Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Thirty

It is getting late, as I tuck in a full day, the wind wrestling its way 'round my cabin. Snuggled under the blankets, I think back on the day... I awoke in the golden arms of the sunrise, a day older. A year older. A decade older. It is not often that these round milestones are placed in our palms, slipped into the pockets of our lives. They are a gift, marking a still moment to pause and reflect on the many hours and days that have built the last ten-year span. 

I wonder if I have used my first day in my thirties well. I question if I invested the days of my twenties wisely. Things did not go according to my plans this day, but they rarely do. Still, there were sweet gifts, surprise phone calls, dinner and ice cream with friends... There were cards, full of life-giving words, penned by some of my dearest friends. Words of hope and kindness. Inspiration to live worthy of my calling to display the Beauty of the Lord and His holiness. One note, with bold, black ink-words proclaimed—approximately—"Don’t be impatient. Wait for the Lord, and he will come and save you! Be brave, stouthearted, and courageous. Yes, wait and he will help you."*

Brave. I taste this word on my palate as if it has never escaped my lips before. As one who comes knowing that God is my Light and Salvation, I need not fear, I have only to be brave in His strength. Stouthearted. This reminds me of wholehearted, a word I have been meditating upon in the last few weeks. Yet stouthearted is nuanced differently. It implies one who will not falter in battle, who will bear up under trials. Yes, this is something I desire.

The last triplet-word rises before me: Courageous. I think of the many persons I know who have the courage to get up every morning, to live a life they did not—would not—choose. They bear the marks, the cost, of another's choices. It must take whole oceans of courage in their veins to to stand firm each day, I think. My life is not shaped by such trials. Do I, too, need courage? New Covenant words flit into my mind: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.* Yes, I need courage! Though I live under this present darkness, I take courage in the words, The LORD is my light and my Salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the Stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?*

Who knows what the upcoming days of my thirties will hold? I do not know the mile-marking joys and sorrows to come, and I am glad. I would become impatient or burdened knowing that such things were ahead still. What I do know, as I listen to the wind howl and pull my quilt closer, is that every day will bring its 'dailyness'. There will be dishes to wash, laundry to fold, books to mail at work, food to be made and enjoyed, friends to hug, smiles to give and receive, and prayers shot like arrows toward Heaven throughout the day. There will be songs to sing, children to hold, hands to hold, sorrows to bear. There will be sharp words when I lose sight of Kindness. There will be life-giving words from the Spirit of God to breathe into souls. There will be the daily, walking hand-in-hand with the Eternal. In short, there will be the every day I already know, and the every day life that comes with ageing bones and bodies.

Daily dishes, wrote words of liturgy, or our own stale thoughts can seem dull, mindless, and lifeless. But when Christ, Who is our life, breathes daily into us, we surge with liquid life. Much like Aslan in the Narnia stories breathes upon creatures turned to stone, restoring their life, Christ restores meaning and joy in our quotidian moments. Folding laundry becomes built-in prayer time. Liturgy becomes the rhythm of life, keeping us in step in the Great Dance. God infuses our listless, rutted thoughts with new perspective—gained from friends, new-to-us books, a song, or by simply opening our eyes to Scriptures we have seen a thousand times, but have not known until now.

Annie Dillard once penned, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."* If I am aware of God in the midst of soapsuds and repeatedly sliding discs into plastic sleeves, in the writing of words and the sharing a smile; if I breathe out "Lord have mercy" and inhale His mercy, then I am learning life-rich liturgy rooted in Christ. That seems a good way to live a day, a year, a decade...and a life.


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* Psalm 27.14 (TLB)
Ephesians 6:12 (ESVUK)
* Psalm 27:1 (NKJV)
* Dillard, Annie, The Writing Life (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why?

Oh, the questions we ask You, Begetter of the universe. 

You, Who spun waves and particles into golden light, we question if Your hands are big enough to hold us. You, Who breathed life into our spirits and our dusty frames, we pause to ask if You care about us. You, Whose finger carved words into the dirt, we ask if You care enough to write our stories, to show us what You want from us and for us.

