Saturday, January 4, 2014

Come Speak in Joy Untamed and Wild

Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come 
In Your fearful innocence. 
We fumble in the far-spent night 
Far from lovers, friends, and home: 
Come in Your naked, newborn might. 
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come; 
My heart withers in Your absence.

Come, Lord Jesus, small, enfleshed 
Like any human, helpless child. 
Come once, come once again, come soon: 
The stars in heaven fall, unmeshed; 
The sun is dark, blood’s on the moon. 
Come, Word who came to us enfleshed, 
Come speak in joy untamed and wild.

Come, Thou wholly other, come, 
Spoken before words began, 
Come and judge Your uttered world 
Where You made our flesh your home. 
Come, with bolts of lightning hurled, 
Come, Thou wholly other, come, 
Who came to man by being man.

Come, Lord Jesus, at the end, 
Time’s end, my end, forever’s start. 
Come in Your flaming, burning power. 
Time, like the temple veil, now rend; 
Come, shatter every human hour. 
Come, Lord Jesus, at the end. 
Break, then mend the waiting heart.”

— Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season

This might be my favourite poem of Madeleine's L'Engle's. I like it so much that all I can say is that you should read it at least three times. Ready? Set... Go.

Friday, January 3, 2014


From the initial moment of surprise
       By piercing light they never had expected,
       The Magi mulled the meaning of the skies.
Was the betrayal worse, or were the lies?
       What in her swelling belly he’d detected
       Joseph couldn’t find in Mary’s eyes,
And that was puzzling.  Puzzling to the Wise
       Men were their stumbling thoughts as they reflected
       Deeply on the meaning of the skies.
Joseph made them gentle, his good-byes,
      Turned sadly from the girl he had selected,
      Still haunted by the tears that filled her eyes.
Who knows what led those scholars to surmise
      The answer to the problem they’d dissected
      And journey toward the meaning of the skies?
An angel and his faith made Joseph prize
      The woman he had earlier rejected.
      The Magi mulled the meaning of the skies,
But Joseph saw the Star in Mary’s eyes.

Donald T. Williams, Stars Through the Clouds

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Silence of God

It's enough to drive a man crazy; it'll break a man's faith 
It's enough to make him wonder if he's ever been sane 
When he's bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod 
And the heaven's only answer is the silence of God 

So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God 
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not 
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not 
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God

~ Andrew Peterson, The Silence of God

Three-quarters of the way through Christmas I am looking backwards. Around Christmastide I tend to ponder the passage from Genesis when God pronounces the curse, and in the same breath, He offers the promise of a forthcoming Redeemer. I look back at Isaiah nine's promise of a great light and Wonderful Counsellor, or the Suffering Servant in chapter fifty-three. Then I jump ahead to Luke one and two, or John chapter one and get fired up about God becoming man - because let's face it, that is a phenomenal, staggering, once-in-history kind of event. But in my reading I skip over Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. I skim right over four hundred years of silence from God. As far as we know, there were no public prophets of God between Malachi and Matthew. Even God's chosen people were sitting in great darkness, as Isaiah describes.

Here I pause to remember that God was very quiet for all those years. Quietly He set the things in motion for all that needed to happen to prepare the time and place for Jesus to enter the world. But quiet work is often unnoticed.  

Silence is not something fallen humans are good at dealing with, particularly in our techno-centric culture. I cannot even go hiking without meeting someone texting on their iPhone, or hearing boeing jets high above. What do you do when it gets quiet? Do you have an overwhelming urge to turn on music or sermons or a film? Are you able to live comfortably in silence with another person - or are you always wracking your mind for a question to ask or something to say if you are around them? When we are faced with silence or immobility, we almost instantly crave a diversion. A ten second pause in a conversation (especially on the phone) has us squirming in discomfort. 

I imagine that the Israelites did not do well with silence either. They surely looked for a diversion. Whether they became idolaters or adulterers, tax collectors for the growing Roman Empire or zealots, they were not listening for the rustling of divine robes or the whispers of God. 

Still the words of the final prophet rang in the hearts of some old souls: "But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings..." The sky turned just a shade less black. And more promises tumbled around in the hearts of some men: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord..." The East grew pearl grey. There were rumours about a man near the Jordan River who wore rough clothing and ate wild locusts. Perhaps a prophet had appeared after four hundred very long years. And then the Light broke on the scene, asking the Pharisees what they had gone out into the wilderness to see, a prophet? Yes, a prophet, the voice of one crying in the wilderness...

