2020: Thinking About Thinking in 360 degrees CBByrd 12/15/20
Saturday, December 12th, 2020, I experienced circumstances that made it clear I was at risk of dying on I-65 North just south of Birmingham, AL. It was an attack…… what kind and why, I am still sorting out.
I left home in Panama City, FL about 6:30am with my little 10- year- old dog, Winston, lying in the passenger seat. As I was driving up FL 77 just north of Southport I was thinking about my daughter’s family at the other end of my morning drive. I had not seen them in a year. I had my face covering with me to wear at their home and I wondered if I’d get to hug my grandchildren, ages 18 and almost 16. Tears of longing welled up in my eyes as I thought about the possibility of having to refrain from touching them. In that moment I felt the physical sensation, or perhaps the vivid memory of the familiar sensation, of Bill’s arms around me with his chin resting on top of my head and I felt comforted in my longing. I believe God brought that memory to mind in that moment for that very purpose.
It occurred to me how many times in the last year or two that I had been very aware of moments with Bill….. watching him feed our pets, standing beside him as he held his hands up in praise at church worship, watching him in his recliner laughing and talking to his best friend, memorizing his profile, watching sunsets together by the lake, lying in bed with my head on his shoulder and my hand on his chest feeling his heart beat, and moments of embraces like the one I felt in my physical and emotional memory that Saturday morning. These were moments that I knew were important as they were happening and that I needed to remember. Now, in his absence, I know why God had me pause in those moments….. to create a memory. I would need those memories for comfort. I thank God for impressing on my heart the need to remember those moments in my life with Bill for just such times as these.
I drove onward, stopping in Montgomery, AL, at the home of my sister, Carol, to drop off Winston so I could visit for the few hours I would be in Birmingham without distractions. And on I continued. I would be coming back to Carol’s home after lunch and a few hours in Birmingham to visit and stay overnight with her.
As I drove I realized I needed to refresh my memory of how to get to my children’s home from I-65, as my last time driving to their home had been by way of US Hwy 31 and State Route 280. So I called Charlotte to remind me of the exit and subsequent directions. She described the route – turn right at the first Oxmoor Rd. exit, go through the next couple of lights and curve to the right as the road goes down a hill. Stay on that road until you get to the park. Turn at the light at the park. “Right at the park?” I asked. No, she said, turn left at the park. After we hung up I had to think about the route directionally. I was moving north. I would turn east then I would bear southeast down a hill and continue straight, winding along on that road until I got to the park. I couldn’t remember the park’s orientation to the intersection from which I would be approaching but it seemed that her family’s condo was on the northeast corner of the park, if I recalled correctly.
It suddenly occurred to me that she had given directions “turn right, bear right, go straight, turn left, go straight….. and I had translated her directions into map directions “from north, go east, bear southeast, wind along until l get to the light at the park, then check my bearings and find her building at the northeast corner of park.”
Charlotte had located her home for me according to markers defined by landmarks and a 180 degree field of vision frame of reference- moving from one point to another by a series of sequential moves within that 180 degrees- “right, straight, left.” I, on the other hand had mentally translated her directions into a 360 degree “map” to think about the relationship of all of these points along the way to one another and to my present position and her position, as well- “north, east, south, west”, as if looking at a map from a higher perspective to orient myself to get to where I was going from where I was. I realized that we were using two different ways of considering spatial orientation and directions for travel, which is a function of time and space and motion. I had the feeling of being on the precipice of an “aha” moment that was pregnant with meaning. What does this mean God? What is the significance of different ways of thinking about where one is at the present and how to tell someone or hear someone else describe how to get somewhere else? There were other times I had been vaguely aware that there were people who navigated by landmarks and people who navigated directionally. The thought intrigued me and suddenly I had an image come to mind, I “saw” two figures in my mind’s eye:
180 degree perspective 360 degree perspective
Linear, sequential progressive in 1 of 3 directions Circular- points of reference based on N, S, E, W
2 reference points- where I am, where I am going multiple ref. points in all directions, inside & outside .
