Friday, November 16, 2012

Retracting from the Cold

The cold changes your skin. It becomes tight and protective. Caulking cracks on fascia in the mile-high altitude air in November, peeling off your 4/3 mil. wetsuit in the parking lot after a mid December surf session. Frosty air or salt water, your skin retracts from the cold. At first it feels good and fresh, even clean, like wiping oily skin with an alcohol swab. But after some more exposure, it wants to keep tightening, shrinking, and soon it has no choice but to split. Like a piece of leather or a new wineskin, it shrivels a bit, and while most of your body won't notice, it's your hands that pay tribute to the cold. There's a dullness that lingers and rises from the finger bones, and the skin begins to crack and split, leaving tiny fissures that sting and pulse in rhythm with your heart. It's the cold season, the time for gloves and Utter cream and hoodies. Because the cold wants to get past your skin and your bones, all the way to your soul.

I wonder how many people really believe they have as soul, because when you talk about the soul, people nod their heads, consenting to the existential truth that they are more than just a complicated mass of intricate matter. When you talk about your soul being alive, energized, tired, or lost, it's the head-nod, the acknowledgement that, yeah, I've got a soul, and it probably has a reason for being here, but let's stay tangible, even practical, O.K.? It's almost embarrassing talking about the inner life. It's soft, flighty, poetic, weak. And this spills into the idea of rest. For many, rest happens later in life, but today is the time for pushing and driving. It's living with the idea that time is short and scarce, and the harder I work, the more time I might have to do the things I really want. And the weeks and years evaporate in the cloud of pushing and driving, because this kind of time (the Greeks called it chronos) is a slave-master who devours stranger, friend, and kin (think of the Greek god Chronos who gorges his own child). But there's another kind of time, the kairos kind, which is time filled with purpose and potential and possibility. And our souls long for this.

 Because scarcity is not our purpose.

"The thief (think chronos) comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you might have life, and that in abundance." John 10:10.

And it's anything but material abundance or earthly security. Jesus didn't have your 401K in mind when he said that. In fact, he was all about the soul. "Come to me if you're tired and weary and loaded with a heavy burden, and I'll give rest to your soul." Or "Don't bow down to the guy that can hurt your body, but rather bow down to God who, if he wanted to, could destroy your soul." I think Jesus had a less than poetic view of the soul. It is just as obvious as the sky above, and, because it's rugged and wild and beautiful,  it needs care, just like your teeth need brushing and your body needs sleep. And people live their whole lives without sleep and act as if they aren't tired, as if they don't carry a burden that someone else needs to lift because they're just too exhausted to set it down. The cold is setting in, the skin is retracting to protect what's underneath, and the fingers are starting to split and tear.

Sometimes you have to be invited to live differently. This is what Sabbath does. It invites you to stop bowing down to scarcity, to chronos, to your usual way of doing life. It asks you, not to work less and pursue leisure, but to discover the God-ordained rhtymn for your day, to ask the question, what is this time for? It invites you into abundance, to trust the Creator and Giver of time, to give your soul attention, to listen a little more, and to abandon the trajectory that leads to scarcity.

The cold season is here. Our skin retracts to protect, and it's starting to hurt. God says there's a way of life that's better, more restful, more abundant. We'll grow a little as we continue striving, through scarcity, but we'll thrive through God's rest and abundance. It's the place of true strength. "In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength..." (Isa. 30:15).