Jesus, Lord of my Beginning Origin of all I see Hear me as I cry to You Come beside and comfort me Tell me who I truly am Remind me of the name I lost Keep my heart anchored in Yours Because on rough waves I am tossed.
Jesus, Lord of all my Wanderings God of the Middle too Upholding all things with Your Word Nothing exists outside of You Lead me through this present darkness Illuminate me with Your Light Hide me in Your Secret Place Where there is found no more night.
Jesus, Lord of where I’m Ending All Creation rests in You Show me more than merest inkling Tell me all that You will do Speak words of Consuming Fire That will cleanse and purify Pull me close and keep me sheltered As we live life eye to eye.
Show me who I’m meant to be So You alone I glorify.
I am going to tell you a story about cactus. I should not be able to share the photo at the top of this post because the cactus pictured here should be dead. Instead, it has filled the pot it’s planted in and looks as if it longs to take over the entire backyard.
My mother found this cactus when she accompanied my stepfather on a fishing trip. The road they were driving down had been graded and the cactus lay along the side, uprooted and left to die. My Mom-very carefully-picked it up, put it in a box, brought it home, and promptly forgot about it. It lay in the box for months until she re-discovered it and planted it in the pot to see if it would survive. Some bits did die but the rest not only survived, it thrived. It has filled not one but three pots and delights us with the beautiful blooms.
We have feral cats in our neighborhood and they have chosen to use our backyard as their toilet. We have tried various deterrents but they would just move from one toilet spot to another. They were beginning to use the space behind our tree and so, about a month ago, my stepfather when out and-very carefully-trimmed off some pieces of cactus which he scattered on the ground around the tree. Bits of the cactus were once more left to die.
They did not. They did not need careful planting. They did not need watering. They took root, righted themselves, and, though separated from their source still in the pot; bloomed right alongside. While a bit concerned that it has been set free from the confines of the pot, I can’t help but admire the tenacity of this spiny little plant. As I consider it, I learn two lessons.
Lesson One has to do with the ground. I have not carefully examined the cactus for sharp pokey reasons. Perhaps it hasn’t actually rooted. Perhaps it has bloomed because of the life that was in it from when it was joined to the parent plant still rooted in the pot. Perhaps, as time passes and it remains cut off from that life; it will use up the vestiges, wither, and die. This reminds me of the Parable of the Sower, specifically the seed that immediately sprang up but had no root and withered away (Matthew 13:5-6). Whether or not a believer is vitally connected to the life of Jesus is a truth that cannot but manifest itself. There may be lovely full blooms at the moment but without being rooted deep into His life, those blooms can’t be sustained. They will wither and die. My highest priority is to keep myself in Him so that He can ensure I am good ground and His Life within me flourishes.
Lesson Two has to do with roots. Perhaps the cactus has rooted and it will continue to bloom for many more seasons. Despite the intentions of those who tore it from the ground or cut it and scattered it, it has put down roots and is thriving. I may be pushing the metaphor here but, in this tenacity, I see a picture not only of the strength but the quality of our lives in Christ Jesus. 1 John 3:1 says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” The Amplified has “…what an incredible quality of love”. I have heard Malcolm Smith speak on this passage and he likens this love of The Father to finding an orchid growing within the Arctic Circle. It’s an impossible kind of love but yet here it is: we see it in Jesus.
Jesus gives a beautiful description of Himself in Revelation 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” I realize this is highly symbolic language yet I like thinking of Jesus as The Root. The source of my life is The Root.
This being so, what is there to fear? It doesn’t matter if the circumstances of my life are such that it appears my life couldn’t possibly bear fruit. I died and my life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). He is The Root and there is nothing in this world that can separate me from Him. The Father abides in Jesus, Jesus abides in me, and I abide in Him (John 15, John 17:23). It’s an impossible love. It’s an impossible life. It’s indestructible (Hebrews 7:16, NAS) and here it is blooming where it is least expected.
Unless noted otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982
Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors. I was 9 or 10 when I first read “A Wrinkle in Time” and was thus and forevermore hooked on her writing. Through the years, I’ve moved from her-would they be considered Young Adult books?-to her adult fiction, to her journals, to her essays. A short time ago, I found “Penguins & Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places” and, I must admit, had a knee-jerk reaction to the words “Icons and Idols”. I believe I’ve mentioned before I don’t have an extensive religious background but that doesn’t mean those beliefs haven’t made their way into my mental processes. Aren’t icons wrong? Aren’t icons and idols synonymous? Do I have to stop reading one of my favorite authors?