As I thought about these two ways of thinking about locating oneself within a space and moving from one place to another, the fixed reference points of N,S,E, and W provide definitive criteria that don’t change and to which each movement can be cross-referenced to locate it in relation to the origin and destination points. As I have understood it, this is the basic operational principles of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Any point in the 360 degrees of longitude and latitude can be located using this second way of thinking.
As human beings accustomed to traveling in vehicles, we generally move with a forward trajectory with 3 frames of reference that are located relatively close in to one’s own position- straight forward or a measure of up to 90 degrees to the left or right. It is a subjective process, based on one’s own 180 degree field of vision which can change as one moves about, but remains pretty much the same in scope and size. How much space one covers and what one finds as one moves will depend upon where one begins and how much one turns one way or the other. The 180 degree horizon perspective is subjective, based on the observer’s field of vision. The 360 degree perspective is more objective, as the location is described in relation to the whole, seen and unseen.
By simultaneous evaluation of one’s position using 4 fixed/defined points of reference, including behind where one is presently, one can move about more definitively, objectively and with greater likelihood of getting to one’s destination with a minimum amount of meandering around lost, as well as the ability to cover as much territory as desired, up to the maximum territory contained within that which is defined by the 4 fixed points of reference. Surveying, GPS locating, etc. is accomplished by the latter 4-points standard for points of reference.
How one thinks- subjectively from one’s own location or objectively from the perspective of a location outside of one’s self, as if looking at a map that takes in a larger scope, makes a big difference in what one sees.
As I was pondering these differences I suddenly had several scriptures and biblical principles pop into my head….
The first one was this scripture from Isaiah:
The Lord sits above the ‘circle of the earth’. I have tended to think of ‘circle’ as actually meaning spherical shape of the earth. However, one commentary offers ‘vault’ is an alternate description more aligned with the Hebrew word. A vault is a safe space that is defined by well-proportioned and secure boundaries. The circle of the earth, both its geography and its uniquely observable astronomical specifications in the larger cosmos, allow us to define “time” on our planet by means of observing the external points of reference as it moves through space over time. Its rotations and revolutions are securely understood, accurately defined, predictable, and with boundaries that have been ascribed to it for sustaining life. Only God could have done that! Isaiah 40 is a testimony to that reality. God created a ‘vault’ and put his treasured creation in it! And he sits above it, outside of it, and has a much larger perspective than those of us who are located on/within the ‘vault’.
Isaiah 40:22: “It is He who sits above the ‘circle of the earth’, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to live in.”
Here is a defining phrase that reveals God’s construction of the heavens as a boundary around the Earth that provides safety and comfort and defines its parameters. We live in a “tent” here on the earth created by the heavens around us. The whole concept of time is predicated on our view of the cosmos and the impact of the motion of the earth and other elements of the cosmos, as observed by us on the earth. Because this construct is our frame of reference, “time” is a measure defined by our geophysical understanding of where we are and how our environment impacts us. God is not limited by geophysical boundaries both time and space and is not limited by them as we are. It occurred to me in that moment that seeing this as a ‘simple’ description of the difference between God’s existence as Spirit, unencumbered by the limitations that we humans on earth have, explains aspects of God and concepts in the Bible that can be difficult to grasp.
In desiring accuracy, or “true” location instead of location relative to someone or something else, it occurred to me also that having 4 points of reference as criteria accurate positioning correlates to having 4 criteria for evaluating “truth”, as when one observes Scripture, reason, tradition, AND experience concurrently aligned in seeking truth as in the systematic theology of John Wesley’s Methodism. There are advantages to having 4 points of reference versus having Scripture, reason, and tradition alone as has historically been done by other groups with the thought of minimizing the intrusiveness of subjectivity of one’s personal “experience” on the order among individuals within religious groups. But it occurs to me that it is not a single individual’s experience that is important. It is the combined experiences of a number of people with varying degrees of similarities, overlaps, and differences that can be analyzed in something of a Bell Curve manner to say that within a certain range of experiences, personal experience is a valid parameter by which to discover or confirm truth when used in harmony with the other three. There are, of course, always’ “outliers” that, in the case of experience, would define experiences outside the usual and normal range of expected experiences, what some might call ‘supernatural’, or beyond the usual natural phenomena with which we are familiar. When Scripture, reason, and tradition provide additional “boundaries” to the process of evaluating and describing ‘truth’, experience can only go so far before it becomes an outlier beyond the scope and reach of the other three and has to be rejected as “truth”. All four together provide a solid and complete, 360 degree view that gives greater context to the total picture of the truth.
