Jesus Staring Back at Me

by Jennifer Van Gundy '05

It is 11:11 on a Sunday night up here at the Bass Lake High Sierra Campus. The past two weeks have been an absolute blur of activities. As I sit here trying in vain to recapture all that has transpired over the course of the past fourteen odd days I am thoroughly aware of the fact that the task is hopeless.

We are heading into the second week of classes with Candide on the reading list for both literature and history. I cannot express to you the relief that has been felt here on campus regarding the reading for this week; reading Candide is quite different than reading Descartes' Meditations (the "I think therefore I am" guy) or Milton's Paradise Lost. Despite how much I loved both of those readings, I must say that it will be a nice change to read a satirical work of fiction rather than an epic poem of mammoth proportions or an incredibly thick work of philosophy.

All last week we were discussing Paradise Lost; it was a whole week of serpents (I now feel completely justified in my dislike of them), apples, and gardens. I love how there is a tendency to read Paradise Lost in a very abstract and distant way. It is easy to sit around and make philosophical comments like "mmmm yes, note the imagery here in the scene of Eve's temptation." I find it amusing how easy it is to talk about Adam and Eve as though they were nothing more than fairytale characters, a sort of Hansel and Gretel with Satan as the Big Bad Wolf in a snakeskin.

It is so easy to treat the story as though it is just another story, just another piece of literature for us to analyze its meter, deconstruct its metaphors, and examine the life of its author for any bitter childhood experiences that could have colored his writing.

Granted, Milton's Paradise Lost is not entirely aligned with the creation account given in Genesis but it does tell the story of a real event that occurred in human history. In reality, the story of Adam and Eve is our story, the story in which we live out our every waking moment. The consequences are far-reaching; the fall was hard. The war that is being waged for our love is intense and real. And yet despite man's fallen nature and all the evil it brought, people still have the ability to astound me with their complexity, beauty, and capacity for good. Even in all of our sin we have the tattered vestiges of God's glory, the mark of his goodness upon us that cannot be erased. Every once in a while I am privileged to see people in all of their God-given, God-redeemed potential - and those glimpses are amazing. The awareness of this truth is nothing new. One of my very favorite C.S. Lewis quotes from "The Weight of Glory" puts it thus:

It is a serious to thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

This fact of human existence has overwhelmed me and amazed me constantly in the past week. Here I find myself surrounded again by 44 individuals with different stories and dreams, struggles and strengths. One night shortly after we arrived at campus, a group of us went up to Star Rock to worship, talk, and roast marshmallows under the stars. It was amazing to sit and hear people's dreams and goals for the semester. There is a story written and still continuing in the lives of every person here. That night there was a tremendous expression of a desire to seek God's face and to grow spiritually over the course of the semester. That night was one of those moments in which I was able to catch glimpses of the beauty of the "shimmering self" (as John Eldredge describes it in the Sacred Romance) that lies within each person and is redeemable only through the grace of God. It was exciting to find myself surrounded by people who desired to seek God's face, to find him and through him, to find themselves.

Watching people through the firelight, the familiar ache of something desperately sad and wonderful all at once returned again. Sometimes my melancholy self just wants to despair and I just want to mourn what was lost. It is then that I catch a glimpse of Jesus staring back at me through the eyes of another and I am reminded that there is hope for us all. I am surrounded by beautiful, amazing individuals with something to teach and something to offer, the redeemed sons and daughters of a loving, saving God. It is going to be a great semester.