Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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Gardening and other sacraments

My friend Dan and I have been wondering about sacraments: What are they? Where do they come from? How many?

A sacramentum was the oath taken by a Roman soldier. It obligated him to live by all the rules and disciplines of the Roman army. As far as we can tell, somehow this became the source of the idea of sacrament.

So the first thing to note is that the idea is not from the Bible.

The Catholic Church defines sacrament as words and actions that make the grace of God tangible and effective in our lives. Catholicism specifies 7 official sacraments: baptism, confirmation, communion (the Eucharist), reconciliation, anointing the sick, marriage and ordination.

The Protestants practice the abridged version, recognizing only two: baptism and communion.

Let’s just think about this.

If sacraments are about ways the grace of God is made tangible and effective in our lives, then why couldn’t gardening be a sacrament? Why couldn’t painting or drawing be a sacrament? Why couldn’t writing this blog be a sacrament? Of course I’m listing the activities I like to do. But my point is that these things make the grace of God tangible and effective in my life.

The Psalms speak repeatedly about how all of nature shout out the grace of God – in tangible form.

Now, I understand we need to be actively submitted to others in body life (the church). In my younger days I knew a guy who always promised he’d be at church next Sunday, but never came. He was a hermit who met God (or so he said) while holed up in the carriage house he rented on somebody else’s side lawn. He had major issues.

So, I am not promoting that everyone euphemistically label all of his or her preferences as sacraments. If not submitted to the body of Christ, preferences can easily slip-slide into idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.

But there’s a poverty to just limiting the grace of God “made tangible” in only seven ways, not to mention in only two.


Titus 2.11-14 11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

1 Peter 4.10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:

Ephesians 2.8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Psalm 104.4-15 [4] you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers. [5] You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. [6] You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. [7] At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight. [8] They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them. [9] You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. [10] You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, [11] giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. [12] By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. [13] From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. [14] You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, [15] and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Image/Doubleday, 1995. Section 1084 reads, in part: "The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify."

About those raised beds ...

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about the raised beds we were building (see May 10). Well, here is where we are. And here are some thoughts I had while building them:

1. Sweat and fatigue are unavoidable in tilling the land. And this is the one activity Adam and Eve were given after the fall. If they wanted to live, they had to labor for their food. Today, less than 3% of US citizens are farmers -- and they have John Deere to help them. That means 97% of us are not
directly experiencing the sweat and toil of tilling the ground for our sustenance. I am among that 97%, so I felt a certain kind of embarrassment that I was doing it all for a hobby.

2. I was doing it all for beauty. What do I mean by beauty here? Well, probably no more than picturesque-ness. The picturesque is an aesthetic category that involves variety, pleasant vistas, quaintness. In other words: neither the transport of the beautiful nor the awesomeness of the sublime. Just a pretty picturesque scene, a kind of framed postcard of our aesthetic wishes imposed upon a wild nature. C.S. Lewis once said that we all long for a beauty not simply to look at,
but to be a part of "from the side." Hmmm: to be on the inside of beauty. I often yearn for that.

3. To achieve the beautiful -- or even the quaintness of the picturesque -- required an unbelievable amount of
subtractions. The beds themselves are a 60% reduction of the plantable garden area we have. Then the beds needed to be armored with wire mesh on the bottom so the pocket gophers can be subtracted from them. Then landscape fabric was put down to subtract the possibility of purslane encroachment. Getting to beauty by subtraction. Sad.

4. There is a difference between work and life. You can do the work; but you can't produce the life. After all of that sweat and labor, it is still a mystery how vegetables will ultimately grow in those beds. Which returns to that question about what 97% of us non-farmers are doing (see item #1): many of us mistake work for life. And so we think our work is our life. But it is really only sweat and toil. Life comes from somewhere else. Only God grants life, and it is as mysterious as ever.

5. This was the first year I really got "into" gardening. And by gardening together with my wife who has gardened for many years, I found a new way to experience being one flesh with her. And that is a beautiful thing. Even if I did throw out my back.


Genesis 3.19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

1 Corinthians 3.6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

From C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory": ... you know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us ... And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness (of beauty) is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard ... we pine ... in this universe we are treated as strangers ...(But) our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation ..." The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, Harper San Francisco, 200, p. 40, 42.

Of high priests and supreme court justices

Israel had her high priests; we have our Supreme Court justices. Two vastly different systems, of course. But it is fruitful to compare.

In the Old Testament, the high priest represented all of the people to God. He was the intermediary linking daily life to heavenly favor. His ritual conduct and the daily sacrifices he oversaw granted the people limited acceptance by God Almighty.

The New Testament argues that this system was faulty because high priests were themselves fallible people. They needed the same forgiveness for sin that they appealed to heaven for on behalf of the people. And so there was an endless succession of high priests and, more troubling, endless daily sacrifices made for sin.

But the righteous demands of the heavenly Law were never completely satisfied by animal sacrifices offered by sinful people -- even people donning high priest’s robes. The Scripture says “the law made nothing perfect,” not because the Law was faulty, but because the human condition was faulty.

