Transactional or Transcendent? I Learned About Faith From “The Log”

Yesterday I ended my run on the bike path in the woods below my house when I saw it out of the corner of my eye: the log.

Years ago my oldest grandson spotted the log beside the path. It had a word carved on its surface that appealed to him. I forget what that captivating word was, maybe “LOVE” or “HELP” or something else, but it made him covet that log.

He asked me to carry it home for him.

Now I, being his grandmother, wanted to satisfy his every desire, of course, but that log was four feet long and two in diameter. There was no way I could lug it up the hill to my house.

In a fit of inspiration, I rolled the log over and showed him the pillbugs living underneath. “Look!” I told him, “We can’t take the pillbugs’ house away.” Luckily, he was satisfied with that, and we moved on to throw sticks into the stream.

The log is now in an advanced state of decomposition, covered with colorful lichen.

I cannot see that particular type of lichen without remembering my mother’s friend Bernie.

Bernie was an artist. Her husband Mort worked as an engineer at Bell Telephone with my father. They reminded me of the Sprats. You know, Jack and his wife. Mort was tall, angular, and nervous, chain-smoking his way through life. Bernie was short, round, and laid-back. She seemed like she had a wonderful secret that made her lips perpetually curve up at the corners.

Bernie worked in watercolors and oils, but her finest work was in textiles. She was a gifted knitter.

Before my oldest son was born, in an outburst of maternal tenderness, I decided to knit a sweater for him.

My knitting up until that point consisted solely of scarves, which, of course, are flat rectangles, therefore easy to knit.

The sweater I knit was appropriately baby blue, but it looked like it was designed by a deranged monkey. The seams were uneven, the hem unraveled, and one sleeve was noticeably longer than the other.

Bernie also knit him a sweater. It was earth tones – golds, tans, browns, and grays – and looked like it was too beautiful for any human, especially one prone to emitting prodigious amounts of bodily fluids, to wear. It should have been displayed in an art gallery.

Bernie dyed her own yarn from items found in nature, including lichens like the ones on the log. I was often dispatched to the woods to gather specific types of lichens for her to concoct her dyes.

My quest was often for the elusive Firedot lichen, a gorgeous orange-colored growth, or Goldspeck lichen, the color of goldenrods.

Lichens are interesting organisms. Actually, they are a combination of two organisms from two different kingdoms – Plants and Fungi.

The fungus in the lichen can’t photosynthesize to make its own food. The algae in the lichen does photosynthesize. The algae provides food in the mutualistic relationship; the sturdy structure of the fungus provides protection for the delicate algae from damaging ultraviolet rays.

This allows both organisms to live in environments where, individually, neither could survive. Both parties benefit from the arrangement.

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A mutualistic relationship such as lichen, however, is vastly different from mutualistic relationships where humans are involved.

Algae and fungi are each in the relationship for the benefits they individually receive (there is no altruism in lichen). They have no understanding of the concepts of obligation and reciprocation often attached to human you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours interactions.

We humans even carry this transactional approach to our relationship with God.

We treat God as a dispenser of blessings, if only we can uphold our end of the bargain.

What our end of the bargain is, however, remains somewhat fuzzy.

Does it involve participating not only in church services on Sunday, but Bible study, small group ministry, educational classes, and youth group? Do we need to use especially Jesus-y language? Should we make a show of praying in public? Should we tithe, even if it means having unpaid bills or skipping needed health care measures? Most importantly, should we harshly judge those who don’t live up to our exacting standards?

And conversely, should we be afraid that any setbacks or tragedies that befall us signal punishment from God for not keeping our part of the deal? Are our misfortunes God’s payback?

Of course, our relationship with God is not a transactional one. At least it shouldn’t be.

We do not need to earn God’s blessing. We receive it through grace alone.

Likewise, hardships are not God’s retribution.

When Jesus was walking with his disciples and saw a blind man, the disciples asked, “Did this man sin, or was it his parents?” Jesus tells us it is not sin that causes bad things to happen.

We live in time. The immensity of time churns out lots of occurrences – some good and some bad. How vain, believing we have control (even through God) of circumstances. And how human.

God is not transactional, he is transcendent, independent of the material realm and beyond physical laws.

He is transcendent and he is immanent, with us in space and time and always accessible to each one of us.

God is much bigger, more wild and free, magnificent, and omnipresent than anything my small mind can imagine. Every time I think I have God pinned down and figured out, he escapes, and that’s a good thing.

Over time, the narrative of God I have knit together has changed as my faith has matured. I hope yours has too.

One day, my dream is that my faith will be as beautifully made as Bernie’s long-ago sweater, stunning in golds, tans, oranges, and browns, dyed with lichen gathered from the woods.

I know just the log where I can find the lichen.

