“You Are My Hiding Place”: A Words Sketch of the Snuggler Chair

A few days ago, the television was on, much to my inward dismay. Somehow, my intellectual sensibilities have never found any use for the television–and not just because I happen to be a card-carrying, guide-dog-owning Braille reader. Most of the shows that producers see fit to broadcast are simply too loud or too unrealistic for my tastes. Anyway, the show in question was playing some obnoxious music that other people would classify as suspenseful. Beneath the sound of the music, footsteps were heard–frantic running. What do you suppose was my response to this moment? Empathy? Curiosity? Never! I merely remarked, “It sounds as though that man is running across a field of music notes.” Unyielding, clattering, metal music notes, to be exact.

You, my beloved reader, would refer to that line of thinking as unconventional. I shall refer to it as artistic. And–don’t you know?–everything in my life is like this, filled with colorful swirls of detail that make life interesting. Everything in life–be it shepherd’s pie or a down-filled quilt, a vanilla-and-lavender candle or a three-cornered shelf, an old tape player or a treadmill safety key, a button or a common toothbrush, onion rings or a refrigerator magnet, a Bible case or the worship song “In Your Presence, O God”, electronics with tangible buttons or sentences ending in single-syllable adverbs, ceramic items or 3 February of each year, a drawer handle or a recently-purchased coffee table, the texture of fine linen or a hot water bottle–everything in life is attended with profound, often spiritual, associations. Everything! What appears as a common drawer handle to you instantly puts me in mind of the day on which I opened that drawer–the same day I read Revelation and learned anew of His powerful redemption. A straightforward hot water bottle may bring into vivid detail the day on which I sat in bed propped against a reading pillow, Communion wafer in one hand and cup of grape juice in the other. The onion rings that either put a temporary smile on your face or cause you to decry American eating habits invariably remind me of the first day I was truly called upon to forgive someone, seven months after I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The three-cornered shelf that you picked up at a yard sale somewhere and that might go nicely with your decor will never be remembered for me without a mental image of the Nativity Scene I placed there one Christmas.

Hence, Words Sketches. Well am I aware that very, very few people see the world as I do–so I’d like to bring some of this beauty to you. The subject for the moment is the snuggler chair I bought two months ago and that was delivered on 22 November. For over three years, I had been sharing my apartment with a wood-framed velvet sofa whose padding had been affixed mainly to the back. Translation: No soft seat for the seat! It had gotten so bad that I refused to sit there anymore. Although I was grateful for the sofa while it lasted, it carried few associations because I tried to avoid actually using that furniture. A sad day when I, of all people, can’t link a piece of furniture with thousands of precious memories…

Enter the Snuggler, a reclining chair-and-a-half from a local furniture store. Recollection I: Pouring over three-ring books of fabric swatches in search of the perfect covering. Only the plushest velvet would do. In fact, if I didn’t find what I was looking for, I had resolved that I would forever resign myself to the lumpy love-seat waiting at home. But–delight of delights!–I did find appropriate material. My recliner would be upholstered in fine velvet. Have you ever noticed that furniture fabrics tell a story about their owners and about what is expected from members of a given household? Leather says, “Let’s keep it strictly business in here.” Highly-textured fabrics that fail to demonstrate any softness state, “We are a practical family, and we cut costs.” Fabric with a floral or otherwise decorative pattern sings, “I have personality.” Velvet fabric says, “Let us use this place for comfort and joy and peace, for cups of hot cocoa and beautiful worship ballads.” I told you I was whimsical…

Recollection II: Getting that recliner into my apartment, propping the footrest up and down and leaning all the way back in that memory-foam luxury. The experience was so special that I found myself recording it. You film memorable moments; I record them. Audio scrapbooking, and a very efficient way to utilize space on the ole’ iPod Classic.

