Crimson

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Isaiah 1:18

 

Peacock green, sunflower yellow, and sky blue. From the gold of ripening wheat fields and green meadows to the delicate tints seen in the smallest of mountain flowers, people have taken in the bright colors of nature and have sought to duplicate and wear them. There exists evidence that there existed dye workshops in China some time before 3000 B.C., while in Europe there is evidence that its first dyers were the SwissLake Dwellers in 2000 B.C. [1] Closer to Bible-land and times, the Egyptians and Phoenicians were of great renown with their red and purple dyes.

Before the accidental discovery of synthetic dye by William H. Perkin in 1856, if your outfit choice of the day included dandy purple trousers (yikes!) or and emerald-green jacket, you were undoubtedly wearing colors that came from nature: roots, leaves, lichens, mollusks, or the choicest of ground-up insects. You can easily conclude that the substances used to derive lasting and fade-proof dyes were rather exotic. Hence, the majority of the people dressed in drab earth-tones, beige, and grays, or faded colors derived from humbler plants and barks and treated with weaker mordants while only a small elite dressed in bright, lasting, and vibrant colors.

Historically, one of the most sought-after colors was crimson—the brighter and more attention-grabbing the better. However, it was also wildly expensive because it was so rare. From antiquity to the middle ages, the most sought-after crimson dye was derived from the dried up bodies of tiny grass-land insects imported from the regions of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Iran. The true nature of the dye was shrouded in mystery for a long time; as such, its name was always somewhat of a misnomer. The prosaic Romans called it simply granum[2] (i.e. grain—as it was thought to be a berry or seed of sorts). Kirmis, being the Arabs word for “worm,” gave rise to the term “crimson” that we use today. Closer to the true nature of the little insect is the word used for red  throughout the Bible: tôlâ‘ which is still nothing more than the crimson-grub.

The discovery of the New World led to the discovery of a better “worm” in Mexico and crimson became just a little less exclusive. Huge profits were still being made, however, as American trade records from 1831 (at a time when crimson was more widely available than ever before) show. Crimson was sold by the ounce and still cost up to five times more than the other dyes (the prices of which were—by the way—by the pound).[3] No wonder, then, that crimson and scarlet have ever been associated with prestige and wealth! It was the color of kings, the color of authority, pomp, power, and splendor. It was the color of pride.

Note, then, that God does not liken Israel’s sins of rebellion to a deep black nor to a stubborn brown stain—for can’t something as superficial as a stain be comparatively easily washed away? To have your sins be as scarlet means that you have been imbued in the world and have absorbed into the very fiber of your nature all the characteristics of the world with all its crazy, money-grabbing, power-hungry, and self-seeking pride. This is the natural state of the human heart. But even while we are in that state, God reaches out to us. He wants us to let him get to the last fiber of our being in order to change our rebellious nature. He doesn’t want to just clean us from the stains of myriad individual sins. He is pleading with Israel—pleading with us, today—to let him transform the essence of our selfish and prideful hearts into something wonderful that is in tune with the very nature of heaven.


[1] Adrosko, Rita J. Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971) p. 4

[2] Butler Greenfield, Amy. A Perfect Red (New York: HarperCollins, 2005) p. 31

[3] Adrosko, p. 8

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While I Cried on the Bathroom Floor–What I Learned from an Unrequited Love

About a week ago I cried–BAWLED–my eyes out as I had never done in my life over another person. And (check this out) true to my dramatic nature, I did it while on the bathroom floor. HA!

I’d known Him for years, and then one day he became something else–something of a mystery I wanted to unravel. He is beautiful, but his acute intelligence, lofty ideals, his artistic nature, his acerbic humor, and–yes–his tenderness did me in at last. I came to find that he was the person I wanted to laugh with, quarrel with, hammer out tough issues with, and even enjoy some nice silences with the most. He is by no means perfect, but I was sure he was perfect for me.

I’ve had my share of unrequited loves, so I thought I had learned my lesson. My feelings were my own, and I absolutely did nothing to push them onto him to force him to reciprocate them. It’s just my philosophy—love should develop organically—right? (Ok, so I’m really, really shy)

So what do you do when you realize at last it’s hopeless?

I’ll tell you what I used to do. Kids, beware. This is the BAD way to go, ok? Please avoid going this route

After you cry and complain to heaven, after you wipe your tears and snot with a Kleenex you wash your face and try to move on—after all that proceed by avoiding meaningful conversation. Seek to always be in large groups, never be alone with the person you are secretly in love with. If this happens, totally change from the person you usually are to being something like a robot. “Yes” and “No” answers are among the most effective means to kill a healthy friendship which was once rooted on common interests and was watered by stimulating conversation and sharing of ideas.

