Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Holy Wild

Dear friends,

Books find me in odd ways. At times I find one that I hadn't seen in years, one that had been squirreled away on an obscure shelf, but one that I need to read just now, lying in a conspicuous place, obviously put there by 2 year old hands guided by angelic ones. And sometimes new books hunt me down, too. This is the tale of just one, The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God, by Mark Buchanan. It is not exactly new, but new to me at least.

But first, a flashback. Many of you have heard me tell of God's mercy on me in recent years in in calling me to a deeper place of authentic faith in Jesus and a thirst for the Scriptures. You also probably know that he has rekindled in me a treasuring of his divine beauty and how that overflows into our creativity. I wish I could write more on this right now, but you can always go poking around on my web site or this blog if you are interested in that. That is the backdrop for this post, anyway. My reading habits have taken a definite shift in that direction, hence my appreciation for what Gary Thomas writes and what Sara Groves sings. Another recent favorite is One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God by Sam Storms.

But back to The Holy Wild. A few weeks ago I was cyber-sleuthing resources for a friend and came across a church web site on which the pastor mentioned some of his favorite authors. I love this idea! It gives you an idea of the philosophical/theological well a guy is drinking from. Anyway, his list included Canadian pastor Mark Buchanan. I had never heard of him, and I didn't think much of it at the moment, just tucked it away in my mental files. The next day, however, when I was helping my daughter Mary pack up her bedroom prior to her wedding, she handed me a book that she didn't want anymore -- a Christian publisher's sampler of chapters from recent books. In it were two chapters from The Holy Wild. Intrigued, I devoured them with that kind of "aha!" feeling. He was saying what I have been trying to say about my own experiences of the past two years -- but much more articulately! And I thought that maybe I would order that book soon from CBD.

Then a day or so later Mary handed me a promotional gift certificate, to a local spa, that would expire that day. Someone had given it to her, and she hadn't had the chance to use it. I called the place, booked myself for a facial (a rare treat!), and jumped in the van. Afterwards, I decided to take a trip to Long's Christian Bookstore, which was just down the street (in an area of town where I rarely get to go) and find some books my son Andrew wanted for his 11th birthday. I ventured into the clearance room, and there on the shelves were several hardback copies of The Holy Wild (missing only their dust covers) for a mere $3 a piece. Sure I bought one! Just a few days later, Long's sent me a $15 frequent buyer gift card (I usually go to their other outlet location) so I went back and bought four more copies to give away. On Friday, I read a little piece of it to Thad. He liked it, and so Saturday night, he wanted me to read some more, which paved the way for some good husband and wife communication. I'm grateful for that, too. This is when reading gets practical, when it makes a real difference in key relationships. (Little did we know we would both be up in the middle of the night with little Melody, who has the tummy flu still. He is so tender with our little ones when they are sick, and so helpful getting everything cleaned up. Our life is definitely wild during these times!)

But that still doesn't tell you much about the book. Rather than me rattling on, I'm just going to pick some quotes, interspersed with my comments.

"I coined two terms in that book [Your God is Too Safe]. The first one, borderland, describes the condition of stuckness -- a conversion without regeneration, an initial encounter with Jesus that doesn't lead to a life abiding with Jesus. It's an acquaintanceship devoid of intimacy, dependency, obedience. People on borderland have grown comfortable with boredom. They have settled for a God "on call," a God available for crises and fiascos, who does a bit of juggling with weather patterns and parking stalls but who otherwise remains unobstrusive as a chambermaid, tidying things up while you're at brunch, leaving a crisp sash of tissue around the lid of the toilet bowl to let you know all is in order. The problem, obviously, is that this god--so kind, so shy, so tame--has nothing whatsoever to do with the God of the Bible. This god resembles not even remotely that God whose Spirit broods and dances, the God who topples entire empires, sometimes overnight, the God who reveals himself in the Christ who looks big men in the eye and says, "Follow me," and then walks away, not waiting for a reply. The God who calls us off borderland. The other term, the Holy Wild, describes life with the God who is. The Holy Wild is what life, drunk to the lees, lived to the hilt, is like -- the life where we walk with the God who is surprising, dangerous, mysterious, alongside us though we fail to recognize Him, then disappearing the minute we do. It is the terrain where God doesn't always make sense of our sad or bland lives, our calamities and banalities, but who keeps meeting us in the thick and thin of those lives."


