In ancient times, the sea was the home of Chaos.
I could write that the sea symbolized chaos, but that word symbol is too easily brushed aside. As if symbols are merely tame bits of literary frippery with no power to unleash the deepest truths of our lives. Like opening the floodgates.
To the sea.
For these ancients, the sea was unfathomable. The sea bedded monsters. The sea could surge forth, at any time, and swallow up land, homes, lives.
Death, darkness, oblivion, terror. This was the sea.
And if you love beach vacations and find it hard to understand how the play of light on dancing waves could ever have been a harbinger of doom, then you will read the twenty-first chapter of the book of Revelation with surprise. And disappointment.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)
But if you are like me, you will sigh with longing.
If you are like me, the mere act of sifting through an overfull kitchen drawer for a thermometer hiding somewhere in its depths while the milk you had intended to turn into yogurt boils away on the stove is all it takes for Chaos to begin seeping in.
A moment later and the failed yogurt, the waste of good milk, the scorched pot and the murky kitchen drawer have caught you in their surge. One glance around and you are lost in an ocean of legos and marbles and bits of paper from the morning’s craft and a sticky puddle you cannot explain.
Now you are drowning because it is so humid and your kitchen is a furnace and the baby, the beautiful curly-haired baby, abandoned the slip’n slide after five minutes and is now tracking wet grass and clumps of mud from kitchen to dining room to entryway rug.
One day there will be no sea.
Yes, the sea is a symbol and my kitchen drawer is a symbol and whoever told you a symbol isn’t real? Whoever said it was not possible to drown in symbolic waters?
But if it is possible to drown, it must also be possible to swim. It must also be possible to open your eyes and observe the play of light on dancing waves.
To stand before the unknown and the unmanageable and discover, not the hiding place of terror, but the birthplace of beauty.
If you walked through my front door today, you would be greeted by three large green splotches. Two on the wall. One on the ceiling over your head. Actually, if you had walked through my front door two months ago, you would have seen the same green splotches.
We were testing paint colors. We even chose one. But in between the choosing and the painting, five-hundred little tasks, and maybe a dozen big tasks, elbowed their way in.
The thing about realizing a big dream is that you will always feel behind. Overwhelmed. In over your head. (Of course, feeling in over your head is generally a sure sign that you are right where you are supposed to be).
We feel a lot of pressure on Saturday mornings. If not much happens on a Monday, well, no big deal, that’s just Monday. But Saturdays are the days for getting stuff done. Last Saturday, my husband, having just cleaned up all the breakfast dishes, started murmuring about the floor. Would now be a good time to pull out the steam mop?
Loving wife that I am, I shrieked and said, “No! Now would be a good time to get out the paint can!”
Here is one of those ironies about marriage, another of those little things that sound good in theory but mostly annoy in practice: he sees the crumbs and dirt, I see the unpainted walls and the absence of a fence around the garden. On paper this is a match made in heaven. In our house, someone always has their eye on the details and someone else on the big picture.
Unfortunately, the one who is bothered by the lack of a fence is the same one who is not very capable with power tools. But, we’ve learned a few things in our sixteen years of marriage and didn’t waste too much time before I pulled out the mop and he pulled out the paint can.
When each Saturday (with its ever-growing list of to-dos) comes around, I often find myself repeating these words, “This is only the beginning.” These words remind me that I am exactly where I need to be. They remind me that something good is starting. They remind me that in God’s story, the best is always yet to come.
Though these words are specific to my life here in a new place, I find they are becoming much more than that.
I may be at the beginning of the work God has planned for me here at Maplehurst, but we are all of us at the beginning of things. This is as true for my baby daughter as it is for my older parents.
Our life on this planet is just the beginning. It is chapter one. Or better yet – only the prologue. It is where we begin to experience the work, play, rest, and worship we will enjoy forever.
I think “the beginning” matters much more and much less than we typically imagine.
It matters more because the world we are experiencing now is not moving toward destruction. It is moving toward renewal.
It matters less because the petty annoyances, the illnesses, the losses, and even the tragedies we suffer are passing away. The sin and evil and general brokenness that leave us breathless with fear and anger? They have already been defeated. They are on the way out.
I’m afraid too many of us believe the wild poetry of the book of Revelation has not yet happened. That we are still waiting for that victory. But here is the Good News: it is finished. Revelation is simply the Cross from the point of view of heaven.
We don’t throw up our hands and say it will all be sorted out when Jesus comes back.
He already came.
He already sorted it out.
And there is nothing to stop us from sowing those kingdom seeds.
“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.'”
Revelation 21: 5,6
I slumped down at my writing desk one recent morning, and this phrase floated up to the top of my mind: “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
I was feeling a little depressed, a little overwhelmed, and Solomon’s words came unbidden to justify my dark mood.
For me, it was nothing more serious than hot weather, kids fighting (again), and dirt tracked all over my just-mopped floors. Some days it only takes that little bit and we are carrying the burdens of the world: in an instant my eyes roam from the dirt, sweat, and tears in my own house to the global orphan crisis, drought in Texas, famine in Africa (again!).
Why is my life such a mess? Why is the world such a mess?
Supposedly, we Christ-followers are the bearers of “Good News” (just search the Bible for the phrase “good news”: it comes up a lot). But what can we possibly have to say to those suffering amidst the ever-present darkness of this world?
As a child, growing up in the church, I heard a lot about good news. Maybe the message was simplistic or maybe I was only able to understand a simple message, but I believed then that the good news was all about heaven. The good news, then, was that Jesus made a way for us to go to heaven when we die. That seemed like pretty good news to me, which is strange because I was a lot farther from death than I am now. Today, thirty years closer to my own end, that news doesn’t seem nearly good enough.
You and I and our neighbors on this planet? We need good news now. We need good news for today.
Solomon’s words take me there. He writes, “Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’?” (Ecclesiastes 1:10). I’m not sure, I can’t really answer his question, but then I remember these words in Isaiah: “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19).
God is doing something new. In fact, He’s been working at it for thousands of years. The Old Testament whispers it, and Jesus embodies it. New life. New creation. New covenant. New heaven. New earth.
God is making all things new (Revelation 21: 5).
I don’t know exactly what that means. But I feel something good deep down in my bones when I hear the word new. New, new, new. All is being made new.
Was there ever a more hopeful, beautiful word than “new”?
In me, in you, and in this gorgeous, broken-down world, God is doing a new thing. Look closely. Do you not perceive it?