brushes with the holy

27 02 2012

“Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.” ~ Exodus 24:9-11

I read this passage recently, and it caught me off guard. I’ve read Exodus numerous times before, but for some reason I’d forgotten this one astonishing detail.

They saw God.

I remembered the plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, and water from the rock. I remembered the mountain with its thick cloud and blazing fire and celestial trumpet blast. But this? They saw God. Seventy-four men actually saw Him, and lived to tell, and then? Less than two months later, all is forgotten. The people grow impatient for Moses to return, and they demand new gods, and Aaron accommodates their request, and it’s as if they never experienced God’s power at all, much less saw Him.

I shake my head in wonder. How could they? After God had done so much, given so much, revealed so much. I would never. Surely I would never.

Except I would. And I have.

I, too, forget. I sit down to eat and drink and rise up to play, and day runs into benumbing day until He shakes me awake as from an anesthetic fog, and I remember.

I suppose it has something to do with living in this valley, where ambition goads, diversions distract, and busy-ness sits enthroned like a golden calf. This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer. Be still. Be still and know.

God knows our frame, that we are but dust and blind and dense and easily tempted away from pure, holy light by empty neon promises. And so He gives glimpses. We may not see Him, but we see the sapphire pavement under His feet, and we gasp our awe, amazed by His beauty and struck by how very small we are. What is man that He should be mindful of us? We see and believe and we’re like Peter, eager to pitch a tent in the midst of this glory, possessing it all once for all. It is good, we say. It is good to be here.

But we’re made of clay, and we can’t sustain forever. We always come back down. Eat and drink. Settle into valley life. And forget.

I read the Exodus passage — me all self-righteous in my I-would-never-ness — and then two days later, this:

“And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders.” ~ Revelation 14:2,3

The living words, they reach to the deeps, and sleepy memory yawns and stretches and blinks its way out of the shadows. I’m twenty-three again and back in the little parlor across the hall from the sanctuary, perched on a yellow velvet chair, my belly swollen with pre-born life. The ladies are praying, their voices murmuring soft, but I’m not listening to them. I hear something else. Something entirely Other. It builds and swells, and I glance up in stunned wonder, but their heads remain bowed, voices speaking low. It builds and swells and I’m overwhelmed, and it’s so close, it must be just outside the door. How can they keep praying, and who on earth makes music like this?

And then it stops. I fight the urge to run out into the hall — a choir of that magnitude should be easy enough to find — but the ladies are still praying (I can’t imagine how), so I sit and wait and bask in the wonder.

At last they raise their heads, and I ask, do they know who was making that heart-breaking, exquisite, indescribable music? I ask, and I look from face to face, and I have my answer before they speak.

They heard no music.

I remember, memory playing echoes faint, but even the memory hushes again with awe. Is it really possible to forget something like that? Like sapphire stone, and slaves set free, and day after day after daily bread?

It is. And I’m humbled.

And then a few hours later, I’m eating lunch with Sarah — this wild and grace-full rose grafted into our family vine — and she looks at me with an untamed light in those deep-seeing eyes, and she asks. Is it true? Did I really hear?

I feel it again, holiness like the faint rustle of His garment’s hem, and I’m surprised (but not surprised) that she knows and is asking, today of all days. I tell her about my morning memory and then I try to describe, but what are words to mystery? I let her read his poem instead.

in the quiet when the ladies pray



my mother
once heard a choir
when she was
filled to the brim
with a child
who would bring
her tears.

she said
it sounded
more real than
other choirs,
but the ladies praying
didn’t hear a thing,
not a single arching
melisma with
harmony upon countless
rising and falling harmony,
not a single note
escaped from my
mother’s ears.

and i wonder

if then, when his
ears had not yet
emptied of the warm
maternal waters,
the sound traveled
from her soul
to the child’s,
and if he heard again
when the water
filled his ears
a second time
and filled his lungs
and like the first womb
brought him
into a new life;

if then, in
those silent months
in which we could not
be rid of tears,
if he heard it again
the choir that ascends
and descends the very
steps of heaven
the one Jacob heard
as he slept in the desert
with a stone for a pillow

and i wonder,
if he hears it still.

the echoes have been
to ears such as mine
for i have shared
that womb,
and i have shared
a part of that dying,
and sometimes
in the quiet
when the ladies pray
like my mother
i hear a choir.
——-
l.l

I tell her what I heard, and she reads her husband’s words, and together we brush holiness again.

