Full disclosure: I am a big fan of figurative, symbolic, and hidden meanings. I find them life-giving and full of adventure. I feel like they deepen my appreciation and enjoyment of life. It should then come as no surprise that I feel overlooked and misunderstood by anyone who insists that figures and symbols are somehow less “real” than literal material things. It can sometimes feel like a full on assault on my worldview. The invisible realm has often been more “real” to me than the visible.

I think what I love most about symbols is that they require intentionality. Symbols are deeply linked to meaning because they require someone to purposefully endow them with a message, and they require others to purposefully seek to understand that message. Many times in the process of discovering that message, we end up adding our own message to that symbol and rather than becoming a contradiction, the symbol becomes a conglomerate. Somewhere in the midst of imparting and inferring messages, we become filled with meaning. Everything about symbols comes back and boils down to intentionality.

I fully suspect it’s the nature of intention to develop symbols. Intention tends to operate against the flow of entropy. It is something that concentrates resources rather than spreading them out. It operates with a purpose, toward a goal of building something up rather than tearing down or ceasing activity. Intention results in something that would not naturally occur but that demonstrates the invisible qualities of consciousness with brilliant creativity and rationality.

One of the most beautiful things about intention is that it can be felt. It might even be primarily perceived through feeling. Intentionality can harness the best that mental prowess can offer and utilize it toward expressing the most core fulfilling desires of the heart. Intentionality is the marriage of the heart and the head and symbols are the fruit of that marriage. And you can feel the intention that gave birth to a symbol. You can recognize purpose and affection and kindness. You can feel meaning oozing out of its very existence.

So I guess all I’m really trying to say is that intentionality changes everything. It always makes things more meaningful than they were before. Additionally, symbols are not mere coincidences. Figures and hidden meanings are not worthless intellectual pursuits. Their end goal is not to assert the dominance of the intellect but to draw your whole being into the experience of life and to discover equilibrium between the pinnacle of critical thought and the fullness of delight. As you can tell, I really like symbols and I intend to continue enjoying them.

The world of the imagination is a black canvas for prayer to paint upon.

Today I want to share with you my vision. Often I blog about life lessons and realizations that fascinate me. Earlier today, however, I was listening to a sermon by Kris Valloton on dreaming. It hit me so deeply. So many of my worries in life have been related to my future, and so many times I have side-stepped the real issue by telling myself that I needed to stop worrying and start trusting God. This is true, to an extent. For me, the issue ran deeper. My concern for the future was not a command to stop worrying, but an invitation to start dreaming.

So many of the accomplishments and so much of the work I’ve taken on has been in pursuit of the mysterious “will of God” and entailed me listening to His voice to hear how He would direct me next. Because He is faithful, He has done just that. The sad part is that He’s been waiting for me to do so much more than just listen. He’s been waiting for me to dream and dialogue with Him about who I am and what I’d like to see happen in the world. I’ve given Him the blank canvas of my imagination and told Him, “Make something!” but that’s not His role. He’s already made me perfect in Christ, now He wants me to go manifest that perfection in my own unique way. His work is done—now it’s my turn.

With all that said, I present my vision based on the criteria that Kris suggested in his sermon.

Who: I am a man of prayer, a seeker of righteousness, and a musician.

Why: I aim to show the world that the prayer of a righteous man is effective and able to connect to the heart of mankind.

What: I desire to write prayers in song, teaching people how to pray effectively and genuinely.

How: In the short term, by finishing the songs for my first EP and releasing them on iTunes. In the long term, by becoming a dedicated song-writer and prayer warrior.

When: I want to get the EP released by the end of summer!

