Water Metaphors

Send a bucket into a well

of spiritual, emotional sensitivity

and come up dry

but dripping.

 

Launch from a crumbling riverbank

into a cruising current of psychoanalytical insight

swarming with scaly, slippery schools

of thought

and go bruising over the cataracts,

fearful but splashed with faith.

 

Open your eyes under a raincloud

of anxiety about the future

and feel it wash your mouth out

and soak your big hair down.

 

Jump into the wild sideways wave,

arms forward,

the salt of “self-discovery” in the modern world

quickly burning in your sunburn;

coming up gasping,

breath-taken.

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“see how the farmer waits”

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:7-8

It’s the “information age,” the “age of technology.” Technology is fast and easy, and it makes things fast easy, and if using it requires patience, it’s bad technology. As a result, we as a culture are obsessed with instant satisfaction.

God, meanwhile, is the God of eternity. He never began, and will never end. Patience is an elemental part of his character. It’s not surprising, therefore, that nearly all the Bible’s metaphors for ministry and living as a Christian are agricultural – rather than technological.

Not long ago, everyone easily understood farming metaphors. In today’s America, only farmers, or people who garden, have even a sense of the patience agriculture requires (although when compared to the work of ancient farmers, their idea of it is relatively small, too). Farming means backbreaking labor, careful planning, long periods of waiting, and dependence on many uncontrollable factors. It’s an organic and messy process, and growth is slow. Imagine plowing, then planting, then waiting for, then harvesting crops on dozens of acres of land, without any kind of technology. Try watching a single seed grow, even.

The fact that the Christian life is like agriculture is good news for all of us, especially us ordinary people. The work of ministry and evangelism is called “planting seeds,” and the process of growing in holiness is called “bearing fruit” ; we can expect them to be slow. God is not like your boss, demanding instant results, and firing you if you don’t turn them in on time. He is not the CEO of the corporation, he is the “Lord of the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). God is beautifully, and incredibly, patient with us, the laborers in his vineyard.

It is good news, but it ultimately requires much more effort. It means that evangelism, relationships, and life in general as a follower of Christ need care, work, and attention over long periods of time. Lifetimes, even. There is no room for quick, clean, “talk to my pastor,” “come to this conference,” or “read this book and you’ll get it”-type ministry. Dealing with people means working hard to build trust, and getting to the core of real issues. It means intentionally pursuing people with whom relationship is not easy and not giving up on them when they do not produce quick results. The same goes for how we deal with ourselves.

The fact that agriculture is the common metaphor for Christian life and ministry means that we cannot succumb to our culture’s “instant satisfaction” mindset. Patience and diligence are crucial in applying the faith. God’s character of  unchangeability, patience, and trustworthiness is what makes our effort worth it, and our hope reasonable. Without that, we are blindly plowing fields and planting seeds with no reason to imagine that the rain will ever come, or that the seeds will ever grow.

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully… He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Corinthians 9:6-10

I Wish I Had The Metaphors

I wish I had the metaphors to
lend description to the love of God.
“A father throws his own son in front of a train…”
What an inadequate thought. You threw
him from heaven to earth – no.
More, he jumped.

I wish I could create a painting
that could capture the nature of his rescue mission.
It would need much red, white, and gold,
for the blood, the purity, and glory.
What pale colors they are, compared to his story.
Just flat colors.

I do not understand your choice of
loving us, Father. Why send him in the likeness
of our wicked brutal flesh? My God! What a wretch
I am, my heart and flesh at war within me.
In awe I am quiet, like a weaned child
in your arms.

I give up on trying to explain
your love. Surely it is surprising
when I feel the murder in my mind, the sloth in my soul.
Oh my God, had the contract not been signed in blood,
I could not believe it. But there it is, and now,
there I rest.