Today we have the lovely Rachel Haas sharing about finding a middle ground between closing your eyes and not noticing the pain of others…and trying to hold everyone. It’s such a difficult tension, and Rachel has written it beautifully. May we all learn to keep our head up and eyes open where it comes to those around us.
I’ve sat through a thousand altar calls in my life. Some were at the end of church services, the decrescendo of a message delivered from the pulpit. Others were louder, more intense, capping off youth ministry events or purity conventions. But they all carried the same words, delivered right before the invitation to come forward or raise a hand.
“All heads bowed, all eyes closed.”
For the longest time, it felt right, completely appropriate for the moment. It was a strange allowance for privacy, as though to ensure the safety of the ones making such a life-changing decision right there, a few feet from where I sat. It was only fitting, only appropriate, that eyes were kept closed and heads tucked down to avoid any sort of intimidation.
But then I started realizing the heads didn’t rise at the end of prayer and the eyes didn’t open at the word “amen.” They were still down, shuffling through the world, being careful not to look another believer in the eye. Of course, we would hug them, rejoicing in their newfound decision, somehow slipping into standard clichés of “welcome to the family” and “don’t forget to live out loud!”
Except our heads were still bowed and our eyes were still closed. Worst of all, we’ve took it upon ourselves to teach the newcomers to be that way, too. I don’t think it’s done with any sort of malicious intention, as though we are truly trying to blind the newly opened eyes of those who gather with us under His wing. But it still happens, as though we are docking the tails of these new ones, taught all our lives it was the right thing to do, never understanding just how painful it can be.
So I became frantic in the way I so often am when I start to feel the holy urge to make a change. I began to push myself deeper into the crush of people, the downtrodden and the “least of these,” wrapping myself around first one, then four, then ten, then twenty, until my arms were stretching and my body was unravelling the way a sweater does when you ask the dog and your sister to join you in the same woven piece of fabric.
And then the Voice came whispering, moving like a breeze through my hair: I wasn’t asking you to hold everyone, dearheart. I can do that for you. Just reach out and touch where you can reach. I’ll close the gap.
So I stopped screaming. And I started speaking. I started speaking love in a way that started as a timid whisper but grew into a lioness roar breathed into me from Lion of Judah lungs. I didn’t have the claws or the tools to remove the scales, to lift lowered heads, to change the entire scope of the progressive Church as we know it today. All I had was my voice, and I was realizing that I didn’t have to scrape my vocal chords raw to see eyes start raising from the ground.
I’ve stopped trying to force it, stopped trying to reach out spindly arms in my own human strength, stopped striving exhausted to stretch my calendar until the lines are bowed out and my family is begging me to sit and breathe and stop.
Instead, I’m opening my arms as wide as they go, and not a single inch wider. I’m letting the Lion do the leading, and I’m perched on His back with my fingers in His mane and a coracle-boat at my feet. I’m living with my own head up and my own eyes open to catch a glimpse of His country over the wave. I want to hear stories, I want to see gazes meet His. I want to see dancing and I want to hear cries of the greatness He has done.
Head up, eyes open.
Rachel Haas is a novel-writing, coffee-consuming, paint-flinging, wild-at-heart Jesus craver. She is married to Jonathon, as she has been for the past four years, and is mother to Marian. She dwells in between Midwestern cornfields where she pours her heart out in lowercase abandon. She blogs at Dramatic Elegance.