 

You can find the places I link up here.

 

 

 

86 comments

  1. I so loved your reflection here today, Laurie. Yes, nothing we can do will earn us God’s favor; He gives it freely through His immeasurable and undeserved grace. Let us always be thankful to Him and all He has done.
    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You post took me on an adventure walk with your grandson, introduced me to Mort and Bernie who I can picture in my mind vividly, then took me to the best place of all and introduced me to the transcendent Creator of heaven and earth. Beautiful.

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  3. Have you read “The Overstory”? If not, you would love it. Your description of The Log and its current state of decomposition reminds me of that book — and the wonders of all that goes on in a forest, including moss and lichen and the long, slow, incredibly complex and life-giving process of a fallen tree decomposing as it gives rise to multitudes of other organisms. Truly awesome. Maybe it’s not as transactional as it seems to us.

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    • I have read the Overstory and I did love it! It left such a big impression on me. I have several quotes saved from that book that I want to write about someday.

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    • Thank you for your kind comment. You are so right – we do need to open our hearts to receive God’s grace. Lichen is something easily overlooked, but I think it is beautiful!

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  4. That’s a really well written story about Bernie. After years of soul searching, reading and meditation, I came to the conclusion that God (or who ever) set the earth in motion and that was the end of the transaction. One and done. On to other projects, other universes. It actually relaxes me to know that no one is minding the store and pulling strings. Everything is random or made.

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    • That’s called the “Watchmaker Analogy”. (God was the watchmaker who designed and made the watch, then walked away.) I have an unconventional concept of God too, actually. I don’t picture him as a person. The Bible says “God is love”. I take that seriously and literally.

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  5. Hi Laurie – my understanding of God and his grace has come a long way since my Sunday School days. As I’ve delved deeper into reading his word, listened to great speakers on podcasts, and actually put some thought into what the bible says, it’s freed me from a lot of rule keeping and guilt.

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  6. Laurie, what a beautiful story of faith. I laughed, smiled, nodded, and cried. You have a gift my friend. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of faith and the mysteries of our Father. Faith is truly admitting I don’t know it all, I’m a “learn-it-all”. By continuing learning and not knowing, my faith grows. Thank you so much for this amazing post. God bless you!

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  7. I love that analogy you’ve drawn between Bernie’s sweater and the kind of faith you want to cultivate with God, Laurie. And yes! Couldn’t agree more that we can never earn God’s grace! So many people are trying to their own detriment, while God’s grace is being extended in all sorts of ways to them. Thanks for this beautiful reminder and for giving us another peek at a grandma and grandson adventure!

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  8. You had me at that photo, Laurie. I’m a big fan of lichen…all the shades of green, blue, oranges. It literally takes my breath–repeatedly. Because it’s just awe-some to me to find those colors, and their brilliant combinations, in nature. What a thought-filled post.

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  9. All too often we reduce God to a transaction relationship. It’s a narrow kind of existence. Oddly enough, scientists recently discovered that lichen often has THREE living elements–which makes it an even better object lesson for Christianity ;).

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    • You are so right, Anita. It IS a narrow kind of existence. I never thought of it that way. I am going to have to check out the third organism in lichen – the trinity. Thanks for teaching me something new today!

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  10. Never knew that about lichen actually being two organisms–another of God’s marvels in creation. Loved your creative symbolism also, Laurie, and I agree: “Over time, the narrative of God I have knit together has changed as my faith has matured.” Praise God He continues to work on us (and our faith) until the day we see Him face to face!

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  11. Laurie,
    What an inspiring way to illustrate our relationship with God is not transactional. It’s also taken me a few years to totally absorb this concept. He created us solely to be in relationship with Him and there’s not striving or earning requiring. Love and obedience is the best response we can have to his gifts of love, mercy, and grace.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    • It has taken me a while to absorb it too, Bev. I think it goes against our natural inclination to believe that everything comes with a price. In this case, though, Christ has already paid the full cost.

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  12. Hi Laurie, a few weeks ago I had an email with an Indian name(or that’s what I thought the culture was), but with the name of your blog.
    I didn’t know whether it was you or not, so I did not respond.
    Wow. so many questions about what our end of the deal is with God. Would like to email you, in the end it boils down to that our end of the deal is what He says in His word, so you have to dig there. I will give you mine, and you may react or not:) junie5blooms@yahoo.com

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    • Hmmm…that’s weird. I don’t like the fact that someone emailed you with the name of my blog. It was not me. I agree with you about our end of the deal. Thanks for the comment.

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  13. Well I read and smiled at the “I must knit something for my baby”…..I too did that…once for her and once for her daughter. I am so not a knitter but I was determined. Love your stories of course too.

