catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 6 :: 2012.03.16 — 2012.03.29


Boundary lines and pleasant places

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

 Psalm 16:6 

Have you ever wondered just what King David may have had in mind when he mused about boundary lines and pleasant places? No doubt, he was thankful, very thankful, for the bounty and generosity of God that made him King of Israel, prosperous and wealthy, indeed. As I survey the largesse of my cluttered surroundings, I remember these words of wisdom from the Man After God’s Own Heart.  I treasure them, and give thanks, too. By modern standards, as a middle-class American, I am fortunate enough to be counted among the world’s wealthiest people. Yet, I am not a queen or a princess or with any official royal peerage at all. That means when it comes to boundary lines and pleasant places, I have to do my own cleaning.

When it was time for spring cleaning to clear out the old leaven, King David probably didn’t have a dust rag or a broom in hand as he peered into the palatial grand treasury, the post-exilic garage for chariots, shields, spears, swords, diadems, diamonds, rubies and such.  But, after numbering Israel, perhaps there was mist in his eyes as he looked out from his balcony to see beyond the remembrance of a beautiful woman bathing, but to see with eyes anew the great treasure that God Almighty had entrusted him with: the people of Israel, “for the Lord’s portion is His people” (Deut. 32:9). 

Many Bible teachers have mused about the nature of David’s sin in numbering Israel, but I will leave that as between David and his Lord. Speaking mostly for and to myself here, simple disobedience to any of God’s direct commands is enough to qualify as sin. You don’t necessarily have to categorize it. For example, “Don’t eat that cookie. “ Well, is it gluttony because you’ve already eaten two cookies, or is it simple greed because you didn’t eat a nutritious lunch and you think you’re still hungry but you just want to have another?  Or is it theft because if you eat the next cookie, it will leave an odd number on the plate and someone else in the family will be short one cookie and then things won’t be just, right and fair, depriving someone else of the perfect two cookies per person?  Or is it only the devil trying to push your button because you love sweets and you love books and you just purchased Joyce Meyer’s inspirational Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes”?  Does it really matter?  If God says, “No,” and we say, “Yes, but …” and we do it — this that or the other thing God says not to do — then it is sin. 

But we frail humans love to or maybe need to categorize things. In the work of creativity, we reflect God’s nature when we organize and categorize things — everything from A to Z, people to places, things to ideas, and everything conceivable in between.  Early in the work of creation, God added the element of organization. His Spirit hovered over a shapeless expanse. He created the continents, and separated them by water. He created a man, Adam, after whom humankind descends — people in varying qualities, shades and hues would emerge. Yet God has created each person as unique, and in such a profound way that each of us almost defies categorization.  

In Genesis, it’s recorded that “the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep” (1:2).  Yet “formless and empty” is a far cry from where many of us find the existential yell for order amidst chaos. Instead, we have fullness, the kind of abundance that truly is a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38).  At least that’s what I see when I survey the treasure in my own post-modern garage! But how much is too much?

Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!  For many, it’s become a post-modern mantra. When I hear that, I want to cringe. Simplifying for me, would be a gargantuan undertaking — most likely to the undertaker’s.  Organizing one’s life is surely is a lot simpler when you just leave things behind. My husband likes to joke that when we leave this Earth, our kids will have a huge job ahead of them, in sorting out all the many blessings (of the solid, material kind) we have left behind. But, scripture does say, “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Prov. 13:22).  So whenever I dust yet another knick-knack, I can think, “Oh, my grandchildren are going to love this!”

Joking aside for the moment, the mantra “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!” strikes deep in an existential way, calling for something human beings are maybe not so much loathe to do, but ill-equipped to do.  People are complex. People are messy (in more ways than one!). Trying to keep things simple can feel like an exercise in futility.  Trying to love them like God loves them can be like trying to give a warm bath to a shivering cold wild cat. We serve the God of Paradox.  Loving someone is an invitation to pain. Life means accepting pain. We have to be willing to enter the clutter of discomfort — tightly packed spaces in others’ environments and often in others’ hearts.  Showing love to others means making space for them in our hearts and in our lives. If we clear the spiritual clutter of self-absorption, we can make space for fellowship, and become a shelter to those gone astray.  We can grow to enjoy the good kind of clutter created by a life full of faith and full of people who share it with us.

I kind of like that kind of clutter in my life.  Lots of little random things around, tangible and intangible, bits and pieces interwoven from fragments of living here there and other places, remembrances and reminiscences, like scraggly twigs and bits of string for the fine making of a comfortable bird’s nest.  I giggle with glee when I find old missing mates to things. “Oh, look — this matches (fill in the blank).” I see God’s benevolent hand nimbly playing in the mix.  When I clean out spaces like the garage, I rejoice — seriously. I mean that. I feel God’s presence, and am reminded of how God weaves people and things and events in a sometimes crazily joyful harmony, a kind of harmony that may look disorganized on the surface, but is in perfect concert nonetheless.  When I embrace the paradox of clutter because God is resident there, I can feel the connection of community.

I revel in the joy of discovering and remembering.  “Oh, wow! I can’t believe I saved this old thing! Yes, I know, I bought that at…  Oh, well, it was when I was with…and we….” Just plug in the name of someone I love.  Things have meaning for me, primarily because they remind me of people — the real treasures in life.  Perhaps that’s why I’m considered a pack horse (not a pack rat — too many solid blessings to put on a back of so small a creature).   I save things because even that simple act — holding on to something others may count as worthless — is an act of faith. Looking at something, declaring its value and seeing that there is more yet to be done to and with it, is also a sharing in God’s creative virtue.

Sharing is, of course, another of the many ways we express God’s nature.  Sharing of work and communal tasks is another way I find joy in cleaning and organizing. I chuckle when I read the magnet that’s displayed on a beat-up old file cabinet in our basement: “It takes a village to clean my house!” When I do spring cleaning, and especially the somewhat-less-than-annual garage re-do, I like having others around, not so much for the speed with which the work gets done, but for the company. Speed isn’t something I’ll easily trade off in exchange for perfection, and many hands on a big task don’t always make for light work or perfection, because as I’ve said before, people are messy. And people won’t always do things the way you want them to.  The trade-off will always be accepting pain and disappointment, accepting discomfort and clutter in exchange for the privilege of loving others as God does, just for the treasures of who they really are.

So the next time a member of our family village is helping me to clean house, and things are not organized just quite the way I would like it, I can pause and be thankful, because “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance!” 

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