27 December 2011

God at Eye-Level

"We are--oh my! Oh my! Just hold on! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! Okay. Okay. Oh my goodness, hold on!" When your flight attendant says these words, bopping up and down all the while like a dead fish on the lake, it is not comforting. At all.

I hate takeoff and turbulence and open-air heights and feeling out of control of my body. It's only been on my last two flights that I've realized I'm not going through that familiar contemplate-all-the-ways-we-could-possibly-die ritual. I guess there's something to be said for early-morning flights staunching the tremble of inner organs.

Heights have always freaked me out. Still, I used to climb to the roof of our house when the snow was high enough to give me a boost. (I also used to climb on top of our chickenless chickenhouse and pretend I was secretly feeding a runaway girl--this was during my Laura Ingalls Wilder phase.) All that climbing was terrifying, but I learned to deal with it because I loved being at the pinnacle of the prairie. I loved sitting atop a giant haybale with the colors of the farm spreading out indefinitely around me. I even loved my second-story bedroom in the crusty, old rental house the girls and I had--where I could see for blocks.

The view overtakes the fear.

Your flight attendant might be flailing about, but once the plane stops its post-takeoff veering and levels out, the view overtakes the fear. You see perfect square fields ten thousand feet below, all stitched together with dirt roads. You see skylines poking up into clouds, looking like scale models. I flew from Phoenix back to Grand Forks last fall, and I kept telling myself to sleep because I'd still have a three-hour drive after landing--but I couldn't do it. I couldn't stop staring out the window, mesmerized by desert merging with mountain, spreading into plain and prairie and hillside and home.

I was writing a letter on a flight last summer. Certainly this isn't an original thought, but it occurred to me then: "This must be how God sees us." And just as suddenly, a second thought bumped into that one. "No, it isn't."

We talk about him as "the Father up above," and if he's big enough to form a universe, then we're right in comparing ourselves to grass and dust, just barely specks to be noticed--let alone cared about--by someone who can view an entire mountain range from the corner of his eye.

But does He really see us like this, like He's staring down from that great above? Because whenever I read something about a place I've never been, I visualize it as though I'm looking down on a map. Seven months ago, the Spain in my head looked like this:

Visiting new places mentally spins them into proportion. As beautiful as anything is from above, you don't know it until you're on the ground, until you're seeing it straight-on. Seven months ago, this place was, to me, just map-Spain. Its people were "the Spaniards." But now it is becoming blues and browns, grocery shopping at Eroski, old men driving tractors. "They" have become Ana and Danilo and Flor. Spain at eye-level.

I walked up the hill near my house today. It was beautiful, 60 degrees. There were tractors humming (Case I-H and John Deere!) and men on dirt bikes.

My favorite spot in all of Spain is in the middle of the dirt road on the flat top of that hill. In one spin, you can see fields and pueblos, the skyline of Madrid, the etching of mountains against sky. I must have turned eight circles, trying to fit it all into my line of sight at one time. There was an old man in bright blue overalls picking rocks out of the field; I waved at him and called, "Hola!" I jumped off the path several times to avoid being plowed down like barley, and my heart felt so full I thought it might tear its way out of my skin. As I walked home, a plane flew over. I paused to wave, even though they probably weren't close enough to see the tall, female dot in the middle of the furrows.

It is so beautiful from above: the city, the farmland, the four towers. But in a plane, you can't see this:

You can't see seven layers of Spanish geography. You can't see the land looming before you and behind you and ahead of you and all around you. You have to step into it; you have to walk on it; you have to look at eye-level.

This struck me as I raised my hand to greet the blue-overall farmer: You see me.

You see me.

The only Spanish sermon I've understood almost entirely was about Hagar--about the feeling-rather-invisible Hagar who ran away from the man who used her. About meeting an angel in the wilderness. And about those words that came to her lips. "She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'" 

El Dios Que Ve. The God Who Sees. Or, perhaps, El Dios Que Me Ve. The God who sees me.

This is Immanuel. This is God-with-us, the God who stepped onto the earth to walk in it and touch it and know it the way most of us do, not from plane windows but face-to-face. This is the God who can see an entire planet "from above" but stops to notice a sparrow and a tall, female dot in the middle of the furrows. This is the God who pulled flesh over his divinity, who waved to farmers and knew their names, who sent me to Camarma to find fields and mountains and restoration--because He sees me. He knows me. He is watching this path from above and walking it beside me. This is the God at eye-level.

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