Friday, February 22, 2013

Before You Do That...

One of the most nerve-wracking nights of my life was Christmas Eve of 2009.

My family had done some celebrating and reflecting and gift opening and meal sharing throughout the evening, all that stuff you are supposed to do on Christmas Eve, but by about ten o'clock all had gone to bed in preparation for the next morning. 

Because we had to get up early. 

It was going to be my nephew's first Christmas and we wanted to make sure everyone got to thoroughly enjoy that experience before we left. So instead of the ideal 8:00 or 9:00 beginning of the morning on Christmas day, it had to be more like 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. 

I, however, wasn't going to be able to fall asleep like the rest of my family. 

Midnight had crept on me and I had been sitting in the old and worn rocking chair my grandma had given me and that now had its home in the corner of my small bedroom in my parent's house. At some point that evening I had angled the chair to face out the window and roughly two hours of staring and thinking and pondering had since passed. My body felt light and my breaths were quick and shallow as my mind continuously turned over everything that was soon going to happen. Tears were even on the brink as that small swell that moves in your throat without your approval was making its presence felt more and more. It was like this octane of emotion moving inside of me in conjunction with that nervous energy that leaves your mind racing while the world moves slowly around you. 

By 1:00 in the morning I had continuously been in and out of that chair and was now pacing around the little available space in the room rehearsing, practicing, and envisioning what the next day was going to bring. The moment was spinning in my head over and over again and the anxiety of wishing it would just happen already was heavy. But no amount of thinking or preparing could change the intensity of my emotional state of being. There was only waiting to be done while every single atom of my body knew that something was soon going to happen that would change everything. 

Until a blurry 3:00 in the morning I sat in my room facing this approaching experience that hung in the Christmas air, but finally, my eyes were able to shut and my body rest. Because I knew I had to sleep even in the midst of the constant pounding of my heart.

Because we had to get up early.

Part of the uncontrolled anxiety and nervousness was because of the uncertainty. Because we never talked about this moment. For a lot of people, they already know exactly what is going to happen, where it will take place, what everything will look like, and what needs to be said. 

But not us. 

So I was going into this day a little blind, but also a little more like the day was intended to be. But it was that very genuiness of the moment that was to blame for what was going on inside of me.

Needless to say, that Christmas morning was strange. Because we got up and gave my nephew the morning kids dream of, but none of us were actually 'there'. We were all anticipating what was about to happen. Still early in the morning, we finished our time by the Christmas tree, had a warm yet solemn breakfast and were soon loading our caravans for the trip. There was a quiet energy in the air. No one was saying much as I received nods of approval and quick questions only involving the business to make sure all was ready. Everyone was focused on the task at hand. It was as if I was the leader of this movement about to face its biggest challenge and my family was the supporters behind me, catering to my needs in the midst of disguised chaos. It was the stillness before the moment. The anticipation of all that was soon to unfold.

So by 11:00 that same morning we left. 

My few hours of false sleep were now carrying me to drive my entire family five hours through the empty highways on Christmas day. Conversation was sparse. Energy was high. All were focused on the moment that still laid miles before us. 

Sleep was becoming more of a factor as these kinds of experiences can be exponentially exhausting. Your body can only take the high energy of anxiousness and nervousness for so long. Eventually the pressure just becomes daunting and tiresome. But while the entire time I was just wishing for the moment to come and the weight to be released from my body, the nervousness and the energy...that is something I will always remember. 

Because my family and I piled into the car on a surprise journey to ask a question on that Christmas Day. And it was a question that I didn't know the answer to. Because we had never talked about it before. 

There was this girl that I had began forming a relationship with and eventually we got to a place where I knew that there was no other option but for me to connect my life with hers. It wasn't something we sat down and thought would be cool and exciting to do nor was it something that I was hoping that, if I started now, it would someday come to be. It was something that already had taken place and it was finally time to just acknowledge it and make it a reality. So I was driving to ask this question to see if she felt and was experiencing the same thing I was. 

Which is why I was so nervous. 

Because there are these moments that we can feel our world is about to change.

The world our eyes have grown so accustomed to begins to take on new shapes and appearances, it begins to move and look and feel different and there is this raw pressing instinct that it is going to be taking us with it. And so in the midst of that we seem to have this innate sense to stop and be there and to get caught up in it. 

Like the experience of being pregnant and bringing a new human being into the world.

Or the day before your wedding while you sit with this person for the last time as them being 'another' person.

Or the moment where you stand at the door and the house is empty and the truck is packed and you look at what used to be home as you are about to enter into a new and mysterious world.

Or even that energy that is in the air on the first day before school starts.

There are moments where this mysterious new thing is approaching that isn't quite here yet, but that you can feel even if you can't quite see it yet.

We all have these moments. Moments of excitement and anticipation because we can feel that tomorrow everything is going to be different. And there is a part of us that realizes that the only thing we can do is stop and be there in the midst of it. Which is the same reason why throughout history people have always celebrated the seasons and holidays and transitional experiences of the earth and of our lives as humans.