Recollection III: Praying and dedicating that chair to the use of the Lord. In all seriousness, fellow Christians, this is very important. We don’t think about it very often, but it is extremely important to pray about any purchase–especially a large purchase–that will have any lasting impact on the way you live your life. This includes furniture, electronic equipment, dishware, etc. Why? For the same reason that people in Biblical times dedicated their houses, and the land, to the service of God. Also, it’s good to give everything to the Lord, and to ask Him to use even temporal goods for His purposes. Certainly, not everyone does this–and they don’t have to. But I enjoy doing it as something special between myself and the Lord.

Recollection IV: Finding that this chair is actually somewhat imperfect. The way that these chairs are constructed, the back reclines to reveal a half-inch wooden board. True, the board is covered with velvet, but it does tend to stab one in the back when the chair is extended. No amount of foam-scrunching or finding compensatory pillows is really effective. This, not to mention the larger-than-average gap that appears when the chair is reclined. Not enough cushionage–plain and simple.

Ah! But…

Recollection V: Entering my apartment to the smell of brand-new wood and padding and luxurious cloth. The smell of new furniture is and always been reminiscent of the worship chorus, “Father, I Adore You”. I have no idea why. Perhaps my family and I attended a conference when I was a child, whose facilities were furnished with new sofas and chairs, and I listened to “Father, I Adore You” immediately prior to or following the proceedings–but all of that is dim, vague hearsay. So, I enter my apartment and am immediately filled with the beauty of “Father, I Adore You”. And, because songs from Don Moen’s album HEALING have been floating through my consciousness since 13 November, my beautiful new chair is now going to bear mental audio clips of “Jehovah Jireh”, “I Am the God That Healeth Thee”, “You Are My Hiding Place”, and “Jesus, Your Presence Makes Me Whole”. All, of course, accompanied by Integrity Music’s anointed flute player.

With a greater sense of fulfillment than I have known in over a month, I advance toward that chair, turn on the heating pad that bespeaks evenings beneath the covers with the book of Psalms, and recline the chair until it is just so–not lying flat, but not bolt upright. Then, it is time to worship. By this, I do not mean that it is time to listen to worship music, but that it is high time I participated in my own private time of glorifying my Lord. This evening, He has given me an allegory. This is the second one He has given me over the eleven years since I received the baptism, but it is the first one I have ever had the courage to write. Will I be able to do it?

And then, the most glorious blessing takes place. One moment, I am struggling along, attempting to convey the Lord’s grace in the life of every Christian. The next, He is filling me with a sense of His holiness–a joy and peace so all-encompassing that I cannot help but write. It is wonderful, magnificent, unspeakable–and it obliterates all the discouragement I had experienced over the past month.

And so, I write and sing. Later, much later, in the 2:00 and 3:00 hours of the night, I unearth a plastic Communion cup and a tiny piece of bread. I resolve that I must listen to that heart-filling song, “Will Your Anchor Hold You in the Flood”. And from there, to simply bask in the Light of the World, the glory of His presence, the beauty of His holiness.

Why is this so great a blessing? Because, really, my living room had for some time been associated with things that were less-than-spiritual. There I worked, entertained, and slumped on a lumpy sofa while I contemplated life’s woes. Elsewhere–in bed late at night or on the porch swing–I worshiped the Lord and thanked Him for His goodness. The whole messy concept is too deep, intricate, and personal to explain here–but know that there was more to it than business vs. pleasure. More like sorrow vs. joy. But now, He has restored even my experience of a room that had become so business-focused. Now, this room that I had once known simply as the living room is an extension of the other places I use as sanctuaries–and He, ever and always, is my hiding place. Lovely are His dwellingplaces…

Associations for this piece of furniture: Every layer of foam, from the generously-cushioned arms to the padding flanking either side of the back to the pillow-shaped piece at the top of the chair–every creak and crack, every gap and board, every unnecessary piece of wood and everything in-between, will now carry memories of this holy moment. Even that back-jabbing piece of wood is now polished to brilliant gladness. Surface memories: of a time of fasting, of allegories in general, of congregational worship, of red letters, of Communion… The completed memory: holiness, glory, grace and mercy… Agape and Hesed.