But I have jumped ahead to the voice, to the light... Let's go back to the silent darkness. Why? Because many persons (Christians and non-Christians alike) sit in silent darkness in various life circumstances. Many are waiting for the dawn, for the light of hope to spill across the horizon of their lives -- but it is year one-hundred-thrirty-five in the four hundred years of silence. The end is not even in sight. We feel left alone in our cravings and addictions. We feel like we will never get beyond the breaking point in our marriage. We feel overwhelmed with failure or debts. Is the Sun of Righteousness going to rise, or are we just stuck here? 

Many faithful men died during those four hundred taciturn years. And for a couple of thousand years prior, men had died without the promised Messiah's appearance. But they did not die in despair. They died in expectant hope that the Messiah would come. Rather than being distracted with dumb idols of wood, stone, and silver, they set their eyes way down the road, looking unto the Author and Finisher of their faith. They never saw Him in this life, only His shadow.

There are times when we live in the solid darkness, when all we hear from God is silence. The ancients called it the 'dark night of the soul'. We call it 'impossible to bear', that weighty silence. Yet we are "pressed but not crushed," as Paul says. Or as Andrew Peterson put it above, the aching may remain, but the breaking does not. At some point the faithful Israelites saw the consummation of their hope - but not in this life. We look back on the incarnation, the resurrection as the fulfilment of our hope. When we experience the silence of God, we know that it is not forever. The aching may remain all of this life, but the breaking does not... In the holy lonesome echo of the silence of God.

~ Johanna

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Coming Home

A new year dawns with streaks of fire-coloured light. A new year gathers itself up to spring forward, like a great cat about to pounce. This particular day marks not only the first day in a new year, it is also the day I return to my little cottage in the mountains.  

I have missed the sunshine and fresh air. I have missed my routine and schedule. I missed getting to eat what I want, when I want it (cilantro!). I longed for mountains and activity - especially hiking. I missed my job and my friends and my church. But I enjoyed holding my niece and chasing my nephew around the yard until we were both winded and frozen. I enjoyed the smell of a wood fire - and its warmth on my stiff fingers. I introduced my Dad to a book I enjoy while I was home... I think I liked it better than he did, but it was delightful to read it aloud together. I enjoyed going for walks with my mom and washing a lot dishes together (many times). I had a great time shooting a few different guns with my brother-in-law. My sisters and I enjoyed spending an evening with our cousin, eating Mexican food and looking at books in Barnes and Noble. There was the delight of the 'freshness of deep down things' –earth and rain- and the smell of winter wind... And it was all good. But it is good to be home, too. 

Today, as I think about coming home and all the joys that go with that, I realise that it is the eighth day since Christmas, the day of Jesus' circumcision. "And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb." (Luke 2:21)  Circumcision was an ancient custom that set the Hebrew people apart, marked them as different. A custom that we still carry on today, not in cutting the flesh (baptism is the sign we now use), but of the heart, cutting away sin and decay. This marking of the flesh, and for us, of our hearts, is a sign that we belong to God's family. So we see that Jesus belonged to God's people from the very beginning of His sojourn on earth.

It is not a coincidence that when a child was circumcised he was also named. This marking and naming go hand in hand. It is a coming home of sorts, saying that one is accepted into God's people, and he is named, or cared for. Because when we care about a thing, we often name it... But more truly, when we name something, we take greater responsibility for it. That is why God had Adam name the animals in Genesis - he took responsibility for them and authority over them, as God had directed. 

When someone takes responsibility for us, when they are willing to take the penalty of us breaking the oath, and when they invite us to be their own special people, it is good. It is a coming home in a very 'other' but similar kind of way as when I walked into my own cabin tonight. It is being somewhere protected, safe, and cosy. It is being part of something bigger than yourself. It is being in a place that takes a lot of elbow grease and hard work. Daily disciplines are much like the washing dishes, fixing leaky roofs, and planting the garden of our spiritual 'home.' Jesus took on flesh and made His dwelling, His home, among us... And He shone with the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And He made a way for us to be home with Him, by removing our sin from us and making us the righteousness of God.

And as the first day in the new year fades from a blazing orange and golden sunset, there is the sense of being home, even in this new year. And it is good...

~ Johanna