This is my Beloved. How is it my heart ever grows cold toward Him? He gives and gives and gives, and I receive like a spoiled entitled one, as though His notice of me is not an inexpressible wonder. I eat and drink, and in my sated state I go on my way, the noise of life ringing in my ears, drowning higher, holy sounds.

But the choir, it still sings. I know it still sings. I know this, and I also know I will forget again. I’ll forget, and I’ll doubt, and fear will mock faith. I’ll dwell in this valley, pitching my tent between my mother’s illness and my father’s gentle grief, and daily manna will begin to taste like monotony. I’ll forget and grow weary, and there will even be days when I crave my former slavery. But I know my God, and He won’t let me go.

These brushes with the holy are given for a reason. We may forget, but they remain, sleeping in memory.

When it’s time, He shakes us awake.

Giving thanks in community for (#380 – 397)

God with us
glimpses
open doors, and closed ones
the promise of wisdom
daily grace
the unseen real
conviction of sin
repentance
color and texture
lamp light
roasted almonds
laughter
memory
community
Jubilee & Arts Aftercare at The Justice Conference
C,G, & H going to the Philippines this week, with God going before
(please pray)
all things beautiful in His time


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52 responses

27 02 2012
Sue

Exactly. Dear Jeanne, you have written it so well and so insightfully. We have also been reading through Exodus, and my thoughts have run between, “How could they..” to “How could I…” Ransomed, rescued, redeemed forever, how could I forget ? Thank you for this truthful reminder.
Sue

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

“Ransomed, rescued, redeemed forever.” Yes. How could we forget? May we make much of Him every day. xo

27 02 2012
Tatia Cook

Dear Jeanne,

This post not only brought tears to my eyes but also Holy Spirit goose bumps to my whole body! I, too, was struck recently by the verse about the elders of Israel seeing God and living to forget it. I, too, am guilty of forgetting how He’s shown Himself to me. But, He is so Faithful to remind me of Who He is and What I’ve ‘seen’ – sometimes, gently and, often times, just blowing me away 🙂

The years since I’ve seen you have not diminished the love that I have for you (and your sweet family). This post reminds me of the times I spent with you in Lynchburg, in awe of you as a Godly role model. You showed me how to love God even in the struggles…that it’s okay to fall down…that life (even mundane parts) can be beautiful. You are still fulfilling that role to me 🙂

Thank you for sharing your heart. I love you!

Tatia

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Tatia! You have no idea how happy I was to see your name here in my humble little comment box. Thanks for your sweet, generous words and for your undiminished love. What gifts of grace!

Any chance life will land you in Dallas some time? Please? Really, this is so sweet. I can’t stop smiling. So much love to you and your precious family. xo

27 02 2012
kittypalmer

I am awe struck with this blog posting. Thank you for sharing.

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

You’re welcome, Kitty. Oh, that we could learn to live aware, marked by awe for His beautiful grace. Love to you.

27 02 2012
Robin Lawrimore

It’s good to put experience to words in such a way as others are almost there with you and hear that choir, too. I’ve enjoyed in awe hearing my granddaughters (3 and 7) tell about hearing angels sing at night or seeing Jesus hover over them in church when hearts were on the floor in faces down. To experience Him is it – all we truly want. Thank you for writing.

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Beautiful. Children do seem to have such a pure connection to God, don’t they? Their simple faith embraces those things we’ve taught ourselves not to expect. No wonder we’re told to be like them! Thanks, Robin.

27 02 2012
tonia

So lovely…thank you. Home now, so full…absolutely FULL…from the Justice Conference…wanting to not forget or grow numb again.

Your children and their music were so passion-filled and heart-stirring. Thank them for me.

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Ah, Tonia, I wish I could hear all your thoughts as God prepares you to walk in the light you’ve seen.

I will definitely pass along your thanks. I love and admire their passion so much. Please pray for Curtis, Grace, and Harper, as they leave tomorrow for three weeks in the Philippines, training aftercare workers to use the Arts Aftercare toolkit. They (and I) would greatly appreciate your prayers.

