Friday, February 27, 2015

A Chalice Remade

Well-worn, chestnut-coloured floorboards creak beneath the many feet entering the hushed room. A reverent quiet is—mostly—kept, it is a time of preparation for the special yearly observance. My friend and I arrive early, a rarity for me, to settle our hearts and minds for the Ash Wednesday service. Yet my mind is awhirl, reflecting on the day's conversations, expectations, frustrations, and disappointments. In spite of outward tranquility, my thoughts are uneasy.

Without sound or ceremony, the clergy and chalice bearers file down the centre aisle. We stand until the vicar invites us to pray the Lenten collect. Then, kneeling before the King of all things, we seek to know that our sin is costly. Only the life-blood of God's own Son could buy us back from death, the paycheck of our sin. My heart sought to stay focussed, prodding my mind to read along, if listening alone was not enough.

The Epistle reading proclaimed that unfathomable paradox, that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him"1, a text that baffles both my mind and heart most days. This evening, though, I read the familiar words wanting to be moved, expecting life, yet being disappointed in my expectation. God's word is not something I can use to contrive an emotional experience, thankfully. Only His Spirit at work in my heart and mind can bring truth alive. As I rose with my row to receive the imposition of ashes, I knew that I needed to be emptied of myself and my own chaotic thoughts.

Sweet-smelling charred palm dust smudged thumb and forehead. A cross marked upon my brow, as I knelt and heard the familiar words, "Remember that thou art but dust, and to dust thou shalt return." The service continued, but I found my mind coming back to my frailty. I am but dust? How can this be, when my body is the hale and healthy flesh of one just entering their thirties? Yet, I am not deceived by my feelings of immortality. Hiking in dangerous places and sliding on ice have both punctured my security at times. The recent, unexpected loss of a family friend in her early twenties reminds me that the breath in my lungs is always a gift.

I am fragile. This realisation makes me both afraid and angry. I don't want to be frail. I rebel at being made of clay, the "poor potsherd, patch, matchwood"2 that I am. I am the thing formed irritably asking my Maker, "Why have you made me like this?"3 God fashioned me to need things—from food and sleep, to intimate relationships and love. I wonder if my needs make me frail. No, sin makes me breakable—my needs make me vulnerable, open to depending on God and others, rather than only myself.

My fears of the unknown, the uncertainties haunting my thoughts, the turmoil of my whole day led me to cry out from my knees, "I am flying to pieces, God! Hold me together." The tiny sting of communion wine on my tongue turned my heart to God's reply, "I have fashioned you to be a chalice to bear me." Here I was asking God to hold me together—that my fragments would not turn to wounding shrapnel—and His response was to tell me, the thing formed, that I was to hold Him! This is the mystery, that the Maker inhabits the made—or maid, in the case of Mary. The Potter clothed Himself in clay. The ones who need to be held together by God will be made to hold God.

I walked out into the darkness of evening unafraid, because the Light Himself dwelt in me. My foaming thoughts were not immediately quelled, the questions inside were not somehow answered. Still, I wrestle with my flesh, with distractions and restlessness, with fear and uncertainty, with a complaining tongue and a heart of stone. Daily, I must ask to be emptied of myself and to be held together by God, that I might be filled—like a chalice of Eucharistic wine—with the Holy Spirit. This is the purpose the Maker has for the thing made—whether I am a clay pot or a silver chalice—to hold Him as He holds us together.


1. II Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV)
2. Hopkins, Gerard Manley, “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire” Selected Poems and Prose (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books Ltd, 1982) 66
3. Romans 9:20b (NKJV)

All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lent Week 1: Entrance

Introit: Entrance
(Lent Week One)

Chill and dank
Is my soul
—Emotions, mind, will—
Closed, under ground;
I'm hiding here
In my sin
Frustrated, and unsure
How to escape

Holy Doors barred,
Soul windows shuttered
In many here
Sitting on pews
Or kneeling down
Before the altar
In rote movements
Receiving bread & wine.