And so, too, I have found myself drawn to the Holy Wild in the past couple of years. I hadn't used that term, but that's what it is. God has so many surprising ways of gleefully ambushing me with his presence. My funeral trip to Salt Lake City a few months ago is just one example of this. At the end of my poem Over Utah in January (written in an airplane):

Yet in the valley I see manly habitation
In patterned rows, casual curves beneath the mist
Nestled in yet beckoned to a deep and high communion
Only bold ones venture beyond certain fringes
Strive upward, breathe hard, ascending steep, behold
Some faithful cannot climb but still lift souls to see
To know and long to know
Others seem content merely to stroll in evenness beneath, below
Oblivious to wonder

I am in the sky looking down
Then gazing up in awe at Him
Who gazes down in grace on me below
On me, who sees and longs to know

I never want to be one who is "content merely to stroll in evenness beneath, below, oblivious to wonder." That's boredom in the borderland. I want to be trekking in the Holy Wild, to be "beckoned to a deep and high communion" of seeing God in all his majesty (the one who exults over us with loud singing and dancing!) and then seeing other people as ones who need to be deeply loved with his gracious, tender, compassion. He sends them onto our path, even the unlikely strangers, as we have eyes to see. (This might also be a good time to reread my poem Corpus Christi as well.)

Mark Buchanan is an extremely poetic author, even in his prose. I like that. As you probably guessed, the poetic in me has reawakened along with a renewed faith in the past two years. I have always written poetry, but it has changed in nature, taken on a more lyrical quality in free verse. It is as if my heart is singing from deep inside, with wild abandon, as I did in Rhapsody in M, of the one who "makes merry melodies in me" because of his myriad mercies. He writes (and I excerpt in snatches, with ... in between sections):

"And so it is with God. Our creativity, as least in part, comes from resting in His creativity until it seeps in. It springs from prayer. Not the busy chatty prayer we often do, but the other kind: prayer as emptiness, prayer as silence, prayer as stillness. Prayer as the absence of wanting and asking. Not the clamoring man waking his neighbor, desperate for bread, but the suckled child curled up, satisfied in the mother's arms.... I look at the holographic strangeness of water, the shifting surface, reflecting, revealing, hiding, disclosing. One minute, water will lie still and everything above it--faces, sky, mountain, trees--will imprint on its silvery surface an image as clean as a photograph. The next, the light will shift, a breeze will stir, and everything above and beneath the surface splinters and disappears. Then another shift of light, a dead calm, and the surface melts away to unveil the water's buried secrets... I let these things be, and I simply dwell in their presence... There is nothing mystical about this. This is not a slipping toward pantheism, where every rock bluff or grass tuft brims with divinity. This is simply an act of reverence for the God who makes things, and respect for all that He makes. And then sometimes, God shows up and makes the stones sing. He sidles up alongside, like an artist whose work you are admiring in a museum slipping in just behind your right shoulder and telling you one small, illuminating story about what he was thinking when he made the thing you're looking at. It's not what I bargain for, this moment when God touches and speaks anew the thing He's made. Well, it is, but I've learned that there's no use making demands here. It just happens, or it doesn't. But when it does, it is both wonderful and ordinary, a mystery suspiciously familiar."

And finally, in his chapter A Haven for Fools, on God's wisdom displayed in the "folly" of the cross...

The book of 1 Kings tells of the great wisdom of Solomon and offers one story to illustrate it. Two women come to the king, each claiming to be the mother of the same baby. Solomon says, "I can't tell who's the real mother. Bring me a sword. Cut this child in two, and give half to each woman." One woman cries, "Do it!" The other cries, "No, give the child to her." Solomon knows instantly who the real mother is: the one who would give the child away. That's wisdom, knowing that love would rather see its child alive and whole in someone else's arms than dead and dismembered in his own. The wisdom of God puts a new twist on this. God wanted to see us alive and whole in his His arms, but sin was killing us. Sin was the sword that would sever us. So the King had Himself cut in two instead. It took the Son of Man, the Son of God, dying on a cross to make us whole and to get us back into the Father's arms. With all the wisdom in the world, we never would have figured that out. But when we see it, when we grasp it, we boast in nothing else. We trust in no one else. At the cross God made a way, and you and I can rest there for all eternity."

You can find The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God  at CBD (or hardback). To see the book and read the first chapter, you can click on the title in the previous sentence and click on "excerpt."

I hope you will be as blessed as I was, not only by the book, but also by the God of the Holy Wild!

In his mercy,

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