The Wonder Report: July 16, 2021
The With-ness of God
It’s Friday again … and boy am I thankful. And I’m extra thankful to be connecting here with you again.
A couple of weeks ago, my aunt and cousin drove 90 minutes for a visit with Mom and me. It was a last-minute visit … they come about once a month but usually we plan ahead. This time, they texted the day before and said they were coming, just to be with us.
I’ve felt the same urge, just to be with people I love. Especially during hard seasons. A dear friend’s dad passed away suddenly this week, and she dropped everything to fly home and be with her mom and sisters. After she got there, she said they had a stream of visitors at her parents’ house, people who just wanted to be with them in their grief.
But it’s not only in difficult times that we want to be with people. Presence comes to us as a gift even in the mundane moments of life. We want to share the joy of a refreshing ice tea on a hot summer day; we want to point to the flowers or the river or the sunset and say, Isn’t that beautiful?” and have someone else say, “Wow, it is.” We want to know someone understands how frustrating construction traffic can be. One of the hardest things about being single well into my adult years was just not having someone here with me. When I thought about marriage, the thing I looked forward to the most was being home and not alone. I longed for with-ness.
As we prepare to make the jump from the Old Testament readings into the New in Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith, one chapter from this week’s reading really stood out: The With-God Life. We often think about “God with us” as a very New Testament concept: the Incarnation, after all, is all about God “moving into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson so whimsically translated John 1:14.
But God’s with-ness wasn’t a new concept to his people. Back in Deuteronomy, God remained with his people during their wilderness wanderings, revealing himself as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And Moses, who often emerged from the Tent of Meeting with “his face ablaze with the presence of God,” taught and demonstrated to his people again and again that only in God’s presence could the nation of Israel prosper. After the incident with the Golden Calf, God told the people they’d have to go on without him, because their obstinance was so off putting. But Moses knew that “if God did not go with them, the land would be a worthless gift,” as Jen writes.
“If your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here,” Moses prayed. “For how can it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and Your people?” Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:15-16) Mercifully, God relented.
When I think of all the habits of my faith, not to mention the habit that is my faith, the one thing they all point to is God’s presence with me. Reading and studying my Bible allows me to know the heart and mind of God; prayer is a way to both talk to and hear from God. When I serve, I am like God to others. When I am in need, God comes to me looking a lot like my husband or my neighbors. Worship ushers me to the altar of God; fellowship with others comes to me as the embrace of God. When I am quiet, I feel the nearness of God in my own breath.
Near the end of her chapter on The With-God Life, Jen offers a caveat:
“I don’t want to give the impression that the life of faith is easier than a life without faith. … The invitation of faith isn’t to pretend that there aren’t big, bad scary wolves; that life can’t wreck with a sudden change of weather; that we don’t feel angry or sad or disappointed—even occasionally abandoned.”
And if we read our Bibles with any care at all, we’ll not be surprised by the difficulties of life. God never promised us a life of ease.
But he has promised his presence. As the Israelites stood on the cusp of the Promise Land they were so long in getting to, Moses entreated them: “God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you” (Deut. 31:6). And he gives us the same promise in the book of Hebrews: “God assured us, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you’” (13:5, The Message).
Summer Reading Club
Let’s discuss Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus.
This week, we read Days 16-20 of the book. If you’re reading along (or even if you aren’t), consider responding to one or more of these questions in the comment section by clicking on the button below:
What difference does God’s presence make in your life?
How do you experience God’s presence? Is it something you have to remind yourself of? Or does it just seem obvious to you?
How convinced are you that your moral and spiritual problems are internal, not external? Do you treat others as if this is true for them, too? What is the temptation of merely changing the external behavior? Is it ever appropriate?
What have been the results of trying to change on the basis of your own strength and willpower? What’s so hopeful about the idea that God intends to “circumcise” our hearts?
It’s not too late to read along. Here’s the Reading Schedule for the rest of the summer:
Week 5 (July 17-23): Days 21-25
Week 6 (July 24-30): Days 26-30
Week 7 (July 31-August 6): Days 31-35
Week 8 (August 7-13): Days 36-40
Finally, I am hoping to plan a Zoom gathering with you all for later in July to talk about the habits of faith and the habit of faith itself. It would be organized so that you could participate even if you haven’t read the book. If you’re interested, and you haven’t already let me know, leave a comment on Substack or just hit reply to this message and let me know. I am going to try to schedule so that everyone who wants to come can.
This and That
Stop by here for articles, essays, and more to give you hope, to make you think, to grow your faith, and as always, to help root you in love.
As I’ve thought about with-ness this week, I’ve been wondering if our experience in the presence of other people affects our perception of God’s presence with us. It seems like it must, though I’m not sure the effects are always the same. If we’re often lonely, does that make God’s presence more meaningful to us? Or harder to discern? What if we’re always with other people? Can we sense God’s presence as easily in a crowd as when we’re alone? However we think about it, I found these three articles on friendship to be enlightening.
Christians Need More Intergenerational Friendships by Joe Carter for The Gospel Coalition
Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations by David French for The Dispatch
Becoming All Things To All People by Michelle Reyes for InCourage
Nature Outside Your Door
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.” — Rachel Carson
For the next several weeks, I’ll offer a summer series called “Nature Outside Your Door.” In it, we’ll talk about ways to connect with nature and appreciate God’s creation even if you can’t leave your neighborhood.
In Episode 5, I talk about flowers, and this beautiful quote: “In joy or sadness, flowers are our constant friends.” - Okakura Kakuzo.
When I Write …
Finally, check out this section for a summer series just for writers called When I Write. I’ve invited fellow writers from The Redbud Writers Guild to join me with a brief explainer from their own writing, along with a prompt for you to try — even if you aren’t a writer.
This week, welcome Prasanta Verma.
When I write, I often turn to poetry for inspiration. Using only a few words, poems convey deep meaning, crafting language in original and unexpected ways. Poems are creative, and challenge me to consider different possibilities and perspectives. In addition to the fresh vision poetry offers me in my own writing, I also read poetry because it reminds me of our shared experiences as humans living life together on this planet. And finally, I delight in the beauty of the verses, and find reading poetry to be both therapeutic and calming as well as provocative and thoughtful.
Poetry offers rich lines like these:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness (Keats)
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow / Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings (Yeats)
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination (Mary Oliver)
Notice how each particle moves, / Notice how everyone has just arrived here from a journey (Rumi)
The frost performs its secret ministry / Unhelped by any wind (Coleridge)
Let the cricket take up chafing / as a woman takes up her needles / and her yarn. Let evening come. (Jane Kenyon)
Now you try it. Try this fun little exercise while reading poetry for inspiration. Find a poem to read. Choose 6-10 words from the poem. Next, start writing a new poem, incorporating the words from your list into your new poem about any topic. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to write your new “found” poem. It doesn’t have to rhyme. Poetry is often unstructured and free. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The idea is to develop imagery, metaphor, or a sentence you might not otherwise have uncovered. (Note: If you end up posting or publishing your “found” poem, remember to always give credit back to the original poet.)
Prasanta Verma is a nonfiction writer and poet who longs to inspire you with words. You can follow her on IG @prasantaverma and subscribe to her writerly newsletter via her website https://prasantaverma.com/.
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report! Thanks again for sharing this time with me. If you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. It’s one of my favorite features of this platform.
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Until next time,