Psalm 55 Reflection

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“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me.” – Psalm 55:1-2a

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.  I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.’” – Psalm 55:4-8

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days.  But as for me, I trust in you.” – Psalm 55:22-23

Sitting at the stone desert circle,
the fire burns on its pillar.
The smoke rising, the embers burning,
the fire is small,
yet burns with strength and eternal endurance.

I stand up from the bench on which I am sitting,
from looking intently upon God’s fire,
and look to the horizon.

Dark clouds, heavy with rain,
envelop the barren horizon.
The sky is thick and grey.

From the distance, over the expanse,
across the dirt, sand, shrubs, and rocks,
I smell the rain.
Humidity presses against my skin.

Amid the empty desert,
secure on God’s stone foundation,
I watch the sky grow dark.
I wait upon the impending storm to assail our position.

The fire burns bright and strong,
the Spirit’s flame distinguished against the darkening sky,
contrasted against the impending battery of rain, wind, and thunder.

The storm is upon us.
Rain pummels the desert sand.
Wind beats the brush against the dirt.
Thunder breaks overhead.
Lightning flares in rage across the now blackening sky.

Water rises against the foundation.
The desert, a black ocean,
with waves darkened like oil,
emerging from the depths of the earth.

The wind riles the ink-like, glimmer-less water,
agitating it into madness,
enjoining it to rise, towering above us;
in the storm’s ire, charging it to crash against us.

The sky coal, the water oil,
the earth dark and outraged,
there is no light to look upon but God’s fire.

Its flame burns tall into the sky,
swelling in intensity,
point by point,
matching the storm’s ferocity, strength, and violence.

The stone foundation,
inundated in the storm,
is washed of its desert sand,
its true character and integrity revealed.

Standing upon the rock, peering to its edge,
I see the eternal abyss below,
haunting the depths of the water’s surface.

Fear enters my mind.
Possibilities emerge from its pathways.
Knocked over, pushed to the edge,
my fingers clutching the lip at the edge of this rock,
mustering strength to reach up my hand for Jesus to take hold,
yet my strength finished;
losing my grasp, tumbling deep into the abyss,
forever falling, hopeless.

Water rising, crashing,
seeking to intimidate any who would stand on God’s foundation,
against the brutality of the rain, wind, thunder, and lightning.

I look to the center of the rock,
to the radiant ferocity of its blinding flame,
the illumination of its brilliant pillar of fire.
The storm, in all its indignation,
unable to affect God’s signal in the darkness,
exasperated.

Saturated though I am,
my skin and clothes deluged with the storm’s rain, wind, and waves,
compelled to kneel in reverence and awe,
I look towards the blinding fire’s vivid light before me.
Its tower rising above the clouds,
God sees into the light, beyond the tempest’s edge.

Like Peter, focused on Jesus standing before him,
in the darkest of nights, terrified,
stepping out of the boat,
battered by the squall’s wind, waves, and rain.

Stepping in faith, during the storm.
Overcoming the abyss to where God is calling.
Walking into the waves, understanding the pit that lies beneath.

Focused on Christ.
Knowing his fire is upon you.
Lighting the way before you.
To see Christ and look to him alone,
despite the distraction around you.

Jesus, let your fire fill me.
Let the brilliance of your Spirit strengthen me,
to step into the darkness of the storm.

I step.
A valley opens in front of me.
The sky clear, the pasture green,
God’s creatures grazing in its peace.
The storm gone.
Mountains beset the pasture before me,
framing the meadow to the east and west.

To step into the savagery of the storm,
God with you,
is to step into the valley.
Knowing the fear of the pit underneath,
the anxiety of drowning,
the doubt of falling into a depth with no end,
floundering with no hope.

Yet to look at Jesus and step anyway.
Yet to know the Spirit is with you and step anyway.

You feel the water give way beneath you.
Despair rushes into the cracks of your soul.
Yet an arm reaches out towards you,
grabbing your arm, unrelenting,
strong, and not letting go.
Holding you, bringing you up.

Jesus, with you.

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Unlocking ‘Inception’ (and a reference to 1999)

“You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subject’s mind.”

Eames states these words in a conversation with Cobb as the two discuss the idea of inception – successfully planting an idea in a subject’s mind.   The characters, played by Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively, unlock the key to Christopher Nolan’s 2010 movie, Inception, with this sentence.   The movie, unfortunately to some puzzling and not worth the time to figure out, is both complicated with its plot layers, yet at the same time more simple than we first realize.   Therein lies the beauty of the story.

In a way, it reminds me of the story of God and his creation: complicated layers of depth and meaning in its plot, yet very simple to understand in the theme that unlocks it.   But, just as in Inception, the simplicity needs the complexity and the complexity needs the simplicity in order to tell the story in the best way possible.   It is the only way to grasp the full and nuanced detail yet focused truth.

Granted, I finally saw the movie almost three years after it first came out; therefore this post might be a little late.   Oh well!   However, Inception is perhaps one of the best and most original stories out there.   The greatness of Inception is that the film does just that – inception – to the viewer’s mind, especially in light of the final scene.

There are two possibilities to explain the movie.   The first is that there was indeed a level of reality evidenced by Arthur, Ariadne, Eames, Saito, Yusuf, etc.   From this level of reality, the crew progressed into dreams in order to work in Fischer’s subconscious.   This understanding is more clear cut and easier to handle.   However, the problem with this idea is that, considered against the second possibility, this explanation renders the movie flat and without an extremely rich layer of storytelling, depth, and meaning.   If you are one who is happy and content with this idea, read no further.