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“Your Grace Is Sufficient for Me”: An Allegory

My name is Ready-Writer, and I am a scribe in the service of the King. I have been employed at this work for many years, ever since I discovered the most beautiful Manuscript in the world. That Book has become breath and life to me, and my work for the Author is the most wondrous possible way of spending my life.

All the King’s scribes wear the same clothes. We wear beautiful, soft garments that are durable enough to withstand some ink stains and that may be washed when our day’s work is done–washed so very, very white that they reflect some of the King’s own beauty and always bring me to tears when I put on my robe each morning. Each of our garments is emblazoned with the royal insignia–a helmet, a shield, and a sword, and beneath these the words “truth, peace, righteousness”.

From morning to evening, I copy this Book onto sheets of parchment, using a feather quill pen and a well of ink. When I need supplies, the King provides them freely, for it is His will that I make all His words known to the people. Every jot, every tittle, every curve and swoop of the pen as recorded in the original Manuscript–must be copied with precision and accuracy.

Recently, however, I haven’t been copying anything perfectly. Instead, inkblots dot each section of my work, and sometimes my writing becomes so shaky that I doubt anyone can read it. A few times, I’ve spilled ink from the inkwell directly onto the parchment. And how can I forget the time when, through an act of carelessness, I tore one corner of a page that I’ve always treasured so? I mourn for the loss of every graceful penstroke, knowing that the Author of this beautiful manuscript will be grieved when He sees my feeble attempts. I will never lose my place as scribe–I do not fear that. But knowing that He, and His beloved Book, radiate perfection–and knowing that I and my wretched copy do not–fills me with sorrow.

Sometimes, I want to give up. One day, I would love to go to my workbench and stare at my parchment all day. If I leave my pen and ink undisturbed, I will not create one more stain upon that already-spotted paper. The Manuscript itself prevents me from doing this. Words about being faithful in small things, about lamps and bushels and salt, compel me to lift my pen anyway, dip it in ink, and continue my task. Five minutes later, I make the first error of the day and again want to step aside and tell the King that I cannot continue on, that His words are imperfect through my hand and pen. But the words I see on the Manuscript before me stir my heart, and again I hoist my pen in trembling fingers and begin again, with all my might.

Perhaps today will be better. Perhaps today I will please the King, Who has commissioned this new copy of His most precious manuscript. Perhaps…

The first letter I pen is marred, an almost unrecognizable scribble on the parchment. Not for the first time, I wonder whether I have really been given the correct tools. Might a better pen, or clearer ink, or less fragile paper, make a difference? But all the King’s scribes use these tools, and none of them seems to have this difficulty. From what I have seen of their manuscript copies, every character is made with calligraphic beauty. No, I must not ask for different tools. The only remaining possibility is that I am inattentive, a poor scribe who does not deserve her position.

I begin to count my errors. Two and three, four and five. From dawn till dusk, I write–a perfect paragraph, and then one so blemished it is scarcely legible. I find more parchment, rewrite those precious words, try to get them right. By the end of the day, I think I may have accomplished something. I have one good page, written in a hand that might be called rigid–not polished and beautiful, but at least I have fewer flaws that I began with.

It is evening now, and I am very tired. My cramped hands and aching back beg for food and rest. I begin to put away my supplies, saving my manuscript for last. As I reach to put the pen away, my elbow knocks over the inkstand. I try to pull the parchment away, but it is too late. The parchment rips from my rough handling, and dark, permanent ink sloshes out, pouring itself over all that I had accomplished today. Every word, every character, every hard-won loop and line and dot–are plunged beneath a puddle of smearing, spreading ink.

