It has been overcast in Da Nang for the past two days and the weather prophets prophesied the same being so for the next few forward. This morning, I prayed that the sun would break through. I am sitting on the balcony now, wearing my sunglasses—I can see the blue sky, I can see the horizon, I can see the rugs of webbed foam unfurling behind the lines of the khaki waves.
I don’t know if we can say that God either answers prayers or doesn’t answer prayers. When people present me with their prayer lives, I get a strong sense that they’re only presenting me with their superstitions. What I can say about my own prayer life is that life is worth living only when we are connected to the wellspring of all life. If we don’t return this sun to sender or turn the keys-to-jammed-locks over to his hands, how can we see what sustains the sun or what opens doors?
What a windy day.
I was looking over at the people working on the roof of the hotel across from ours, the Soho Boutique. I don’t know what they are doing. It looks like they are filling an empty pool with sand from bags. The man lifts the shovel, turns over the sand, hands dirty and mouth covered. With every turn of the spade, there is a cloud of smoke that twirls away. I know why he wears a mask and why he wants to be wearing sunglasses like I am. Why does he work? Why do any of us work, or do anything at all? I think it’s because we love something, even if it’s not the work itself. We pick ourselves up and go to jobs we don’t like, because there is some love we are grateful for. It’s a way of showing thanks, I guess. And a way of carrying on.
Money answers everything, after all, even if we only have so much of it. Money pays rent and allows us to buy food. But why continue on in this system, or keeps ourselves afloat in an economy that has us at a disadvantage? Because some people can’t do much about it. For some people, their work is as good as slavery. They make just barely enough to pay the rent, just barely enough to buy their food. Why do these people work? Do they work because they love something, too, or do they work only to survive?
Even the person who works to survive can find some love worth surviving for. Money answers everything and it has absolutely nothing to do with happiness, or nothing to do with gratitude. The negative way of arguing this point is pointing to all the people with all their answers solved by money who lack gratitude. And money in the pockets of these people is still an answer for the unprivileged, the ones who work to survive and not because they love their work. Money answers everything for those who don’t have money when it is in the pockets of those who can give it. The giving of money ought to be the outpouring of gratitude on those in need. Concerning money, no one has anything to fear. Who is hungry? Who is sick? Who is in need? We all go to the same place wearing the same skin, we all ask for someone to be there in our last moments as the representative of what we’re leaving behind and not what we take with us. The person who lacks is the person who lacks a love that endures the final impoverishment.
Love is patient and kind. It hopes all things, endures all things. What does love endure? Love endures tragedy and the greatest tragedies. Love endures the disease that prevents skin from remaining attached to the body. If we die and have love, we have lost nothing but our grief. What does love hope? Love hopes that God hears our prayers, even though they are trivial. Love hopes that our confusion will not last forever and our foggy consciousness will break on the shores of the sound. Love hopes that God will wind all things that have unwound. Love hopes that the Lord is not made in the image of man, but that man is made in the image of God. Love hopes that someday we’d understand what that means, despite the inequality of gratitude and the absolute poverty the world suffers from, the poverty of hope.
God, how long have I been the believer who thinks faith is something to inspect, to turn around in my hands? How have I been picky? You can count the ways, you know. You know that I have thought so many times that faith is that thing which is the privilege of believers to always inspect and never receive. Your servant once said that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But I tremble at the thought that I have never rested in my faith. I fear that I have seen faith as that doctrine which is my privilege to reject. Those who have never had faith do not have this privilege. And if I had rested in your word, I would remember that I don’t have this privilege, either.
But I have spent my life trying to pay for what I already have and cannot lose. I don’t need to fight for this faith, I don’t need to tackle it. Faith is not something I need to work for or maintain. Faith is not exhausting. Faith is rest.
Mr. Worker-Man is not putting the sand into an empty pool. He is shoveling what is actually dirt into pots, so they can grow more plants up here in the sun and wind.
Why do I work? I do not work for my faith. If I had to work for my faith, I would have nothing to be thankful for.
Somehow this all relates back to money, but I don’t know how. What I do know is that I work, because I need to practice my gratitude. I work, because in me is the greatest force in the world. If only I rested each and every day in the Holy Spirit that dwells in me! God, I do not have to work to keep you in this apartment of skin walls and studs of ribs.
I think what I am trying to say with all of this is that I have been working hard at something that is not work. Faith is not work. This is a distinction that I am making now while my brain is turned on, so that this reasoned declaration can make its way into my skeletal fingers. I work, because I have been loved.
And what does this work look like? This is the work that strives to make the passion of Jesus my own. This is the work that is done with fear and trembling. We fear, because fear is what most people feel when they stand in the courts of kings. We tremble, because we stand before God each and every day. And because we fear and tremble, we are encouraged to lift our drooping knees and stand strong, stand like we have just woken up from the long slumber of faith. We have been waiting for this moment. We rested all night and dreamed of what it would be like to be here, to stand right here, under the burden and pressure of this magnificence. This magnificence we know and read in the embroidery on the walls, of pine trees swaying—I can see hundreds of them now on the beach—and the curtain of the hotel window across the street slapping against the concrete wall hundreds of feet up, wanting to let loose and flap like the birds chattering amidst the chatter of bus horns and waitresses thanking the Korean tourists for misreading the numbers on the plastic currency. I know it is a magnificent court, because I don’t know how far away the land is on the other side of this sea, or how long it took the clouds that hug the mountain’s head above the blind, dead, dumb Lady Buddha to amass.
How long have I been sleeping? What do I dream about when my eyes are closed? Do I dream that I will be put somewhere else, that I would understand a little more, that I would be given something I do not have yet? Do I daydream about the life I could be more easily grateful for? I daydream about feeling awesome all the time, feeling 100%, that I would have the raw strength of youth to make good use of the evil days and to know how to be careful with those outside instinctively.
Enough rhetorical questions. I think lists of rhetorical questions are what I come to without editing and am trying to make a didactic point. Let me make it more clearly. If you are tired and confused, if you pick at your faith like a three old boy picks at a plate of peas, you need to be sent to bed. You’re fussy and exhausted, you’re confused and a brat, because you have not gotten your sleep. Go to bed. Rest. Get up when you feel refreshed and eat a small breakfast, drink a little coffee. Dreams reveal the heart and you should be dreaming about the magnificence you will wake up to, the magnificence of the court of the world. It is here that you stand every day, asking for what you have received and thanking God for it. It is here that you ask what work is before you, what he requires of his servants. He has given you the rest you need, he has given you a place to sleep and a home to wash your feet. The question that should always be on your lips is a rhetorical question. And it is wonderful. “How did I get here?”
Vietnam is your court. Idaho might be, too, I think, if it had beaches on seas.
If walking around barefoot was what it took for me to remember that where I walk is God’s holy court, I would walk around barefoot for the rest of my life. Teach me to know, Good Lord, what are the good works you ask of me. And please remind me that you are rest not labour, authority and not an acquisition, understanding itself and not something to be understood.