The (Ultimate) Giver

The (Ultimate) Giver

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Romans 8:24-25

               There is a book written by Lois Lowry entitled The Giver whose scripted “truths” often come to mind when I’m reading certain Biblical truthsIt has an interesting story line and if you like a plot that is layered with inference and symbolism, then you are likely to enjoy this book.  The setting of the story is a utopian society in a futuristic world.  Within these “perfect” communities, efficiency is valued over emotions and the uncertainties that erupt from personal choice are replaced with the assurances that emanate from prescribed control.  Every part of life is calculated, contrived, and contained.  There are no surprises.  There is no supposing.  Everything is mapped out and the course is navigated accordingly.  No mistakes, no mishaps, no mayhem; only perfect peace in a perfect society.  But, since control is sometimes hard to…well…control, there is a trap door just in case. Just in case there is a surprise, just in case something doesn’t go according to Plan A, there is a Plan B…or, more accurately, a Plan G.  Enter the Giver. 

               In this perfectly programmed community, the Giver is the one person who still has knowledge of the world as it used to be; he alone holds the memories of ages past so that history may stay historical and never again repeat itself.  He is known as the Giver because not only has he been given all the memories of the past, but in turn he will give these recollections to another; he, the Giver, will pour all he knows into the mind of a chosen Receiver who will eventually become the next Giver…and so on.  My point in all of this is to present the context from which one element in the story will be extracted:  the element of “seeing beyond”.  In this fictional story, a person can only become the Receiver if certain capabilities are evident.  One of these is the ability to “see beyond”.  In a world where people have been told what to see and how to see it, blindness has shrouded the eyes of those who have ceased to look…ceased to observe…ceased to perceive.  But, if in the midst of this greyness, one dares to see color…one dares to “see beyond”…to him is given all the shades that others can’t see and all the sights that others won’t know.  It’s a rare gift in this futuristic utopian society and it’s a rare gift in our current very unutopian world.  But, I believe it’s a gift we can actually receive because I think it’s a gift God wants us to have, I just think He calls it by a different name.  In God’s vocabulary bank, I believe the term for the ability to “see beyond” is hope.

In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that God will open the eyes of believers’ hearts that they may “see the hope of His calling,” and in 2 Cor. 4:18 he reminds us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  This ability to have hope is nothing more than God granting us the capacity to “see beyond”.  Because of hope, we can see beyond our current circumstance, around our present obstacle, and through our temporary darkness.  With hope, we learn to see not with our eyes but with our hearts; in hope we are forced to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) and in that place…in that place where eyes fail but vision flourishes…we look to the One who sees us and guides us with His eye.

Have you ever seen someone looking intently at something and, out of curiosity, your eyes follow their gaze as you try to see what they see?  That’s what I picture when I read Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go: I will guide you with my eye.”  I imagine myself looking up to God and then following the direction of His gaze and, though I can’t see what He sees, I find comfort in knowing that He is looking at something!  His eyes aren’t closed…they’re looking ahead, they’re looking out, they’re seeing beyond…they’re providing hope

C. S. Lewis wrote about hope. Here is how he described man’s desire to “see beyond”:

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know  that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.”

 “We do not want to merely “see” beauty–though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

C. S. Lewis knew we all have this longing, this hope untapped and perhaps unlabeled. It’s how God wired us so that, until we see Him face to face, we are ever wanting to see beyond this temporary world and into our eternal home. It’s where our faith is grown; “faith [which] is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1).  And, until our vision is complete and our faith becomes sight, what are we to do?  Where are we to look?  To El Roi, the God-Who-Sees.  In Genesis 16:13, Hagar’s plight is recorded.  When she was unable to see beyond her circumstances, she cried out and God showed up to guide her with His eye.  He spoke words that enabled her to see beyond her present situation; He gave her hope.  This is the first place in Scripture where God is referred to as El Roi, which means “The God Who Sees”.  In some places, this name is expanded to “The God Who Sees…me.”  I like them both; I need the God who looks outward and sees everything…and I need the God who looks downward and sees me.  When my path is too curved to “see beyond” the next bend, I can fix my eyes (and my hope) upon the One who sees everything.  When I feel invisible and shrouded in uncertainty, I can find comfort in knowing that El Roi always has His eyes upon me.  Is there a greater source of hope?  Is there a better way to “see beyond”?

