one of so many who can say that... Because Summit is not about whoever is at the helm; it is, at its core, about knowing Jesus (with both our head and our heart), and sharing His love with others.

Tonight's jubilee was golden not only because Summit is fifty years old, but because there is a golden richness to all that God has done through Summit. When most of our culture is not thinking beyond tomorrow, those whom God has called to lead the Summit are thinking about the next fifty years and  impacting multiple generations after that.
May the LORD be glorified and His name be lifted high because of what is done here. "The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with JOY."

~ Johanna


(Special thanks to Lauren and Nicole for doing my hair, to Lyndi for the mascara loan, and to Stacia for lending me lip gloss for the evening gala. It was a full roommate collaboration - success!)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

O, October!

"This year is growing old gracefully, just like a stately old lady who knows she can be charming even with grey hair and wrinkles... How quiet the woods are today, not a murmur except that soft wind purring in the treetops! It sounds like surf on a faraway shore.  How dear the woods are! You beautiful trees! I love every one of you as a friend." 
~ Anne of Avonlea, chapter 10