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  • Shanley McConnell

Devotion: Poetry in the Posture of Waiting & Rest

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Jesus traveled to Jerusalem for a festival. Now, in Jerusalem, near the the Sheep Gate, there was a pool surrounded by five covered colannades which in Aramic was called Bethseda. Here a great number of invalids lay-----the blind, the lame, the paralysed. One man had been there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying beneath the colonnade, he asked. 'Do you want to get well?'


The man answered, 'Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going, another steps down before me.'


Jesus replied, 'Get up, take your bed and walk.' At once the man was healed, lifted his mat and walked.


John 5:1-9  



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I've been thinking about words lately, about poetry. As someone who spends a majority of the day writing or editing, words are precious and meaningful to me. In an article for the New York Times, American poet Paul Engle wrote:


Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.

One ordinary word has the power to change the meaning of a poem and its consequent reception. For example, articles 'a' and 'the' carry different connotations. Although they might seem small and unseeming, these two words weigh with influence. Many days my time is spent contemplating the purpose and foretelling of words as overlooked as these.


I wonder if this is the same for many things in life. How little, unseeming words and moments affect us deeply, colouring the way we view not only ourselves, but others, the world and its Creator. Are we committed to pursuing these unseen things? Small gifts that constellate into a grander picture: God's plans to prosper and protect us. Like middle words, these stars demonstrate the difference between who we believe we are and who we are in Christ.


In John 5, Jesus heals an invalid beside the pool Bethesda. For decades this man laid beside the waters and waited for the rise, fall motion of breeze over pool. At certain seasons, an angel of Lord stirred the waters. Afterwards, whoever stepped in first was made well from whatever disease he or she was afflicted with.


The multitude of men and women in the colonnades by Sheep Gate clung to this ritual; many of them having watched or heard first-hand accounts of fellow invalids who had been restored to physical wholeness at the troubling of waters.


The man in this story must have felt disheartened by the number of times he had heaved himself to the waters' edge, only to come second, or third, or maybe twelfth in entry; his legs dragging behind, trampled by others in frenzy of desperation and hope. When Jesus arrived and asked, 'Do you want to be healed?' I wonder if he wept. I wonder if, with an expression twisted in exhaustion and despair, he looked up into Jesus' eyes and experienced the compassion of God. I wonder if his answer was cut with tears.


For thirty-five years this man had failed to reach the stirred waters in time. Even so, he had not given up. Instead, watching the decades, he lay with his weakness beside the pool. Somewhere deep inside he still believed a day of healing might come. Until that moment, he would wait and continue struggling toward the pool.


In John 5:17: Jesus says: 'My Father is working until now, and I am working.'


This is the precious middle word. Until. We do not often know when God will fulfill his promises, only that He will.


God's timing is more than the o'clock. God gives us gifts and dreams. Just because we are given these gifts and dreams doesn't mean that we will be immediately good at them or know when they will come to be. But in this unknowing, we still know God.


This invalid might never have known how his commitment to wholeness would bring about healing, or that the dedication of his heart would lead to the miracle of seeing Jesus face-to-face. In our own waiting, let us live with humility, patience and diligence as we seek after his character and presence in life.


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I have and continue to live a beautiful life. I have gorgeous, wonderful parents and four siblings who embrace a confidence I adore. I attend a brilliant university, and have the mind to learn. But even those who wake to good gifts and dreams must face their own weaknesses. Near the beginning of 2020, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be paralysed for thirty-five years, to wait on healing and wonder if you must wait until Heaven. But I do know a little of what its like to feel longstanding disability, hurt and pain.


Only a couple of days ago I was the one kneeling in front the waters; watching the storm unsettle itself from the skies outside. I remember the moment like a recurring dream. Maybe it is. How the mirror blinked with the exhaustion of two years in and out of hospital. My silhouette in the dim lit morning. It's difficult to describe CFS/ME. Perhaps someday I will try. For now I will only say that all words lose their form in my fatigue, and I feel disoriented and weak.


The uncertainty of what comes next brings to mind the almost and the maybes of pre-quarantine trajectories. But God faithfully meets me in His Word, and I am confident his love will do the same for you.


John 5 tells readers that 'when Jesus say the invalid lying there, he knew that this man had been there for a long time.' Jesus understood the suffering, the waiting, that this man had undergone in the decades leading up to his arrival.


My friends, this is the same for us. He is intimate with our suffering, having suffered himself. The rejection, the betrayal, the hopelessness, the chaos, homelessness and loss. In John 11:35, Jesus wept. His compassionate heart broke at the sight of Mary and Martha's suffering, following the death of their brother, Lazarus, who Jesus also dearly loved. Think about this moment. Jesus knew that Lazarus would wake, called free from the grave only a couple chapters later. Still, he doubled over in grief and wept at his friend's loss of life. God's restorative promises are sure, but this does not mean that he overlooked or belittles our grief.


On the morning when I felt most hopeless and alone, I folded my hands over the bed and began to pray from the 2004 Thomas Nelson publication Jesus Calling, Sarah Young's collection of readings compiled with verses and reflections written from the perspective of Christ.


Will you read the prayer with me?


24 August 2020

I am all around you, hovering over you even as you seek My Face. My Presence impinges on your innermost being. Deep within themselves, most people have some awareness of My imminent Presence. Many people run from Me and vehemently deny My existence, because My closeness terrifies them. But My own children have nothing to fear, for I have cleansed them by My blood and clothed them in My righteousness. Be blessed by My intimate nearness. Since I live in you, let Me also live through you, shining My light into the darkness.

The verse mirrors the one given to me at my birth-----how the God who formed me knows my heart and hope. Reaching this message meant so much to me because it reminded me of all the times when God reminded me of his presence and promises. This same grace embraces you, too, my friends.


Maybe we are waiting for many things. Healing. Stability. Strength. My friends, in our waiting, may we be like the invalid who drew near and remained beside the water------commited to pursuing the presence of the Lord. May we be open to receiving an answer from God no matter what form and time he chooses. Be it a step in stirred waters, a vision of his son or a voice calling us to rise. Lift our mat, and testify.


May we be people who do not dictate time, but remain postured in worship, healthy struggle and rest.


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