There is the natural inclination and sense that something is going on and that it is taking you with it.

And for some reason, the natural human response is to take part in it. To do something about it. To try and make sense of it and capture it.

Which raises the question:


Why is there a part of us that has to stop and acknowledge, to reach out and embrace these moments and interact with them and get nervous and anxious?

Why do we have a need to participate in the rhythms of the world?


Most of us know how the Bible begins. The opening line just has this memorable ring to it:

"In the beginning, God created the skies and the earth..."

Many of us can recite that no problem. 

But what about the next part?

Because in between this line and the sequence of 'days' to follow with the whole "let there be light" part is a very overlooked detail. And it happens to be a detail that has a lot to say about this inclination we find happening in the transitional moments of our life.

The initial beginning part is followed by this: 

"...and the breath of God was moving over the waters."

Which sounds pretty neat, but really, if we actually look at it, this is kind of a weird description isn't it?

Quite the mental picture. God's breath, whatever that is supposed to look like, moving over dark and mysterious water. Interesting, but what does it mean? Why would the author feel like this was a necessary element to put into this writing? Because it seems to interrupt the flow of Genesis 1. God creates the world and we are told it is dark and chaotic and raw and we are about to be told that God takes all that raw material and unifies it, he takes the darkness and creates light. But seemingly forced into the middle of this sequence is this strange picture of God's breath moving over water and it breaks the cohesion of the whole "let there be light" statement that comes next. 

Now, the ancient rabbis talk about how every single letter and punctuation mark in the Torah has meaning. Every word and sentence structure and narrative flow is exactly the way it is supposed to be...nothing is wasted, nothing is just there to fill space. It all has a purpose. 

So even when we come across this strange piece of writing, we have to realize that it has a purpose, that God is trying to communicate something. Even though it doesn't seem to fit, the text would actually be incomplete without it. Unfortunately, for English speaking Americans it isn't quite as easy to see. So in order to understand what these rabbis were talking about, we have to do some transposing for our world today. We have to try and understand the picture just as the ancient rabbis were able to understand it.

There is a Hebrew word used in this mysterious sentence that doesn't really have an English equivalent. So we can translate it and technically be correct, but it doesn't capture the meaning that the Hebrew word is getting at here. Our language comes up short. 

The word that technically translates as "moving" is the Hebrew word 'rachaf'. Some translations use the English word "hovering" or "spreading", but again, there is no word equivalent to make sense of what 'rachaf' means. Because it is a picture. The English word 'moving' isn't too much of a picture. Meaning we're gonna have to try and look past the language and go into the picture that the ancient Hebrew people were able to see. 

And it helps to know that the word rachaf is the same word used by the Hebrew people to explain a bird brooding over their young. And some texts even use rachaf as the word to describe a mother embracing her dead child. 

Not quite what we think of when we read "moving". 

Rather, this word deals with a deep focus and intimacy. A mother bird nourishing and protecting her newly born hatchling. It creates the image of a mother who finds her child dead and falls onto the ground attempting to bring them back to life where you can see and hear the screaming and holding and mourning. 

This is the word 'rachaf'. 

And right before God creates the world, this is what God does.

God 'rachafs' it. 

What we are shown in this mysterious text of Genesis is a deep moment of anticipation and intimacy that God has with the world before he enters into it. 

It is almost as if before God gets started, God has this moment of acknowledging what he is handling, something that God apparently thought was an important picture to communicate to us.

God creates the world and there is the darkness and chaos and rawness and God is about to do something about it, but before he does, we have a moment of rachaf. 

God is showing us the inherit way the world is meant to work.

Which means that those moments that we can feel and those experiences where there is this internal desire to stop and be in the midst of the changing world around us, apparently, this is our attempt to get caught up in the very essence of how God created the world. Maybe that is why it seems to be such a natural part of us.

The seasons of our lives change, the shape of the world around us alters, and we have a tendency to stop and participate in it. And it is a process that is simply our way of participating with this raw, fundamental nature that God instilled into the very existence of the world. 


However, even though this is built into the fabric of our being, to acknowledge these moments and participate in this same process that God embeds in the world, we have the tendency not to. 

We have the tendency to rush through things. 

Which is the equivalent of an unmanned car driving over a cliff.

How many of us live in the midst of these life altering, world changing moments that will never let us move through the world the same again, but we end up just chaotically running through it with no awareness of what we hold in our hands. We just fly in and instead of thriving in a new, unknown world, we end up in a dark cave, feeling our way through the cold walls hoping to catch a breath in the midst of all that is going on. 

Not exactly a way to describe flourishing. 

Because we never took that moment to prepare and get our bearings and actually engage with this thing coming upon us. And so all of the sudden we find ourselves in the middle of this new world realizing that we have no clue what is actually going on. 