Love you.

27 02 2012
Sharon O

wow… beautifully written.

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Sharon. xo

27 02 2012
Kathleen

The poem is beautiful, just beautiful.

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Kathleen. I have always loved Luke’s poetry, and this is one of my favorites.

27 02 2012
roseann elliott

These brushes with the holy are given for a reason…we may forget but they still remain…doesn’t ann call this spiritual amnesia…so thankful He tends to the things we forget…
this was lovely…thanks…

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Roseann. Yes, He tends to the things we forget. It really is humbling how quickly and easily spiritual amnesia sets in, isn’t it? Oh, to grace, how great is our debt.

27 02 2012
Linda

Jeanne – this is simply exquisite. I have been reading slowly through the Old Testament (the old stories were getting a bit blurry in my mind) – and that verse brought me up short. I thought no one had ever seen Him – and then that verse. And then the falling down hard and knowing I do the very same.
He is limitless patience and mercy and grace.
Thank you for sharing your experience. Miraculous!
Praying for you during this season. My elderly parents are beginning to fail a bit too.
If I may, I am going to share this on FB. It is too good to keep to myself.

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Linda. That verse is such a mystery! We often talk about Moses, how God hid him in the rock and let him see His back as He passed by. But this? Unfathomable. And yet, we can’t judge them. In so many way, we too have seen.

Thank you for your prayers. May the Lord give you much grace to walk through this season with your parents, and may we both find His nearness to be our good.

(Of course you may share. I’m honored.)

Love you, friend.

27 02 2012
richelle

“They saw God…”

We really do just have to look and He is everywhere, encompassing all about and within. Lord, give me eyes to see You… really, truly… fix my eyes on you.

Thanks for this… beautiful poem!

27 02 2012
jeannedamoff

You’re welcome, Richelle. And Amen to that prayer. It is mine as well.

27 02 2012
Diana Trautwein

Oh, my. Jeanne, this is so gorgeous, I don’t even know where to begin. Thank you for your reflection on scripture, thank you for your reflection on life. And your son’s poem, blending together your beautiful and terrible life experiences? Soaring, probing, true. I thank God for these holy moments, which are rare and from which I recover way too quickly! I read a blog comment today with this quote in it: “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the ‘thin places’ that distance is even smaller.” You’ve been given a beautiful thin place (or two or three) – and so have most of us. But hearing an angelic choir? That goes to the top of the list. Thanks so much for this.

28 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Humble thanks, dear Diana. Remarkable to me is that we can hear (see, taste, touch) and miss Him, never fully grasping that heaven has come near — is always near, and is more real than the shadows we lean our weight upon. How patience His grace!

Love to you.

28 02 2012
chris

hi again Jeanne,

around the time of Christmas and your move, i lost touch with your blog, and so needed the nudge from Ann (V)’s link to come back and find such a beautiful post! i loved the “layering” of knowing and forgetting and remembering/ waking and sleeping and reawakening (“I know this, and I also know I’ll forget again…but when it’s time, He shakes us awake”): it captures so well what dwelling in the valley is like.

it’s a blessing to be able to pray for C, G, and H–and also for your Mom and Dad. May your proximity, and George’s, bring your parents great comfort, despite their trials…

love,

chris

28 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Chris, for these kind words, and heart-felt thanks for your prayers. They are appreciated more than you can know. (Welcome back!)

28 02 2012
socksformum

yes! I would have, too and I have. And you, dear lady … I’m thankful for your insight this morning that touched my soul.

28 02 2012
jeannedamoff

So grateful these words touched you. Thanks for yours.

28 02 2012
Shawn Somerfield

This is my first visit, thanks to Ann V. What a marvelous post! I didn’t remember that they “saw God” either. And I “see” Him all around as I count my gifts and then go into the noise of the day, forgetful. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts with us.

28 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Hi, Shawn, and welcome. Isn’t that such an astounding verse? And, yes, how easily we lose sight of His goodness, even when we’re deliberately taking note.

Thanks for your kind words. It’s a pleasure to “meet” you.

28 02 2012
Redemption's Beauty

Speechless. Just beautiful writing and I want to read it again. You touched a bit of heaven with these words.

