Thursday, July 17, 2008

Recycled Post: Knowing and Loving

A guest speaker came from Portland, OR to our church in the Columbia Gorge when I was a young girl. I don’t remember who he was or what his message was about, but I can never forget the slight he delivered the town I loved and called home. As an illustration to one of his points, he emphasized the arid climate, the dryness of the land, the apparent barrenness in comparison to the lush trees and breath-taking mountains just up the Gorge. His point was clear: our town was ugly and inferior. I remember wondering at the gall of a man you visits a town and insults it from the pulpit.

Portland and my hometown are but a two hour’s drive from each other, yet they are separated by the Cascade Mountains which have a marked effect on the climate and landscape. Portland is known for its wet, mild weather. My hometown sits right where the drying begins that leads into the desert. The wind is funneled down the Gorge, a thrill for windsurfers, but a trial for those wanting to keep their hair in place and their skirts around their ankles. The cold winter air is likewise funneled down the Gorge and tends to sit there even after the storm has blown over in other places. There are very marked seasons there: cold winters, hot summers and blessed springs and autumns that bring the welcomed warming or cooling, which ever it might be.

I love that town. If it served my purpose here I could take you on a written tour, showing the cherry orchards that surround it and the grey, wide river that separates it from Washington State. I could take you down streets rich with memories and point out houses where friends and family have lived, parks where I played as a child and where I have taken my kids, and the church where I got married. But it occurs to me as I think of my hometown that I love it because I know it.

I doubt that the speaker that day held any real animosity for that little town in the Columbia Gorge, and his insult was likely not an insult at all but rather a quick observation of the surface of a place he didn’t know. Had he known the town, if its streets were his by virtue of a thousand memories, he would have loved it and his insensitive words would have been reserved for another place.

Isn’t it interesting when you stop to think about this tendency to love what we know? Be it a town, or a pair of jeans or tattered slippers, or something even more dear: a pudgy little hand or the five o’clock shadow on the face that brushes yours during an embrace at the end of a day. Both the condemned and the elderly are given a favorite meal in their final hours, a nod to better times and memories more pleasant. It’s the familiar that holds our hearts, that has meaning, that calls to us.

And just as I know the streets of my hometown and the faces of my children, and the hands of my husband, so God traces the lines of my heart with loving familiarity. In this, we are made in his image. He sees my thoughts; he spends his days thinking about me- about us- and loves us. He knows us. Because he knows us- and sometimes despite knowing us- he loves us.

1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.

2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

5 You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.

Psalm 139:1-18

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