It is too much. I cannot look at my ruined pages, cannot clean up the ink that is staining the table, soaking my pen, saturating the left sleeve of the garment all the King’s scribes wear. Without looking, I know that the ink is trickling down across my robe, and I fear for that beautiful royal insignia. But what if I no longer deserve peace or righteousness? What if? . I put my head in my hands and allow tears to cascade over all that my carelessness has destroyed. Yet, deep in my heart, I know that no amount of weeping will wash that ink away. An evening’s worth of mourning will never be enough to replace my ink, or restore to me something that I can joyfully present to the Author of this Book.

Oh, that I had a clean parchment again!–that I had done nothing with it… Would that not be better than what I have made of the day’s work? Tonight, before I lose both my strength and my courage, I will go to Him. I will tell the King that I am unworthy to work in His service and entreat Him to give me some other work to do in His service. I will tell the Author…

I hear a sound behind me. Turning, I see Him approaching. The Author… And there is no place to hide my blemished work. Shame floods through me as I realize that I cannot hide. There is no place to run, and I and my work are both so stained that He must certainly associate them. But perhaps I can use this moment to show Him what a miserable scribe I am. Perhaps when He sees the damage I do in His service, He will send me to do other work. I will ask, when He is near enough.

Slowly, He approaches. As He draws near, I begin to see Him more clearly. Love in His eyes. Purity. More love. Grace. A river of love. Kindness. More love, and then more and more… More than I have ever known. And then I remember why I love the beloved Book I copy–why I love the Author of that Book, and why I even began to work for this great King.

And then, He is beside me. From a shelf above me, He takes a stack of pages–everything I have worked on over the past years. One by one, He examines them. I know He is seeing every wrinkle, every tear, every blot and blemish, every imperfectly-formed letter and everything I have carelessly left out. I want to tell Him that I am sorry, to promise to do better, to ask for different work… But every last syllable I had planned to speak has been muted in the light of the One standing by me. Finally, He puts the reams of parchment on their shelf and looks down at my table with its splattered work.

For many, many moments we stand there. Will He see past the stains? Will He see the tears as well? Does He know why the paper is torn, know that I did not mean to do this? Have I disappointed Him?

Then, He takes my hand and begins to lead me gently away. Away, to a new room with a new table and fresh tools. Turning me toward Himself, He hands me a new garment. A scribe’s garment. One without an ink-stained sleeve. Beautiful insignia. A shield and a sword and a strong, perfect helmet, and below these the words I have come to love so much. Am I then not to be turned away? But if I put on this new garment, what if I stain it again? No amount of kindness will change my nature.

I cannot defy the King. Tears still falling, I put on the new garment. And now what?

The Author, the Kin I love, takes some parchment off the shelf. I’ve never seen this kind before. It is strong and durable, the kind that cannot tear. It is pure, pure white. How can I write on something so pure? How can He expect me to even lift a pen tonight, when I have done so much wrong? Next, He takes a pen–a beautiful pen–and dips it into red ink. In the next moment, He has placed the pen in my hand and wrapped His own strong, perfect fingers around my small, trembling ones. The transfer is so seamless that I can only marvel at the kindness and might in that righteous right hand. And then, He begins to write.

My hand is in His, but He is guiding that pen. And He is writing perfectly, quite unlike my faltering scrawl. Every character is calligraphic yet strong, every word formed with the right amount of ink, with an emphasis I could never muster when I copied. This looks like the writing some of the other scribes produce–beautiful and polished. Only, with His hand guiding mine, it’s even more perfect–exquisite beyond words.