Hey, here’s an idea: why not just change the righteous standards of the Law to be more of a fit with the moral profile of the people?

This idea apparently never occurred to Biblical peoples either Old or New.

No, the idea that Law is something socially constructed, and ever morphing as society morphs, is a much more recent innovation.

Then all we need to do is ensure that the high priests representing us – otherwise known as Supreme Court justices – have the same morphing profiles as we do.

And so now there is an endless battle for who will don the next justice’s robe to invent the next construction of what the Law should be, because the Law doesn’t need to be in the image of God, or even in the image of any fixed standard.

The new idea is that, well, Laws-R-Us.

In all of this, the meaning of Law is negotiated away, the meaning of representation is negotiated away, and the meaning of a Holy Standard larger than ourselves is negotiated away. The meaning of sin and sinfulness is negotiated away.

The real solution, however, is not negotiated away because a High Priest not from this legal system – the universal system that judges all men on the basis of qualifying standards -- has ascended to the priesthood, who offered himself as sacrifice, who himself is perfect for all time, and who himself intercedes for all who look to him. For all time.


Hebrews 7.18-28 There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God. This was confirmed with an oath; for others who became priests took their office without an oath, but this one became a priest with an oath, because of the one who said to him, "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest for ever'" - accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. [23] Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.

Beauty comes with vision for the mission

When someone has a vision, he has a mission. And when the vision for that mission is in focus, all the pieces of a life come together.

Then that life becomes authentic, and has a coherent aesthetic to it.

So authenticity involves more than just being true to where you come from; authenticity involves being true to where you are going.

If you have a vision of where you are going, there is beauty in the furnishings of your life. But if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll need a lot of cosmetics, possibly even costumes, to make up for your lack of beauty.

The problem with most of us, and I would say the problem with our country presently, is that there is no mission. Because there is no vision. And it is not a beautiful thing. It is not even a pretty thing.

It says somewhere: without vision, the people perish.

Jesus had a vision for his mission: he was headed towards Jerusalem. Jerusalem meant suffering and death. But it also meant resurrection. It meant a mission that ultimately restores not only the Jewish nation back to God, but also fulfills God’s promise of restoration and blessing, through Abraham, to all the people of the world.

Jesus’ vision, then, allowed him to sort out two unnecessary diversions. One was to not be affected by detractors. How he responded to the immediate insult, to the daily offense taken by others against him, was weighed in light of the mission itself. Jesus’ disciples wanted to take revenge against people along the way who were unkind to them. But Jesus would have none of it, and actually rebuked his disciples for their attitude.

The other unnecessary diversion was admirers. Now, it is one thing to be disliked and turn the other cheek. It is quite another to be liked and still turn away. But Jesus' vision for his mission gave him discernment into the shapes of people’s souls. Are they really ones that can follow on this mission? Or are they just attracted to some temporary thing about you, something ultimately that is for themselves, be it position, a life work? All good things, but in light of the vision itself, a distraction.

None of this meant that Jesus himself was rude. He healed and restored many on his lonely way.

If you have a vision of where you are going, there is beauty in the furnishings of your life. But if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll need a lot of cosmetics, possibly even costumes, to make up for your lack of beauty.


Proverbs 29.18 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.

Luke 9.51-62 [51] When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. [52] And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; [53] but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. [54] When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" [55] But he turned and rebuked them. [56] Then they went on to another village. [57] As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." [58] And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." [59] To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." [60] But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and
proclaim the kingdom of God." [61] Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." [62] Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Making sense

In the Bible, God made sense. That is how they proved His existence.

The God of the Bible speaks; he sees; he hears; he discerns flavors and aromas; he feels; he walks. Therefore he is God.

Idols do not have senses: they cannot see; they cannot hear; they cannot smell. Therefore they don’t make sense.

The phrase “to make sense” comes from a time when, if somebody or something looked right, smelled right, heard right, felt right, well, then it made sense that he or it was right.

In the old days, plain evidence available through common observation was enough to make sense of a whole lot of things, including the existence of God. In the New Testament, Paul said that just by observing nature is sufficient to render all men without excuse from acknowledging God.

This was before scientific method.

I am thankful for scientific method. For example, I have a huge backache today (from building those blasted raised beds!) and I am very thankful for the scientific research that led to Ibuprofen.

But there is a way that the scientific outlook has made us doubtful of what we can commonly observe. We now think that real truth must always be somewhere in what we observe, and this real truth is only available by manipulating what nature obviously shows us. In this way we disconnect ourselves from the glorious sensual beauty of nature – and what it is telling us, and Who it is telling us about.

The book of nature has simply become the cover of a book. And we were raised not to judge a book by its cover.

But nature is not just the cover of a book; it is a book.

And it is time to read that book again so as to make sense of it all, because it looks, tastes, smells, sounds and feels so right. It points to Someone who made it all just so.


Psalm 115.3-8 Our God is in the heavens;he does whatever he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; they make no sound in their throats. Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.

Romans 1.20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Habakkuk 2.18-20 Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up!' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.