You, Who entered time, slipped into skin, felt rejection and loneliness—we presume You have left us when our blind eyes cannot see You, and Your presence is not palpable. You, Who are called the Light of the world, we ask where You have gone when we wander in darkness. You, Who carefully marked the trenches of the world, poured its foundation, and sent the Cornerstone, why do we think You are incapable of answering our question marks?

Why does our friend have to walk through that valley? Our family member suffer that pain? Why do our own hearts, crushed, drip red in the darkness and in the blaze of day?

We ask when You will show up, why You allowed tragic loss, why there is emptiness sucking at our hearts like a black hole. Why does the darkness feel overwhelming, when the Light has rendered darkness outmoded, dead, and chased away?

There was a time when You stepped into our world. When eternity became now. You bought us back from hopeless death. And still we question. Still we scream. Still we shake our fists and walk away. You, Who never promised life would be easy, we expect to right everything, now. You, Who never explained Yourself to Job, we expect to spell out every answer to our every why? We expect You to operate like we do, to think in our human boxes, in our narrow line of sight. You, Creator, Sustainer, Holy One, Alpha, Omega... You, immortal, immutable, invisible, we ask to explain Yourself to our finite minds, to contain Yourself in a kernel of knowing that will fit inside of us. But You cannot be contained in our minds, in our paltry understanding, or in our broken hearts.

You are bigger than that—vast, eternal. You fill us, overfull, and splash out onto those we touch. Your love only multiplies. The ringing of Your Truth reverberates throughout the galaxies, resounding through the entire universe. How can we think it is all contained in one book, in one heart, in one mind, in one planet? 

It is not that we do not need to know why—sometimes we cannot know an answer so immense. We are too close to see the whole, to see clearly. We cannot explain away pain, abandoned hearts, our death valleys, or all the other dark shadows that cross over our lives. Neither can we explain why the storm clouds come to us, or why the Light doesn't break through and scare all our monsters away. Maybe we aren't strong enough to endure the illuminating rays that would break those clouds, eliminate that darkness. Perhaps we are being made ready to bear the weight of light—something weightless in our world—that, coming from the heavenly realm, is so dense that it would crush us. 

In a moment of unknowing I whisper, But why, God? Then, I choose to hang my question on these spoken pegs of Hope, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. I do not always know what that Mercy looks like in this moment, in this day, in this shadow world. What form will Mercy take? Sometimes His Mercy is severe. Once, it took the form of flesh, nailed to a cross—suffering with us.

God is not "out there" but right here, with us—even when I cannot feel Him or see Him, and the clouds do not part. He is not against me—or you. He does not say why He does what He does, or why He allows various things. He withholds His mighty hand at times, and I don't know why. I only know He will not leave us all alone.

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Grant us Your peace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

To Arrive Where We Began

Feathery snow traces dark, bare branches—edges clearly seen, crisp in Winter's garb. Juxtaposed with these stark lines, a low fog tucks my little town into hushed, hazy seclusion. The world wears the physical contrast of things clearly defined and things hidden in the blurred perimeter.

New years themselves are the edges of one season blending into another, of one year gracefully giving way to the next in the steps of a great dance. The past year or two has taught me that sometimes the sadness in our lives slowly fades into joy, or that the pain is replaced with Beauty, without us comprehending the moment of transition. At times, new life is breathed into dead hearts and relationships. As G. K. Chesterton explains:
"...boundaries are the most beautiful things in the world. To love anything is to love its boundaries; thus children will always play on the edge of anything. They build castles on the edge of the sea, and can only be restrained by public proclamation and private violence from walking on the edge of the grass. For when we have come to the end of a thing we have come to the beginning of it."*
Fringes and edges are where change is occurring. New beginnings are at the boundaries of old endings. A new year does not erase the previous one, but builds upon it, beyond it. Sometimes the story goes on with similar themes and veins. Other times whole new plot twists are added; sweetness flows where the sore and sour reigned—and Beauty blossoms in the howling wilderness.

