Sheep Gotta’ Seep
By Jane Tawel
February 24, 2019
In the past few years, more than ever before perhaps, I have been seeping. And conversely, more than ever, I have been being seeped into. The short definition of to seep is (of a liquid) “to flow or leak slowly through porous material or small holes.” I have always been a seeper; or would I be a seepie? My spirit and character are such that whatever is in the human environment near me or being made known to me, seeps into me as if I am porous. This is often and in some ways good; and often and in some ways bad. If you are a seepie, you will know what I mean. If you are not a seepie or seeper, then you will meet people like me and find us emotional, passionate, questioning, empathetic, insecure, philosophical, needy, bossy, uncertain/certain, and someone to be taken in small doses. Think about the small amount of tea leaves that you need to seep in hot water to get the right brew and that’s about the amount of a seeper a non-seeping person wants. We seepers are not the thick- skinned ones of whom the world relies on. We are those with the angst of prophets. Seepers are those who mirror the clogged pores in a thousand unwashed faces. We are the ones with a thousand Quixotic holes; those who don’t just point out the windmills of the times, but actually feel the winds of the times as if we are the windmills.
And yet, frankly, lately, don’t we all feel a bit as if we have a lot more small punctures in our being for the outside fluidity of the world’s mud and tears; holes pierced in our survival armor that allow the world’s raging and rising emotions to seep in? Isn’t there at least for most of us, some days a sense that the tide of Time is rising to dangerous, climate-changed proportions; filling our solid mass with what feels like a daily shifting ebb and flow, shifting the very sand beneath our metaphoric feet and flooding our hearts and minds with the wreckage we can’t imagine being able to clean up after the hurricane-proportioned current events? This is not just true for some of us on national and community levels, but on the very small planes of existence within our own small families. More and more people that we know, in the news, but also in our homes and churches and synagogues feel this ebb and flow in tsunami wave proportions and can not continue riding those waves to the end of their appointed time. The tragedy is that the very people who should have answers for despair or hopelessness, find themselves standing in the large waves of sorrow and mourning over lost lives and lost purposeful lives.
I have long claimed to believe in a God who seeps. Yes, what makes the God of my Judeo-Christian worldview so fascinating is that He is a completely other being Who yet allows the feelings of His /Her (for God is not gendered in our way of being gendered)—allows Her creatures to make Him feel. God allows us to put into His Holy and All-powerful Being, the small holes of our need; to puncture His omnipotence and pierce His omniscience; in order that His love may flow freely to us; providing all we need. The pierced hands, feet and side of The Christ create the perfect metaphor for what God allows us to do to Him. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Leah, David, Mary and Jesus, begins the tale of our history in Genesis, with His Being “hovering over the earth” and from that moment of creation, God continues to flow into and amongst His Creation. But Adonai, The Lord, is nothing if not clear that the flow of God’s spirit can be as forceful as a hurricane or can dry up like a desert. We forget to our current and future peril that throughout recorded history, we human beings must also create in ourselves and allow the world’s needs to pierce the small porous holes of love in our souls. We must remain porous in order to be a part of the God-flow. When people harden their hearts, stiffen their necks, break the covenant formed by the bloody flow of sacrifice; when we like sheep go astray, relying on our wooly thinking and herd mentalities to keep us safe and “on top of the heap”; then God can no longer seep into our lives. Our lives are now become as hard and impenetrable as the stone or golden idols we have chosen to worship. And our drying up has been so incrementally orchestrated by Evil and brokenness; that we will often call our empty, hard shells of belief things like “hard work”; “getting ahead”; “supporting our programs”; “evangelism”; “increasing our donor base”; “being non-judgmental”; or “taking care of number one”; “being patriotic”; “supporting authority”; “seeking peace”; and even sometimes calling it “grace”. The list is endless of the purloined armor of worldview choices that we surround ourselves with to protect us from the Seeping Flow of God’s good commands and loving desires for our very beings. Our spirits are more armadillos than sheep.