I have needed a vision for a long time, I have wandered aimlessly through a metaphorical desert since I was a child, and only now am I waking up to realize that what I do can and does hold power because I have Christ living in me. I have tried to craft vision statements many times before and they’ve all been left incomplete and unclear. For some reason, talking it through with God this time, I have come up with SOMETHING! I wasn’t disconnected from God in my previous attempts, which leads me to believe that there may yet have been a Divine purpose in my wandering (I’m still reflecting on that), but for now I know this: God is the potter, but in order to shape us, He needs something to work with. Vision is the emulsifier of identity—it makes who we are stick together in a unified manner and keeps us on a course. I have now found a small piece of that, and I’m going to run with it for now and keep asking for more.

It all began with a fortune, you know, from a fortune cookie:

My fortune at dinner that night.

These things are usually meant to be pretty generic, but it’s always amusing (and sometimes I think God-ordained) when they line up with actual events about to happen in your life. In this case, I knew that what I had planned for my weekend was going to be different than normal. What was it you ask? This:

Yay for the arts!

I accompanied a poem reading on violin for an art expo at a local church. There were singers, dancers, musicians, and fine artists of all sorts—and completely free. It was worth the time, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. 🙂
That’s all I really have to say about that… but not quite. I don’t really have much to say about performing, but I do have something to say about the experience.

I observed many things about myself through this event—mainly, that I need “alone.” I’ve been around people and their “noise” almost constantly since last school year began and I started realizing through this event that I had forgotten who I was. Aloneness gives me a chance to talk to myself and remember lessons I’ve learned and places I’ve been. If I don’t spend time with myself, I forget who I am. My identity doesn’t readily flow out of me, I have to be intentional about being me. This is a hard thing. It takes me a while to get past the initial depression of loneliness, but once I do, I find myself coming alive like never before and enjoying the company of others more fully. Perhaps this is just one of the many intricacies of being an introvert. Whatever it is, it certainly is something different, and I can’t wait to explore it more.

Do you see the emotion?

I stand at my window with dread welling up in me. It’s a mild, sunny day, yet I can’t help but feel the weight of my opposition. I’ve heard it said that when you taste defeat, Almighty God weeps with you. I’ve heard it said that God restores the years that the locusts have eaten; He brings beauty out of ashes. I’ve heard it said that what the devil means for harm, God uses for good. I have heard it said that there are powerful lessons to be learned through pain, rejection, and hardship.

Maybe it’s all true.

But I have been through these things many times. I have tasted defeat. I have endured much pain. I have come through the desert and arrived at this place a different, new person; and who I am become and the things I have gracefully and humbly accomplished have been rejected and scorned time and again by people who have no idea what I’ve come through and have no respect for the passions of my pure heart.

And I’m not sure I want to go through this again.

I’ve seen a side of God that victoriously displays His glory and upends injustice, and I don’t know if I can bear His weeping. I’m not sure I can bear another defeat. So bitterness knocks at the door of my heart once more and I lock and deadbolt it. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out; and whether or not I let bitterness in, the stagnancy of me will, in time, become bitter and stale anyway. That’s not who I want to be.

I have to try again.

I have to offer the best of me and my passions to the judgment of others who may or may not deem me fit for their own vision and plans. I have to bare my heart to the possibility of desolation again. If I pass, I share in my Father’s joy. If I am rejected, I reflect my Father’s heart in forgiveness and sorrow and hope. Whatever happens, I stay living alive; and I refuse to scorn this gift of life that has been given to me by my Father. I am blessed to rejoice. I am blessed to hurt. I am blessed to love. I am blessed to forgive. I am blessed to feel—to live alive. I am blessed; therefore, I will open my heart to pursue passion and purpose. I will move forward. I will conquer defeat by standing up, looking it in the face, and telling it I’m not afraid of what it may do to me because it can only demonstrate that I’m alive.

Today has been a respite, a respose from the inanity of semester’s end. After a late breakfast, I decided to go outside and enjoy the glory-fall. I walked out past the parking lot and sat on a big rock and gazed across the field in front of the school. It was a beautiful moment—gazing and reflecting and praying. I couldn’t help but take it all in, and I was so thankful that my eyes are truly open. When your eyes are really open, you never want to miss a single moment, but take it all in because you become aware of the beauty surrounding you. Each moment is invaluable because it will never come back, and you may never have another one quite like it. It causes you to be thankful even for the hard moments because you can look back and see how it has shaped who you are in the present. So you really can be thankful in all things. Wow.