Second. Avoid physical proximity at all costs. Not only do you need to keep him at a distance so that your heart strings don’t strain every time you see him, but because Love, while (supposedly) being blind, keeps very careful watch (Thank you Dickens for this tidbit). You will feel jealousy every time he is with a female, be it a teacher, a co-worker, or the Starbucks barista (Can you see the unhealthy pattern emerge?).

Third. Focus on the negative. Searching for a negative trait or traits, focusing on them, and expanding them out of proportion will in part help you get over the attraction and admiration you once held for the other person and will replace it by something akin to scorn, but not quite so strong. Like some weed killers, this is effective not only in killing the weed, but also the flowers, because the joy of a friendship you could have still enjoyed will be—effectively—obliterated.

Do you see? When you are only focused in trying to protect your heart and your pride, you change something beautiful into a monster. And I was so tempted to do the same with Him.

I hope to God I never have to go through an unrequited love, but if I do I will do what I did on that cold bathroom floor, but in a calmer more rational and less dramatic manner. I hope

I prayed. I left these feelings of sorrow, bitterness, of loneliness, of anger, and of pain in the hands of Christ. I asked for peace, and for Christ to deal with my heart. I handed to him the key of my heart so that he would be the only one to open it in his good time when the right person came along. Because I’ve come to believe with my whole heart and soul what is written in the word of God: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:7

In my prayer, after asking God to deal with my heartache, I did something that would have been unthinkable in the past. I prayed for him and for the woman he loves. I prayed that theirs would be a happy union of mind, body, and spirit. I prayed that she would be the perfect companion to him and he of hers and that I may rejoice in their happiness, because if I did ever love him, that is the best thing I could have done. If my love for him was ever real, and if my heart can ever be described as loyal and true I had to do it. I want to believe that I can love in a godly, pure, disinterested way. That I can wish someone I love the best be it with or without me.

With the help of God I am slowly healing from this pain. I have to admit that today I felt a little pang when I received happy news about them (that is why I’m writing this now, and not on a Friday, Sunday, or Wednesday as is my schedule). Still, I am genuinely happy for them and I thank God that I can continue to sincerely wish them to have a bright and blessed future.

I am somewhat thankful for that episode in my life, because I’ve learned that if faced with an unrequited love I must hang on—not in vain hopes that the feelings are reciprocated, but as aspiring to a gentler, more exalted, and more selfless love. The love that God wants us to enjoy, because…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13

A lesson in love—What I learned from almost crashing the car

I got a clearer vision of God’s love through my father this week. It was a truth I’d known already but hadn’t quite understood.

You see, while I was practicing going in reverse and doing the three-point turn, I almost hit a parked car—Dad saved me by yelling at me to hit the brakes and by applying the hand brake (he saw the car before I ever did); the result was that the car made a scary noise and, together with my sudden braking, it jolted terribly. Needless to say, I was berated at length as I drove on through the quiet streets back home. It was a terrible drive.

The truth is that the overwhelming feeling of shame at my blunder was worse than the fright of having almost hit a car. I never in my life felt more stupid, and because I dreaded the look of disappointment in my dad’s face I dared not even glance at him. I was sure he would want me to return the car home. In fact, I was expecting him to tell me to get out of the car immediately and forget about ever driving here or in the world to come.

I turn into our street.

“Why are you turning here? There’s still time”

“I thought you’d want me to…” I don’t dare finish my sentence.

“Pull up over there.”

I obey, expecting the worst. We both get out and trade seats.

“Watch first. I’ll do it [again], then explain it step by step [again], then ask me all the questions.”

For the next few minutes he goes over the process again with a patience I didn’t know he had, pulling into as many driveways as necessary and answering all my questions until I finally understand it—in theory.

“Now you do it”

“What?!”

He ignores me and pulls over. We trade places once more. I beseech the heavens to help me before I even take the wheel. He tells me to be calm and helps me though the process.

And this time I am able to do it.

Time is running out by now so we return home. Thank goodnes I can park, at least.

“You’re too tense from this.” He says as I return the keys, “Go out and walk two turns around the park.” (there is one behind our house) “Breathe and relax, then come home and eat your breakfast. You did good.”

This just about kills me. I walk away, after murmuring numerous apologies, and hope he didn’t see me tear up.

