Down & Through

I recently attended a conference in Washington, DC in the midst of a scorching summer. In stark contrast to the outside temperature, the conference center was frigid. In order to warm up a bit between sessions, I either had to descend three escalators to reach the balmy outdoors, or I could sit in a windowed corner of the conference center on the third floor where the sun shone in.

During one of the breaks, as I am sitting enjoying the relative warmth in the windowed corner of the third floor, I hear a chirping overhead. I look up to see a small bird trapped inside the building. The bird, with futility, was trying to get outside by flying against the windows. Every minute or so the bird would rest on a perch, then seek again to exit through the glass. If one window pane did not work, the bird would fly across to the next. I so badly wanted to help the bird, but these windows were not the kind that open up. I also realized that this bird would never trust me enough to guide it down into the belly of the building towards the doors that lead outside. To look towards the windows, the bird could see the outside, right there! To look towards the escalators it was dark. How could it ever make sense to this bird that down was indeed the way out?

It hit me as I thought about all of the ways that I could try to free this bird, that I often react in the same way as this bird. How often is the way out, actually down? But how often do I, with futility, try to fly against a closed window pane?

There is a lot of language in Scripture that talks about the need to go low, to go further down and in before we can go up and out:

  • No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (John 3:13)
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
  • Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:12)

Jesus had to come down from the Father to make a way for us to go up; the grain must first die in the dark underground soil before it can burst forth into the light; one must first be humbled in order to be exalted. Is there anything going on in your life right now where the liberated way is actually down and through something first? – a sickness, a hard conversation, a deeper examination of privilege and race in our communities, lament over the brokenness in our world, the process and journey of just peacemaking in the midst of conflicts…

I find I am often mistaken about a clean, linear way forward. May we not be confused and disheartened like the bird when sometimes the way forward is down and through.