© 2015 Lynn Abbott
I must admit. I’ve entertained a few romanticized ideas about creative types. Mostly, I imagined them to be rather bohemian.
And when I first began producing art, I tried to dress the part. After all, if I were to become a real artist, I had to look like one, right?
Some time ago, I met an artist who embodied all my stereotypes.
One beautiful, sunny afternoon at an indoor-outdoor art Galleria, a dear friend and I wandered into his studio. The light filtered through the windows with a warm glow, and the gentleman’s oils sparkled.
I immediately recognized that he was a master painter. His work certainly resembled that of Monet and Renoir.
But if there were any doubt of the value of his life’s work, the price tags on his large paintings dispelled that. My friend and I tried to disguise our surprise that such an extraordinary artist would be painting in that place.
And although I didn’t voice my thoughts, I did question whether local tourists would be prepared to purchase a painting for $20,000.
My friend and I spoke in low tones. His indoor-outdoor space was evidently artistic hallowed ground.
Or so I thought.
Evidently, the artist himself was eager to chat. Or perhaps, that wine in his coffee cup made him a little more social.
Whatever the case, in a thick accent, he asked me to identify the location of one of his paintings. After a moment’s pause, he proudly identified it as Monet’s garden.
Then, as only a dear friend could and still live to tell of it, my gal pal said, “She’s an artist.” When my friend nodded in my direction, I looked for a place to hide.
There was no escape.
“You, a painter?” he said with a look of disbelief. “What you paint?”
“She’s in art galleries,” my friend volunteered, digging my grave.
“You have business card?”
It was clear he would not be put off. I nodded and rummaged through my bag.
I handed him my card; he glanced at my name.
“Humph! Never heard of you.”
He turned my business card this way and that, examining the art piece that served as my signature, one of my favorite ocean pieces entitled “Polishing Rough Edges.”
“Can I be honest with you?” he inquired in his crisp staccato.
“Of course,” I said as there seemed to be no help for it. He obviously planned to tell me whether I wished or not. I prepared for the inevitable critique of my technique.
But he surprised me.
“I don’t like this painting. It is too violent. I like peaceful paintings…” he said with a dismissive flourish of his hand.
He’d settled it.
My friend and I suppressed our giggles until we were out of earshot. And I catalogued the event as one of my most memorable; I considered sketching his character.
He was a true eccentric.
That settled it for me. And I put the incident out of mind.
Several weeks ago, I recalled of the painter when I read Revelation 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”
At first, the passage startled me. What was this? No sea? Indeed, I suspect that Mr. Eccentric would be delighted by such a discovery.
I remembered his words, “It is too violent…I like peaceful…”
And I wondered if this might relate somehow to the description in Revelation.
Both hymns and songs, in fact, reflect that connection. Innumerable lyrics connect the river with those who have come to repentance and true faith in Abba.
David also described the walk of Abba’s child in this way, “And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in its season, And it leaf does not wither; And whatever he does, he prospers,” (Psalm 1:3).
Thus, I examined scripture to see if I could better understand God’s choice of this metaphor to represent a life connected to Him.
I looked for clues in Abba’s word. My search led me to one of my favorite accounts in the book of II Kings, the story of Naaman.
Maybe, I love his story simply because it is one of faith and healing. Naaman’s faith certainly takes firm root in the river.
The powerful and distinguished army captain of the Syrian army, Naaman appeared to have everything going for him. Under his leadership, Syria had won a victory over Israel.
His courage was renown in the middle east.
However, Scripture adds a tragic footnote. Naaman was a leper.
While this would be a terrible burden for anyone to endure, for a military man who relied upon his physical strength and prowess, leprosy would be a devastating illness.
Although it might initially seem advantageous for a warrior’s extremities to go numb, nevertheless, without pain, the loss of limb and life increased exponentially. And infection from a wound received in battle might be overlooked and thus, certainly prove fatal.
For this reason, leprosy undoubtedly impacted Naaman’s career and personal life.
Understandably, Naaman’s entire household grieved for their lord. After all, at that time in history, leprosy was incurable. No anti-leprosy drugs were available at the local pharmacist.
I’m not sure how it came about, but I suspect that as in Downton Abbey, the servants discussed their betters and some became their betters’ confidantes. In this case, a young Israeli, servant girl providentially served Naaman’s wife.
And Abba used this nameless, yet faith-filled young woman to deliver grace and compassion to her mistress: “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then, he would cure him of his leprosy,” (II Kings 5:3).