Listening to Bob Dylan and attending different churches and a synagogue or two and a Kingdom Hall or two and a volunteer event or two and a school or two, and reading a newspaper or two and talking to young and old friends, and so forth and so on – well, I lately revisited some quotes that have had me thinking about the particulars of the time and place in which I find myself. 1. “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” (G. K. Chesterton) and 2. “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?” (John Wesley) 3. “America was not founded on Christian principles.” (John Adams, founding father) 4. “We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.” (Dave Platt, Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream) and of course I could quote the prophetic C.S. Lewis until the end of time but this one is apt: “ If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” (Lewis)
And what has all this to do with listening to Bob Dylan. Well, we like to listen to the prophets like Dylan that proclaim, “The Times They Are A’Changin’”, do we not?? We listen to them with a sense of self-satisfaction (“I was right”) or with false hope and dismissal (“So I just need to wait until God makes things better for me.”). And then we like to turn off those prophets and go about our lives as if truth did not matter to little old us. We choose different truths to get through our days and nights, rather than trusting that God’s Truth is not only more relevant but more timely. I would be remiss if I did not share the lyrics of Dylan with you because although written in 1963 (imagine!) they are as prophetically prescient and currently critical as ever.
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.
Songwriters: Bob Dylan
The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Witmark Demo – 1963) lyrics © Audiam,
As Dylan says, if we are non-porous stones, we will sink. We must be as hole-y and wholly open, like sponges, to God’s truth and love; and we must seep ourselves in both truth and love in equal parts. As we in our own times a’changin’ feel the waters of the world rising, we must learn to swim. In that great archetypal story, sung today not just by Dylan but by Jews the world over; (and sadly almost unknown and unsung by many of those of us grafted onto the Tree of Jesse), God is always willing to save His people from the floods of their time. In the great history of God’s people, they approached the Red Sea of the Enemy and although they were horribly out of practice and had grown hard skins and stiff necks in their relationship to God and others; God’s people had to be ready to “swim” or drown; knowing that the God who creates the seas, also controls the seas. And yet the God who created humans, chooses not to control them. In this way, He invites us to model His behavior with our own out- flowing love and care for our planet and for our fellow humans.
The point is, some of us look at the past, history, to find our meaning. We choose the past in order to count on our accomplishments or on ideas like being chosen or like believing our salvation comes from someone long ago in the past doing something that makes me safe and saved. Some of us look to the future and decide none of this past stuff – even my own past bad or good stuff – matters. We decide that what matters is the future; having a ticket to some future world or “heaven”; trusting if we vote for or worship with the right folks that the future will be different; trusting that the earth doesn’t matter but only a place where we never have to deal with any of this bad, painful, uncertain, feeling stuff again. And some of us look to the present only, trying to be “mindful”; taking care of what I need; caring for only those I love; trying to change the world in which I live; eating, drinking and being merry for tomorrow I die. And all of this is so very, very partly right and so very, very astoundingly wrong. Because we humans are blessed with free will and consciousness and we are cursed with the free will of God allowing us to be in control and yet we do not – can not– understand so many things, even lacking true understanding of our own human hearts. We are given the God-like qualities of being emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, conscientiously porous creatures while being cursed with the pain of sure and definite death, the burden of the solidity of sin, and the broken useless shards of the knowledge of good and evil. And perhaps worst of all, we are moment by moment aware of the linear, unchangeable, and non-porous factor of the hard march of Time.
The thing about Time being linear is that none of us can disagree on that reality (at least not for long); and the non-porous nature of Time makes it very hard for us to understand or even believe in a god. Because True God is not linear. Though we often want Him to be linear (God knows my future or God knew me before I began sort of stuff); these are merely poetic attitudes of praise to God, not a reality that God shares with us. While God does enter place and time on our planet, squeezing His vastness into our smallness; God does this for reasons and in ways we can not truly comprehend. Like the burning bush of Moses or the wrestler of Jacob, God becoming small does not make Him different than what He Is. It should however, make us different. The Judeo-Christian God is the exact opposite of Her creatures in terms of Time and Character. And that is why we stumble in our understanding and commitment to God. Because God is completely un-porous in His Character and in His very Being while being completely Porous as Adonai, the Cradle and Arbitrator of All Place and All Time. God allows Goodness and Love to seep from Him but never allows Evil, Hatred, Despair, or Death to seep into Himself. God being outside any linear idea of Time, and outside any solid sense of place, has Her own view of the Universe to which someday, we may be privy as beings finally taken out of time and place. Jesus came to show us how this could be done – exiting Time– and He was resurrected from His actual linear time and place to God’s timeless and place-less; death-less and evil-less; brokeness-less and sin-less, existence in Eternity.
About 2000 years before the Prophet Bob Dylan, there was another prophet who sang the songs of change to His people and proclaimed that in His life, “The Times They Are A-Changin’. His name was Jesus and many believe him to be the Promised Messiah. Jesus said several things about the porousness of time in our lives with His Father. He said, that “God loves the planet earth so much that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes and lives as He did, will have eternal life.” Jesus also cautioned those who would believe, that we should remain alert and keep working through the days since the night of the end would come at a time no man can predict. The prophecy is not for future prediction but for present affirmation and commitment. Christ told us to focus in this very moment, on that which is eternal even in the linear confines of our own selves; since we do not know when that day will come in which the world as we know it will end forever and be remade as it was meant to be – perfect, timeless, and holy whole, being finally, completely porous for God’s light to shine through and yet more solid than we have ever been.