And as He writes, the very Author of that treasured Book speaks aloud every word in a voice filled with majesty, so awesome and powerful that it would bring me to my knees were it not for His steadying hand upon me. And yet, His is the still, small voice I have heard in earlier days, with such gentleness and love that His grace begins to flow over my heart with the ease of the ink on the pure white He is using. . “He will call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. … I will arise on behalf of the needy… and set him in the safety for which he yearns. … My grace is sufficient for thee. … Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. … I desire mercy and not sacrifice. … Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace. … I will never leave you or forsake you. … Lo, I am with you always. … Draw nigh unto God, and He will draw nigh unto you. … I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know Me. … Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God. … He Himself bore our sins. … I have come to seek and to save that which was lost. … He who comes to Me I will in no wise cast out. … Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. … Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy comes in the morning. …”

Long into the evening He writes, my hand following His every move. Every promise, every word of comfort, every exhortation to hope and believe and remain strong… It is so wondrous that I can scarcely comprehend it. Why, these are the words I myself have been trying to copy from the Best of Books over the past week. And He Himself is showing me how to write them, how to pen them in such a way that their very beauty is displayed for all the world to see.

He takes the pen from me, binds those magnificent pages with scarlet thread, and hands them to me. It is then that I understand that I am to keep this most blessed gift, to read it and study it and behold the perfection of every part–the radiant writing, the promises themselves, and all the love they bespeak. I am to take these mercy-drenched words on that pure parchment everywhere I go, as though the words were engraved upon my heart. And then, only then, will I be able to serve as a scribe as I really ought. Now I realize, with much joy and sorrow, that I had been working toward perfection without remembering the true perfection of the King Himself. I had been shaping letters with stanch angles without transcribing the love. I had been filled with fear of blemishes, forgetting that the King alone is able to write without fault–forgetting, too, that my service is rendered to the King of all love, as well as to a Just Judge.

I stand renewed. I will not write with the grace and glory of the manuscript I hold in my hands and heart. But, now that I have remembered the great joy of serving the King, I can continue to make each letter in peace rather than condemnation and pain. Over time, I will forsake my frustrated points and angles and my writing will be filled with calligraphic swirls, just like that of the other scribes.
* * * * *

BACKGROUND:

I began this piece yesterday evening, when I truly felt that I had covered my days with sins great and small for several weeks. Admittedly, I was feeling extremely discouraged. Like Ready-Writer in the allegory, I felt that I had simply poured too much transgression over my heart to proclaim the Gospel to others. Then, the Lord put this little story in my heart. He showed me again how He renews us, and how He fills and sanctifies us. And then, He reminded me of His promises. I, too, have been renewed. I am not perfect, and this may not change my life overnight, but now I know with absolute certainty that I am still His, and that He is gracious and compassionate. Once again, the truth of Christ’s sacrifice has become evident to me, and I stand before Him in the knowledge of His precious love. I cannot give up, but must put on the armor of God, and the garment of praise–Ready-Writer, you know, had both pieces bundled into one. That’s what the royal insignia was all about… And if His Word is in my heart, then I will not be following Him from legalism or fear, but loving Him “because He first loved us”.

I trust that most of my readers will understand most of the allegorical elements I employ here. However, I do want to clear up any confusion about a few things. Like Ready-Writer, we are all scribes who copy down words from the Best of Books–that is, all Christians show the love, life, words, and teachings of Christ Jesus to everyone we encounter. When we sin, and we will, we blemish our parchments, and our message is obscured. If we really fall from grace, then perhaps we spill an entire inkwell over our parchments, saturating our lives with guilt and pain. BUT… Praise be to God that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins! When the hand of the King closes over that of Ready-Writer, this is to symbolize that we own our sin, but that the Lord Jesus paid for our sin… and that He is the only One Who is able to cleanse us from it, and that He alone, by His Holy Spirit, has the power to lead us in the paths of righteousness. There is not one righteous, and we can only live a life of holiness through Him.

I hope this clarifies any difficult points. Not even John Bunyan wrote impeccable allegories; I am sure that my second-ever allegory is far from flawless and may not convey the truth of the Gospel as effectively as it is etched in my heart. So, then, if you have any questions at all or feel that I could improve this story in any way, please feel free to leave a comment. God bless!