Lois Lowry wrote about the ability to “see beyond” in The Giver but it pales in comparison to what God wrote about hope in the Old and New Testament.  Surely we have been given the capacity to see beyond our present life and into the life that is yet to come; the real life…the one that holds colors we have never seen but longingly imagine.  It’s the hope of all saints; it’s the hope of salvation; it’s the hope that sees…“as yet through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:  now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am know.”  (I Cor. 13:12).  For then, I shall finally “see beyond ”.

eye has not seen

Further Up and Further In

Further Up and Further In

“But I press on that I might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has already laid hold of me.”  Philippians 3:12b

               I have had fall break this week and with it came a longing to “go to the creek”.  It is my happy place, my quiet place, my “real” place.  As I stood at the edge of the yard, hearing the trees call out to me, I couldn’t help but think how much I like trees; I like their strength, their stability, their ruggedness.  I was tempted to hug one, but decided against it; I didn’t want to embarrass the tree.  But, as I stood there, I thought about how different it is to look at trees from afar or through a window as opposed to sitting among them in their natural habitat.  There are some things that just cannot be appreciated unless you sit right down beside them; unless you go further up and further in.  I know this is true in nature, and I have come to realize it is true in life as well.

For some reason, thinking about my desire to be “up close and personal” with the trees led me to reflect on the times I have looked forward to being close to other aspects of nature.  I remember my anticipation and excitement about seeing the ocean for the first time.  I was in my early twenties and I’d never been to the ocean (or, to be geographically correct, the Gulf).  I couldn’t wait to see the endless expanse of blue waters, the boundless shorelines, and the incredible sunsets.  But, when I arrived, what I saw was the endless expanse of souvenir shops, the boundless rows of water-front shanties, and the unimpressive displays of beach paraphernalia.  The water…well, I did see it…after I waded through the commercialized sea of beach trafficking, but by then I was so disappointed that the beauty of the water didn’t wash away my disillusionment of the pre-ocean scenery.  I had expected God’s nature unfurled; I received man’s nature unchecked.

The same experience happened when I went to Gatlinburg and, years later, to Alaska.  Each time, I envisioned nature in it rawest, most prolific form but what I observed was nature in its gaudiest, most profitable form.  Now, to be fair, I did see beautiful aspects of nature, but they were tucked behind the souvenir t-shirts, ball caps, and shot glasses.  That’s when I decided, if I was ever going to truly see the beauty of an area, I would not go to its perimeter but would set my sights on the interior instead; to see nature at its best, I would need to go further up and further in.  And, as it turns out, this approach is true for experiencing the richness of life as well as the reality of nature.  The best part, the truest part, is only found when you move beyond the outlying areas and into the inner arena.

Paul knew this.  I know because he wrote, “But I press on, that I might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has already laid hold of me.”  (Phil 3:12)  He wasn’t content with life on the perimeter; he too wanted more; he too preferred the unadulterated interior to the unguarded exterior.  Paul knew the importance, the necessity, of going further up and further in; he didn’t settle for a replica, he went after the real thing.  Somehow, standing on the edge of the woods and longing to be in the woods brought this realization to life.  I understand the disparity between the longing and the living, between the anticipated and the actual.  I can relate to the chasm that often separates the two.  But now, I see that it’s not a discernment that is meant to be migratory but rather a disillusionment that is intended to be motivational.  Just as the true beauty of nature is most visible when looking from the inside out, so too is the true essence of man most notable when looking from the heart-side out.  “Or do you not know…”

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price.  Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.”  (I Cor. 6:19-20)  Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians but they are for our benefit as well.  From these verses, we are reminded that both our outer body and our inner soul belong to God; His Spirit dwells within us.  And, if the Holy Spirit resides within us, then surely our inner being is unquestionably more important…more authentic…than our outer being.  Surely what lies on my perimeter (my flesh) is as juxtaposed with my spirit as the souvenir shops are with the ocean.  Further up and further in…that’s where the true beauty lies; further up and further in…that’s where the true purpose resides; further up and further in…that’s where the Spirit abides.