29 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Humble, grateful thanks. Such an honor to share a bit of the bounty He gives.

28 02 2012
debra

Oh my. Reading this. It reminded me of our moments … mine and His … and how deeply I long for more of Him, even in the times I forget. Thank you.

29 02 2012
jeannedamoff

So glad you’re reminded of Him, Debra. I share that longing.

28 02 2012
Karen

I love this. We’ve been reading through Exodus for morning devotions and this is right on time for sharing tomorrow. Let us take heed lest we forget. Thank you.

29 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Karen. What an honor to take part in your devotions. May the Word open wide for you!

29 02 2012
Debbie

Beautiful words…May I too not forget and be ever mindful of all He has done for me…

29 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Debbie. Amen.

29 02 2012
RW

How do we forget God-with-us?
It’s so easy.
And yet so very hard.
Thank you for that beautiful post.

29 02 2012
jeannedamoff

It seems it would be impossible to forget, doesn’t it? How patient and gracious is our God.

29 02 2012
Laura Boggess

Jeanne,
Crying here. What an amazing moment when Chris tied these two baptisms together. How my heart rose and fell all at once. You always inspire me, friend.

3 03 2012
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Laura, for your tears and your sweet, tender heart. You inspire me, too. Much love to you.

29 02 2012
Michele @ A Life Surrendered

This is one of those beautiful blog post that seep deep into my soul and even deeper to my spirit… I feel as if I am immersed in His Spirit… and senses are heightened… ears that can here what He is trying to whisper… and eyes to see the glory He wants to reveal…

The thought of this convicts me and reminds me–guard my heart with diligence… “God knows our frame, that we are but dust and blind and dense and easily tempted away from pure, holy light by empty neon promises.”

Thank you for sharing this… I am so glad I found you.

29 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Dear Michele, I’m so thankful God spoke to you in these words. Blessings as you listen and watch for Him.

Lovely to meet you.

29 02 2012
Miz Melly

Oh Jeanne, no words just a few tears and prayers for you and yours. Beautiful words from L. (no idea where he gets that gift from ;))
Blessings blessings blessings on you. And music, more music to sooth your souls, all of you. And much love and Godspeed to the Seattle ones flying east. xxx

29 02 2012
jeannedamoff

Heartfelt thanks for the tears and prayers, Melanie. We appreciate it more than you can imagine. So much love to you, sweet friend. xo

29 02 2012
Beauty | Perchance to dream…

[…] while I’m gone, why not stop on by here and here for some soul stirring beauty over the weekend…. Share […]

1 03 2012
Kathy white

jeanne thank you so much for the beautiful pic and passage from Exodus. One hour before I rec’d this from my friend we had talked of this passage and I was so moved. Being in Beth Moores Study James “Mercy Triumphs” she had just shared this passage with us. I so desire to have those intimate moments with the LORD. To know His Shekinah glory tabernacles each of HIs saints is humbling to me. And all the more reason to live a separated life unto HIM alone. Ah, that others see the LIGHT from within…blessings kathy
From the “Sonshine” state of California 🙂

3 03 2012
jeannedamoff

Thanks for sharing this with me, Kathy. I love hearing how God speaks and confirms His word to His children. How humbling and encouraging that He used this post to underscore what He was already teaching you! So sweet. Blessings on your journey with Him.

3 03 2012
Lynn Mosher

Oh, my! I am speechless. A breath of heaven’s harmony lifted on the rush of angel’s wings. Must…read…this…again. Too beautiful for words. Bless you!

3 03 2012
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Lynn. Humble thanks. And blessings to you, too.

5 03 2012
They saw God | Wonder and Beauty

[…] A beautiful and thought provoking post from Jeanne Damoff: “Brushes with the Holy”: […]

21 03 2012
hernandc6

Hi Jeanne,
I found you through a comment you left on Robin Dance’s blog. Words cannot express how beautiful this post is so I will just leave it at that.
I look forward to exploring more of your writing. I sent it to a friend and she was speechless too. Simply amazing.

21 03 2012
jeannedamoff

Thank you so much! I love Robin and I’m so pleased you clicked over and decided to spend some time here. I’m also honored by your kind, generous words. Do come around as often as you like.

Love, Jeanne

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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