Revelation 9.20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood-idols that cannot see or hear or walk.

Yes, but is it a natural or a special problem?

There is that old saying that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours.

Let’s apply that to relational problems. Other people have relational problems because, well, everybody is quirky so what do you expect? People have tiffs; feathers will be ruffled. Relational problems are natural things.

But when it’s a problem you have with somebody, well, then that is a special problem. You need special counsel. You need a special word from God. You need all of the understanding available on heaven and on earth. Somebody rubbed you the wrong way and it’s a special problem.

But heaven seems silent. The morning dawns as scheduled. The air is fresh. Gravity still works: there you are, the usual bump on a log, as heavy as ever. The usual sheep …

… (A word lesson: “sheep” is the same singular or plural. Lesson: what’s true for me is true for you; when it comes to the stupidity of sheep, we all look alike)…

The morning dawns as scheduled. The air is fresh. The Word of God still sits on your desk. It says the same old stuff: love one another, forbear with one another, cast out the log in your own eye before you take out the mote in others’ eyes.

What, no special delivery from heaven in the mailbox for you? Boohoo. What are you going to do?

I just drove through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California in three days. Saw a lot of Southwest landscape baking in the sun. The cactus standing firm in the heat. Why not complain for lack of water? A highway carved and blasted through the mountains. Yet the rocks loom dignified over us. The winds howling and gusting. Why don’t the shrubs run for cover instead of just rooting themselves there, forlornly, buffeted by sand and grit?

We pass through and are gone. Yet the great expanse endures.

And the enormity of God’s word holding it all together.


Hebrews 1.2-3 … in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

John 13.34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Romans 12.10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another …

Ephesians 4.2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

Matthew 7.5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

What are good works?

The phrase “good works” does not occur in the Old Testament. This is astounding because the Old Testament period was precisely the time when works prescribed by the Law were needed for acceptance by God. And yet not once did anyone do anything that was recorded as a “good work.”

In contrast, the New Testament mentions “good works” 19 times (KJV). What does this suggest? It suggests that good works in the Biblical sense are not possible without Jesus Christ.

Now, the New Testament word for “work” (ergon) is not limited to the idea of a physical activity. For example, I often think of a good work (a good ergon) as feeding the poor. But if that is all I think a good work is, I miss the full point. The lexicon defines ergon as “any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind.”

So on this definition, even thinking good thoughts can be a kind of good work. It can be. The key is whether or not it is somehow birthed in the interior of one’s heart to the advent of Jesus Christ.

As for the “good” of good works, the Greek New Testament uses two words. Good can be agathos, meaning “of good constitution or nature; useful; good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy; excellent," and so on. So when Paul says that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, it does not necessarily mean feeding the poor, or the equivalent.

The larger question, if you are to really live up to what the Holy Spirit through Paul is saying, may be whether or not you are being pleasant and agreeable as your heart is stayed on Christ's presence.

The other word for “good” is kalos. What does this word mean?

Well, kalos is the word for beautiful.

And then it says that the beauty of some works are conspicuous now. But the beauty of some others will only be made evident later.


Ephesians 2.10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

1 Timothy 5.25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

“Good works” with agathos: Acts 9.36, Romans 13.3, Ephesians 2.10, 1 Timothy 2.10, 2 Timothy 3.17, Titus 1.16

“Good works” with kalos: Matthew 5.16, John 10.32, 1 Timothy 5.10, 1 Timothy 5.25, 1 Timothy 6.18, Titus 2.14, Titus 2.7, Titues 2.14, Titus 3.8, Titus 3.14, Hebrews 1024, 1 Peter 2.12

From the lexicon:

AGATHOS 102 times in the AV — good 77, good thing 14, 1) of good constitution or nature 2) useful, salutary 3) good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy 4) excellent, distinguished 5) upright, honourable

KALOS 102 times in the AV — good 83, better 7, honest 5, meet 2, goodly 2, misc 3 1) beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable a) beautiful to look at, shapely, magnificent b) good, excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends 1) genuine, approved 2) precious 3) joined to names of men designated by their office, competent, able, such as one ought to be 4) praiseworthy, noble c) beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy 1) morally good, noble d) honourable, conferring honour e) affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming

ERGON 176 times in the AV — work 152, deed 22, doing 1, labour 1 1) business, employment, that which any one is occupied a) that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking 2) any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind 3) an act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasised in opp. to that which is less than work

Beautiful discernments

Question: When is saying “I don’t know” considered a real achievement?

Answer: When studying aesthetics.

Aesthetics is the study of beauty and art. Beginning students assume that, after a few courses, they will know what beauty and art is. But the seasoned students realize that real knowledge of beauty and art means these things really can’t be defined. When they grasp that, they get their PhD.

Since the 18th century, many thinkers have propagated this bit of “I don’t know” insight. But basically, the fingerprints of Immanuel Kant are all over it.

I know this (or at least I used to know this) because I was one of those who earned a PhD on the “I don’t know” of Kant’s aesthetics.