Minutes later I’m walking in the park wondering why I’m crying like this. What affects me more? The shock of the near-miss? The shame of my blunder? Or is it the fact that Dad did not give up on me? That he told me I did good despite the near-hit? That he is being too kind to me? Yes, in part. But mostly it is because this brief episode opened my eyes to a sad truth. All these years I have been laboring under a misconception.

You have to understand that I grew up loving and respecting my father, but sometimes I resented him bitterly because his standards and rules of conduct for us (my sister and me) felt to be too high. He trained us with (what I thought to be) outmost rigor and discipline and which I often questioned because, in comparison to how my friends were brought up, it seemed too demanding. It was impossible to please him, and I often wondered if he could just love me as I was—just a girl who tries hard to do her best. Still, It was not good enough, so I became harsher towards myself than he ever was, and I became that more disillusioned in my inability to be better. As a result, there came a time when in my heart of hears I doubted my father’s love and trust AND my ability to ever live up to his expectations.

As I walk around the park and take deep breaths, I think and think over the episode (and pray in thanksgiving that I didn’t hit the car) a sudden truth sparks in my mind. This has taught me something deep about my heavenly father, and it makes so much sense to me

Do you think God is going to give up on you because you have failed in the past? Are you trying so hard to get his approval? You could never do anything that will make him love you more or less than he already does.

Do you think he has left you to struggle in this world on your own without any guide? Didn’t he suffer his only Son to come down to earth to lead in example, answer questions, and teach us to lead sinless and holy lives? He has sent the Holy Spirit to continue to guide us. We are never alone.

Do you think God is going to judge you—a contrite sinner—and treat you the way you deserve when you come into his presence seeking forgiveness? If you do, then you are also laboring under a misconception. Re-evaluate your view of God. He is not the stern, demanding deity you might think he is. He is your father. Yes, he will correct you, but he will never, EVER, give up on you.

And finally, Do you think that his law is harsh and expectations are impossible to live up to? By yourself and out of your own efforts it is impossible. But he is more than willing to help you in this respect! All you have to do is give him you hand with faith that he will lead you. Whosoever comes to me I will never cast out, for I have come down from heaven…that everyone who looks on to the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:37,40)

 

Lessons of Housekeeping to apply to your Bible study habits

Among the many jobs I’ve had in my life was being a professional house cleaner. That meant that Crusita and I would go to other people’s houses and vacuum their house, do their laundry, clean their kitchen, bath, etc. It was an honest but absolutely un-fun and (as I foolishly thought then) undignified way to earn a couple of dollars, but hey, I’d heard there were Starving Students helping people with their moving, and there comes a point when any job is ok when you need to buy that $300 textbook pronto. And as long as your friends don’t know . . .

I digress. My point is that there was a time I was paid to do cleaning, after which I would go home and collapse in front of the TV while all the chores that needed to be done in my house could go hang. But Crusita was very different. I’m sure she was the shorter, Mexican version of Wonder Woman—a veritable dynamo of energy and vitality. Once she got home she would cook and feed her husband and children, do general cleanup around her home, do laundry if necessary, and then prepare the next day’s lunches for everyone to take to work or school. And yes, her house was orderly. It was unbelievable how the woman could clean other people’s houses for a living and still have time and energy to keep her own home clean.

As you may imagine, my time cleaning houses was very brief. Still, during that time Crusita taught me a few tips about Housekeeping. I also picked up a few other tips over the years. I’ll share with you the ones I think are the best.

-Make a schedule for every-day cleaning and designate the “Big Cleaning Day.” If you work, designate a day in the weekend for this—not too much fun, but if the proceeding tips are also followed it’s not much of a drag.

-Put your cleaning tools within easy reach and at strategic locations. For example, your Tilex, rubber gloves, sponge, etc should be close or in the restroom and with easy access.

-Find the essentials and deal with them first.There are some things that grate on your nerves and having them incomplete will sap your morale until they are done. For me it’s the beds, the kitchen and the dishes. These must be done so that even if I don’t clean anything else during the day I can still have a bit of peace.

-Involve the Family. Everyone has to pitch in and at least clean up after themselves.

-If possible get the cleaning done early. It’s incredibly hard to do cleanup after noon. What is the best time to clean up? Between 7:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.

-15 Minute Spurts: Set a timer to 15 minutes and do as much of your essentials and maintenance cleaning as possible. Be thorough, though! Have 2-3 of these in your day, spreading them throughout your day at specific points that work with your schedule.

-If it takes less than two minutes do it now

-Music! There is nothing more energizing and motivating as you clean.

-Stick to schedule. Self discipline is key!