All of these things were going through my head quite quickly and I was thinking, “Huh. Interesting.” Then I had the thought that by God sitting above the circle of the earth, it is referring to God sitting outside the time and space that defines humans’ physical existence. A sundial can represent the “circle of the earth” in a time-mode. It gives an accurate, if not minutely specific measure of time based on the natural movement of the earth. It operates based on the relativity of the location in which it sits to the movement of the Earth through its annual course around the sun and its daily course in rotation on its own axis. God has a perspective on it all, being outside of the limitations of the physical 4 fixed frames of reference defined by life on Earth for us. It suddenly made the omnipresence and omniscience and omnipotence of God comprehensible. God, as Spirit, is both at a distance from the limitations we have that are defined by the physical realm and God is also within the frames of reference within which each of us operates as we move in our own linear progressive perspective of time and through space. God, unlike humans, is not confined by either time or space. As the Bible says, “God sits above it!” As such He moves about forward, backward, left and right in both time and space at will. From God’s perspective outside the earth, He has view of and connection with every single spot on the earth. We can only skillfully and accurately move forward, with some bilateral mobility, or stand still in the orientation of where we are, on the earth in the “vehicles” (our bodies) that bear us. Moving backwards is very limited. One may turn around, facing the opposite direction, but the subjective 180 degree field of vision still exists, regardless of the direction one faces. God, however, can be viewed as having eyes looking in all four directions simultaneously.
As I thought about that principle I saw in my mind’s eye something more complex and complete, but similar to this- which is the geometric working out of the relationship of a point outside of a ‘circle’ to the circle itself and how penetrating “rays” or lines of vision from the external point to any point on the ‘circle’ can be drawn and defined.
It was at this point in my drive that I got excited about this insight of how the two perspectives can result in misunderstanding and miscommunication between two people in something as simple as directions. But the principle, applied to worldviews and views of oneself and others, has applications for simplifying discussions of our differences and moving closer to one another by understanding one another’s perspective better. I was laughing and praising God as I drove along the highway, thinking about how to share what I was thinking about with my discipleship students. I was delighting myself in God’s majestic created order for us and for himself with us. I also recalled the Scripture, Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. (Laughing, “Don’t I know it!)
Then all of a sudden, it seemed that my vision, my real physical eyesight vision, my rods and cones, became blurred by what looked like a snowy “whiteout” or more of a “greyout”. I was still driving, I was in the car but I could see nothing. Whatever was going on had engulfed me all of a sudden. In the split second it took me to realize I was in serious physical jeopardy, I lifted my foot off the gas and moved it toward the brake, not panicked but aware of the danger and needing to “feel” my way through slowing down, easing over to the right shoulder, and stopping. That reaction, lifting my foot and thinking through the steps I needed to take to avoid a crash, took maybe a second and a half or two. At the same time, I said, “ Lord, help me”. As soon as I said “Lord, help me,” the grey field I was looking into dissipated, as if in fast forward speed, as quickly as it had engulfed me. I was looking at I-65 north again, passing Lakeshore Drive. I had adequate spacing between myself and the cars ahead of me, behind me, and to my left, as I continued straight in the right lane. Nothing had changed….. except me. As my mind reeled with what had just happened, I thought to myself- “Did I just have a stroke?” It happened so quickly. The radio had been on as I drove, but my thoughts had drowned out my awareness of the radio’s sounds. As I became very aware of things around me, I became away of the radio’s sounds again and the one word that registered with me, that I heard as I transitioned out of that experience was “breakthrough” which I thought was an odd word and for which I did not register the radio’s context. I took a mental inventory of myself. My hands were trembling a bit on the wheel from the realization of what might have happened if it had lasted longer or if I had panicked and slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel. As I took that inventory, I looked at myself in the mirror maybe within a timeframe of about 45-60 seconds. My cheeks were flushed a bright red color, but other than that, I looked and felt no different. I got off at the Oxmoor Road exit, thanking God for protecting me from the danger I’d been in. By the time I drove the few minutes to Charlotte’s I had gathered my thoughts somewhat. I felt nothing out of order in myself physically, all my limbs were working. My facial features looked normal; the flushed look was fading. I could hear and speak and see without impairment. I asked God to help me understand what had happened.