Jesus showed us a whole bunch of stuff and it is worth reading and re-reading his life story as committed to paper by some people who are now considered the authors of The New Testament. But one thing Jesus did very well. Jesus seeped. The most memorized verse in the Bible and also (and because it is) the shortest is about the Seeping Jesus. In John 11:35 we find, “Jesus weep-ed”. Jesus did a whole lot of seeping. You will find him seeping in other people’s problems and sorrows, both those foisted on humans by the world and those resulting from their own choices. Jesus saw the seeping sores of lepers and seeping sores of hardened hearts and healed both. Jesus seeped in our prayers and needs with his ears by listening; he served us with his hands by the powerful flowing of his healing. He seeped in our journey with his feet by walking our dusty byways and by washing our own dirty feet, showing us the way we should serve others. The Lord who could see God in Heaven, saw mankind with human eyes; seeping by being One with The God of Hagar; the God who sees.
The Christ mirrored His God by providing miraculous flowing water to seep into the lives of the thirsty and undeserving. And Jesus could do this because He daily, obediently, joyfully, carefully, and wholly and hole-y whole- heartedly, seeped in the life of His Father. He did this through conversation with God; obedience to God; and worship of God. Jesus was sent by God to seep in humanity in all its beauty and ugliness. He was also sent to remind us that we were created to seep in the knowledge, love, and covenantal relationship to the One True God. Jesus spent his time on earth seeping in His Father– His Father’s commands, His Father’s sorrows, His Father’s joys and love, His Father’s grace, mercy and stern judgment; His Father’s commitment and His Father’s holy Otherness. And this why Jesus was able to proclaim that in Him, the times truly were a-changin’; because in Jesus was God’s Kingdom, alive and well on planet earth and available to all who choose to “seep” as The Christ did. In Christ was Jubilee; a way of living that was completely free from greed, lies, hopelessness, loneliness, despair, one-upmanship, or uncertainty. In Christ was God-life seeped in and seeping out to all who would listen, trust and obey. In Christ was not only Times a-changin’, but hearts a-changin’, and even death a-changin’.
Jesus left us to follow The Father into Abundant Life, into life in a radically different kingdom, the Kingdom of God as created first for us in Eden. Jesus did not leave us behind to gamble on what He did yesterday, nor to bank on what we hope to gain from Him tomorrow, not even to worry or count on what we have and are this very day. He left us to see and live out a different Kingdom; to seep in a different Kingdom; to open ourselves to the Kingdom of God that is porous between our world and God’s world. That Kingdom is right beyond our reach, seeping from Heaven into Earth by God’s great love. To know God is to know that although it looks as if the waves will drown us sometimes, God can be the Ark of our salvation, the Walker on Water, the Savior from the floods. And though the ebb and flow of Time, while everything to us now, is nothing to God. Eternity means that when my porous body returns to dust, my soul will rise impermeable.
The Christ teaches us to pray the Kingdom’s seepage into the whole world, “on earth as it is in heaven”. And this is the belief that the world is in fact a very porous place. Jesus left us many metaphors – profound and deep keys to understanding. Christ often used the metaphor of the leaking through liquid of God’s not-yet Kingdom: in the flowing of the water he use to wash dirty feet and to stave the thirsts of the multitudes; in the gushing of wine he gave to combat the raging thirst of longing for God; and in the sinless outpouring of his blood that seeped from His hands and feet and side as He died to show us how we might live. But one of the most profound metaphors He left for us is in that of the hard stones of the Jerusalem Temple and the heavy, blinding curtain symbolizing our separation from God. What makes this metaphor profound is that Christ makes porous, something that was in fact impermeable. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ punched holes in the heavy curtain of separation between God’s dwelling place on earth and Her chosen people.
The heavy, unassailable veil between God’s World and our world was torn apart at the successful completion of mission of The Second Adam, The Christ. Jesus was the very imago Dei that we each were created to be. Messiah’s life, death and resurrection revealed the truth of our histories, the hope of our futures, and the true meaning of our present lives. The impermeableness of relationship between God and human was overwhelmed by God’s begotten Messiah, Jesus. Jesus was the porous incarnation of and between God and humans and He has made the impenetrable veil separating God and us, porous again.