* * *

Let’s be honest. At the beginning of this thing called “walk with God,” opening the Bible and devoting energy, mind, and body, to sit still and seek God through his word feels like a chore. But by applying the rules of Housekeeping to your spiritual life, you will find that your inner self will be beautifully kept throughout the week—and after all, aren’t we all habitations of the Holy Spirit?

-Designate a time during the day and a special day during the week in which to study. Daily study would include a chapter or two the Bible, and any other supplementary study materials such as quarterlies and devotionals which are supposed to be looked at daily. “The Big Day” would be the Sabbath, of course. Take more time to dwell on the word—have a Bible commentary? Bring it out and delve deeper into the word. Time should not be a concern during this day.

-Put your materials within reach. The key here is to be strategic and orderly about where you leave your study materials. If you say you are a busy person and have difficulty making time, then be a smart busy person and avoid having to go all over the house just to retrieve Bible, quarterly, notebook, pens, and highlighters. I always study and pray upon waking up, so my materials are right next to my alarm clock (which is also strategically placed to blare out in the morning all the way across the room, thus forcing me to get up out of my comfy bed)

-Get rid of distractions. This is a biggie. Seriously, eradicate anything that will not let you be in peace during your study time. Believe me—there is always something that will try to get in between you and your time with Christ.

-Involve the family. I thank God for sisters. As we share the room, my sister and I will both wake up when my alarm goes off and pray and study together. I swear it works. We have reached a point in which we willingly wake up to study some 7 out of 10 times. The other 3 out of 10 times I run to my alarm press the snooze and jump back into bed hoping the alarm didn’t wake Liz up. Then out of the darkness I hear her voice—Paula, aren’t we going to study? I get up again, bemoaning my extra sleep, and turn on the lights. That’s my example, you may find that you can study with your spouse or your kids and make a healthy habit that will benefit all.

-Get it done early. The benefit you get of studying early in the morning is more than I can tell. The word of God fortifies you spiritually for the trials up ahead, much as breakfast gives you energy for the busy day. Your frame of mind will be more positive and you will be more receptive to the Spirit of God. Life is placed in its proper perspective when you put your priorities in order by giving God the first place.

-15 minute sessions. Start with 15 minutes a day, twice a day. No science to it. Study in the morning, and then study in the evening before going to bed. I started with 15 minutes, then increased to half an hour in the morning, it just became something that special.

-If you need prayer do it right where you are, don’t wait for the Designated day or for one of your 15 minute sessions. You spill some juice on the counter—are you going to wait for a 15-minute clean-up session to deal with it? No. Do it right away. You are being tempted to covet your co-worker’s car (or whatever), are you going to wait until your evening session to pray about it? No. Do it then and there in your mind as you walk past the hot little sports car.

-Music! This could apply to the evening session or the “Big Day” as it tends to relax you and creates a better atmosphere. You’ll want to dwell in that time with Christ. If you prefer, you can sing, too. No need for an iPod there. I am a bit old-fashioned in this area, I like the hymnal, and when I have the luxury of prolonged time alone with the Lord I don’t hesitate to sing as many as three or four hymns before I begin studying.

-Stick to the schedule. When all is said and done, you have to really be disciplined about this. You’ll hit the snooze button 9 out of 10 times at first, but the habit can be formed quite well enough when there is a will and—most importantly—when the Holy Spirit works in your life. Such a deep hunger and desire to learn more will be awakened in you as you strive to learn and know who Jesus is. Prayer will help you get to this point too.

Which brings us to a final point—

-Prayer, a most important element in keeping up your study schedule. Pray before and after you study, asking for divine guidance and the Holy Spirit to work in your life. To take you from being a person who looks at Bible-studying as a dreaded chore to being a person who gladly, willfully, and joyfully looks forward to spending time with God.

Prayer is a point that, of course, is not to be found in the Housekeeping guidelines…But, maybe it should be. Then maybe I could—at last—take the theory of how to keep a house clean throughout the week and put it to practice as successfully as I have done in keeping up a Bible study schedule.

Alchemy

I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies… I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Therefore I esteem thy precepts concerning all things to be right…  Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them

Psalm 119:124-129

Sir Isaac Newton was a scientific man of prominence. He is credited with discovering gravity, inventing calculus, and making a great many other contributions to science. Yet for centuries a significant amount of his work and published material on a particular subject lay forgotten—so much so that few people know that for a time Newton’s interests veered from the scientific field to the obscure art that was alchemy.

Alchemy dates back to antiquity, and some form of alchemy or another was practiced by ancient civilized peoples, including the Greeks and Romans, the Chinese, Indians, and the Muslims—all of whom, through differing methods, sought the same end: transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of a panacea, and the ability to prolong life indefinitely.