At some length of sitting and gazing, I decided to go for a walk on a nearby trail. Eventually, I came to this sight:

Art in the wilderness

Look familiar? It should if you remember this post at the beginning summer. The one difference is that it’s facing the opposite direction. At some point since I took the last picture, the pole has been turned around so that the text is facing the other way. It’s symbolic. It points to the fact that I am now on the other side of summer—on the other side of those particular hardships and circumstances. It points to the fact that God has covered me through difficulty and oppression and uncertainty and has sustained, strengthened, and empowered me to live abundantly. It demonstrates the outworking of God’s glory in my life. It fills me with purpose for the present and hope for the future. Wow.

To conclude this post, here’s a new poem:

Patterns

Here and there, occasionally,
I have a thought begin to spread
And germinate through what I’ve said,
The event seems random at best.

Here and there, occasionally,
I have a word to kindly share,
And sharing, I myself do bare
My heart and everything I have.

Here and there, occasionally,
I open what is firmly shut,
Exposing the infected cut
Of solitude’s egregious blade.

Here and there, occasionally,
I realize amid my pain,
The omni-present God would deign
To be near to my broken heart.

Here and there, occasionally,
I bow under a heavy load,
I find that I despise the road
I have unswervingly chosen.

Here and there, occasionally,
I falter for a wise critique,
The very wisdom that I seek
Would sooner be my undoing.

Here and there, occasionally,
I find offense at every turn,
The power of what I would learn
Is robbed of all efficacy.

Here and there, occasionally,
I pause to hear all heaven shout—
This is what life is all about—
And hope springs within me once more.

© 2011 David Andrew

“The following post is written by my friend Karsten—an unashamed man of God whose perspectives on faith and praxis have radically challenged and shaped my own. I pray you are blessed by his words. :)”
—David Andrew

Prayer. Such an overused word. We have “prayer meetings” and “prayer groups” and “prayer chains,” we say “I’ll pray for you” to our suffering Christian friends (then we usually don’t remember to). So what is this thing we all say we do, and why do we even bother doing it?

Conversation. I want to redefine for you what prayer is. For starters, it’s not talking. It’s communication. Let me tell you about my trip to In-N-Out.

I had been planning on doing it for awhile, and today I decided to make it happen. I was hungry, and I really wanted IN-N-OUT. I had been practicing conversation with God- talking to Him in my head, listening for responses; I was still convinced that most of what I was hearing was just my own thoughts. Nonetheless, I said to Jesus “Hey Jesus, want to go to In-n-Out with me? I’m buying.” Jesus said He was down. Sweet.

About three months earlier I had gotten fed up with my relationship with God. I was tired of people telling me it was about “relationship” not “religion,” when everything about prayer and worship and church and “quiet time” felt so freaking religious! God of relationship huh? Alright, well prove it! I remember thinking “how do I get to know my friends? Well, I go for walks with them, have conversations with them, go out and get food with them… You know what? That’s what I’ll do! Alright God, I’m going to treat you like you are actually real, like you’re someone I can actually get to know. I’m going to go for a walk with you. I’m going to pretend you’re right next to me (because you are anyway) and I’m going to talk out loud as if I’m talking to you. Then, whatever I hear in my head as a response, I’m going to just go with it as if it’s you. And God, it better be you, because if it isn’t than I’ll probably drive myself crazy by listening to the voices in my head.” About a week after this I went on that first walk. I still think most of what I heard was just me, but I know some of it was Him. Now it was time to take that conversation to the next level.

I walked up to the counter and ordered two burgers: One double double animal style and one cheeseburger (I figured Jesus could handle the smaller burger). I sat down at a two person table, and set the other burger across from me at the table, then I began a conversation. Most of that conversation was something to the tune of “Jesus I feel like a retard right now.”