It is a real Catch-22. Take that little yellow thing fluttering around over there: I can recognize it immediately as a butterfly. Kant called “This is a butterfly” a determinate judgment. It is like 1+1=2. Determinate judgments are no problem: you and everybody else know it is a butterfly; you and everybody else know 1+1=2.

Ah, but to say that it is a beautiful butterfly … well, this is a problem. Beauty is an indeterminate judgment. It does not involve (says Kant) your understanding; it only involves your imagination. And so there is a kind of schizo-split between determinate things we can understand and indeterminate things we can only feel.

Kant then spilled a lot of ink explaining why everybody should still agree with you that the butterfly is beautiful. Maybe a long time ago I could have explained his long-winded theory, but I don't think I'd do a very good job now.

Not because I can’t explain the words. But because I don’t believe them. And since a long time ago, I haven’t met a single person who can explain them – and believe them at the same time.

The word “aesthetics” comes form the Greek word αἴσθησις (aesthesis). Interestingly, the original Greek word meant both intellectual perception (Kant’s determinate judgments) as well as sensed perception (Kant’s indeterminate judgments).

To my knowledge, αἴσθησις appears in the New Testament just once. It is in a prayer Paul prayed for the Christians at Philippi: “… may your love abound more and more, with knowledge and … αἴσθησις …” The translated word is discernment. So:

“… may your love abound more and more with knowledge and discernment…”

And Paul's prayer is filled with other words that have high aesthetic value: excellence, purity, rightness (=righteousness), glory and praise. The

The Biblical idea of beauty goes hand-in-hand with understanding. No schizo-split here.

May all of our discernments and judgments be beautiful discernments and judgments that glorify God in Jesus Christ.


Philippians 1.8-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (αἰσθήσει), so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

What is in a name? Let me count the ways.

Shakespeare famously said that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." If this were our only guide, it would mean that names are no more than labels of convenience. But common experience suggests otherwise. And the Bible sheds even more light on the matter.

In the Bible, a name is not only a label, but also reveals the nature of a person. For example, in one of the first actions of man, God told Adam to name the animals. It was in doing so that Adam realized he had need of a kind of companionship the animals could not provide. So God gave him Eve.

Nowadays post-modern thinkers delight in telling us that names are merely arbitrary labels for things. And since all words are names in a way, because all words "name" something, all meaning is essentially arbitrary. But from a Biblical perspective, this is just another chapter in the ancient battle of fallen man to suppress the obvious presence of God in nature.

I jotted down 5 levels of meaning names have:

First, names are indeed labels. For example, an unidentified person is often called a Jane or a John Doe. This is using name as a label.

Second, names classify. In the above, at least Jane or John tells us the gender of that unknown person. And last names classify family lineage -- the "Doe" precisely means we do not know this person's family origins. Names can also betray ethnic categories (consider: James versus Jamal, or my last name, Wang). Even year of birth can be classified by names. Recently many of my students have names like Cassidy, Caitlyn, or Carlene -- because "C" names were all the rage about 20 years ago.

Third, a name places a person or thing into cultural systems of meaning. Our language is dependable and our society stable because names do not change. We have all been confused, for example, by the name of a road changing in midstream -- there are several of those in my town. Or, I can recall two cases of close friends changing their first names in midlife (for example, from Joan to Maggie). Very confusing. Imagine the mess if everybody started doing that.

These first three levels of meaning are more or less enough to make human relations go. But God deals with at least two more levels of meaning when it comes to names:

Fourth, a name is meant to
reveal a nature, or the shape of a soul. Jacob, for example, means "supplanter." Jacob supplanted his brother out of his birthright. He cheated Laban out of daughters and flocks. Jacob even bargained with God: "if you bless me I'll give you a tenth." And when God finally changed Jacob, he changed his name -- to Israel, which means "prince with God" (according to one interpretation).

But it is deeply meaningful that God continued to refer to Himself (to name Himself) as the God of Jacob throughout the Scriptures. In other words, God puts up with a lot in us without giving up on us.

Finally, names are so profound that there is an aspect about them that we can't even grasp in this life. The Bible says that God will give those who overcome a secret name only that person will know.

What in the world does that mean? What use is a name that nobody knows? Well, eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.


Psalm 147.4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

Genesis 2.20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

Romans 1.18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth ...

Jacob supplants Esau's birthright: Genesis 27

Jacob bargains with God: if God blesses him, he'll give back a tenth: Genesis 28.20-22

Jacob's shenanigans with Laban: Genesis 29

Jacob renamed Israel; Genesis 32.28. Israel can mean "wrestles with God," or "prince with God."

Psalm 20.1 (this is one of many times "God of Jacob" is mentioned in the Old Testament): May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

Revelation 2.17 ... To him who overcomes ... I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

1 Corinthians 2.9 (quoting Isaiah 64.4) However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"

The first fruits of his creatures

My apple trees have awakened, adorned in a wash of white blossoms.

I have already mentioned the asparagus that have faithfully come up from the black ground.

