Finding Perspective

There's a special sort of grounding that happens in me when I get out in nature. When I am hiking up a trail, admiring a flower, soaking in wondrous sunshine, dipping my feet in the ocean, or gazing at the stars, I feel like one small part of a story much bigger than me. I sense the connection of the pieces of the ecosystem, and it brings a calming force to my hurried soul. 

In short, I find perspective.

perspective comes when we see our significance and insignificance at the same time.

In nature, both the significance at each tiny piece of a system and the insignificance of our small selves in the midst of grandeur become simultaneously clear. 

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"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" - Psalm 111:10

We often think of the word fear as synonymous with the word terror. Which makes verses like this feel prickly when we come across them in the Scriptures. Sure, God is powerful, but are we really supposed to be terrified of the Lord? Doesn't that contradict the passages about God's love and mercy and grace?

In Hebrew, the mowra' means fear and terror, but that is not the word used in Psalm 111:10. The word used here is yirah, which besides fear, can be translated as awe. 

Some scholars have made an interesting connection between yirah and ra'ah. Though they don't look very similar in their english characters, in Hebrew characters they are almost identical, with the first having the apostrophe like symbol for the y sound at the beginning of it. The largest and most obvious of the characters are the same. 

Ra'ah means to see or perceive. 

Before asking what it means to fear the Lord, perhaps we should ask what we see. When we look at this world, what do we see? When we look at the Scriptures, what do we see? 

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"Great are the works of the Lord;
    they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
    and his righteousness endures forever." - Psalm 111:2-3

"Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?" - Job 38:4-7

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. - Psalm 139:13-14

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" - Matthew 6:26-27

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Perhaps fear of the Lord is what happens when we look around and see things as they actually are: the wonder of an amazing creation and the Creator who crafted it, the smallness of my own problems in perspective, and yet the promise that the great God of this world cares about even me.


This post is part of my Psalms Journey series. 

#PsalmsJourney is a series reflecting on the Psalms one at a time, in order. Learn more about it on my Psalms Journey page. If you'd like to join me, put a link to your own post in the comments.


The Clarity of the Desert

I went on a glorious hike in the desert last week. It was particularly wonderful to have gone from the frozen tundra of Minnesota into temperatures worthy of wearing a tank top. It's easy to take the warmth of the sun for granted until it is gone for several months.

Desert landscapes fascinate me. The cacti and flowers, rocks and dirt, all look so different than the flora and ground of the north. My eyes darted from place to place as I walked around the mountain, noticing the distinct beauty of that part of the country.

I couldn't help but notice something else was different to. Not on the ground, but in the sky.  

The sky was a deeper shade of blue in the desert. 

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Why is the sky blue? 

It turns out the answer to this oft asked question of children is "because of the air molecules."

Light comes to earth from the sun in a full spectrum of colors. But on its way down, it hits air molecules. Many colors of light make their way through, their wavelengths unaffected by the interference. But light on the blue end of the spectrum is affected; it bounces off the air molecules and fills our sky with its hue.

Unless the air is filled with aerosols. Aerosols are particles of dust, salt, pollution, or water that are also floating in the air. They interfere with the full spectrum of light, bouncing all the colors around, making the sky appear less blue to our eyes. 

The desert sky has an unusual clarity. It is dry, so water aerosols are absent. It is away from the ocean, so salt aerosols are absent. It is away from human populations, so pollution aerosols are absent. And besides the occasional dust storm, the dirt pretty much stays on the ground. 

In the desert, the air molecules are free to bounce blue light without interference, and bring an unusual depth of cobalt clarity before our eyes.

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When we use deserts as a metaphor in our spiritual lives, we often use it to describe times that feel like punishment. Deserts are places where we feel parched, where sustenance is hard to come by, and where familiar land feels far away.

The problem with that view of deserts is it only looks at the dry, cracked ground. When we are in the desert, we need to look up.

In the desert, away from interference, God's light can shine through with unmatched clarity and depth. We can begin to see the world in new ways, and carry a vision into the future that we would not have seen if we hadn't passed through the wilderness.

In Hebrew, the word for wilderness, or desert, is "midbar," which comes from the root, "dabar." Dabar means "to speak." 

It's true the desert is a difficult place, but it is also a place in which God speaks.  

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In many ways, the last few months have been a desert journey for me. I had felt called to leave my job at the end of December, but did not yet know what I was supposed to do next. Though there were some wonderful days, and some ordinary moments, there were also many hours spent processing, flailing, wandering, and grieving.

It was hard, but it was also good.  

In the desert, my vision changed. I saw a path I don't think I would have seen if I did not journey through the desert on my way to it. 

I am venturing out as an independent teacher, leading others to experience the richness that is possible when a small community of people gather around the Scriptures and leave space for the Spirit of God to speak. It is a way of teaching that is guiding more than speaking, questioning more than telling, and relational more than directional. It is a beautiful way forward full of potential, but also full of unknowns.

In the desert, I have learned that unknowns are okay. The cracked ground and blue sky live side-by-side, God bringing light and life in the midst of both.

In the desert, don't just look down at the dry cracked ground, remember to look up at the deep blue sky.

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If you are local to the Minneapolis area, would you consider joining me for my next study? I am also available to journey to you for retreats or small groups if you are interested. In either case, I would love your prayers, mainly that I would keep trusting God and taking the next step, even if I don't know exactly where the path is leading.  

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Creating Space for Encouragement

cafe tableI sat across the table from her, wondering how to subtly wipe my nose. I knew I didn’t have any Kleenex along. I didn’t expect to cry this much.  

It was a holy conversation. The kind that digs deep and hits at what is underneath the layer that is underneath the other layer that is way underneath what is showing on top.

 

I walked away feeling more encouraged than I had in a long time.

 

The encouragement didn’t come from the words that were spoken, but the space that was made.

 

She asked me the kind of questions that demonstrated how much she was listening. Not just to the words I said, but to what was behind the words I said.

 

She saw me. And she created space for me to see God.

 

Being the kind of person that brings encouragement to others runs so much deeper than saying nice words. It means being a person who sees others, listens to others, communicates with others, and walks beside others towards God’s loving embrace.

 

Five Minute FridayThis post is linking up with Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday. A weekly prompt with strict instructions: write for 5 minutes and post. No over-editing. No do-overs. An practice of freedom. A way to let go of perfectionism. An exercise for some not often used writing muscles. Read more posts or link up over there. Today’s prompt was: ENCOURAGEMENT. (Note: I spend only 5 minutes on the writing, but I do take a little extra time to put together the image. I can't help myself.)