Ancient doors: Open!
Fling wide all
The heart gates
And enter in!
King of Glory,
Illumine what in
Me is dark—
Be my Liberty

Make me vulnerable
And free within,
Shining Your light
Into every crevice,
Making me resplendent.
I am incandescent,
Blazing with Your
Holiness, like starlight

Enter the universe
—Too small to
Fully hold You—
By entering me,
Tabernacle set apart,
Replete with You
In my body,
Soul, and spirit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rising from Ruin

Tonight, ashes smear
Across my face
From priest’s thumb—
Sin’s dark drear
Mingled with  oil
Leaves a smudge
On my skin
and my soul

Last year’s palms
Burn deep upon
My flesh and
In my memory—
All I see
Is ashen, grey,
Charred remains of
Promises and dreams

I peer inside
At my soul
Crumbling to coals
Dead and lifeless—
Not a spark
Or an ember
Of élan appears
To be there

Am I hopeless
In this heap
Of fine flakes?
In brittle remains
Of others’ sins
And my own?
No, please God
Be my Hope.

From the dust
Sizzles a flame
Tracing the shape
Of burning wings—
From the ashes
Emerges a head
Fiery Phoenix: arise!

Resurrecting from ruin
Flames a Phoenix—
Jesus, the Redeemer,
Myth become Fact,
The Holy One,
Burning up sin,
Breathing His life
Into dead places

Last year’s ashes
Smear across skin—
Dreams and promises
Broken by evil
Are not all
That there is;
The Phoenix rises,
Hope still lives!

Healing can come,
Lives be redeemed,
Faith be reforged,
Truth grant freedom—
The locust years
Can be uneaten
And all things
Be made well.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Splendour in Every Crack and Crevice

The night skies sing the glory of God!
Dark and light, clouds and constellations are crafted by His deft hands.
Daily they declaim, night upon night they raise a chorus of praise.
Even though our ears cannot hear their speeches and symphonies,
Still their message of God's glory and splendour has filled
Every crevice and crack in all of the cosmos.

Thus I paraphrased the opening verses of Psalm nineteen a few weeks ago. I was out on a snowy tramp in the mountains, seeking some solitude under the night sky. The Milky Way was so thick with stars that it was more like seeing specks of black space in a sky of silver light. My heart responded with the opening lines of Psalm nineteen and the Doxology. 

In my life I find that Beauty leads me to worship. Beauty soothes the wounds inflicted on various fronts. No, let me rather say that Beauty heals our wounded souls. It enriches our lives. This is because Beauty is not an end in itself, but is a reflection of God's holiness. Beauty heals our hearts by leading us to worship and thank the Almighty One.

This giving thanks (eucharisteo in Greek) is our connection to life in Christ Himself. Think for a moment of what various church traditions call the Lord's Supper—the Eucharist. Growing up in a more evangelical set of churches, I thought that the Lord's Supper was a time for seeing how wicked I was and for repenting. Earnestly I would examine myself, tell God I was sorry, eat the bread, drink the juice, and go home. 

Years of conversations and reading Scripture more deeply have reshaped my understanding of the Eucharist. Yes, I examine my heart, I agree with God that the things I have done or left undone are sin, and I ask to walk in newness of life—the spiritual life of Christ received in the bread and the wine of the common cup. My response to His sacrifice and His life is spoken by the chalice bearer: "Take this in remembrance that Christ died for you and be thankful." 

God, Who is good (eu), offers me grace (charis) through Christ. My response is to give thanks (eucharisteo). It is a daily rhythm, like the steady beating of my heart, or breathing in and out. Every day I am greeted with Beauty in various places, ways, and individuals. I am offered the healing and grace of God, if I will keep my eyes and heart open to see and receive His gifts. In response, I breathe out my thanks, my praise of His goodness and holiness and Beauty. 

I am learning that healing and thanksgiving do not come in one fell swoop. They are an everyday process. As it is an existential request to be emptied of myself and filled afresh with God's Spirit, so it is with practising eucharisteo. Only Jesus can accomplish something "once for all", whilst we must take daily steps toward Him and His completeness. 

Stars have never put a scrap of silver in my pocket, but I am richer for their beauty shining into my eyes and heart. The person I am, fragmented by the Fall, is becoming more like Jesus, made whole by Beauty that leads to worship—by grace flowing in, thanksgiving flowing out. Every crevice and crack in me is being filled with the splendour of God. Like the stars in the heavens, I shine out with the glory of God. Yet unlike those silver spheres, my words of praise to God can be heard by my fellow men, if only I will speak them.