But the prize was elusive, and though there are some tales of men who were successful, the validity of such claims is highly debatable. More often than not many an alchemist ended up much poorer than he began—if he was fortunate. Others, not fully understanding the substances they were dealing with, were killed, maimed, or blinded by fire while others were poisoned by noxious fumes or suffered horrific illnesses from tasting mercurial compounds (Newton himself narrowly escaped such a fate, though he did display sure signs of mercury poisoning[1]).

Wealth, health, and eternal life—mankind’s ambitions, discoveries, and pursuits through all time hark back to those three, explaining why even “kings, popes, emperors, and other notable figures” took an eager interest in the art.[2] And while alchemy has been debunked by modern chemistry, the relentless search for that which will satisfy the soul continues on.

The avowed motive of “true” alchemists was spiritual rather than material gain. They claimed that the ultimate goal was “perfection, not the gain of gold. They sought to prove that the figure of transmutation of the ‘base’ metals into gold symbolized the salvation of man” tangible proof—if you will—that the transformation of man into a holy creature was possible.[3]

This concept was not limited to the Christian alchemists. Wherever it was practiced, alchemy was linked to spirituality. Eastern scripts were full of accounts in which the successful transmutation of a base metal into gold inevitably brought about enlightenment.[4] Christian adepts claimed that because the process required such great patience, devotion, and humility the “self” died, and salvation was achieved. Indeed, it was a means of salvation and a sign of divine favor.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think many people practiced the art for the spiritual riches that could be gotten. Few people, I’m sure, derived spiritual enrichment from the fumes emitted by foul-smelling and bubbling chemicals.

 It’s impossible—more so than getting gold from lead or iron—to draw closer to the heart of heaven by going off and living our lives in pursuit of our own goals. We can’t devote the majority of our resources and attention solely to our job, school, loved ones, and at the end of the day prop our feet up, check our Facebook, and finally go to bed with a sigh of satisfaction because we are nigh the gates of heaven.

The sophistry of Satan is deceptive, but God is much stronger, and he wants to give us wisdom and salvation freely. He blows away the confusion and all the noise that surrounds us and offers us salvation—without asking us to first perform a miracle. Let’s remember that although we have to lead our lives and meet our obligations, we must deliberately set aside time to draw closer to Christ, and ask for the salvation and the spiritual riches that he alone can give.

 


[1] Schwarcz, Joe. Genie in a Bottle. (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 2001) p.90

[2]Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990)  p.15

[3] Redgrove, Stanley H. Alchemy: Ancient and Modern. (New York: University Books, Inc., 1969) p.2

[4] Klossowski de Rola, Stansilas. Alchemy. The Secret Art. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1973)   p.21

The Song in my Head

I am–at last–learning to drive.

I am learning in a little silver-colored 2003 Hyundai Accent–our family car. My dad sits in the passenger’s seat sipping his breakfast shake while I drive. My hair is wild because it’s too early in the morning for me to care about my appearance. I am wearing shorts and sandals.

Our car has no radio or CD player; nothing at all to produce music, so as we go about cruising the residential streets of my modest neighborhood, we go about in silence. We talk a little, complain about the sun hitting our faces, and he gives me general instructions and tips on where I am to turn, as well as points out the occasional cat.

The song in my Head is The City Harmonic’s Manifesto, and as we drive into the perfect sunshine I am thankful just to be alive.

I am Paula. 26 years young, and my life is full of uncertainties–a college degree but no permanent job, in a veritable wasteland when it comes to romantic relationships, my savings are not too bad but only because I live with my parents (and that’s ok by me). By all of the world’s standards I am somewhat of a failure. What happened to the promising writer and artist of my High School days? What of the brilliant university student who was among the top two of her graduating class? Nothing, really. No tragedy or accident took place to derail my life–thank God. This is just life–the unnexpected. So today instead of being frustrated by my lot I am simply thankful this morning because the one I love gently woke me up and filled my mind with reminders that he loves me and he is THERE.

I am learning to be patient and wise. I am learning to persevere. I am learning some hard truths that I would not have learned if I had continued working where I was. I am seeing the goodness of God by the way he is making me grow and learn to trust in him completely. The song fills my head as we drive. I don’t need a radio or to be in church to praise God. So I suprise my father when the song in my head becomes the song in my lips.

We believe in the One True God
We believe in Father, Spirit, Son
We believe that good has won

And all of the people of God sang along:
Amen Amen Amen

God is good ALL the time.