I can well imagine how Naaman’s wife responded. As a cancer survivor, I understand the desperate search for hope and healing. For this reason, I’m sure that Naaman and his wife had already scoured their home country for anyone who might offer a cure.
So, Naaman’s wife spoke to her husband and in turn, he told the Syrian king.
Obviously, Naaman was loved and respected. Everyone apparently wished him well. The Syrian king proved no exception.
He immediately penned a reference letter and sent Naaman to Israel’s king.
The Israeli leader must have been shocked by the letter’s content; it announced that Naaman had come for healing from leprosy!
From the Israeli point-of-view, the Syrians asked too much. After all, not only did Syrians oppress Israel, but God had labeled leprosy as “unclean.”
Under the circumstances, Naaman did not represent the ideal, visiting dignitary. Israel’s king, actually suspected that Syria intended to pick a fight: “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” (II Kings 5:7).
Fortunately, Elisha heard about the Israeli king’s predicament, and saved the king from diplomatic disaster. Elisha invited Naaman to visit.
However, when Naaman arrived, no fanfare greeted him. In fact, Elisha sent a servant to deliver a simple message. Naaman should wash in the river Jordan, seven times. Seven times. This was no quick in and out dip. God’s number of completion required that Naaman fully commit to Elisha’s treatment.
This, of course, was an unexpected reception. At the very least, Naaman probably hoped to gain an audience with Elisha.
But Elisha sent his servant with these unusual instructions. Not surprisingly the Captain was offended by the seemingly indifferent command.
Didn’t Elisha recognize Naaman’s importance? Wasn’t he, Naaman, positioned to issue commands?
Hadn’t he, Naaman, done mighty works? Shouldn’t he, Naaman, be treated with deference?
He had traveled a distance to find the prophet. And for what? A bath in the Jordan?
Furious, Naaman questioned the prophet’s prescription. There were rivers in Syria. The Syrian Captain could see no point to washing in the Jordan.
Fortunately for Naaman, his servants loved him. With great affection, they spoke, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash and be clean’?” (II Kings 5:13).
When the Syrian emerged from the Jordan, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean,” (II Kings 5:14b).
At face value, it’s an odd account…the story of a Gentile encouraged by a young Israeli to seek out Yaweh’s prophet for healing.
Certainly, the story appears an insignificant sidebar in the overall historical account of Yahweh’s people. Or so it seemed when I first read it.
But upon deeper reading, its importance became clear. After all, Scripture contains Abba’s story of love and grace for lost humanity.
That’s right. Naaman represents you and me. In Eden, humanity became infected with spiritual leprosy. We stood unclean before Yahweh.
Even so, God provided Living Water to restore us. But as in Naaman’s case, we cannot wash in just any river. We must identify with the Promised Living Water.
Abba could have left us as we were, but instead, He sent His Servant to bring us good news, to give us hope.
And our healing comes with humble obedience, our identification with the Promised One. At the center of it all is Christ, our living water, the bread of life.
Unlike those in the days of Noah, we have not been singled out for judgement through a worldwide flood. Nor will we be thrown from the ship and into the sea as was Jonah. Through Abba’s grace, we hold onto the Promise.
Revelation 22:1 reveals, “And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
As I read this, it occurred to me that herein lies the key to my recent questions: “…clear as crystal.”
Uh, huh. A river continually provides fresh water, often melting and traveling from the heights.
The ocean, on the other hand, finds preservation in salt. With only rare exceptions such as calm waters in the Caribbean, sea water is murky. Without special filtration, it is undrinkable.
It’s sudden, violent storms place sailors in danger. Waves pound against the shore. Tsunami’s destroy.
Without a doubt, this world isn’t all gentle surf and warm, soft, silvery sand. Sure, Grace preserves and grants us a glimpse of future hope.
But generally speaking, since the fall in Eden, our life journeys have required navigation of vast and dangerous seas.
Perhaps, Mr. Eccentric had a point.
Our world’s oceans are a terrible beauty…not unlike our journey through this fallen world.
The beauty we find rests in that which resembles the Living Water. Yes, for the time being, in His grace, Abba preserves the seas and world.
But one day, water as clear as crystal will run through the new heaven and earth, (Revelation 22:1).
But there’s more. On those banks, grows the Tree of Life. John writes that its leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).
And there will be peace. Perfect peace.
Indeed. On that day, for Abba’s children, the healing will finally be complete.
“Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come,” ~II Corinthians 5:17