But how often do we realize we’re caught up in perimeter living?  How often do we fail to see that we’ve stopped looking at the ocean and instead are gazing upon Uncle Charlie’s Crab Shack?  How often do we don the “I Saw Alaska” t-shirt that was purchased one hundred feet from the cruise ship’s dock?  Or, how often do we hang-out at the church house rather than hiking up the mountain for a real encounter with our Creator?  It’s all perimeter living; it’s all pausing at the edge rather than pressing on, and in, to the interior.  Past experience tells me that the out-lying areas are not the best representation of a territory’s true beauty.  To see the heart of something, you have to travel to its core.  Not only is this true in the realm of physical nature, but it’s also true in realm of human nature.  Our most authentic, unadulterated self lies not in our flesh but in our spirit.  If someone wants an accurate view of who we are, then they’ll have to go further up and further in; they cannot look from a distance nor can they tippy-toe around our perimeters.  They will have to press in until they can see the intentions of our heart.  And, lest we think this is one-sided, we too will need to do the same.

How blessed we are to have a Father who already does this!  No one knows us better than God; no one sees us more clearly than God; no one loves us more completely than God.  He is the Discerner or our thoughts (Heb. 4:12), the Defender of our minds (Phil. 4:6-7), and the Deliverer of our souls (Ps. 56:13).  God was not content to walk along the perimeters of Heaven but scaled time and space to place His Son in the midst of our world…in the center of our need.  And with that one act, He bids us to follow Him.  He places within us the desire to know that which is real, to not be content with perimeter living, and to continually move further up and further in.  For when we do, not only do we move past those things which are cheap imitations but we also press in to the One through whom all things are seen more clearly.

Perimeter living; I don’t want to do it.  Not as it applies to my physical walk and not as it applies to my spiritual walk.  I am thankful God has reminded me to press on, to go beyond the exterior and to seek that which lies further in.  My prayer is that I will continue to see the disparity between outer-edge living and inner-expanse living that I may never settle for a souvenir when the real thing lies just further up and further in!  I hope this is your prayer as well!

Alaska shop


Blinded By the Light


   Blinded By the Light

“There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”  John 1:9

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about light.  It’s been a source of beauty and of blindness, so I’ve found myself feeling both appreciation and apprehension towards it.  Here’s the basis for this sense of conflict.  Each morning I awake and am thankful for the sunrise.  How can one not be thankful for a sunny day?  Then, as I drive to work, those dancing rays of sunshine change their tempo and become dart-like beams of light as a battalion of them attack my windshield and I cannot see the road before me.  I feel as if I’ve had a Damascus Road experience every morning this week and I’m wondering if, prior to Bruce Springsteen’s penning of “Blinded by the Light”, Saul/Paul wasn’t the original scribe of these words!  It’s rather frightening, this blindness in the face of light, and that makes me wonder just how similar our earthly light is to God’s eternal light?  If the sun’s rays on earth can blind me, then what will happen when I stand before the Light of the World?  How will I ever be able to see then?

