The Work of His Hands

I knew I liked my ears rubbed, but I forgot how soothing it is when someone finger-brushes my hair. My five-year-old daughter is pretending to style my frizzy waves with water from the sprinkler, and I like her standing by me, a sort of reversal with her rising above my sitting form and doing my hair. I’m always on her about crying when I brush her hair, so I will not give any indication of pain even though she’s pulling a few tangles. I ask her to look for ticks, since she’s already had one taken off her head this spring. It becomes a game. I pretend to scream. She runs over to me and tweezers it out, her fingers still delicate and relatively untested by life’s tasks.

Her small hands haven’t known hard labor. They’ve yet to tie a shoe. But they hold a pencil quite nicely, and yesterday they learned the beginning notes of Twinkle Twinkle on the piano. And once upon a time, those hands, by reflex, grasped my finger like I was her last lifeline, and I was.

My hands (on the other hand) hold kitchen knives, plunge into weed-infested garden soil, bandage wounds, attempt a Chopin Etude, and are always a bit dry, even when I remember the lotion. My husband’s hands retain the ink from newspaper, have calloused palms, sport long strong fingers, and have strung more tennis rackets than Roger Federer has broken.

What were Adam’s hands like, the hands that worked Eden, that later wiped sweat from a toil-weary brow? Or Eve’s hands? Hands that cupped the forbidden fruit which later held the first nursing baby. Rebekah’s hands dressed her youngest son, Jacob, in goatskins for the purpose of stealing a birthright. Moses’ hands carried the Testimony down the mountain, down to the idolatry, and then those tired hands smashed those burdensome tablets. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull as it was slaughtered on behalf of the people, a burnt sin offering.

Hands work. They don’t dangle at the ends of our arms just along for the ride. They’re the work mules of our bodies, always moving, always a part of the action. Hands give directions and suffer paper cuts. Hands hold on tight. Hands raise in worship.

The Lord establishes the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17), and I pray this verse when I administer a spanking, that the discipline reaches the heart. Without the Lord’s blessing, what good is all the toiling of my hands? Meaningless, as so well put by Solomon.  At the end of my life I want to hear the words of Moses, “The LORD your God has blessed you in all the works of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. The LORD your God has been with you and you have not lacked anything,” (Deuteronomy 2:7).

The hope is that because of the work of His hands, we will hear those words. His hands fashioned all creation, and “in his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). His hands were nailed to a cross, and that “work of his hands” is faithful and just (Psalm 111:7). His nail-pierced hands are the hands that made us, that hold us. His are the hands of which we can confidently pray, “Into your hands, I commit my Spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth” (Psalm 31:5).

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Spring Wind, a poem

Spring wind slips

Past windows;

Opening memories,

Closing shed doors.

 

I lie in the dark

Trying to fall asleep,

Trying to follow wind’s coming

And going.

 

The moment is slow,

Like a sloth’s crawl.

Monotony lulls into unawareness.

Life is fast,

This terrestrial spinning.

Change forces acknowledgment,

I am not young.

 

I am part

of the slow and fast,

Bound by the rules

Of this flowing time.

The thought comes

Like the wind,

Opening and shutting,

Bringing both stillness and

Uncertainty.

Person of History: Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila, one of the pioneering mystics in the Christian faith, was born March 28, 1515, in Avila, Spain. Her father was strict, her stepmother loving. The writings of St. Jerome (4th C) encouraged her to pursue a religious life as a nun, although the decision between marriage or convent life was difficult for her. Life in the convent for the charming and likable Teresa was not as she expected. Instead of simplicity she found extravagance. Many women entered because they had no where else to go. Status was dominated by money. Women wore jewelry and stylish veils. Teresa lived amidst this worldly religiosity feeling the weight of her sinfulness and struggling to pray and be ever aware of Jesus’ presence.

