Introduction: Ahh, A Breath of Fresh…
When we open a window and inhale the cool breeze outside, “Ah,” we say, “A breath of fresh air!” Its pleasant relief from the stuffiness in the room gives us a whole new outlook on the day. We breathe deeply.
In reality, the air isn’t fresh or new. It hasn’t changed at all. It is still the same atmosphere that has surrounded our home all evening; we just needed to open the window to become aware of it. Did we know the fresh air was out there? Of course. If we had thought the air had receded, we would have been justifiably panicked. Rather, we have been busy with a myriad of other tasks and concerns and have forgotten to stop and take a breath.
And so it is with God. He is always out there, surrounding us on all sides, but we get sidetracked with the distractions that catch us, the pleasures that entice us, the obligations that pull on us, and we forget to notice Him. Then our spirits become stuffy and stale. We don’t even register our discomfort until some tiny movement outside the glass catches our attention. We stop to open the window and look out. Just one breath of fresh God changes our perspective and brightens our day. It can be inspired by a word from a friend, a line from a song, the scent of a blooming lilac bush floating on the breeze, or the laughter of a child on a swing.
This book is filled with breaths—with divine sighs portrayed in images and word pictures that attempt, however awkwardly, to help us explore Who this God really is.
We worship a God we cannot see. We can be aware of His Presence all around us, but we cannot point Him out and say, “Look, there He is.” We recognize Him in the breaths that float around us and the fingerprints He leaves for us to find. We describe those indescribable touches in symbols and word pictures; in metaphors and images that help us think about and convey our brushes with the Divine. These symbolic portraits help us comprehend the incomprehensible and imagine the unimaginable.
The Bible offers us many images of God. He is called the Shepherd as well as the Lamb. He is Father and Son. He is the Vine; the Lion; both the King and the Servant. He is the Judge and the Savior. He is, in fact, all of these things…and He is none of them. While each provides us with a little picture—a window on God’s character—none of those windows is big enough for us to see the vast totality of who He is. All of our many symbols ultimately prove to be inadequate.
One of my students e-mailed me a group picture. Being somewhat technically challenged, I don’t really know why this happened (or how to fix it), but the picture appeared on my screen so big that I could barely see one of the twenty-three people in the photo. I could scroll across and down to see it bit by bit, but I could not get a view of the whole picture, nor could it communicate the full sense or character of the event where it was taken.
Our verbal images of God are much the same, each showing us a piece which is, in fact, part of God’s character, but which cannot in any way contain or communicate all that He is. No single metaphor can picture Him; even an intricate analogy cannot encompass Him. Each new description provides just one more facet of Who He is. Still, these images are valuable in helping us find ways to relate to our God, Who is so far beyond our comprehension that we can never know all of Him. By examining and considering these tiny images, we become more acquainted with the God who is both inexpressibly mysterious and at the same time so intimately close that He inhabits our very breath.
Is it possible that in struggling with the inadequacies of our language as we try vainly to communicate what it is like to sit at His feet, to lay in His arms, to feel His Hand upon us, we find ourselves understanding our own experience of Him more fully? Even in asking that question, I have fallen again into metaphors: I am sitting at the feet of a God Who has no feet and Who doesn’t need to walk on them because He is everywhere at once; I am lying in the arms of a God Whose arms, if He had need of such appendages, would be far too vast for me to cuddle into; I am imagining a moment of intimate caress from a God Whose overwhelming Presence touches me on all sides in every moment of every day. Yet each of these insufficient images does describe something I have experienced and crave to experience again and again. Can we even remember and ponder what happened in those sweet times of indefinable communion, if we don’t assign words and images that attempt to describe those soul-satisfying moments?
A Breath of Fresh God invites you to explore with me the many facets of God’s character as we discover in ourselves a greater capacity to delight in the embrace of both the Sustainer of all we know and all we will never know, and the Papa who gently lifts our faces to look into our eyes and gather our tears into His hand. Hmmm…perhaps I need yet another analogy even to express what I wish to accomplish in the following pages:
My husband and I are fourteener climbers (in our home state of Colorado, fifty-four peaks rise to an elevation of 14,000 feet above sea level or more). When we climb a mountain, we do not climb straight up its face. In most cases such a climb would be impossible; at best it would be dangerous and exhausting. Rather, we follow the trail for many more miles than the actual distance between our outset and the summit, switch-backing back and forth, or circling the rocky mass in search of climbable rocks and hike-able ridges. Sometimes we can see the rocky prominence at the top and get a glimpse of the goal. Other times it disappears behind a nearer outcropping, only to reappear further up the trail from an entirely different angle.
By the time we summit, we have looked at the mountain from a thousand viewpoints; we have seen it from far off and from close enough to put out a hand and touch its steep face. Its topography no longer appears as just a point poking into the sky, but rather as a myriad of crevasses and ledges; terrifying drop-offs and solid rocks the size of skyscrapers; trickling streams and snowfields that never melt, even in the heat of July. From the peak, we can look back at the trail and know that we have become acquainted with the mountain in a whole new way.
This is how I want to consider our simultaneously omnipotent and intimate God: gazing up at Him from far below, navigating the ups and downs and ins and outs of His personality and His relationship to us, and reaching out to touch His face. Among the writings in this book are essays and observations, imaginings drawn from between the lines of scripture and of life, poems, images, letters, exegesis, musings, trip reports, and analogies. Some of these pieces wonder at the face of God; others ask Him, and us, hard questions; still others peer behind the scenes of scriptural stories in search of “What if?” Interspersed among these writings are “breaths”—short italic scenes written in the present tense and designed to remind us all to stop and notice that God is indeed, here.
The pieces in this book were written at different times and places throughout the United States and around the globe. They appear in neither chronological nor geographical order. Rather, they move from one view of God to another in an attempt to explore His many faces and facets. It is my hope that in these pages we will encounter the King of kings and the joyously celebrating Father of the prodigal: one inviting us into the majesty of His throne room; the other enthusiastically welcoming us as His children. We will peer through metaphorical windows to discover the Master of the universe and the Beloved who wraps us in His arms; the Creator of all we’ve ever seen and the intimate Friend, with Whom we can share our deepest secrets. We will find God fulfilling the roles of the Tailor, the Author, the Lover, the Protector, the General, the Gambler, the Chess Master, the Artist, and many others.
And I hope that now and then a particular phrase or idea will jump off the page, or an image will stick in your mind and make you catch your breath as it suddenly brings you a clearer awareness of His Presence right here next to you—a breath of fresh God.