While the unknowns of Heaven far outweigh the knowns, of this I am certain:  when it comes to Heavenly light, all earthly principles will be obsolete.  For example, on earth, light travels from the sun to the earth and as it moves, the wavelengths are bent and bounced off particles of dust, water, and gas.  And, as if these elements were not enough, we can add to them an obstacle course of pollutants as well.  All in all, by time light arrives to us, it has literally pin-balled its way through our atmosphere, arriving both distorted and diffracted.  But, as God provides beauty even in bedlam, these microscopic collisions between dust and daylight not only brighten our world but they also color it with blue skies, red sunsets, a yellow sun, and brown windshields.  Did I mention that when the sunlight blinds me each morning it does so through a windshield that suddenly appears brown?  Did I leave that out?  Hmmm.  Perhaps it’s not important.  After all, it’s the blinding nature of the sunlight coming through my windshield that gives me trouble…surely it’s not the cleanliness of my windshield that’s a factor in my blindness…surely not…

And, before leaving the subject of windshields, I doubt that I’m the only one who finds it difficult to keep one clean.  Truth be told, even when I’ve washed it, somehow the windshield never seems to remain spotless.  Between the kamikaze insect attacks that are unleashed after dark and the tell-tale paw prints that indicate the top of the car has once again been the nightly stake-out for our ever vigilant (or vilified) cat, somehow, clean windshields are a rarity.  And, in all honesty, until the sunlight hits the glass I’m not even aware of all the nightly graffiti that’s been written upon it.  But when the light hits it each morning, I am abundantly aware of all the spots and blemishes…and the nature of light and its diffusing quality once again flashes before me.  And I wonder, what will pure light be like?  What will it be like to encounter light that isn’t diffracted or distorted?  What will it be like to never again have a dirty windshield that obstructs the path of light?  Earthly light bends and curves; eternal light neither bows nor cambers.  On earth, sunlight has countless particles that obstruct its path; in Heaven, nothing will interfere with the pathway of the Son’s light.  No more particles of pride, selfishness, vanity, greed, or obstinacy; no more windshields ridden with the previous night’s encounters; no more detours.  In Heaven, the light that reaches us will come straight from its Creator:  pure, direct, and unbent.

It’s hard to imagine any light other than the only one we know.  It’s hard to imagine any place that is outside our present frame of reference.  How do you picture that which you have not seen?  How do you fathom that which is beyond your ability to even imagine?  C.S. Lewis captured this quandary in his book, The Last Battle.  (This is the last book in the Narnia series and if you’ve never read it, I strongly suggest you do…after reading the previous six!  Its use of symbolism and imagery make it, in my opinion, one of the best tools to teach Biblical philosophy to children…and probably to adults as well!)  While not giving away the ending of the book, suffice it to say that toward the end of the story the characters find themselves in a place that is indescribable.  They have seen the Narnia they knew destroyed and now they are uncertain of their present location.  Here are some quotes from the last few pages.

“Peter,” said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”   

“Is it not Aslan’s country?” said Tirian.

“As soon as I walked through the door, the first wonder was that I found myself in this great sunlight.”

“There isn’t a country anywhere like this in our world.  Look at the colors!  You couldn’t get a blue like that in our world!”

“This is the land I have been looking for all my life. Come now, further up and further in!”

I think this is an apt depiction of my encounter with light.  I know it in its earthly form, but I cannot fathom it in its truest, purest, Heavenly form.  I know it literally when it enlightens that which is around me and when it blinds me from that which lies before me.  I know it figuratively when it bounces off my iniquities and when it highlights my sin-laden windshield.  But the light that I know is diffused and distorted; it is not straight and true.  What will it be like to not only encounter the Light of the World but to actually enter into it?  I cannot imagine, but I know that when I do, I will want to go “further up and further in”.

And so I contemplate the blinding nature of light.  In its earthly state, it moves from the sun to the earth, constantly distorted by the particles in its path; in its eternal state, it moves from the Son to the saint, without diffraction but on a perfectly straight path.  And so, until I enter into the Light and see things as they were meant to be seen…until I can look upon the Source of Light free from the separation of a dirty windshield…until then, I will no doubt continue to be blinded by this earthly light.  But I will keep my focus upward; I will continue to move further up and further in, knowing that one day I will stand before the Source of Light that will enable me to, at last, see things as they were meant to be seen, and not as they currently appear.  I will leave behind the world of floating (sin) particles and will step into the realm of forgiveness…of unfettered light and of clean windshields!  Blinded by the light?  Only for a little while longer, and then I will be binded to the Light!

