Voices push through paper or cloth and emerge muffled. Smiles are imagined, not seen.
Playgrounds are eerily quiet. There should be dust and laughter; airborne shrieks and the proper “thunk” of a glove-caught baseball.
In our town, the 4th of July was an oddly packaged holiday of caution – an empty parade with echoes of marching bands past. The hollow day was punctuated later with endless fireworks, a continuous loop of virtually EVERY summer night in our town. So, with Labor Day? Who can tell?
Malls have fiber-boards for windows, and parking lots are nearly empty.
Stores that are open are not letting us zig-zag willy-nilly through the aisles; we have to watch for arrows and other masked shoppers, stepping up to the cashier only when we are told.
Shopping is exhausting. Many are opting for curbside pickup or Instacart.
Everything is muted.
While walking and longing for something cheerful to cut through life’s masks, I heard the sound of a baby’s laughter.
What is it about a child’s laugher? It’s a wonderful mystery, that unhindered joy that jiggles up from the belly and fills the air with ripples of watery music.
That baby in her new swing.
The baby stretched her bare feet into the sky and giggled clear up to the full moon.
Her experience of flying for the very first time sent trills of laughter into the evening air.
I looked around at the grownups and I swear we all looked a good deal younger. A trick of twilight softened our features and made us all wood nymphs for one moment.
Pine trees hovered over us, benevolent silhouettes bending into our joy. Fireflies came out to light up the party.
This, I thought… this moment, this child, these loved ones gathered – will cut through our masked passages and give us wings for the journey ahead.
Kathy Joy writes for her company’s Lunchtime Jabs, and for Coffee With Kathy, her personal blog, and for Books for Bonding Hearts. She is the author of the greeting card coffee table series, Breath of Joy: Simply Summer, Ah, Autumn, Winter Whispers and Singing Spring (All available on Amazon).\
There’s a tree outside my office window that is currently blooming, tufts of life springing from the branches, evidence of spring approaching. Last summer a friend of ours, a landscaper, was at our house and pointed to this same tree. “That tree’s dying,” he said matter-of-factly.
I was so bummed out! I love trees, especially living in the climate in which we do, where their shade shields us from the hot summer sun. Looking at the tree right now it seems healthy, but on a deeper level, it’s dying from the inside out. It took a warning from our friend, a professional, to know what’s coming.
It is recorded in Matthew 23, that Jesus talks about behavior that looks great from the outside but is filthy inside.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look immaculate on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything decaying and unclean. In the same way, on the outside, you appear to people as good and helpful but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Pretty strong language! The Pharisees were well-respected by the Jewish people and were considered to be examples of righteousness. Jesus himself was a Pharisee, but he was far different from them. While most Pharisees enforced and created additional laws for the people to follow, Jesus demonstrated grace toward the people and removed the crushing burden of the law from their backs. The people loved him for this, while the other Pharisees hated him for shining a light on their hypocrisy. So it’s easy to see why the verses above would anger them even more.
If you’re like me, you may wonder at the significance of whitewashed tombs.
We’ve recently experienced mandatory times of quarantine because of a deadly virus, so we understand what it would mean for one person to have to sequester himself or herself away from the normal goings-on around town and home. No fun! What a shame to miss out, right? And, what a bigger shame to know that because you were involved with friends and family after being contaminated, you may be the cause of their illness or death, right?
Because it is natural that people do not want to be left out of parties and normal gatherings, the law is required to step in and make demands on individual behaviors.
According to Jewish law, any person who came in contact with a dead body, whether it be actually touching the deceased person or simply the grave with a dead body sealed inside, this brush with death and contagion made the person involved “unclean” for a time and required him or her to undergo a period of separation and cleansing for seven days. This was the law commanded by God thousands of years prior for the Hebrew’s protection from disease.
In order to mitigate this risk, the Pharisees had come up with a plan.
Prior to Jewish festivals that drew thousands of Jews to Jerusalem, the Pharisees commissioned the whitewashing of all tombs. This way no one would accidentally touch a tomb and miss out on the festival due to the cleansing period of seven days. Jesus was saying that the Pharisees looked great on the outside, but inside they were unclean and those who followed them were touching death without even knowing it.
Jesus’ intense words challenge me to look at the condition of my heart. Jesus has the power of life over death. He arose from His own tomb and offers this same life-transforming power to our own grave actions and attitudes. No-one else has that power, not even doctors, researchers, or nurses. Their skills too, rely on the Creator-Savior for a cure.
How do my outer actions compare to my inner motives?
I am helpless without the mercy and power of Jesus to forgive me for the times I focus my attention on looking good on the outside, rather than bringing my broken and sinful heart into His presence in honesty so that He can heal me.
GK Johnson’s debut historic novel featuring the lives of Barabbas and Simon the Zealot is scheduled to appear on or about January 1, 2021. Watch for it.