Before I left last week to drive my son and his stuff in a U-haul from Texas to California, the path to my shed was all pebbles and dirt. When I came back, young grass about six inches tall covered the area.

This time of the year we are reminded of how the earth is full of life.

Those apple blossoms make me want to freeze time, because I know next week the beauty will not be there. But of course time cannot be frozen. The best we can do is to take pictures, or perhaps to draw pictures, in our attempt to freeze time.

Kodak might give us moments to freeze – Kodak moments. But Kodak can’t give us life, an earth teeming with life. Beautiful life.

The whole thing seems so extravagant. How does “survival of the fittest” explain those blossoms? To survive is one thing. To be beautiful is quite another.

Beauty is not about surviving. It is about being generous while you do. So God must be beautifully generous. He must be to explain all of this.

And then it says that by the same Word that created all of this, we are a kind of first fruits of all his creatures.


James 1.17-18 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

The hidden location of the WP

Early in my training as an architect it was drilled into me that no building is possible without a Working Point, or WP. The WP is the point from which all the measurements of a building are taken: length, depth, height. Every measurement down to the location of the door knobs in Room 813 is traceable back to the WP. (The first building I worked on was a large hospital, with hundreds of doors).

So the WP is set by something unmovable and unchanging on the construction site, keyed in to local survey records, which are in turn keyed in to USGS (United State Geological Survey) data points, which I guess nowadays are all checked by satellites for accuracy.

The New Testament refers to Jesus as the rejected cornerstone five times, making this one of the most-quoted Old Testament prophecies about him. The cornerstone for a building of Jesus’ day was the WP of that building.

(By the way, do not mistake cornerstones for keystones. Keystones are at the tops of arches, glorious for all to see. A large building can have many keystones visible to all. But it would have -- and can only have -- just one cornerstone, usually hidden from obvious view).

What strikes me this morning is how obscure the original prophetic statement is. It is found in Psalm 118, which is a long, rambling piece, authorship uncertain (although usually ascribed to David, but this is not provable).

In Psalm 118, among other things, the psalmist praises God, recounts his kindness to those who fear him, makes references to not trusting in mortals, bemoans that enemies surround him “like bees” (yuck!). And on and on.

In the middle of all of this, he mentions a cornerstone of some building. The builders did not like the stone, and so they rejected it. But for some unexplained reason it was later made the chief cornerstone.

One day, Jesus went up a mountain with three – he took just three – of his disciples. On the mountain an extraordinary thing happened: Jesus was transfigured before his three companions. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes glowed white like light.

When they were coming down the mountain, he charged them strictly: “Don’t tell anybody about this…”


Psalm 118.22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.

Matthew 21.42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone …

Mark 12.10 Have you not even read this Scripture: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.

Luke 20.17 Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone'?

Acts 4.11 This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.'

1 Peter 2.7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,"

Matthew 17.1-9 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead."

Note: It is true that Jesus forbid them to tell others until after the resurrection. In other words there was a time limit to their silence. But still this is an extraordinary commitment to hiddenness until the right time. Since the resurrection is now in history past, does this mean that Jesus' charge does not apply to us? I don't think it is as simple as that. Because the resurrection is history, and so we have been given resurrection life, there is still a difference between gestation and birth in everything we do, everything we are involved in. Until something is ready to be birthed, don't broadcast it. Let all the measurements find their places ... traceable back to the Chief Cornerstone. And during gestation, that Cornerstone can be in the most obscure of places, hidden in the rough and tumble of daily life.

Jesus on demand?

Emblazoned in enormous letters on the service van in front of me are the words: Cable ON DEMAND. No subtlety. It is in your face, loud and rude: Cable ON DEMAND.

Oh for those old British table manners! If you want the salt shaker, you absolutely mustn't demand it! No, you must say to the person next to you: "Might you like some salt?" to which she would say, "Why, no, but might you?" to which you would say, "Yes if you please ... oh thank you very much..."

None of that with CABLE ON DEMAND.

You've gotta have it and you've gotta have it now. And by golly you can! With our service, you can have it ON DEMAND.

It is one of the many evidences of the aesthetic coarsening of our public life. The more technology enables us, the more we want everything NOW. On demand.

I am reading a biography of Hudson Taylor. In his day, travel from England to China took six months; four if you were lucky to get on a fast ship. En route, you put up with the crotchety captain; you get to know fellow passengers; you help those who take ill; you read the Scriptures to them, and some come to know Jesus.

Nowadays the trip can be made in the time it takes for two in-flight meals -- would you like the chicken or the beef? And you look forward to the movies ON DEMAND in the little TV in the seatback in front of you.

Speaking of Hudson Taylor: he didn't know any "personal savior."

Today we have our personal computer, our personal cell phone, our personal trainer, our personal pan pizza ... and of course, we can have Jesus as our "personal savior." All of them available to us ON DEMAND.

We have no idea Who we are dealing with.


Philippians 2.9-12
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

Revelation 1.8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

Asparagus and faith

Martin Luther did not much like the book of James, because James said, "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." Luther taught that faith itself is sufficient to save a person, without any works. And saving faith is a gift from God.

