My last but one home in Derbyshire (I move home frequently) was a lovely old limestone house, built in the 1500’s by the Babingtons (the family of one of the gunpowder plotters) and a few hundred years later it was one of the first cottage hospitals, opened by a local GP and Florence Nightingale. They founded it to serve the quarrymen of that area, from Wirksworth and Cromford, where there is still a huge working quarry. The work was dangerous, the blasting techniques of the time unpredictable, and there were many casualties. In my garden were the remains, three walls, of the old mortuary and occasionally our gardening would turn up a small smooth-worn nugget of rich blue glass, purportedly from its roof. I loved the peace of that little tumbled down building, overgrown by wisteria and honeysuckle, and could imagine the blue light filtering down on still bodies. The blue roof stuff was probably all nonsense, our history – unless recorded – being Chinese whispers and wishful thinking, but it was a lovely thought that this was the last resting place of unsung men, this cool stone tomb.
The house wasn’t built of any old limestone. Behind the house was a cliff, maybe 60 feet high, a stable and absolutely vertical cliff, and this is where they quarried the stone for the building. There was a rightness to the house, a sense that it was deep rooted on that hillside, immoveable, organic. I’ve never known a house to feel so much a part of the landscape, as if carved out of the face of the Earth, rather than built on and from it.
I’ve thought about my old home a lot in the last few days, after coming back to one of my favourite verses in Isaiah ‘Look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were hewn.’
And as I wrote that, I remembered that it’s not the complete verse. The complete verse is ‘Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were hewn.’
Leaving aside the word ‘hewn’ for the moment, a word I just love, a word I repeat in my internal sound track, a word to weigh and value….. who are these people who ‘pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord’? To qualify as someone who pursues righteousness do you have to be pious and sombre? No, I pursue righteousness, and look at the snarl-ups I get into! I pursue righteousness because I want to draw closer to God, and I want to become gentler, kinder, more at peace with Him and His ways, less selfish and self-deluding. That’s pursuing righteousness. The ‘wanting’ is the thing. The effort that goes with the wanting, the discipline of seeing what God wants me to do and wanting to do it. At the risk of returning to my last blog, it’s a heart thing. Seeking righteousness is about the heart’s desire, it isn’t about success. I still fall at most hurdles, I’m still one mightily confused fool, I still get bogged down and do the wrong thing and think about me too much, I still have the occasional swear-up and only tonight I seriously thought about getting seriously drunk…. the only thing that stopped me was the thought of the hang-over and a dog that will need a walk in the early hours. So, listen, if I qualify as someone who pursues righteousness, anyone can.
And who are these people who ‘seek the Lord’? Me again! Me! Unapologetically – listen! That’s me! I seek the Lord. Anyone, by the grace of God can seek the Lord. These words do not exclude anyone. They are for all of us. If we wish to draw closer to God and if we wish find Him, the way is made clear for us. And oh, boy, I want to draw closer to Him. I am in love with Him. Doesn’t everyone want to be with the one they love?
And then … look to the rock from which you were cut. Here the thought is completed. If we want to draw closer to God, to establish a relationship with the creator of everything (crazy thought, eh?) the way to do it is simple – look to Him. Don’t look at others, don’t look at the church, or your Christian neighbour, or paedophile priests, don’t look for an excuse not to look at God. Don’t look at me and say ‘Crikey – if she’s the best they can come up with they can keep their gospel.’ Look to Him. Simply look to Him. I promise you, if you really look to Him, you will find Him. ‘you will find me when you look for me with your whole heart.’
The phrase as translated is ‘look TO Him‘, not ‘at Him’. When you look to someone you follow them, you listen to them, you submit to them, you pay heed. Look to Him is more than a glance, more than a nod. You look to someone in order that they will give you guidance or leadership, wisdom, or some quality you lack. And Jesus (only) has everything we need. He is worth a long life-time study, He will never fail to dazzle us with His love and beauty , strength and power and gentleness, care and cherishing. Look to Him and become more like Him. That’s the message. Sorry… back to the verse:
‘the quarry from which you were hewn’ and that lovely word ‘hewn’, cut, split by an axe, wrenched. A violent word, full of pain and loss and anguish. It makes me think, even hear vividly, the scream of stone-cutting blades, the whump of high explosive, the force and brute strength of quarrying. When I lived in that old limestone house I would take my bulldog (Mr Punch, best dog in the world, ever) and we would walk to Cromford across the valley from the quarry. I remember sitting at Flat Rock and seeing a great cloud of dust explode a mile away but not hearing the thump of the blast until a second later and then, whole seconds after that, feeling the thud of it, as the ground beneath me, the whole hillside, shook. I think of the cost of that quarrying through hundreds of years, of the men who lay dead in that old mortuary, of the tears shed over them. And then I think of the quarry from which I was hewn, at great great price. Christ, ripped from His Father, torn away from His deity, abandoned and untouchable in His shame, wind rising from the ground as Christ died, the sky darkening, rocks splitting and the Earth shaking.
Think of it. The Earth shook, the rocks split, and the way to God was made clear, through the Son.
And as Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. Another violent sign. The curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple, separating God from lost and fallen man, at last torn in two. History torn in two. Before salvation and after salvation. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the culmination of every word ever written or spoken into the Old Testament, destroyed the barrier that separated the people from God. Separated me from God. Daft old me.
I am consumed by the thought of rock and wind, explosion and the Earth shaking, darkness, for me. For me. And for you.
You know, I’m not really writing this blog for your benefit. I’m writing it for me and to me. I need to look to the rock from which I was cut. I so want to look at other people, them, and pick at their faults and failings. I so want to point the finger and lay the blame. My life isn’t perfect? OK, let’s look around for a scapegoat or two…. there are so many to choose from! There’s you and there’s you and there’s him, and the Pope ain’t so great….. But you know what? I have to stop doing that. The more I look at others the more I turn away from God. I have to look to Jesus. If I’m in a mess, emotionally or spiritually, it’s me at fault, not them. I have to say that old prayer of my childhood, (there were a few good thoughts in my Catholic childhood) “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”
I’ve been a right sanctimonious old ratbag this last few weeks. I’ve really struggled with some aspects of life and people. I’ve spent too long looking at them and not long enough looking to the Rock from which I was cut, at great cost. That has to change.
You heard it here first.
Hey folks, this being a Christ follower; There’s so much to discover. So much to learn. It’s flippin’ exhausting!