Have you ever come across a piece of art–a line of poetry, an image in a movie, a passage of Scripture–that captures your imagination? It’s the kind of thing that can mark your soul for ages, occupying your thoughts in the middle of the night months from your first exposure to it, dominating the landscape of your dreams, changing the shape of your heart’s desires. I call these occurrences “marvelous moments,” because they reveal to me something worthy of marvel and awe in this life.
Two such moments have so captured my imagination. I was reminded of my first experience of this captivation by the daily readings in the lectionary yesterday.
The angel brought me
back to the entrance of the temple,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the southern side.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
Ezekiel 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12
The prophet Ezekiel is shown a vision where there is a river that makes salt water sweet. Along its banks are trees that bear fruit every month of the year, which is good for food. And their leaves are for medicine, for the healing of the nations (echoed by John in Revelation 22:2). The image of this scene took root in my imagination during my senior year of high school. I got home every day from school at 2 p.m. and I had more than two hours to myself before my mom picked my sister up from school and made it home. I would walk around the ponds behind our house and when I finished, I would read Ezekiel.
Not the normal light reading of a 17-year-old, but I definitely wasn’t a ‘normal’ teenager.
Chapter 1 in Ezekiel opens with some pretty strange things, and my mind and heart were ripe for the magic of it. I say “magic” because that’s what it felt like–all the colors and strange creatures and the sounds described…it reads like something out of a fantasy novel. The book of Ezekiel goes on to speak with vivid imagery of the story of God’s beloved wife who turns her back on him, but there is redemption in the end. Especially in chapter 47, when I first encountered this river and all its trees.
It has haunted me since then, for over 13 years. In a good way.
That’s what good literature and good art are supposed to do–to capture our imagination and not let it go. We turn over images and phrases in our minds and our hearts until they are a part of us. The things we read, watch, touch, taste, feel, and experience mark us, change us powerfully–for better or worse.
The second marvelous moment is from the film adaptation of J.R.R Tolkein’s The Two Towers, the second installment in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s the battle of Helm’s Deep, where there seems to be no hope against the forces of Saruman. But Aragorn remembers the words of Gandalf–“Look to my coming at first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East.” In faith, the overwhelmed captives break forth from their stronghold in the face of the invading army, and Gandalf appears, true to his word, with the Erkenbrand and 1,000 Rohirrhim. It is a powerful scene. You can watch it here.
Looking for the light of dawn to come through the window, determining to fight in the face of overwhelming odds, being willing to fight together with one’s friends to the death–these things have marked me deeply and have shaped me into who I am today.
Have you experienced a marvelous moment like either of these? What was it like for you?