Luther had it on good authority, because Paul said this: " For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

So where does James get this idea that faith must be proven by works, and calling faith "my faith?"

Several weeks ago my asparagus patch looked like an anonymous plot of untilled dirt. Nothing but weeds and tufts of grass. True to form, I worried whether any asparagus would come.

Now many stalks point upwards like triumphant fingers, reminding me to look up and not down. Like previous years, we're going to have to give some asparagus away; there is too much of it just to keep to ourselves.

My asparagus came from the life that was in that land all along.

Faith characterizes the life from above; it is an essential ingredient of it. Once it is in you, of course it is "yours," because your life is yours. Go ahead and call it "my faith." God is generous and has no problem with you doing so.

When my kids were young any allowance I gave them was "their money." Of course it was their money. I would call it their money too.

So go your way, look to God the author and finisher of faith, and "your" faith will make you whole.


James 2.18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Ephesians 2.8
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God...

Romans 3.18 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Romans 5.1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2.16 ... yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith OF Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Note: In Galatians 2.16 the OF Christ is usually translated faith IN Christ. But this is not what the original says. The original says "in order to be justified by faith OF Christ and not by works of the law ..."

Luke 17.12-19
As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

Hebrews 12.2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith ... (KJV)

Love with just half the picture

It is in the nature of all of us to not see the whole picture, but to assume that we do.

This is our plight.

Some of us err because we always fear we don't have the full picture. Here maturity is to know that the picture will never be complete. But not to fear.

Some of us err because we always think we do see the whole picture: what we see is simply what is. Maturity here is to realize this can't possibly be true.

Our personal histories, and the histories of nations, can be understood by how this tension has been handled in daily life. How do the overly fearful overcome? Many never do. And how do the overly confident come to know humility? Many never do.

In the middle abides faith, hope, love, these three.

But the greatest of these is love.


1 Corinthians 13.9, 13 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

When with your adult kids, some things you say, some things you don't

When you are with your adult kids, some things you say, some things you don't. The art comes in knowing the difference.

Here is what you have to work with:

They have already picked up many of your own quirks. (In most cases, "quirks" is an euphemism for "bad habits"). So first of all, be very sobered that what you see is a caricature of who you are.

Second, you were raised in a cultural context they were not raised in. For example, I have often noticed that parents "with money" have kids who do not have the same disciplined attitude towards money their parents have. The kids throw it around a lot easier. When you see this happening -- that is, if the problem is only a cultural one -- usually the art is to shut up.

Third, it is amazing how God entrusted you with kids in the first place. Remember what a jerk you were back then? Now, couple it with this: I have already learned that some of my objections to the way my grown kids have handled things have turned out to be tools God used to grow them in sanctification. So, again, usually the art is to shut up. God will take the jerkiness out of them too, in his time.

Fourth, the real challenge is to know how to relax in God in the midst of being with your adult kids. I know men who are good at this; I am not one of them. I usually think of myself as a kid; this is not a good thing when you are with your adult kids.

You are a father, act like one. Aah but what does this mean?

That is also where the art comes in. Because in the spiritual economy of things -- which is really the economy of how all things work -- fathers have an enormous influence on their kids, young or grown, just by being there. And most of us underestimate this fact.

Being there.

So, fear God. And live with your concerns in the balance.

Now go to the McDonald's and buy him a No. 1 (while he's still sacked out) -- even though his company is paying for this trip.


Psalm 128.3b-4 ... your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord.

With Ayn Rand in the wilds of Texas

I am reading Ayn Rand while driving through the wilds of Texas. Both are big deals. My version of Atlas Shrugged stretches over 1000 pages. And the stretch from San Antonio to El Paso is a 2-day proposition.

Particularly if you are in a 14-foot U-haul truck with a car in tow -- my son is moving from Houston to LA -- and the check engine light on.

“What’s with the light?” we yelled into the cell phone sixty miles out of Houston. “And oiyl,” said the U-haul guy (we can’t make out his accent). So we did. “It’s still on,” we yelled into the cell phone sixty miles out of San Antonio. “Ahh, just drive with it; maybe it’s the gaaage.” So we are.

It’s about 90 humid degrees outside and the air conditioning is sluggish. The land is an endless stretch of flat green; the mile markers are in three digits (481, 480, 479, so on).

Recently Ayn Rand has been in demand. It’s been said that with the rise of Barack Obama, Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy has been a source of solace for conservatives banned to the wilderness.

To the extent that this is true, it is a window into the conservative heart: there is no love in it.

Rand’s heroes are goal-driven self-starters. The Dagny Taggerts, the Hank Reardons. Against all odds they achieve the construction of worlds: worlds of their making; worlds according to their dictates. For them, other people were meant to get with the program, or to get out of the way. In reading Atlas, the pictures conjured are in black and white – kind of like those Leni Riefenstahl films from the 1930s.

The films that documented the rise of Hitler.

There is a sense of ubermensch in reading Rand. A brave new world that would probably not smile kindly on the likes of me.

My son asks: “What if this U-haul breaks down in the desert?”