Jesus would say (in my head, where no one else could hear him) “I know. It’s ok. I like that you’re spending time with me.”

“Thanks Jesus.” Then I noticed an older couple sitting at the other end of the restaurant. They were both probably in their sixties and wore those awkward grandma sweaters with the random animals on them that you hope to receive yourself. As I looked at them I heard God say “prodigal son”. By this point, I knew I was in trouble. God doesn’t usually tell you something like that because he wants you to sit there and do nothing. No, I was going to have to go over there and share what God was saying with these total strangers. I was fearless, and 100% confident that I would walk over there, share what God was speaking, and revival would break out that very moment in In-n-Out! Ok, maybe I was actually terrified of being wrong and trying to talk God out of making me go over there.

I couldn’t talk Him out of it. God brought back to me a quote from a pastor named Shawn Bolz- “If you want to grow in your relationship with God, take the biggest risk possible at your level of faith.” I knew there was no getting out of it if I didn’t want to feel like crap for ignoring God the rest of the night, so I finally decided to get up and go over there. At this point I had “heard” all sorts of stuff from God about this situation. He was a lost son, he was into drugs, he was doing meth, his name was Jeff.

I walked up to them, and a million miles an hour I said “hi, sorry-to-bother-you-but-I-was-wondering-if-I-could-ask-you-something-and-if-I’m-wrong-I’ll-totally-go-away.” Sweater lady, a bit surprised and unsure, said “ok”.

“Do you have a son that you’re not on good terms with?”

The lady’s eyes got big as dollars. Shocked, she said “No…”

No. She said no. If I thought I talked fast before….

“OhI’mreallysorryI’mpracticinghearingGodandIguessIheardHimwrong,
I’mreallysorryI’llleaveyoualonenowhaveanicenight” and bam! I was out of there. I Rushed back to my seat, totally embarrassed.

“God, why did you let me do that!? I feel like such an idiot, and now those people are probably staring at me and my extra cheeseburger thinking I’m crazy. Why did you let that happen? I feel like such an idiot…” As I vented, it was as if heaven opened and God’s face began to shine down upon my whole being. I could feel His delight over me like warm sunlight. I knew in that moment how proud my Father really was of me. it was the most profound experience of how proud God is for me that I’ve ever had. To this day I know that it changed my life, and I am so glad I got it wrong that evening.

I was so embarrassed, that I left a few minutes after. I decided to take the cheeseburger, still not sure what I’d do with it since I was on my way to the prayer room and couldn’t let it sit in the car for 3 hours. As I drove, I felt God saying “turn right,” so although my confidence in my ability to hear Him was a bit low at that moment, I figured what the heck. A few traffic lights passed, and I felt Him say “turn left,” so I did. This wasn’t my normal route to church, and I wasn’t sure why He was taking me this way, but I went with it. I felt a “turn right” but it wasn’t quite yet. It was like God was going “closer…closer….NOW!” I turned into the Best Buy parking lot in the nice suburban part of town, and right as I did a homeless man on a bicycle rounded the same corner! I yelled out my window “Hey! Jesus told me to buy an extra cheeseburger and here you are! Do you want it?” He said “sure,” rode over, took the cheeseburger and left. The verse “why you have done to the least of these you have done to me” went through my head, and I heard Jesus clearly say “See! I told you I’d eat my cheeseburger!”

See, prayer was never about getting it right. It was never about getting forgiven, or getting your needs met, or asking for other people’s needs to get met. Prayer is when God lets you feel how proud He is of you at In-n-out. It’s when you and Jesus go give someone a cheeseburger. It’s singing your favorite worship song and knowing God’s Presence is there with you. Prayer is a journey. Prayer is a friendship. When the religious fetters fall off, your prayer life will soar.

Not only is Karsten Kaz a really cool guy—he also just started blogging! Check it out yo! —>Karsten’s Blog