Like the person who takes the job and just starts because they didn't care, they just wanted a job. And so they enter into it and never look around at what is going on, they never acknowledge or own what they are handling and soon enough they've missed this whole phase of their life and are in way over their heads wishing they could have it all back.

Getting caught up in all of these other things kept you from getting caught up in the movement of your world.

You end up trying to survive as opposed to truly experiencing the world. Just frantically pushing buttons and pulling strings just to get through it with no real grasp of what you are actually doing.

Because before you jumped in, there was no 'rachaf'.

How many of us have been to weddings where you are watching this celebration go down and there is just this overwhelming sense that they never really thought this through. They just decided to go with it and all of the they are, never having grasped where the world was taking them.

They are completely missing the rhythm of their changing world and we can all feel it.

Unfortunately, this human experience is quite common and we end up with a lot of overwhelmed, empty, and confused people.

But there is another tendency at work within the human soul, an almost opposite way to navigate through these experiences that deals with the failure to 'rachaf'.

It is the tendency to ritualize something. 

In this, you are pushing buttons and pulling strings and you know exactly what you are doing...but you've lost touch. It is more of a mindless, unconscious effort to just get by and you aren't really even there anymore. These big moments just become this thing you do, hoops to jump through, a ritual that is just numbed down to the flow of life and the momentous experiences going on in the world become completely arbitrary. 

What is happening with these things is that our headspace is somewhere else besides the moment. Instead of being aware of this major thing taking place we find ways to look past it. We don't 'rachaf' because we have blinded ourselves to the fact that the scenery of the world is changing in the first place.

So, when it comes to these moments of transitional experiences, you can either be running through it wide eyed and out of control like a person rolling down the side of a mountain trying to grab onto something to slow them down; the result of when you don't take the time to properly engage the moment.

Or, you can just be numb to the whole thing and mentally be in a time and a place and a world other than here and now. You can be there going through that moment, but not actually be there. Where this thing that you were supposed to intimately connect with and participate in has become "just another thing". 

The danger of this is that the entire process loses its meaning. We change or the world around us changes and we find ways to go around it and we end up lost and confused. Because the terrain changed, we ignored it, and now we don't even know where we are.

There was no 'rachaf' and we miss it.

And if you don't take the moment and process it and feel it. Then you lose it...

And eventually it is like you are completely separated and detached from the world you just let pass by.

It doesn't become a part of you and you never actually own it. 


Which isn't what God does.

The story doesn't begin with God just rushing in and getting way in over his head or getting lost and overwhelmed. And we don't see God just throwing it off to the side saying, "Let's just get this thing over with." We see an entirely different sort of approach. 

God stops and takes ahold of it and owns it.

God has this presence that captures the totality of the experience in a way that allows God to truly be a part of it. As the world moves and changes, God moves with it.

This is 'rachaf'.

It is the way to make sure that this 'moment' doesn't become "just another thing". It is the realistic acknowledgement that when we get that inner sense, that there is something big going on just waiting for us to get caught up in it, that we actually stop and go through it.

Because sometimes there are those moments where you sit there late into the night staring this mysterious world down and you can feel it approaching in every single part of your being. You see your world moving before you into the unknown and in the midst of the excitement and energy and anticipation and nerves and fear, where your stomach turns over and your mind races trying to wrap itself around all that is going is in this that the only thing you can do is 'rachaf' it. All you can do is stop and be there, engaging the moment and breathing it in as it unfolds in and around you.

Which is what God is doing.

God is entering into the world with an awareness that reaches out and grabs hold of all that is going on.

God owns the moment.

Because if you don't, the moment will just sneak through continuing on its path where the unknown remains unknown. Which means that the mysteriousness of the world has ended up owning you. Your negligence has left you deeply impaired to positively engage with what is going on because you've lost all control of what is really happening.

We need to learn from God's posture of embracing and entering into the ebbing and flowing of the world around him. 

We have to put aside the tendencies that get in the way and learn to just be aware of what we are handling, ensuring that this thing becomes a part of you and that you don't miss it.

We need to start celebrating and capturing the rhythms of our world's movements. We need to be ok with getting nervous and anxiously anticipating the unknownness of what is to come. We have to acknowledge when things are going to be different and that we have to go into that 'different' with them.

So we have to ask:

What if we entered into whatever these moments are with a posture of trying to connect to it and grab ahold of it?

What if we truly made these experiences a part of us?

If we owned them?

Sometimes we simply need to stop and be sure to experience every single part of it so that we can properly navigate the world we are entering into.

Because although the Christmas Eve of 2009 may have been the most nerve-wracking moment of my life, I'm sure glad I didn't fall into the tendency to miss it. Because it is the only way I could become who I am today. You sit and go through it, even if it is scary, even if you are moving into a world you didn't ask for, because at the end, it is the only way to become who you are.

It is the only way to make this new world your own. 

So whatever that "thing" is, before you do it...make sure you take the time to rachaf.