C.S. Lewis on darkness

Positional Perspectives, Please

Positional Perspectives, Please

“But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”   –I John 1:7

C.S. Lewis amazes me.  Never have I read material that makes me think harder, deeper, and wider than when I read his writings.  Nor has any writer impressed upon me the ineptness of my vocabulary or increased the adeptness of my dictionary skills more than Mr. Lewis!  Reading his works is like taking my mind to a literary playground; there are so many structures to climb…and fall from (like The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce), so many devices from which to swing…and become disoriented (like The Weight of Glory and The Screwtape Letters), yet also so many shady trees to crawl under and reflect from (like Readings for Meditation and Reflection and Mere Christianity).  I have enjoyed visiting this playground of late and on a recent outing came across a tunnel within one of the apparatuses that has caused me to have, well, tunnel vision!  But not tunnel vision in the sense that one sees in a confined, restrictive way but rather the kind that enables one to see in a broader, more comprehensive manner.  In fact, it might be more appropriate to refer to it as funnel vision rather than tunnel vision.  To explain, let me first take you to the tunnel…then, when your brain is rightly throbbing from the velocity of Mr. Lewis’ insights, I’ll expose you to the funnel where my ideas will be released, greatly reducing the rapidity of your thinking as my injected inanity collides with Mr. Lewis’ indisputable intellect.  I’ll warn you now that moving from the realm of C.S. Lewis’ thinking to the reservoir of K.K. Smith’s ponderings will cause a jolt in your cerebral cortex comparative to that experienced by astronauts upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere.  I’m just saying, be prepared for some turbulence…and for Heaven’s sake, put down that Dr. Pepper!

Now, on to the tunnel.  I first came across the device that contained the yet to be revealed tunnel early on during one of my trips to Mr. Lewis’ literary playground.  The apparatus was entitled, Readings for Meditation and Reflection, and the tunnel was located mid-way through the device.  The tunnel too bore a title which read, “Looking Along and Looking At”.  I stepped easily enough into this tunnel and, before the arrival of the first turn, knew I had entered a place that would require future visits…there was simply too much to explore!  It’s not that the tunnel was all that long, I’d been in many that  exceeded its length; it’s not that the tunnel was overly dark, I’d been far more blinded in other tunnels (also of Mr. Lewis’ design); it was that this tunnel had a reflective nature about it so that the more I looked, the more I saw.  The return trips would be to continually gather relics that, once examined under the shade of the nearest tree, could be more clearly identified, more aptly classified and, then, more rightly understood and applied.  The tunnel engulfed me for days!  (It probably took C.S. Lewis 20 minutes to write this…maybe less.  But for me, days of excavating still have me merely scratching at its surface.)

In his unpretentious way, Mr. Lewis created this tunnel by describing a visit he had taken to his tool shed.  Once inside, he noticed how a single beam of light poked through a crack above the door and how, by looking at the beam, he could follow its path and look at the subject of the light.  In his case, it was the floor of the shed.  But, when he stepped into the beam of light, when he looked along the shaft, his focus changed as well as his perspective.  Now, he saw the origin of the light and not just its object; now he noticed what the light revealed as it traveled from its source outside of the shed to its subject within the shed.  He saw the sun, the leaves, the branches…and he saw not just a positional switch, but a philosophical one as well.  His out-sight gave way to in-sight.

What C.S. Lewis noted from his observation was that there are two positions one can be in when looking upon someone or something; he can look at them (as from a distance or outside the situation, as he looked upon the beam coming through the crack in the wall) or he can look along them (as up-close and personal, as he did when he stepped into the beam of light).  Lewis questioned which position was most important and concluded that both are necessary for full illumination.