When I pulled into a parking space at the condo, Tim and Brady came to meet me and help get some things out of the car. I expected to be a little unsteady on my feet as I got out, but I moved without a problem as soon as I stood up and began walking. Tim and Brady hugged me. I must have had a quizzical look because Tim looked at me and said, “Are you okay?” I told him with a bit of shakiness in my voice “ I think I almost just died on I-65.” We went into the house where Charlotte and Riley hugged me, too. I sat down and asked for some water. My voice was a little weak, tentaive, and trembly as I described what had happened. I did not go into the details of what I had been thinking about and praising God for. I just told them I had had some insights as I asked God to help me understand some things. I told them what happened, what I had been doing when it happened, and what I thought it was – a spiritual attack- intended to invoke fear and distract me from the line of thinking and the fellowship with the Lord that I was enjoying. But because of the Lord’s presence with me, I had not reacted with fear, but had called out to him for help. The experience was then resolved as quickly as it had come. Charlotte asked if I thought I might have had a TIA. I told her I think my blood pressure had gone up for some reason. Tim had a BP monitor and went to get it. I checked and my BP was 189/99. I sat and drank the water, then stepped out to the patio and sat where it was cooler and did some controlled breathing for a little bit. Then I went back in and rechecked my BP. It was gradually coming down…. 179/89. A little later 159/84. I knew I had been taking my HTN medications faithfully a.m. and p.m., so whatever sent it up came out of nowhere. It wasn’t failure to take medications.
I know that satan uses our vulnerabilities whether they lie within our mind, our will, our emotions, or our bodies. This is the third time in 2 years in which my BP has suddenly jumped up for little or no apparent reason. The last time it did this a renal ultrasound was done to see if my kidney circulation was impaired. It wasn’t. I had previously had a cardiac workout because of extreme fatigue that had lasted for several months in 2015, a couple of years after starting on HTN medication. At that time I received a clean bill of health after all the testing that included a heart catheterization.
Oddly, during my bout with COVID-19 in July my BP was actually low for about a week- consistently less than 120/70 for that time during which I had to discontinue my HTM medications, as it was down in the range of 100-110/ 55-60.
After a three hour visit with Charlotte’s family, with my BP back to normal, I headed back toward Montgomery for an overnight visit with my sister. I drove home the next morning. I had no more unusual experiences or fear about what had happened. For the sake of being accountable to my children, I told Joni about the episode, too. As a Christian counselor she said that as I described to her what had happened and what I thought it was…. a spiritual attack….. she said her spirit was in agreement that it had been a spiritual assault against me. The word that she said came to her mind was “interfere”. When I heard her I thought to myself it was more like an attempt to ‘enter fear’. I had been aware that the spirit of fear had, at times, stalked me since early in 1993. I have written about it before. But the ways in which it once came at me are no longer present. I learned satan’s ploys and grew in my ability to recognize the source and combat the attacks. But, as Matthew 4’s ending tells us, after satan’s three tries to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, using the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (as John describes them in 1 John 2:16) satan went away to “wait for a more opportune time.”
I think satan saw an opportune time of me being alone on the road in less familiar circumstances than usual and enjoying personal time with the Lord to “hit and run.” I have experienced other attempts by satan to ambush me in order to invoke a reaction of fear. And while Joni agrees with me, she says the fact that the BP spikes have happened 3 times in two years, she wants to do some research. A pattern is occurring and there may be a physiological reason why I am vulnerable under certain conditions. She offered to do some research and we’d talk about it further after we’d both had more time to pray and consider how God would have us move forward.
In the meantime, I wanted to capture these thoughts on paper about what happened and consider further in the Word what God wants me to learn from this experience and how he wants me to move forward from it.