To You, O King ,I pray: Take center stage as I write the following words to people I do not know. May they know You more deeply than ever before, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. Our forever-longing is to have You as You have us, to see You as You see us, to know a satisfaction that can only be realized in You. With my simple letter to these women and men, may we move together in this very direction… not knowing about You, but actually knowing You.
Let me introduce myself a bit to you. My name is Buddy Odom and I presently reside on a little 4-acre farm on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My lineage is Scotch/Irish. Thirty-nine years ago I married an artist and, so far, she continues to show me more love than I deserve. I am both introverted and extroverted… in other words, when it comes to being around people, I swing between the desire to run from them and run to them.
Chocolate is my favorite food group and baseball is the best invention of mankind. My dad died when I was ten. I became an Eagle Scout at seventeen. I graduated from The University of Tennessee at an age I will not tell you. And I believe the most important trait to be developed within a person is courage.
Personal integrity will not come into being without courage. Nor compassion, generosity or leadership. Without the practice of courage, new discoveries are impossible. Without the practice of courage, I am unable to recognize my own patterns of relating to God and others. Without the practice of courage, I would never write a letter to people I do not know. The Cowardly Lion of Oz leads the way for me by singing… But I could change my habits/Never more be scared of rabbits/If I only had the nerve.
Who do you want to be?
Many of us have heard that being is more important than doing. Since I am running out of days on who-I-can-be vs. what-I-can-do, the temptation to do more rich life-experiences looms large. But this year I turn sixty-three, and I still have hopes for myself. There are places I want to go to within my inner world. A trip to France would be nice, but what if, instead, I more diligently pursued being who I was meant to be?
But things get in the way. Wonderful things like the good life I’ve established, harmony with my spouse, having a theology that works, enjoying the comforts of home, maintaining right relationships with family, erasing bad memories, keeping work that is impactful and so on. All are good things worth searching and praying for, but somehow, they interrupt my deep desire to move toward that hope of discovering more of who I was meant to be while living here on planet earth.
Add to that, I am fearful of what might be found. What if it disrupts the life I’ve worked so hard to arrange, or irritates my wife, or screws up my solid thoughts of who God is, or makes me review my already small bank account, or kicks me out of some friendship circles, or surfaces
old wounds or even directs me from an already established vocation? What if discovering who I was meant to be requires some truth-telling about my past or causes me embarrassment?
The Emerald City Calls
But I am, indeed, the Cowardly Lion. I act like I’m not with my unsolicited opinions and strong stances I take. On the outside I’m a strong drink of water that sometimes marks his territory with God-knowledge. But on the inside I’m a pussycat, scared of what you may think of me. I’m the king of my own little forest that few seek to enter because of the ways I relate.
Then in late winter the Wizard must have dreamed up something designed just for the likes of me… something called Covid-19. Bringing a disruption to my normal rhythm, placing time on my hands, drawing my thoughts toward the sick and dying, forcing simplicity, giving me a larger worldview and fencing me in with only my wife. And myself. It has been an ugly thing, no doubt, but also an opportunity. A chance for me to step out of the sleepy woods I’ve grown accustomed to, and into that place which peels back what I can’t. To discover a bravery I didn’t know I had… to find who I wanted to be.
I found that my hunger for God was real. That it never dissipates. I found that all my pursuits were me-centered in tiny little ways, even when noble. And yep, in the midst of all this turning me-on-my-head-while-wearing-a-facemask, I discovered who I want to be.
I want to be a prayer.
Not so much a pray-er (one who prays), but a prayer (a devout petition to God). My desire is that I may become more than the act of saying a prayer, and actually be a living, walking prayer myself. One whose thoughts, intentions, days and actions are like incense before the nostrils of God.
Art… Not a Bad Medium
Revolutionary is what art has become to me. Over the last ten years my wife, Kathie, has become quite a successful oil painter and thus, our lives are now steeped in the world of fine art. New circles of art-friends have risen up, and we keep paintings in front of our eyes on a daily basis. She paints outdoors quite a bit, we watch demos online and we regularly visit new parts of the country for art events. As a result, my ways of thinking have shifted… to more left brained if you will.