Sometimes I become enamoured with the start of a new year, thinking it must be better than this or that, or that my great expectations will be fulfilled in the coming days. I anticipate that vibrant Beauty will replace grey ashes. This is my view from the edge, straining to see ahead into the unknowable future. If I would instead look back on what has clearly gone on behind me, learn from that—seeking not to make the same mistakes this day—I might enjoy a richer year.

Often I live on the fringes—of church sanctuaries, of social gatherings, of my own thoughts. Yet I need to step in, to step onto the altar and taste the wine and wafer. To pull others in from the edges toward deeper relationships. To stop wading in shallow thoughts and dive deep into study, into ideas, into knowing what it is to know, to be. There are times when new places or experiences make us feel the edges of ourselves; they cause us to see ourselves as small.

We cannot, however, remain at the edge of a year, of a story, of ourselves and know the heart, the depth, the themes there-in. Each day is a step closer to the heart of the year. Each question we learn to ask—and answer we seek—leads us to a deeper experiential understanding of God, of life, of ourselves. We look back in order to know how to move forward. We look at the close of one story in order to appreciate the beginning of another.
For last year's words belong to last year's language.And next year's words await another voice. **
Here we are, between last year and next year in this year—awaiting its voice, words, and song. We hardly reach the end of one year before the next one opens, unknown. We must muse over the things that have gone before, as they are our guides—in many ways—of what not to repeat and what to pursue.

So, here's hail! to the rest of the road. Let us walk in humble boldness from end to beginning, and on toward the boundaries that beckon us to enter in.


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.***



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*
Chesterton, G. K., “The Lion” in 
Tremendous Trifles (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920) 222
** Eliot, T. S., “Little Gidding” in
 Collected Poems 1909-1962 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1971) 204
*** Ibid, 208



Monday, January 5, 2015

Bleak Midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter

BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Time and Eternity Have Kissed



Christmas is not an event within history, but is rather the invasion of time by eternity.
~ Hans Urs von Balthasar (Light of the World)

There are things in the scientific and supernatural realm that overlap—or perhaps dove-tail—and pique my interest immensely. Two in particular are light and time. We are told that both move at a constant rate in the same direction—I have my doubts about this, however. Perhaps this is because I am seeing light and time from the other side, the ontological side. 

Scientists see time as Chronos—constant, linear, measurable; unable to grasp Kairos time—the time that stands still or races by without being noticed, the time of being, the time of eternity—immeasurable. I have noticed that my friends in the hard sciences like to measure things, to have precise definitions or parameters, to place things and persons into neat boxes. From kingdoms and classes, to preferences and personality types. Yet persons are dynamic, able to deviate from a habit or routine, to say or do the unexpected. 

When it comes to Kairos—and maybe even Chronos—I think time is dynamic rather than constant. I cannot break it down further, perhaps because I would be trying to dissect a mystery, to grapple with the immaterial. In the midst of our chaos, the mystery of Kairos steps quietly at first, then loudly announced, into Chronos. The Eternal God Himself entered time. No, as von Balthasar says, "invades" Chronos. He invades more personally still, letting us know that He has "put Eternity in" our very hearts, and it searches out Eternity Himself.

The very first Christmas was the collision of Chronos and Kairos—the invasion of time by Eternity. It is both a reality and a mystery, a sacred moment changing all of history. Let us be still, in awe of God Himself becoming man, of time being entered by Eternity.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Naming God


This is the day we remember the circumcision and naming of Jesus. Malcolm Guite has put the naming of the Word into poetry in the following sonnet. You can click the title to hear him read this lovely piece. Enjoy!



Luke 1:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


I name you now, from whom all names derive

Who uttered forth the name of everything,

And in that naming made the world alive,

Sprung from the breath and essence of your being.

The very Word that gave us words to speak,

You drank in language with your mother’s milk

And learned through touch before you learned to talk,

You wove our week-day world, and still one week

Within that world, you took your saving name,

A given name, the gift of that good angel,

Whose Gospel breathes in good news for us all.

We call your name that we might hear a call

That carries from your cradle to our graves

Yeshua, Living Jesus, Yahweh Saves.

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[You can see the original post on Malcolm Guite's website, here.]