THE SONGS OF SIREN SHORE
Scripture says that passion and craving rots the bones in Proverbs 14:30. But desire drives one harder as the object approaches. Proverbs 13:12 states that "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life". Also in Genesis 4:7 God tells Cain that "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." For Cain, something was off. His relationship with God and his offering didn't make the grade. Eventually, he did not do well.
The Siren calls us to come and die. It takes desire and turns it into a passion. It changes identity into the perceived essence of being. In our minds, we become that with which we are obsessed. But a desire is not who we are. It's what we do.
In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus desired to hear the Sirens' song. He sought out a wise counselor and crafted a plan. He knew that he was no match for the Sirens and had himself lashed to the ship's mast so he wouldn't jump into the sea to his death or steer the ship onto the rocky shore. Odysseus is fantasy, but the principle is not.
Whatever our desire, we want to work hard. We want to succeed in being counted among the top tier of our audience and peers. This too is a fantasy until it happens. If we're passionate about our desire, we can lose our grip on what matters most. For Christians, it's God, family, and after those, desires that could become a passion. 1 Corinthians 15:2-9 is a fantastic commentary about the Apostle Paul's ministry, apologetics, and outlook on his service. It says, "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed."
I will lash myself to Christ as the Sirens call me to fall into fantasies of fame or fortune and work to be ready for the fundamental goals to which Christ will guide me. There's freedom in the truth.
HEAR THE CALL
What is the call? It comes from no direction and sounds like me if my mind perceives words at all. The call seeks validation from emotions and logical reinforcement. If it is from the heart, it is suspect, but if from an outside source, it requires examination. Is it leading to life or causing anxiety and the possible compromise of my integrity?
Who does the call seem designed to benefit? Is it first for me, secondly for others, and lastly for God? Does it require rationalizing or compromising at any point? I don’t want to work that hard on the mental and emotional aspects of the call. I want to “do” and not stew.
1 Corinthians 1:17-31 is at the heart of the call. Verses 17-29 read “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God”. I want to be the best I can be concerning my skills. Still, I also know that whatever level of proficiency I attain, God is not hampered by my shortcomings. In fact, it might make me more useful to him in some ways.
So, in the end, the call is a packaging of all that I am and what satisfies me the most. It includes my core desires and a sense of who I am in the rawest form. It embellishes the things that grab my heart and mind in the most profound ways. It’s the things that God has crafted me to want to do in the face of apparent failure and enduring hardship. Somehow, I always return to what I love. I just need to make sure Christ is the first one.
There are patterns in life. No matter the code you live by, these patterns operate beneath it. Sort of like the dirt in which we grow. When we're born, it's like we're planted in a living garden and begin developing a life philosophy according to our unique perspective for the environment, nurturing, and attributes we possess. Eventually, we begin to put together strategies to survive and thrive in the space we occupy. As we mature, we acquire more confidence in our abilities, favor certain things we like, and possess natural skills to excel in. We begin to bear fruit that distinguishes the type of person we're becoming.
All the while we're growing, the patterns are still in play. They support and feed our roots. Unseen and without correction, applied as templates that we all have in common. One of those templates is our sense of adventure. We yearn to explore or build something new. Or add our name to the list of people that accomplish something notable. Maybe do the thing we love the most for a vocation. The principal word is 'Maybe.'
That word sets us apart from other living things and other people. But the template determines obstacles and choices that we will need to make. How exciting is the prospect of living our dreams and accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves! So we put out to sea. We encounter other seafaring travelers and adjust our plans accordingly. But alas, the template, the patterns are there. And they include worms with hooks in them calling us to eat and move on. Be careful when you make wishes. There are monsters in the sea.
Check the day, the time, the point I think I'm at on the timeline. Imagining a life where I am the person I've dreamed of, and I've reached the place in my life where I am the version of success that I wanted to be and living the life I worked so long to achieve.
But now I'm getting tired. The effort to keep momentum is diminishing. I'm sinking in a mire of complacency. My mind drifts off into other areas and activities. I seem to get distracted by other fantasies. I read my bible and pray for direction and an opportunity. I get nothing.
Perhaps my sin and imperfection have put a boundary between God and me. Maybe he doesn't want to put me in a position where I'll embarrass him and shame myself in front of those I love. But that's untrue. Just look at the news of the day. Christ came to save people who cannot achieve the living and loving that is his desire in this world of pain. I will never get to a place in this world where I don't need a savior. Maybe he's protecting me.
The struggle, then, is to be faithful to God, true to me, and to let my spirit and his become manifest in the physical reality that is all I've ever known. It is simply to know that God is my client, audience, and companion. I want to be the best I can be at what I do, regardless of the lack of public opportunity or acknowledgment. If God intends to share, he will.
The previous possibilities are what my mind and emotions cycle through when I'm idle for too long. The world is dark when productivity is replaced with hopelessness and doubt. If not God, who would want me to stay in this place of frustrated longing?
Ah, there's more to this than meets the eye. There is a war raging in the season of waiting. I can route the enemy temporarily with a new twist on my skillset or a little more improvement on my delivery. Milestone achievements can start from a satisfying accomplishment, and God likes that.
