Friday, July 14, 2017

The Stone and Bear

Two objects sit side by side next to my prayer chair.

The first is an ironwood carving of mamma grizzly, fishing with cubs; purchased from artisans in Mexico long before the ironwood tree became a protected species. Ironwood is similar to ebony: dark, dense and very hard; its grain is very straight. Carving it takes significant time and effort.

The second object is a rock (removed with permission), from the rubble of the carving at Crazy Horse Memorial on Thunderhead Mountain in South Dakota. The memorial statue was begun in 1948 and, though far from completion, the sculpture's design calls for final dimensions of 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high.

As I consider these two apparently dissimilar objects side by side, I think of the miraculous nature of how they were shaped over time. Both objects exist because a sculptor conceived a design. The ironwood bears are shaped by hand with tools; the mountain is being reshaped with explosives, jack hammers, heavy equipment and a jet torch to finish the surface of the carving (a process called spalling).

How do these two pieces relate to one another? First they are both related to sculpture, made from hard material, organic and/or mineral. They reflect the work of sculptors, craftsman, and laborers. Their shaping has taken much time. In the case of the bears, much wood was removed. The rock from the Memorial sculpture represents how they are literally removing much of the mountain.

As I view the two pieces together, I am reminded of Jesus' words,

...if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, 
you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," 
and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Matthew 17:20 NIV 

That sounds like a miracle.

I struggle when thinking about miracles. Especially ones Jesus said I can perform. I struggle with wondering how best to pray for my brother who is in critical condition and worsening. Often we think "miracle" only when the change is significant and instantaneous. Yet, consider physical healing. While immediate healing is spectacular, God also designed our bodies to heal themselves over time. Is that not also just as much a miracle?

My husband and I have both had knee surgeries. In faith, we entrusted ourselves to the hands of the surgeon. In faith, we do the therapy and rehab exercises. In faith, we get out of bed every morning and put weight on those joints. All this effort yields results over time, but in his current condition, my brother can't do anything to help his body heal. We know eventually our bodies will fail and die. We trust, in faith, that our complete and ultimate healing comes in the Resurrection. As Jesus promised,

I am the resurrection and the life.
The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;
and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
Do you believe this? John 11:25-26 NIV

Yes, I do.

Long ago, my brother entrusted himself to the Lordship of Christ. He has ministry and relationships that would be left keenly grieving his departure. So now, how do I pray? Thy will be done? or Lord, we need a miracle? Or both?

And then, in the waiting, how should I live, here and now? This life, over time, shapes and sculpts us all. Some of us, due to the circumstances and environment of our lives, become hardened like the ironwood, perhaps even the granite or limestone of the mountain. But the Sculptor takes his tools and begins to chip away or blast off those parts that do not fit into his design. When we think we're finally there, out comes the rasp and file or the jet torch to smooth and finish the rough places.

Part of the beauty in this refinement comes as we begin to accept that certain things, people and parts of ourselves are being stripped away or reshaped.  God begins and completes the work in us (Phil. 1:6), but for those things which hinder, we must willingly release, purge or discipline in ourselves. And our challenge is to "count it all joy" and persevere on the projects and responsibilities we have before us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, Hebrews 12:1

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,

whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith
produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

As good stewards of both ourselves and our calling, we can set ourselves to chipping away at these weights that hold us back, rock by rock. Whether through refining fire, the valley of the shadow of death, or witnessing miracles and mountain top transfigurations, we learn to yield to the greater design and, in faith, say to the mountains in front of us or within us, "Move!"

Whether we become a mountain-sized memorial, a coffee table carving, or just a cup to serve a refreshing drink of water; we can trust the bigger picture held by the Sculptor of our heart.

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Job 23:10

Never ever stop expecting the miracle.

Picture: personal collection

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