Maybe this time, I tell myself. I can do it. I’m strong, I can handle this. I strain to see. I try to remember how it looks, but it’s been a long time. A primal knowledge in my soul tells me that I need to see it, must find it again, but things are obscured through the webs; my vision seems cloudy and I can’t clearly make out the shapes in the strangely filtered light. Frustration wells up inside as the heaviness settles back in to take the place I’ve given it. When did that happen? Did I give it permission? I used to hear, but the sounds I’m searching for are muffled now in my ears; very faint and far off; disturbed by an odd rattling, scraping sound. Frustration, blindness and confusion; is this where I’ve settled? “Maybe if I get up and move around I can get a better view; this odd lighting is the problem, “I decide. With that decision made, I make my move to stand and am confronted with the source of the rattling, scraping sounds; thick, heavy, rusted chains. My chains. Mine. I can’t get up and move around for a better view, because I am bound to this place of filtered light, muffled sounds and intolerable frustration. Why? When? How? Panicked, I struggle and fight, then in exhaustion I slump down in defeat. Tears begin to fall from my eyes and spatter down on the ground all around me. Am I bound here forever? Is there no escape, no way out? Dark images flicker across my line of vision; stealthy movements threaten and mock. Is that faint laughter I hear? I didn’t start out here, bound like this, in chains like a condemned prisoner. Who put me here? What did I do? “Please,” I call out, “someone, will you help me?” I don’t belong here. I want out. “Someone, rescue me!”
I hear faint movement coming from all around me. The dark shapes are shrouded by the obscure, filtered light, but I sense them coming closer, bold and violent; mocking in their approach. “Help yourself,” one hisses in my ear, arrogance and fear scenting its breath, mocking laughter flowing from its tongue. As hopelessness starts to fall, I look more closely at my surroundings. I am elevated on a mass of circular stones with faded words written on each one. They are carefully arranged and set just so, in a small clearing. Like an altar. All beauty has been methodically wiped away, revealing only dust, barrenness and grotesquely twisted roots, thrusting up out of the ground. The harsh loneliness of this place is terrifying. Wait…I can see more clearly now; this used to be shadow-like and obscure, but now I sense the light shifting; brighter, clearer, full. I don’t like what I see. Webs from something horrid and smothering have been woven around, above and below my prison, trapping me; altering my view; skewing my perspective. “Lies,” a Voice gently says, “lies that have kept you snugly ensconced on your altar of self.” Altar of self. Yes, that is exactly what this is. As recognition of my pridefully built, self imposed prison floods my awareness; I realize that I cannot get out on my own. I have locked myself in. Trapped. The mocking laughter swells and I feel the heaviness trying to descend again, the weight of my chains pulling cruelly at my limbs. I am at the end of my self. ”ENOUGH!” I shout. “Please, Jesus, You have the keys…set me free!”
The mocking laughter is silenced by my words. The atmosphere shifts and grows completely still, except for a deep vibration I feel surging up from the altar on which I stand, as it cracks in two. I look down and see a clear stream of water gushing out from that crack. You stoop down and scoop the water in Your hands and offer it to me. I see the silvery scars on Your hands and a song I can’t name, but deeply understand, floods my soul. Thirst quenching. A divine exchange is taking place here and my cracked altar becomes the catalyst.
The sounds and scents I have longed for begin to reach me. Sweet laughter, gentle voices, Spirit breath, heavenly song. Delicate and powerful, they flow all around me, bathing me in sounds and scents so sweet and pure that my breath comes in gasps; expelling the dust and debris that accumulated in my spirit as I worshipped at the altar of self. I again breathe You in deeply, richly, slowly. Freedom bathes me, ministering to the wounds inflicted by the stones named Fear, Pain, Loneliness, Pride, Rebellion, Abuse that I used to build my altar. I feel lighter, clean, loved. Heavy, rusted chains break apart and fall away from me. I dance before you with abandon, unashamed, cleansed; my weakened muscles growing stronger and more nimble. The heaviness is gone and a gentle, but vibrant spirit of praise now clothes me. “Climb down, child, get down off of your broken altar. Take the stones with you; they have a purpose to fulfill here. There is something you need to see again.” I fill my white robe of praise with all of those stones. Somehow they all fit. I follow You out of the clearing where that altar once stood. As I go, new life is sprouting up. The gnarled roots of bitterness and rage, rejection and vengeance are sprouting into lovely trees of forgiveness, peace, Sonship and humility. “Stop here, beloved. Now You must use these stones to build your steps leading up to My Cross.” I look up at the Cross and it speaks to me of ultimate sacrifice, profound mercy, joy indescribable, unmatched beauty and plentiful grace, even grace for one who built her own altar of self-protection. Tears of gratitude and love wash over my face and spill down onto my hands as I build those steps. It is hard work. My building stops at times, as I find a tenacious tendril of frustration or pride trying to creep in over and around my stones, but I rip it out with Your strength in my hands. As I lift my stones into place, I notice that where my tears have fallen shoots of brilliant green are pushing their way out of the rich soil. As the sprouts emerge, You bend down and I see You writing something in the dark ground and I hear You speaking tenderly to the new sprouts. Your voice is the nourishment they need as they continue to grow. You rejoice over the harvest that only You can see.
My steps are built. They are placed firmly and deeply into the ground at the foot of Your Cross. Engraved by Your hand on that first step are the words Nisi Dominus Frustra. “Come up, Daughter. Come up higher to the very foot and find rest. Up here is what you have been searching for in vain.” I ascend those steps in anticipation. As I come closer, I stop for a moment and look back down, surveying where I started. My tears watered what You divinely planted and I see beauty stretching out below me and Your Cross is beauty before me. I feel a shout that I absolutely cannot for the life of me contain, rising up in my throat, so I shout! It is a shout of pure joy, a song from my spirit to Yours. A harvest will be reaped from my pain that I never thought I had a right to know. It is a beautiful inheritance. It is You.