There are no guarantees for today. How can I trust tomorrow? Though yesterday seemed the same, things could have changed overnight. Today depended on yesterday, and tomorrow will depend on today. And so, the cycle continues.
And yet there is at least one guarantee each day. God was and is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. On the scales are placed our joys, fears, pain, and successes. God is the balancing counterweight for each of them. Keeping us always in the grasp of his strong hands as if we are crossing a busy street together.
As the lamp of our spirit burns from dim to bright and back, his spirit is the oil that never runs dry in the well. Tomorrow might be the wind that nearly blows us out. It might be the turn that extends the wick. Either way, Matthew 6:25 holds true. "Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble". And again, in Proverbs 14:30, "A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot."
I will treasure my companions though they are few. Together we solidify plans today and see the results tomorrow. Our strategies must change as we go, but God's plans prevail in the end. Like a net under a tightrope, he is there. Never caught off guard or bewildered by the suddenness of life. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, "And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him-a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
In this life, we will always live by faith. We are only seeing a shadow of God and not his substance. We don't know whether life will stay the same or move in a different direction tomorrow, but tomorrow has no hold on us. We know the one who does. I will remember Lamentations 3:22-23. "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”. So, I will move boldly into tomorrow, knowing it will become yesterday.
A SAILOR SAILS
Thinking about sailing songs and how the crews are compelled to go. What if no one went? History is full of examples of how the seafarers risked all to discover, conquer, and provide the things that propelled humankind forward in the story of human development and survival. If that spark that keeps the sailors sailing was to go out, what would become of humanity in disconnected lands?
In my life, I have been surrounded by large numbers of people aligned for a single purpose and serving a purpose of my own. I have been among a close-knit group of friends and by myself. Whatever the circumstance, I can only view the world through one set of eyes. I correspond with many but travel alone. As time has seen me walk through the seasons of my life, I notice that I'm ending as I started in my formative years. I did what I wanted to do then, and I do that more and more now.
I remember my first friend when I started going to elementary school. Before that, I played alone in a new neighborhood. Now I'm on the other side of raising a family. There's no more coaching and shuffling to various social events and church activities. I've been fascinated with music for as long as I can remember. It's been a part of my life at every age and phase. As other activities and relationships might diminish as a part of my life and my awareness of my dependency on Christ to sustain me grows, I have realized that the song that still sings within my spirit is first to God but also for me. I can't help who I am, and I have to say that if I were a sailor and someone were to ask me what I do, this is what I would say. A sailor sails.
Sometimes I see the island in the distance. I know that I have time to prepare for a whirlwind that is a combination of my passion that wants to master me and the malevolent forces that want to master the wind. Most of the time, the whirlwind falls on me more suddenly when I don’t know it’s coming. Either way, the Sirens call and sing their song when I’m in range as if in concert with forces I’ve studied but have never seen.
The calm in my heart starts stirring and begins to churn if there’s even time to act. Or I’m suddenly heaving to the waterfall with no tether to the shore. I’m terrified. Is this how my story ends? Is all I have experienced getting tossed over the edge and lost in the raging waters below? I’m briefly confronted with how small I seem but also how precious is the life I’m accountable for.
Amid the chaos, I always have a chance to lash myself to Christ.
Whether I have time to prepare or not, he is the mast and anchor of the ship that is my soul. 1 Kings 19:11-13 offers a fantastic picture of how the struggle goes. It says, “And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”. God is the master of all things. I don’t need to hide in a cave.
God doesn’t need to overwhelm me to prove himself. In 1 John 4:18, I read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”. God has gotten me through peril before and he is able to accomplish his desire at this moment as well. I think Romans 8:35-39 is the rope to the shore. It reads, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”.
I need to step back from myself and see the bigger picture.
SO IT GOES
Along the journey, there have been times of victory, times of celebration and seasons of satisfaction. I’ve seen sorrow, depression, loneliness, and debilitating sickness.
Somehow through it all, I keep moving forward. I’m leaning into life, ready to grasp a trophy that I can’t even define. I press on because I can. While I have breath, I will adapt to what comes my way and maintain a sense of meaning for what I do.
How can this be? Why do I go on when ultimately, I pass from this life to the next as all do and leave everything behind? Why should I desire what seems good over what seems terrible? There is but one thing that stands above all else. Love. What animal is there that can love as humankind has? How does that ability come about? When a survival mentality should dictate that only the strong and cunning survive, someone will sacrifice to assist and save everything around them.
Where can I draw on something that can withstand the onslaughts of tribulations and setbacks that could cripple me? For me, Nehemiah 8:9-12 holds a crucial fact. It reads, “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing because they had understood the words that were declared to them”.
The phrase, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” occurs only in that Biblical passage. But what a powerful declaration and encouragement it can be. As a believer, I know there’s a refuge that can’t be destroyed or stolen by what life throws at me. The joy of the Lord speaks of the end of all things. The last line of defense that no earthly, physical situation can conquer.