I respond: “Well, if it happens, God will provide a way.” I am thinking of kind folk driving by that would lend a hand.

And I am hoping they would not be like Hank Reardon.


Isaiah 58.6-8 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

“Atlas felt a sense of déjà vu” Economist, February 26, 2009 http://www.economist.com/finance/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13185404 Accessed May 12, 2009

Were there raised beds in Eden?

For the last two years purslane, a low-lying weed that grows into a dense mat on the ground as thick as a cheap weave carpet, has been more abundant than any of the vegetables in our garden.

Some said cheer up: purslane can actually serve as a salad vegetable. But this is compromise by another name; like celebrating "diversity" when moral clarity is no longer clear.

So this season we are building raised beds. Maybe making self-contained beds and importing new soil can conquer the purslane. In the last few months I've studied enough on the subject to at least earn some pass-fail credits, if not an associates degree.

All through the year I collected old wood that can serve for the sides of the beds. No, says a workshop leader; use untreated 2x10s. These then must be assembled with 3 inch galvanized screws.

Circular saws, drills (pre-drill the holes, she said), hammers, and one sore thumb from a misdirected blow ...

Next you need hardware mesh, a grid of wire as rugged as medieval chain mail underwear. This recalcitrant product comes in rolls of 2 or 3 or 4 foot widths, up to 50 feet long. And for a pretty price. And make sure you wear hefty gloves cutting it with wire cutters. You place the mesh at the bottom of the beds so the gophers don't attack sub terreus - that would be "under ground" in Latin; I looked it up.

On top of the chain mail is garden fabric to keep water circulating but hopefully the nasty purslane out. Then on top of all of this is the new soil to be shipped in -- minimum order 7 cubic yards. For our 12 beds, each at least 4 feet by 8 feet, this just may require a second mortgage, maybe even a bailout.

All for 3 ears of corn you can buy for 99 cents at the Albertson's.

It is a wonderful but painful reminder of our origins in the Garden of Eden.

In that Garden then, no, there was no need for raised beds. But in our garden now, yes .... so much effort, so much defense, so much money, so much, well, so much sweat of the brow.

And yet there is a vestige of real joy in tilling the intractable and mute ground, a vestige of anticipation for a beauty that will yield a trace of produce.

It is the pleasure of enacting what we were meant to be, wishing for a nature as it was meant to be.

And so, a joy in building stage sets of gardens (the raised beds) in the fallen soil.

And through it all, if you listen carefully, you can hear all of creation groaning for the fulfillment of the sons and daughters of God.


Genesis 2.8-9 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.

Romans 8:20-23 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Once upon a time, music solved our problems

In biblical times, music was able to solve people’s problems. This is because they didn’t have science around to complicate things.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be thankful for all the answers scientific research has given us.

But scientific knowledge, expressed as technology, has rendered the very nature of any problem a matter of a formula to be devised, a strategy to be think-tanked, the next pill to be prescribed.

For example, music once aided love. Now Viagra does the job.

The problem is this. Technological solutions always come from the bottom up. Take for example worship. Today the solutions include bass guitars and Jumbotrons, flashing lights, simpler choruses over more complicated hymns (perhaps as a solution to shorter attention spans, or NFL games at 10am -- on the West Coast).

But in the Bible’s view of problem solving, solutions always come from the top down, as in: "Heaven came down and glory filled my soul..."

So, first there is Glory. That is high-voltage stuff.

So it is stepped down to Beauty. Still not household current.

So it is stepped down to Music. And our problems are solved.


Psalm 49.3-4 My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

Between 2 to 5 readings

Meaningfulness, or meaning-fullness, usually comes with more than 1 reading. You’ve got to read it at least twice.

The second time shows respect. The third time shows humility. With the fourth and fifth times, the tracings of beauty come into view, if beauty is there at all. But you can’t really know. Until the fourth or fifth time.

You can measure the character of a person -- or a culture -- by how he reads. If someone reads everything just once, that says something about what he actually knows, well, about what he actually doesn’t know.

So much for a culture that skims everything. A culture characterized by skimming ... ouch.

In undergraduate education these days, many students don’t read an assigned article even once. On the other hand, it is no accident that the students who really show promise are those who read the article at least once, and I suspect more than once.

The humbler students are usually the students who read things more than once.

Because the humbler ones come to know that words on paper are not the only things to be read more than once. The words of life circumstances must be read again and again for even the hope of comprehension.

The second time shows respect. The third time shows humility. With the fourth and fifth times, the tracings of beauty come into view, if beauty is there at all. But you can’t really know. Until the fourth or fifth time.

And blessed is the man whose life is founded on Words deserving more than five readings.


Joshua 1.8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Psalm 1.2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Colossians 3.16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

The line between Nature and Scripture

Look on any map of North America and you’ll see the line dividing Canada and the US. Cross this line and the dollar is worth less (it used to be worth more). Cross this line and people say “aboot” rather than “about.”

In truth, the line makes for easier management of countless things. National sovereignty, for one.