I had already read the The Genesis Trilogy by Ms. L’Engle and had found them beautiful. My faith had grown reading these books and so, trusting Ms. L’Engle wasn’t about to let me down now, bought this book. I have never been sorry that I did so and, like every other book written by Madeleine L’Engle I have read, this one made me sit down and peruse my own life. Did I have icons in my life? If I did, was that wrong? Did I (gasp) have idols? How could I know? What was the difference?
In my attempts to answer these questions, I first, I looked to the dictionary definitions of icon. My Second College Edition New World Dictionary of the American Language give me: “an image, figure, representation.” The Webster’s New Reference Library: An Encyclopedia of Dictionaries stated “a religious image painted on a panel.” I have seen icons fitting these definitions and appreciated them as art but they’ve never inspired me to pray or worship. There is nothing in those painted images that remind me of the vibrant apostles who were flogged, jailed, stoned, driven from cities and towns, and, in some cases; killed. Neither have I been transfixed by any image of Jesus. How could I possibly be so? What image could ever compare with He who is utter livingness as revealed in Revelation 1: 10-18? The answer then is no: by these definitions, I have no icons.
Madeleine L’Engle has a personal, more extensive definition of Icon. She writes; “What do I mean by icon?…I am not thinking of the classic definition of icons so familiar in the orthodox church, icons of Christ, the Theotokos, saints, painted on wood and often partially covered with silver. My personal definition is much wider, and the simplest way I can put it into words is to affirm that an icon, for me is an open window to God. An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God and God’s demands on us, el’s mortal children, than I would otherwise.” (Page 8) And then: “If something does not lead us to God it is not and cannot be an icon.” (Page 10)
By this definition, there are many things I would consider icons. Waterfalls, rivers, oceans, mountains, ravines, the sky overhead…all at one time have revealed some aspect of God to me that sent my heart soaring in worship and praise at the greatness of His love. On a smaller scale, I suppose I would say turtles are an icon. From their shells to their slowness to their determination, I see in turtles something that reveals who God is to me on this spiritual journey. So then yes: considering an icon as an open window to God, I have many such icons in my life.
If I say I have icons, do I then have idols? Just what is an idol? Can an icon become an idol? It seems that yes they can because Madeleine L’Engle also writes, “You may not turn an image into God, because that is to turn an icon into an idol.” (Page 14). Before I can worry about whether or not I’ve been turning my icons into idols, I must understand what an idol is.
Returning to my dictionary, I find the following definitions for Idol: “an image of a god, used as an object or instrument of worship.” It seems to me that, to turn an icon into an idol, the heart of the matter (literally and figuratively) is worship. The Second Commandment says “You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall now bow down to them or serve them.” (Exodus 20: 4-5a)
I suppose the fact that I have a turtle pendant would mean I possess a graven image but it was not given to me as such nor do I worship it. I see aspects of God revealed in nature but that doesn’t mean I become an Animist. Do I then believe that, as long as they do not become idols, icons are acceptable? I live in a world I perceive with my senses. How else is an invisible God going to reveal Himself to me except through the works of His hands? Romans 1:20 says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” It is not idolatry to find God in His Creation as long as, I think, I do not stop with the creation but continue to look through that window to Him.
Madeleine L’Engle writes “Jesus should be for us the icon of icons. God sending heaven to earth, ‘Lord of lords in human vesture.’”(Page 93).
Jesus as The Icon. I admit to a bit of knee jerk reaction at that thought as well. And yet, Colossions 1:15 does state, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” so perhaps the thought isn’t sacrilegious after all. While it doesn’t hurt to give my life a thorough examining, perhaps I will merely thank Him for revealing Himself to me no matter how He chooses to do so. And, I can thank Him that I don’t have to stop reading one of my favorite authors.
The quotes were taken from “Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places” by Madeleine L’Engle published by Shaw Books in 2003.
Hello! Thank you for reading. I have written another post where I have expanded on some of the ideas touched on in this one. If you like, you can read it here.
I submitted this poem to a magazine at the beginning of this year but, as they’ve shown no interest, I’m posting it here! This is also my first attempt at using the “Verse” option in the block editor…
Your love is like water-
Peace to my parched heart.
Your love is not hindered-
Joy to my mourning spirit.
Your love cannot be held-
It slides through my tight-fisted grip.
Your Love must be known-
Live giving water to my soul.