Jesus told them to lift their eyes.
When you walk through a forest do you curl your face downward and watch your feet flip into vision on the pathway? Someone I listen to reminded me of that last week, so I forced myself to look up today, and my breath ballooned in my lungs. It is worth looking up.
I walked the wood in the early afternoon with glinting, gushing flashes of sunlight cascading over everything. Tree roots spread under my feet as I passed century-old oaks. Two deer looked me in the eye through the bamboo before they erupted and scattered. I picked up dry, fallen leaves and rubbed them with my fingers before tearing them apart down to the stem. I usually do this, use my hands to feel something tangible while I’m drinking in something with my eyes, because it makes it feel like I’m touching what is untouchable, unspeakable. It was Tolkien who reminded us of the soul of creation, the souls of trees.
Mrs. Uminn, are you a ghost come out of the wood? My students rush me as I emerge.
The Man spit in his hands and mixed it with earth to stroke his fingers over trembling, sightless eyes like I do with dead leaves. Those ghost eyes were the eyes of all of us. Mine blind to the ways in which I willingly harbor sin. Except I can’t make dead, ghostly leaves come back to life the way this Man can.
“Take a harp,
go about the city,
O forgotten prostitute!
Make sweet melody;
Sing many songs,
that you may be remembered.”
And she did prostitute herself, Isaiah says, with all kingdoms of the world, but was bound to the Holy One, the LORD. (Is. 23:16-17).
That is how I feel, frame wasted, prostituted by my own ambition to the world and its comforts and glory, reveling in the adoring crowd, the applause and murmur of the audience, the petting of the ego, and liquid, flattering words to match the riches and wealth pushed at me. My inward sins multiply while my eyes are being washed, all at the same time. But my hope and desire is to walk pure and chaste of heart in heaven after fighting the gauntlet, bound to the Holy One.
It was John Owen who spoke of the death, the mortification of sin, in 1684. When I read his powerful words on the printed page, this human back in time spearing and protecting my soul today, my sin looms large through my arms as if I am holding them in buckets, like guts bleeding out over my arms. I want to fall on my knees to the weight of history, to the weight of the dying earth and its cursed people.
How is it, Owens asks, that a man should incline himself, ready himself to dissolution? To lose and gain himself back in the face of death? Singularly to Christ.
To that Man’s face that wept under the crushing weight, but still gave his body over to be whipped, extinguished, and buried. I must consider him, I must walk close for him to see me, and I must kneel down with my soul exposed and naked; I am Eve in the garden all over again.
My throat catches because there is a wall between me and this Man, Christ. He reaches over the breach to me, but I cannot reach over to Him yet. I cannot touch His hands yet, though He has created mine. But I can walk with Him in the cool of the day, because he has conquered death and become the priest.
He has prayed for me to the Father, and He has bathed me in his blood; He has stamped the devil beneath Him, but I still wait to touch His hands as if I was that dead leaf ripped apart, but brought back to life and grafted to the tree once again.
This bulletproof self I like to assert is melting.
Lay down, soul, lay down
Restless, searching, scratching,
Back to the soil, chest lifted to the sky in one last satisfying breath
The ebony, rich compost covers over–smell it
Alluvium crust hardens as hands spread out in front
bits and pieces falling to your face and scratching underneath your nails
Before your body grows roots and grips the gravebed like knuckles crying out against
dust and ash goes the blemished shell before rising anew
His hands touch your blind eyes and brings you back
That battled sin wasted away, crushed, and no more.