After some years, a vision of the “sorely wounded Christ” redirected her life and ministry. Following this vision, she had a number of mystical encounters with Christ in his suffering. This reformation of her inner spiritual life led her to push for external reformation in the convent.

These ideas for change centered on simple living – a life of poverty and prayer, a focus on love not rules. She was renounced for her efforts and some sought the Inquisition against her. She battled throughout her life with various church and state officials on her ideas of true spirituality. She started her own convent centered on the life of prayer, and eventually traveled around teaching on her visions and starting other convents. She was criticised by the Pope and others as disobedient and restless. She wrote her autobiography as a purposeful answer to many accusations made against her.

Teresa is perhaps most well-known for her thoughts on the life of prayer. She believed prayer to be an expression of love between God and his child. She wrote, “For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.” God gave her great spiritual delight in prayer through an intense awareness of his presence. Her encounters with Christ, as well as her experiential prayer life, define her as a mystic.

In addition to her autobiography, her writings include the Way of the Perfection and the Interior Castle. Teresa died in 1882.

What have I learned from this precious woman of faith?

1. Experience God through prayer. The spiritual life, although not founded on experience or emotion, involves both, and to discard these leaves us with a shallow understanding of the heart of God. Union with Christ is experienced through prayer.

2. Prayer is driven by love, and that leads us to action. Teresa stood for Biblical truth in a corrupted religious society. Her visions caused her to fight for biblical truth. Will we do the same?

Prayer for the Day: The Deeps (from Valley of Vision)

Lord Jesus,

Give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach;

Help me chastely to flee it, and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be thine alone.

Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being.

Give me a deeper knowledge of thyself as saviour, master, lord, and king.

Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth.

Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from thee.

Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until thou alone art seen in me, thy beauty golden like summer harvest, thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.

I have no master but thee, no law but thy will, no delight but thyself, no wealth but that thou givest, no good but that thou blessest, no peace but that thou bestowest.

I am nothing but that thou makest me.

I have nothing but that I receive from thee.

I can be nothing but that grace adorns me.

Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.

Conquering Sin

We are a people who love closure. We long for completion. Beginnings and ends mark our lives. The sun rises every day and we watch for its setting, knowing always the end of day will come. The passage of time is measured by the continuous tick of the clock, apart from our control, but isn’t this a gift from the Creator? This gift of time acting like parameters, pleasant boundary lines for our existence, safely tucking us in as we ride through life.

So what does this mean for our struggle with sin? When we come to Christ, we understand his substitutionary atonement – that he died for us, in place of us, and we are set free from sin. But this freedom, albeit a spiritual reality, does not release us from our present struggle to live a holy life. Sometimes it feels like the movement of sin in our lives dances to the tick of the clock, a steady reminder of our fallen nature. We seek the end of sin. We try hard to find spiritual closure.

Let us beware the myth that we can reach a point of fully arriving. The idea that we can mark spiritual progress like a journey from point A to point B, arriving at a place of conquering sin, is nothing short of a lure to legalism. (Legalism being a self-powered spiritual walk where we strive for perfection, placing emphasis on our deeds, not on his grace to work within us the fruit of the Spirit. A feeling of the spiritual walk as “must do” rather than “want to do”). Believing that we can reach a place of spiritual fulfillment on this earth leads us to the trap of spiritual relaxation, where our minds are dull to sin’s earthly reality. Since we are a people of closure and completion, we like to believe that if we put all the puzzle pieces of life together just right, we can sit back and enjoy this ride. Enjoying life? Yes! The idea, “Now I’ve got it!”? No.

This is not to imply that with the Holy Spirit’s power we cannot contentedly enjoy belonging to God. Certainly the spiritual life should not be marked by constant defeat and struggle. We should not be overly focused on what God has completely forgiven and forgotten, our sin. However, being in a place of contentment does not mean being in a place of complete victory over sin and temptation. Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

Let us keep in mind that life is a journey. By all means, press on, for the day will come when we will arrive – in Jesus’ presence. And then we can relax.