    Thank you for linking up for #LifeThisWeek. Next week is the final #TakingStock optional prompt (still others to come!) in 2020. Hope to see you there too. Denyse.

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  14. Laurie – you always write so eloquently – I started to read this the other day, didn’t finish and returned just now as I wanted to convey a message about Zoom … I know you said you do basic Zoom … all day Thanksgiving there is unlimited basic Zoom … hope that makes it easier to tie your families together. Wanted to share this with you.

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      • You’re welcome Laurie and it is nice not to have to look at the clock to see when the 40 minutes runs out. I knew you used it to get together with your friends on Saturday nights and so you’d be familiar with the platform. I mentioned it to Anne Mehrling too – I don’t know if they use Zoom for church services, but so they could reach out to any family members not coming for dinner.

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      • Yes…we used to get together every Saturday, but then we got tired of Zooming. It’s just not the same as in-person get-togethers.

        I wanted to tell you Bill tried his anti-fog spray yesterday for the first time. He loves it! He told me to pass his thanks along to you.

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      • Yes, that’s true and then the warmer weather arrived, so you could get together outside, something not so easy to do now (though it was balmy out this morning when I left on my walk).

        Great news Laurie! Glad the anti-fog spray is working for Bill. This means more Wintertime jaunts with you! Another plus is I like that I can walk into the house from the cold air and my glasses don’t steam up immediately now.

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      • I’m so glad I mentioned it Laurie – it was really aggravating in the Spring when I couldn’t see a foot ahead of me. I stayed in today – rain/snow/rain … didn’t know what it wanted to do, but nothing really accumulated, just a nuisance snow, although in the northern ‘burbs, they got 3-4 inches.

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      • I’m with you Laurie on that … we had that sloppy mess Sunday and I stayed in, Monday I ran errands to get everything done before the expected onslaught of COVID cases after this long holiday (even prior to Thanksgiving, our daily death and cases stats are abysmal). It was beautiful and I had a short walk, today was fine, but it’s a cold rain out there now and we have another snow/rain mix coming tonight and tomorrow morning. Thanksgiving Day thankfully will be warm, so it will melt. The weather makes no sense at all.

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      • Our stats are terrible too, Linda. I think they are terrible everywhere. We are supposed to get rain tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Time to put my stretchy pants on and eat turkey!

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      • You will have what we had today – it was an ugly weather day most of today. My handyman was supposed to do the gutters – he climbs up and checks the roof too – does a great job, but the rain started at 10:30 and it’s still raining now and overnight We will get four rain-free days, then we get 3-6 inches of snow Monday into Tuesday. I wish it was a typo – several weathermen have predicted that.

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      • It rained this morning, but the rest of the day was beautiful! Sunny and high 60s. Perfect weather to go for a walk. Ugh! Snow!!! That’s a bad word in my book! 🙂

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      • It got better here too – I got a late start due to the rain. There were some runners at the Park wearing a light hoodie and shorts. It was 50 at that time – strange weather. I hope they are wrong about Monday – ugh.

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      • Amazing for November. I was under-dressed this morning. I listened to the weather but a north wind started soon after I arrived. I kept walking as I wanted the miles, but still have not warmed up! I’m maximizing my steps due to this ugly weather coming up.

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      • Bill and I did a long run this morning. I was a little bit underdressed at first too. It was 30 degrees when we started but it warmed up to the mid-40s by the time we finished. I took a nice hot shower afterward! I hope you are warm by now.

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      • It took me all day to warm up and you’d better believe I wore more layers today. I was at the Park many hours and it warmed up nicely. We had a gorgeous day today too Laurie and I reached my goal one month early. I walked a lot today and worked out in the yard. I was just writing a comment and nodded off. 🙂 I will do a short post about it for tomorrow and write about the walk later.

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      • Thank you Laurie! Our clear and mild weather for most of November helped get me to my goal more quickly. And four days in a row to take longer walks helped too. I’m happy to be done in the event the weather turns ugly most of December. Stay tuned!

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      • We were supposed to be slammed with 4-8 inches of snow (some places 13 inches). They’d been warning us since Thanksgiving. We got 3 1/2 inches in my City – not bad and the driveway has melted but it had ice on it this morning and was very heavy to shovel. My kind of snow as they say likely gone by the weekend. I hope you stay warmish for running.

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  15. Laurie, I loved this. I never realized what made up lichen, so that was fun lesson to learn. But even more, the reminder that God is transcendent is one I always need to hold onto. I’m with you, hoping that my faith will be beautiful and reflect God’s love and beauty into the lives of all whom I encounter.

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  16. What a wonderful analogy for all of us to think about! Yes, my idea of God has changed over they years, but, thankfully, He has not 🙂

    I’m so happy to see your link at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week!

    Liked by 1 person

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