The other possibility is that the only layer of reality was the relationship between Cobb and his wife, Mal.   Therefore, what we viewed throughout the entire movie was Cobb’s dream – a dream that ended up being at least five layers deep.   But here are the inevitable questions: why? and so what was the point of the movie then?   I point you to Eames’ words: “You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subject’s mind.”   In a single word – inception.   The point of the movie: planting an idea in Cobbs’ mind. But even more masterful and genius in Nolan’s storytelling: planting an idea in the viewer’s mind.

In addition to other negative emotions from his wife’s death, Cobb was overcome by guilt, shame, anger, and depression.   Forgiveness – again, think of Eames’ statement – was being planted into Cobb’s mind so that healing could finally occur in his life.   The movie was not about Fischer and his father at all, but solely about Cobb’s healing.   This “simplest version of the idea” is present in the movie’s themes: forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.

In the story of God and his creation, of which humanity is a critical part, there is a word that encompasses forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.   It is the theme present throughout of all scripture.   It is both the “simplest version of the idea” and the key to unlocking scripture’s complexities and nuanced detail in order to find its focused truth.   This word is love.   More specifically, it is God’s love.   It is holy love.

The themes in Inception are demonstrated clearly with the forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing between Fischer and his father; however, this storyline is meant to illustrate and label these ideas so that we can apply them to what the story is actually about, Cobb’s overcoming of his own pain, anguish, and guilt.   Forgiveness and reconciliation are shown to Cobb – ‘incepted’ to Cobb if you will – so that he can finally see and apply these ideas as his own, and therefore be able to finally heal from his own trauma.

With this idea, the rest of the characters are projections of his own subconscious; his children, too, would be projections meant to symbolize the hope of healing in the story and the act of healing itself when he finally sees their faces.   It is a possibility that some of the characters, such as his father, could be the ones performing inception, though it is not critical to know who.    Moreover, the viewers see just how far his guilt is buried in his own being; he must go five layers deep in order to finally come face to face with his guilt and forgive himself. We also see the elaborate systems of protection that his subconscious has created in order to bury his source of pain, rather than confront it.

And while this understanding is a much richer understanding of both the complexity and simplicity of the story, the final scene is the pinnacle of Inception; the final scene is inception.   I asked myself – why would Nolan leave the end open in such a way that we do not know if the final scene was reality or a dream, with the top spinning in such a way where it could be either one?   The answer to this question shapes whether my first or second explanation is more plausible.

The answer is that it does not matter.   It is not supposed to matter.   Remember Eames’ words: “You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subject’s mind.”   The simplest version of the idea is forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.   Although in my second explanation they are revealed in a much deeper and more profound way, these are themes that are present in both understandings!   So whether the movie ends in a dream or reality, Nolan’s point hinges on neither – “the simplest version of the idea” remains the same.

Herein lies the brilliance of Inception, a movie, where similar to our dreams, we thought we were going to escape for a few hours: Nolan is able to perform inception on those who viewed the movie.   The viewers ask the question of whether it was a dream or reality, eventually coming to a conclusion on what really happened, while the “simplest idea” of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing is planted within the viewers mind.

He quite literally spells out the answer to the last scene as soon as the movie is over.   Was it a dream or reality?   It does not matter; it is Inception.   It is incredible and genius storytelling.

However, the idea of inception existed long before Christopher Nolan was even born; it is an idea evident in God and his relationship to humanity, although not necessarily so subversive.   God gives us a choice in the matter.   Humanity was originally created to be together with God, operating in a perfect union with him and bound together in holy love to experience true life.   “The simplest version of the idea” was, and still is, love.   It was what gives people life, goodness, and an opportunity to participate in the kingdom and work of God.   In sinfulness and selfishness, though, humanity separated itself from a true understanding of life and love; as a result, we have death and all of its consequences.   We unfortunately see the effects of death all too often in our world.

But God is still there, calling to us everyday, attempting to plant a seed within us that there is something more to life than what appears on the surface; he is working to bring us back toward him.   For some, that seed takes hold and grows naturally; others might deny that seed.   But no matter who we are and whether or not we have denied the idea before, God is still calling to us with this “simplest version of the idea”: love.   It is up to us to accept it; in accepting it, we realize the forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing that Cobb experienced, but on a much deeper and cosmic level.   It does not matter how deep our guilt, shame, or depression is buried, or what walls we’ve built around it, God can and will break through if we allow him so that we may experience true life and love in God.   In communion with God, we return to the way we were created to be.

There was another movie released in 1999 which suggested ideas of a dreamworld and a harsh reality.   In The Matrix (yes – it’s already been 14 years!), when a person was unplugged, one realized the truth of what was happening; but the truth of reality was not as easy as living in the Matrix.   This may serve as a good warning to us: in choosing life in God, there will be times of difficulty when our faith will be stretched.   Christ warns us of this multiple times; nonetheless, there is truth, hope, and love in God.   We are no longer under the bondage and delusions that sin offers.   The truth is ultimately better than living in the Matrix.

God is calling us, each and every human being living on the planet, back to him.   His Spirit is planting seeds even in the most unknowing mind that might one day grow and mature.   God has extended grace to all the creation, evidenced by the work of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection; it is a reality offered to each one of us with life in God through the Spirit and Christ.   It is an opportunity for true life and love and an opportunity to begin to break free from the constraints of sin and death.

It was not only the first inception, but it is the continuing inception at work in all people.   I pray that this “simplest version of the idea” might begin to take hold in each of us today!