My first visit to this tunnel left me unable to do anything more than leave a trail to ensure a future return to this place.  I knew there were deep truths here that needed to be mined out, but I couldn’t even tell where I should start digging.  I just knew I needed to return…and with the proper excavating equipment.  So, the next time I returned with a pick, then with a shovel and bucket, and finally with a wheelbarrow.  I had searched for and found hidden treasures within this tunnel.  Just what were those artifacts?  I am glad you asked!  To show you these I will now need to take you to the funnel.  (This is where the ride becomes turbulent as you descend from the lofty heights of C.S. Lewis to the “crop dusting” altitude of my musings.)

C.S. Lewis’ observation about the difference between looking at a beam of light and looking along a beam of light caused me to reflect upon the importance of perspective.  How often do we only look at situations, circumstances, and even people instead of also looking along them?  We stand outside the beam of light and look only at a particular area of illumination; our vision excludes the shaft and instead zeros exclusively on what the light exposes.  We don’t think about the source, but look only at the subject.  While this is not necessarily incongruous, it is insufficient if it is the only positional perspective taken.  If our only view is not from a place that looks at the origin of the light, nor at anything else that the light divulges, then how can we say that we fully “see” that which lies before us?  No, as C.S. Lewis observed in his tool shed, light must not only be looked at, but it must also be looked along.  How does this apply to daily living?  It is the difference between observing and experiencing; it is the shift from second-hand presumption to first-hand perception.  Applied to our lives, it is the gorge between hearing a neighbor has cancer and finding out that you have cancer; it is the chasm between learning that 50% of marriages end in divorce to learning that your parents are getting a divorce; it is the gulf that separates shrinking job markets from , “Here is your severance package.”  Experience causes a shift in our perspective; experience moves us from looking at the beam to looking into (along) the beam.

We know this.  We’ve all been in situations where our outlook changed because our insight was adjusted.  It’s one thing to assess another’s reaction or recalibration to a situation when we have not stood in their shoes, when we have not stepped into their beam of light; it’s another to find ourselves immersed by the light which now reveals its source.  The “should of, could of, would ofs” fall to the wayside as with new clarity we see that which was previously hidden.  Now we see the source, now we see that which is exposed within the beam, within the experience, and our new sight silences our tongue…or produces regret for former assumptions that grew in darkness.  Yes, light exposes and diffuses darkness but it can also create shadows.  As long as we look at the light, we stand in those shadows; once we step into the light, along the light, we escape those obscurities.  C.S. Lewis thought about this and concluded that both positions are important; we need to see what the light reveals but we also need to see from where the light comes.  It’s not an either/or preference but a both/and perspective.  I agree with Mr. Lewis (did you think for a moment I wouldn’t?).  In 1 John 1:7, God does not instruct us to walk by the light but in the light.  Why?  Because it is within the beam that we find Him, the source of all light.  This verse goes on to state that, once within this beam of light, we will have fellowship with one another.  How true.  It is within the light that misconceptions and deceptions are cast into darkness as we no longer look at something (or someone) but along it (or him).  Now we see with our eyes and our hearts because we look with the new perspective of experience; we see not just what the light exposed but also what the light illuminated; we see the Source, we see the course, and we see the destination.

And there it is.  My excavations from a small tunnel located within C.S. Lewis’ literary playground.  I hope I have not caused you to scrape a knee or knot your noggin.  If so, I am quite certain it wasn’t that my reflections were too deep but rather too shallow.  If you’re like me, it’s the little steps that cause me to stumble; those that make you wonder why they were ever put there in the first place.  If that’s the case, I apologize.  I do hope this little summation will create in you a desire to travel to, and climb upon, the incredible structures erected by C.S. Lewis.  Just pack a lunch before you go…you’ll no doubt stay longer than you intended and you’ll need all the mental strength and dexterity to scale his formations!

walk in the light