The type of passage I’m referring to is “the act or process of moving through, under, over, or past something on the way from one place to another”. From online dictionary.
“Every time there are losses, there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper.” Henri Nouwen
This quote is the essence of the gospel, the Good News! Jesus Christ has come and through His sacrifice has made it possible for us to have a working relationship with God through Him to co-create with God. By our choosing to let God manage the passage from loss to something new, wider and deeper, we are recognizing that we can’t do it on our own. Left to our own choices, it would be so easy to let anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment take over and consume us, keeping us stuck right where we are. One Easter service at my church in Willow Springs, I used file boxes that had been painted white to build a large cross outside in our church pavilion for a pre-dawn service. “Lamb’s blood” that we had painted on the boxes earlier in the year telling the Passover story was still visible in the partial light as day was breaking just before the sunrise service. After the crucifixion/resurrection story, the cross of boxes were then turned into a doorway facing the sun just starting to rise in the east to visualize the message in John 10:9 – “ I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus is the only Passage to something new, lasting and eternal.
“In Jesus’ day there was a pool where people went, hoping to experience miraculous healing. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well?” ‘I can’t sir,’ the sick man said, ‘for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.’ Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’ instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!” John 5:5-9
At the point of providing healing, Jesus asked him if that is what he wanted, waiting on him to make the choice.
In the Life Recovery Bible, the writer describes the experience like this: “This man was so crippled that he couldn’t go any farther on his own. He camped as near as he could to a place where there was hope for recovery. God met him there and brought him the rest of the way. For us, “entirely ready” may mean getting as close to the hope of healing as we can in our crippled condition. When we do, God will meet us there and take us the rest of the way.
Paul said of himself, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. . . There is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.” Romans 7:18, 23
“No matter how far we progress, our sinful nature will always incline toward and be susceptible to the lure of our addiction (our sinful nature RF). We can’t afford to forget this or let down our guard. Maintaining sobriety (being sin-free RF) is something we will need to nurture for the rest of our life, one day at a time. But we also have a reason for great hope. By trusting Christ and recognizing our helplessness against the power of sin, we open our life to the transforming power of God.” From Life Recovery Bible
“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:12-13
“When you give your life over to Jesus Christ, part of that act of . . .submission is that you don’t know what’s best and recognizing that your choices are always going to be influenced by your addictions whether that is an ego-centered “me” or something from outside yourself that you are trying to control. It is Jesus Christ in you that will always call on your higher self to act and take control. Psalm 27:4-6 helps us to understand the desires of the higher self that is within us.” L R Bible
“The one thing I ask of the Lord – the thing I seek most is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me. At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.” Psalm 27:4-6
The prophet Ezekiel in his time around 600 BC stood at the brink of Israel’s greatest loss. They had finally been taken into captivity by a pagan king, King Nebuchadnezzar. No longer in their homeland of Jerusalem, they arrived in a strange land driven in chains like prisoner slaves to a life of which they had no concept. They had no real conviction that God had allowed this to happen after numerous warnings by the prophets that it was coming if they didn’t change their ways. Ezekiel, himself, was one of the Israelite captives and one day he witnessed an awesome, yet frightening vision. The image in the vision had four faces, angels with hands under their wings and God elevated above them with a rainbow representing his everlasting covenant with us. The image had wheels inside of wheels that made it possible for the contraption to go East/West or North/South without turning around as it could only move in a straight line.
(Read Ezekiel 1:1-14)
In Matthew Henry’s Commentary, we are given a deeper understanding of the meaning of this vision:
“It is a mercy to have the word of God brought to us, and a duty to attend to it diligently, when we are in affliction. The voice of God came in the fulness of light and power, by the Holy Spirit. These visions seem to have been sent to possess the prophet’s mind with great and high thoughts of God. To strike terror upon sinners. To speak comfort to those that feared God, and humbled themselves. In verses 4-14, is the first part of the vision, which represents God as attended and served by a vast company of angels, who are all his messengers, his ministers, doing his commandments. This vision would impress the mind with solemn awe and fear of the Divine displeasure, yet raise expectations of blessings. The fire is surrounded with a glory. Though we cannot by searching find out God to perfection, yet we see the brightness round about it. . . The prophet saw these living creatures by their own light, for their appearance was like burning coals of fire; they are seraphim, or “burners;” denoting the ardor of their love to God, and fervent zeal in his service. We may learn profitable lessons from subjects we cannot fully enter into or understand. But let us attend to the things which relate to our peace and duty, and leave secret things to the Lord, to whom alone they belong.” Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary
“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”Ezekiel 36:26 This is the key verse of the book of Ezekiel. You can’t make a successful passage from loss into something new, deeper and wider without a new spirit and a tender, responsive heart that turns to God and seeks his guidance and purpose for your life.
In the vision God is showing Ezekiel what it takes to get through challenges by visually showing him the images: “The likeness of the living creatures came out of the midst of the fire; angels derive their being and power from God. They have the understanding of a man, and far more. A lion excels in strength and boldness. An ox excels in diligence and patience, and unwearied discharge of the work he has to do. An eagle excels in quickness and piercing sight, and in soaring high; and the angels, who excel man in all these respects, put on these appearances.” Matthew Henry
You may ask, “what does this strange vision have to do with passages to something new, wider and deeper?” I believe it is an important part of my journey.