The Judeo-Christian worldview, especially as revealed in the Bible, is full of irony, paradox, incomprehensibility, poetry, metaphor, and failed attempts. We would do well not to fight them or explain them away or cut and paste them to suit our current world’s needs. But rather, we should allow the flood of truth, love, and light provided by a God who cares for us, to ooze and percolate through and within us. We should perhaps see ourselves, not like a human mega-coffee-shop chain, but rather more like little varied, multi-colored, multi-flavored, fragile tea bags who must seep ourselves in the often Hot Water of a God who wants to take our bitter, useless little tea bag lives and turn them into something wonderful – perfectly seeped and nourishing, healthful, living overflowing cups of living watered lives. By this will the steam of our praise rise to fill the nostrils of A God who has seeped into our very souls.
This is our worship — remaining porous and malleable to the movement of Adonai in the world within and through us. For while the times may change and the waves at moments overwhelm us, we can know a Savior who commands the stormy waves to be still. By allowing the character of The Christ to seep into our souls, we can trust in that same Savior who allows our prayers even now to seep into His heart. Jehovah promises that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”(Isaiah 43:2) The Messiah promises that “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”(John 4:14).
Today I ask myself: Am I willing to be thirsty? Am I willing to be porous? Am I willing to accept my need for God’s Hot Water to turn me into something new? Am I willing to humble myself to my need for The Christ’s living water? Am I willing to pass through the waters? Am I willing to be seeped into the character of Christ? Am I willing to seep out love and living water for others? Am I porous enough for God?
Will I, today, be an acclimatized aging and armor-hardened armadillo or a ceaselessly serving and served-up saved seeping sheep? Will the wooliness of my thinking and my thick fleece prevent me from trusting that God is really real and really Good? Will I like Gideon, allow the Lord’s dewy hand, so porously overflowing with His salvation, to permeate my fleece and guide me in His ways of righteousness? Will I become pierced with the hole-y-ness of a God and the holiness of The Christ?
I would love to have the mature writing ability of a Bob Dylan or the Psalmist David, or a Dickinson or Donne. But even childish writers like I are committed to casting our small little pebbles into the flow of Ideas. I love stories ostensibly written for children but which have eternal teaching moments for all ages. There are also just some wonderfully silly and plain fun children’s books, not just by the famed Dr. Seuss, but others. I am often so filled with the seriousness of my own time that I forget to be open and porous to the lightness and joy and humor of being alive. One children’s book that came to mind while writing this was one my own kids liked. It had a wonderful bunch of illustrations by Margot Apple and was written by Nancy Shaw. The book is titled Sheep in a Jeep. It’s a silly one because sheep are silly. We, God’s sheep are rather silly when all is said and done. But somehow, still, He chooses to love us. Here is my re-write (I wouldn’t dream of trying to draw any thing until I reach heaven) of “Sheep in a Jeep”
Sheep in a Heap (of Trouble)
By Jane Tawel
February 24, 2019
Sheep in a heap,
On The Way that’s very steep.
If the sheep don’t fall asleep,
God’s True Way will in them seep.
Uh! Oh! The sheep won’t go.
But the Shepherd loves His own sheep so.
God wants us humbled,
But we sheep still grumble.
Uh! Oh! Sheep in a heap of trouble!
Headed again for hell’s shiny rubble.
God sends a Savior in a flash.
Christ’s sinless blood on the cross is splashed,
To Raise the sheep from eternal ash.
Caught in Time’s briars,
We sheep, helplessly mired,
Ignore all the signs
That point to the Divine.
Sheep always yelp,
God always helps.
Oh, dear, sheep still fear
But still refuse to let God steer.
Sheep in a heap.
Oh, the Shepherd’s love—deep, deep,
That He would choose the sheep to keep.
Postscript: If you have kindly read this far, I highly recommend you read the prophets – those found in the Tanakh of the Hebrews, those found in the Gospels of the Gentiles, and even those written on the subway walls. As Mr. Dooley said about the “news”, and Mr. Niebuhr said about the “olds”, we who would look to truth in love should seek to be “comforted in our afflictions but to afflict those who would be merely comfortable”. The prophets of all ages and times have tried to do this through word and action, song and poetry; and with anger, sorrow, angst, humility and love. Prophets and poets allow themselves to be porous, so that perhaps others won’t be so afraid to do likewise. Allow yourself to be seeped in the words that, as the dictionary defines a true prophet, “is an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God”. You may emerge full of holes but some of us think it is the only way to be holy and whole.