In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says the following (it’s part of his meditation for June 15).
“There are times when there is no illumination and no thrill, but just the daily round, the common task. Routine is God’s way of saving us between our times of inspiration. Do not expect God always to give you His thrilling minutes, but learn to live in the domain of drudgery by the power of God.”
Yet I do not, by nature, champion this sort of wisdom. I have always preferred the high moments that God provides, the miracles.
What about you?
I ought not to prefer the miracles. I’ve experienced miracles enough, but I need to remember that the Lord doles them out for His purposes, not for mine.
The illustration for this post is Soul in Bondage by American symbolist painter Elihu Vedder, from 1891-2.
Vedder (1836-1923) was influenced by the Pre-Rafaelites and lived mostly in Italy and on the Island of Capri, especially after the financial success of his fifty-five illustrations of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam (1859).
When there’s nothing left but the drudgery, this painting is an image of the way my soul seems bound. It’s a romantic image, filled with emotion, pleasing to me in my ill-considered effort at self-protection and aloneness.
Self-protection and aloneness violates the law of love, which emanates from the Almighty Himself. Self-protection is a sin. Aloneness is the consequence of that sin.
During the ordinary carrying out of our days, we use some self-protective behavior properly—we look both ways before crossing the street, we lock our doors at night, etc.
What is sinful is spiritual self-protection.
In his book Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb discusses our desire to be loved, which is intense. Sinfully, there are those of us who take a defensive posture despite our desire to be loved. Out of fear of being hurt or of re-encountering past hurts, sometimes we sin by disengaging ourselves from the very thing we want, and we stand aloof.
Nothing can touch us.
The greater our level of spiritual self-protection, the less we lovingly involve ourselves with other people and with the author of love Himself. When I suffer from this sin, I congratulate myself because I imagine my life as lived romantically within this Vedder painting.
“Ah, life,” I remonstrate.
“How canst thou?” I complain.
“Don’t you pity how captive I am?”
What about you, reader? Does this describe you?
But there is another Vedder painting (see below).
Lazarus Rising from the Tomb, 1899, is a painting of Vedder’s which he considered a favorite.
The moment of Lazarus’ resurrection is a dramatic event much depicted in Renaissance art and afterwards. Many of the depictions show action and gestures and multiple characters and heavenly symbolism.
Vedder’s representation is different. It’s a close-up.
We see Lazarus just at the moment when life and awareness are restored to him.
Though Lazarus is four days dead, and his sisters feared he would be stinking of decomposition at this moment, in this painting his flawless, handsome face bears no mark of death.
His body is still physically contained and shadowed within the cave which was his tomb. But he has been called forth by the Messiah, so the light of the sky (and of Heaven) illuminates a portion of his burial clothes and just touches his nose, lip, and chin.
Though renewedly alive, Lazarus has no expression, no visible thought. He is still.
If anything shows on his face, it is sadness.
He has been restored to life but not yet into the welcoming arms of his sisters, nor into the loving intimacy he had with his friend Jesus.
In actuality, he has been restored to life by Jesus so that those Jews observing the moment can witness the life-giving power of the Messiah, as brought into the Jewish world from God.
In this moment depicted by Vedder, Lazarus’ own story has not yet begun again. He is alive, but he is alive as an example only. He does not act.
His gaze is inward. He ponders. Here is what he may ponder.
Later, we assume, Lazarus will love again his sisters and his friend. He will eat and drink with them. He will walk on the road with them. He will experience day and night with them.
But for now, rising up from what was probably a painful death back into a life, might he be fearful of the re-experience of his pain? Might he, at first, be tempted toward self-protection against life itself?
How would it be for you, if you were he?
You were dead. Now you are alive. How are you to proceed?
Observing Vedder’s Lazarus, that’s what I think anyway.
Resurrection is a miracle, a time of inspiration of God.
It is other than the drudgery of ordinary life.
Here’s the challenge God has given you: you must incline yourself away from self-protection and toward the law of love.
But will you?