I’m a person who likes to plan and organize. Ideas have been my pal but systems have been my lover. Implementation of a well-timed and well-thought-through approach has turned my crank for many years. But since the revolution of art, I’ve come to realize that I can leave relational casualties in my wake. Plans come to fruition, but I hurt people along the way.
Even with my prayer-life over the years, I have planned and used structured approaches to keep me diligent and faithful. (By the way, no disparity here for thoughtful and creative ways of living out our faith… my prayer strategies have resulted in many great joys). But how often I have subtly insisted that others follow my lead. How quick I have become dogmatic over something as beautiful as prayer. Relational casualties.
The most important thing about us is the way we relate. Not how often we pray, or how proper we pray, or if our praise should come before our petitions, or if our prayers should never cease. I don’t want to relate to God through prayer, I want to relate to God as one. But how does that come to pass?
We never fret about whether or not the sun will rise tomorrow morning or if gravity will hold us fast to the earth. Each of us have put our beliefs in these two truths… we bank on them and move forward with our lives. But now and again we are reminded of their beauty with a stunning sunrise or when our plane lands safely.
During this pandemic season, I have been guided into some basic truths and how they are instrumental in my desire to relate to God as a prayer. Because of busyness or the nature of pre-Covid-19 life, I had forgotten the richness of seven tenets I’d like to briefly call to the forefront of our minds.
Every one of us, aware or unaware, is hungry for God. And this hunger will never dissipate this side of death. Therefore, everything else but the Person of Jesus, falls short of satisfying us. Although He has us in entirety, we cannot yet have even Him completely. So we hunger.
This One who has us is bringing us to the day when we may have Him. We now have the capacity for a large life lived on a large earth, but what is actually underneath us is a large hand. We are being lovingly carried by holy God.
Your and my days are limited and we know it. There are finite opportunities for enjoyment, impact, laughter, community, celebration, stretching our minds, placing a child in our laps and saying I’m sorry. Jesus says to us, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The injection of His courage into us is so needed.
The urge to hurry things, especially my progress as a Christian is, well, un-Christian. If we could see God’s “timeline” (does He even have one?) we might realize that He has wholeness (Shalom) in mind when it comes to His people. Don’t get back to normal. Take a breath. Receive. Savor.
When I open myself to being the affection of God’s love found in Christ on the cross and when I drink in the unending and everlasting truth that I am forgiven and now have access to God, my inclination toward Him is strong. My receptivity is keen. And my gratitude wins.
The English language breaks down and does not serve us well when giving speech to the Holy Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a Community. Each have the others best interests in mind and invite every one of us into Themselves. Yes, three Persons and one God, creating hunger for more of Him, carrying us into Himself, instilling us with courage, giving Himself to us in waiting and opening the hope to knowing Him more deeply today by forgiving us.
The most thoroughly expounded of the ten commandments is #4… Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. There has been no more concrete practice for my faith than keeping the seventh day set apart in my life. It is the day I do almost nothing. Six days I think, plan and work. But on the seventh day I seek to add play and subtract anything that is akin to work. It will take me a dozen lifetimes to get it right, but the act of not-acting has more holiness built into it than any amount of accomplishment.
The question of turning toward God or turning away from God computes more to me than how much progress am I making. The act of turning toward God, whether as a prayer or as a simple man in need of God, is my only concern now that I am on the back half of life. And this season in the spring of 2020 is bringing much needed light to me, giving me hope and courage for the days to come.
Some Questions to Swim in:
How would being a prayer differ in your life from saying a prayer?
What are some patterns of relating that you’ve been stuck in?
Which of the seven tenets are you drawn to? Which are you resistant toward? What does the word Shalom (mentioned above under Patience) mean to you? Is there a way to experiment with each of the tenets this next week?