Even now, my peace lily across the room sends up a single spear-shaped blossom against the dark background of my studio. The disparity between the two is starkly beautiful.
Surprise requires contrast. Against the backdrop of the normal, something unusual stands out. The greater the difference between the expected and the actual, the greater the surprise and wonder.
Amid the trees at the cottage where I stayed this week in Ontario, I noticed one branch that seemed to attract crows. I was struck by how the bright sky silhouetted the birds. The chiaroscuro effect was almost like a woodblock print.
Imagine my surprise when cruising the bucolic farmlands and woods north of the border and discovering this sight. It was so astonishing, I had to stop the car and get out to wrap my mind around what I was seeing. It isn’t every day that one comes across giant golden statues.
Gold surprised me again today when continuing my study of Exodus. God speaks to Moses from the burning bush:
And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians. (Exodus 3:21–22)
God promises that, like the coming law of Deut. 16:13, the people will not leave their years of captivity empty-handed. This is the most gentle “plundering” of all time.
Notice the surprising contrast here. The backdrop is oppression. The Hebrews were commodities to their captors. And yet, before they leave the country in their trek to freedom, they will turn to their Egyptian neighbors and ask for expensive gifts! And even more surprisingly, the Egyptians will gladly give them!
I suppose one could read God’s promise to grant favor as some kind of spell that descends en masse over the nation of Egypt. But I think it’s much more likely that the people of Israel were laying the groundwork for this moment in the way they lived in the midst of trial. Somehow, they were able to build bonds strong enough to ask for jewelry and clothes as parting gifts. I don’t picture the Egyptian neighbors, staring glassy-eyed and muttering “I… must… give…” as they forked over their gold rings against their will. I imagine affectionate partings – “Here, take this for your journey.”
This has me considering, once again, how I act in my transactional relationships. In my dealings with clients, in my interactions with sales clerks and gate agents (as well as neighbors), am I living in contrast to the prevailing expectations? Am I building the good will that will support asking for the gift of spiritual honesty if the opportunity arises?
Looking again at my peace lily, I am reminded that this is not something I do of my own strength. The pearly blossom stands out because of the light from the window. Sincerity of heart (Col. 3:22) is empowered by the Spirit, and by a healthy dependence on Jesus.
Lord, make us stand out in the settings where you’ve placed us. Regardless of the situation. We want to be surprisingly kind and gracious and compassionate to our “neighbors,” whoever and wherever that may be. Make us aware, even today, of the connections we can build in your name.