But I’ve crossed the US-Canada border countless times, from the eastern seaboard to the western seaboard and points in between. I have never seen The Line.

We like maps for their clear lines. Us and them. Here and there. In our minds the world as we know it is a world sliced by lines. But the reality is much more complicated: there are no lines.

Now, here are two more sovereignties: Nature is called general revelation and the Bible is called special revelation. I have no qualms with these domains as they are usually understood. The words of special revelation tell us things about God that general revelation only hints at: the person-hood of God; salvation through the Son; the last things (which no one seems to get clear even with special revelation).

But I am struck by just how much the Bible (the special revelation) specially uses the beauty of Nature to descry the power of God. It is not general; it is very specific. So much so that men have no excuse not to know God – not just any God, but the God of the Scriptures, the God of special revelation.

Just several months ago we had at least 20 inches of snow on our roof – maybe close to 24 inches, and ever the threat of it all turning to ice because of the intermittent rains. Roofs were collapsing in our area.

Like many others, I ventured atop the house with my son to push the snow off. After 30 minutes of moving the immense weight of shovel after shovel of snow, my heart felt like it was going to pop out of my chest. And we had barely made a dent. So I told my son: “Let’s get down: it’s either a roof collapse or my life; I’ll take my chances.”

Just 36 hours later, with an ever-so slight warming of the temperatures, the snow atop the roof was gone. I was awestruck by the power of Nature.

But I saw no lines.


Psalm 147.15-20 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down hail like crumbs - can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow. He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!

Romans 1.20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

What is a lineament?

Some words have the power to arrest you in life’s rush towards the next to-do. They stop you enough for you to say, “O yes … yes … there is that … I need to get a handle on that.”

“Lineament” for me is such a word.

What is a lineament? Well, dictionary.com puts it this way: “a characteristic property that defines the apparent individual nature of something.”

A lineament, then, is something that is inherent in a thing (in other words, an internal essence) that makes that thing what it is in appearance and carriage (in other words, in external quality).

Dictionary.com then quotes this from Norman Mailer as an example:"the gross and subtle folds of corruption on the average senatorial face are hardly the lineaments of virtue." Now the last thing I want is to divert attention to politics -- or to Norman Mailer for that matter. But I love this sentence.

The lineaments of virtue. Virtue itself is not a “thing” that is seen in the sense that it can be measured for dimensions and weight like, say, this computer I’m writing on. But it is something the “appearance and carriage” of which can be seen.

Embedded in lineament is the word line. This is line not in the sense of an abstract geometrical line, but in the sense of a living genealogical line. It is line in the sense of lines that make up a web, a netting, a system, a framework, a matrix, in short, lines that precede -- because they enable -- the “appearances and carriages” of visible life.

Think of the lines of DNA that make up who we are. (But DNA itself is also simply an example).

Lines of life. Lineaments.


Psalm 16.6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Lineament, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/carriage, accessed May 6, 2009.

What I see at the summit

What I see at the summit is never totally clear because of the fog. And also because of the size of it. The best I can describe it is that it is some sort of construction site in a jungle. A dense jungle entangled with gnarled branching, undergrowth, suffocating foliage as far as I can see, which is not far because of the fog. But from that vantage point you can feel the jungle's immensity and darkness, as well as its attractiveness. I can't explain it.

But what I mean by construction is ... well, there's something else there. A grouping of rock; some pattern of intent; some suggestion of order that could not have just been by chance. Mostly you feel that too. You feel it more than you see it. But you see enough of it to wonder.

A simulacrum, a scrim, of order.

I say construction and I say order because I am hopeful. But just by looking at this scrim of stones, you really can't tell if the activity took place long ago, so that, now, the whole thing is nothing but a ruin. (Indeed, some of the materials seem to have been quite expensive at one time, but now lie dissembled in rough piles).

Or if the activity is in process, as if there is something to look forward to.

My guide tells me it is, indeed, something to look forward to. And I can see that he takes encouragement from it. My guide is a rugged old man; years of manual labor of some kind are sketched on his hands and face. In my ascents, he of the guides I've been with is among the quieter ones. And when he does speak, his words are somewhat disjointed, his thoughts not quite fluently expressed from one sentence to the next.

"The history of this place is complicated," he said. "There are two histories. One is of futile attempts to build cities, passed down from generation to generation."

"To build cities?" I ask.

"Yes," he said, "futile attempts passed down through the years."

"And the other?"

"Well, this whole place used to be a garden. And the foundation stone has been placed to indeed build a city here. This plan has also been passed down through the generations."

"A city in a garden?" I said.

"A city in a garden," he said.

"Where are these plans?" I asked.

His smile was warm, but distant, as if seeing something I could not yet see. "They are now in us," he said. "Even the angels can't quite figure out how."


1 Peter 1.18 ... knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold ...

Job 38:4-6 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. "Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone ... ?

Isaiah 28.16 "Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: 'Whoever believes will not be in haste.'

Matthew 21.42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?

Acts 4.11 "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

1 Peter 2.6-7 For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone ..."

1 Peter 1.10-12 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.