My second life began in the 1980’s as I have written about in other Sweetwater Journey chapters. The change was brought on by a Force outside of myself. God had to nurture strength, boldness, diligence and patience within me to survive the challenges that were coming. At some point, God must have heard the prayer in my heart for something to change the path I was on. More and more, I was waking up to a deeper walk with Christ but was yoked to a partner who had no understanding of spiritual submission to a higher power. The “stony, stubborn heart” my partner possessed, even though he was a good person in the eyes of the world, was not seeking “a new heart or a new spirit, responsive to God”.
The worst agricultural crisis in history began to loom large on the horizon of our lives and before very long we were engulfed by it. The only way forward was through it. There would be much loss and changes that would force me to make choices based on the higher calling that was gradually taking shape in my life. I can only testify to what I know and where I’ve been. In the chapter I wrote titled “The One-Effect” I opened with this quote from a movie:
“A good man draws a circle around him and cares for those within – his woman and his children. Other men draw a larger circle and bring within their brothers and sisters but some men have a great destiny. They must draw around themselves a circle that includes many, many more. You must decide for yourself who you are.” From the movie,“10,000 B.C.”
When I was a child, the sixth-born of seven, playing with my brothers in the corn rows on our eastern Nebraska farm between Omaha and Sioux City, IA, I would never have believed the impact my life would have one day on so many.
I believe that God places within each one of us a destiny that lays dormant as our lives unfold and then at the right moment, the next phase of the work that God began within us begins to emerge. “. . . he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV
In the 1980’s, I was forced to decide who I was. I was yoked to someone who only wanted to draw a circle around his woman and children which is admirable, yet, I was being called to include many, many more.
All around us in the agriculture community where we lived, there were people suffering with the tremendous changes and loss that were taking place due to the farm crisis. The financial crisis gouged deep into people’s personal lives, taking away any security they may have thought they had, causing financial ruin, long-term mental breakdowns, divorce, health problems – extreme loss. We could be victims or we could use what we were going through to make us stronger and deeper and moving towards something new. Like others at that time who were stepping up, God showed me a way through the chaos that I wanted to show to others – I felt compelled to show to others. Even today, when I hear an inspiring story of conquering adversity, I think of all those who would benefit from hearing about it. Then I go about spreading it to others, whether through my writing, word of mouth in my presentations or sharing with the inmates I work with. That is how I am made. I gradually discovered, that the responsive heart God gave me was not going to stop with just me and mine, I would be compelled to take on leadership roles that were totally foreign to my farm-girl background of enjoying a quiet, private life. At any point, I could have chosen differently but that is not what I felt at the time. History is filled with people who stood up and took the risks. It didn’t seem at the time that I was choosing something that would put me in a place to impact the lives of so many but as I look back, I can see the path I was on and the work I was doing was clearly one that only God could have begun within me.
An important part of Ezekiel’s vision was about the angels with hands under their wings. Matthew Henry gives this insight:
”The angels have wings; and whatever business God sends them upon, they lose no time. They stood straight, and firm, and steady. They had not only wings for motion, but hands for action. Many persons are quick, who are not active; they hurry about, but do nothing to purpose; they have wings, but no hands. But wherever the angels’ wings carried them, they carried hands with them, to be doing what duty required. Whatever service they went about, they went every one straight forward. When we go straight, we go forward; when we serve God with one heart, we perform work. They turned not when they went. They made no mistakes; and their work needed not to be gone over again. They turned not from their business to trifle with anything. They went whithersoever the Spirit of God would have them go.” Matthew Henry Commentary
I joined the ranks of servants to bring relief to the people who were being victimized to provide a light for their paths to something new, wider and deeper. At the time of those choices, I didn’t feel I was alone, I truly believed that I was doing what God wanted me to do and now I can look back and see the positive results and the difference I have been blessed to make for others. : “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.” Proverbs 31:8-10
Now, the words and images of the twenty-third psalm mean even more to me having been through the challenges that I have faced on my passage to something new, wider and deeper.
Kristen Cooper has a blog online she has titled “Through the Valley”. The following is a personal reflection written by her about the loss of her husband and her passage through the valley of the shadow of death at that time:
“I’ve walked through the valley. I’ve seen the shadow of death. I’ve had my life ripped apart at the seams. Stolen from me in an instant. I’ve lived through the days when I could only take one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. One minute. One second. Without being able to think farther ahead. I’ve walked through the valley. It’s an ugly place. It’s dark and cold. The mountains are high on each side. Tall and forbidding. Too high to climb. The path is windy ahead. It curves where I can’t see. Each day I make it a little farther. I sleep alone. I’m scared. But there’s a tiny flame inside my heart. At first, it is the tiniest flicker. From the first moment I can feel it. As cold and scared and dark as it is I can feel the burn in my heart. The flame brings peace. Comfort, light. The flame leads me. Shows me the way to the green pastures of my home and the still waters of my family.” Kristen Cooper “Through the Valley”
Kristen has since remarried, had a second child and built a new life.
I know the flame she refers to, one that I cannot deny. It has been with me all my life. God’s plan for me has taken on a life of its own. I am happier when I follow it. My life is much more rewarding even though I have to push against my selfish nature to settle for complacency, “after all I’m 73, I’ve done enough”, my ego is saying, but it is the spiritual fire within me that drives me forward to the new, wider and deeper me around the bend. How does God do his work if not through us?
Kristen completes her writing: “The flame anoints me with the warmth of love. I cling to the flame. I seek it. Tend it. And it grows. It can’t carry me out of the valley. That job is mine. But it lights my path. Guides my feet. Stays with me. Protects me from my fears. And day by day, step by step, it leads me. Outside the valley there is a life waiting for me. A life overflowing with goodness. A life full of mercy and love. It’s my job to take the steps. But I’ll never be alone.” Kristen Cooper “Through the Valley”