Lenten Reflection-Grace Comes Like Dawn

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy1:14

Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning; then a light; and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness.
Thomas Adams

It starts as subtle glow around the edges so that dark appears darker with contrast that wasn’t there before. Illumination slowly reveals the hidden niches. As it progresses, more details stand out in relief, creating both portrait and landscape. Then the color flows, emerging and submerging, encompassing and enveloping.

What was murky and undefined is now revealed with backlighting, and brightly adorned.

What was depths of tomb and grave is now opened and freed.

From gloaming to dawning, our souls rise as well.

Lenten Reflection–Nothing Else; Nothing Less

All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful
Psalm 25:10

“All does not mean ‘all – except the paths I am walking in now,’
or ‘nearly all – except this especially difficult and painful path.’
All must mean all.
So, your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil,
and mine with its sharp flints and briers –
and both our paths,
with their unexplained perplexity,
their sheer mystery – they are His paths,
on which he will show Himself loving and faithful.
Nothing else; nothing less.
Amy Carmichael–Anglican missionary to India 1867-1951

Sometimes we come upon forks in the road where we may not be certain which path to take. Perhaps explore the Robert Frost “less traveled” one? Or take the one that seems less tangled and uncertain from all appearances?

Sometimes we are walking along a particular path, minding our own business, and we start bonking our heads on low hanging branches, or get grabbed by stickers and thorns that rip our clothes and skin, or trip over prominent roots and rocks that impede our progress and bruise our feet.

Sometimes we come to a sudden end in a path and face a steep cliff with no choice but to leap or turn back.

Navigating the road to the cross must have felt like ending up at that steep cliff. There was no turning back, no choosing or negotiating a different pathway or taking time to build a staircase into the rocks. His words reflect His uncertainty and terror. His words reflect our deepest doubts and fears–how can we trust we are on the right path?

When we take that next step, we end up in the Father’s loving and faithful arms.

Nothing else; nothing less.

Lenten Reflection–What Love Looks Like

Detail from Rembrandt's Face of Jesus

What does love look like?
It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
That is what love looks like.

What love doesn’t look like:

it is not the Hollywood version
or the red carpet glittery gowns
or the fancy jewelry

it is not mostly uncovered magazine cover girls
or hooking up when it feels good
or a serial monogamy relationship of three months

it’s not an online status declaring “in a relationship”
or a choreographed and photographed proposal
or the designer wedding gown

it isn’t precisely planned conceptions
of predetermined gender and genetics
or discarding the imperfect

Love looks like
and sacrifice
and mercy
and selflessness
and forgiving grace

It looks like Him.

Lenten Reflection–Time to Eat

Christ Appears on the Shore by James Tissot

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
John 21:12

There are fewer more nurturing words than “time to eat.” Having someone care enough to cook a meal to feed body and soul is welcome indeed. So “come and have breakfast” after a long night of fishing must have been an irresistible invitation.

After Resurrection Day, Jesus appears to His followers on several occasions, but He is not always initially recognizable. The trigger for discerning who He is seems connected to sharing a meal.

This makes entire sense after His Last Supper with the disciples before His death. He makes it clear how He wants to be remembered, through a symbolic meal of bread and wine. So when He returns, when He breaks bread, cooks fish, and eats together with others, they recognize they are in the presence of the Lord.

In this instance, when the disciples have had a night of no success catching fish, He directs them to drop their nets yet again and suddenly there are more fish than they can handle. This is capped by His invitation: “Come and have breakfast”.

He then feeds them, both figuratively and literally.

Accepting the invitation is all that is asked of us. Who doesn’t want to have breakfast cooked for them?

Time to eat. Be filled. Never be hungry again.

Jesus at the Sea of Galilee by Tintoretto

Lenten Reflection–Choosing Sides

photo by Josh Scholten

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.
G.K. Chesterton

This is not like choosing sides on teams in grade school, numbering off one-two-one-two until everyone knows where they stand. This is not like an election year where choosing sides means aligning myself with the political party that seems to be the best fit at the time, even if I don’t agree with all their platform points. This is not like a Lincoln-Douglas debate tournament where I might represent one viewpoint for the first round, and then be asked to represent the opposite viewpoint in the second half.

It is more like being chosen for one side or the other, even if, klutz that I am, it means always being the last to be chosen for any sports team with all my limitations, my poor coordination, my weakness and my flaws.

This choice is not for an hour or a day or a year, but for eternity; whether to stand in the light as it shines on my dark, glum, sullen head or stay unexposed and hidden in the shadows.

It isn’t just about choosing,
but being chosen,
just as I am.

Though the light shines on things unclean, yet it is not thereby defiled.

Lenten Reflection–Part of the Promise

Mourning by Umberto Boccioni

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.
We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’
The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.
C.S. Lewis ~~writing on suffering

The assumption on the part of some is that life comes with a “no pain” guarantee. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed childbirth knows better. It all starts out with a push and a cry, not exactly the most comfortable moments for mother or baby. No one escapes suffering, no matter how strongly they believe in God. It is what we signed up for once we exited our mother’s womb.

How could an all-powerful all-knowing God allow suffering, especially in innocent children? This is a standard argument used against the existence of God. The reasoning is that there is abundant suffering in the world so therefore no God in control. Somehow the gospel reality is set aside: God allowed His own suffering and experienced real pain in order to defeat death on our behalf and to ensure an eternal union with Him.

He mourned. He wept. He hurt. He bled. He died. Just like us.

What all powerful all knowing God would do that? Our God would, because He is first and foremost a loving God who makes imperfection perfect again.

No, there isn’t a “no pain” guarantee –neither God nor even the natural world ever promised that. But only our God promises “no stain” –that we are washed clean for eternity by the blood He shed in suffering.

For that is our greatest comfort of all.

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:5

Lenten Reflection–Trembling at Dawn

photo by Josh Scholten

Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming.
It is close at hand—
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains…
Joel 2: 1b-2a

How can we prepare for the darkness of what is coming? It is so close at hand. We know our death is inevitable, that our return to dust is a given, yet we tremble in fear at that awareness. Even God Himself, praying in the Garden before His arrest, faced the inevitability of His death with painful anguish. As one of us, locked in our flesh, His heart beating and bleeding, He experienced doubt, acknowledged abandonment, knew betrayal. God forsaken of God.

Overwhelmed by the army of locusts descending in the cloud as described in this Chapter of Joel, our darkness has become His darkness.

Only one who knows that suffering can lead us out of the gloom into the dawn of a new day, into a new life.

“Even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart and not your garments.
Joel 2:12-13a

Lenten Reflection–We are Dust

magnified landscape of human skin

…He knows how we are formed,
He remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 103: 14

God remembers because He sculpted us from dust, gently breathing into our nostrils the breath of life, filling our lungs to keep us afloat while anchored to the soil. Though we are grateful for each breath that keeps us alive, we tend to forget how our daily journey returns us to dust, beginning with the parched and dying desert of our covering. Our skin sheds, flake by flake, returning to dust, slowly pulling us back to the ground where we were formed. With each breath we are closer to dust than the breath before, each more precious than the last.

His touch formed us. His breath fills us. His love anchors us.

He remembers. So must we.

magnified human skin cells

Shedding Some Light

I’m a bit confused here.

While more states, including my own, grant the legal right to marry to same sex couples, more and more heterosexual couples are rejecting official marriage that includes a signed “piece of paper”, preferring to bear their children out of wedlock. What one minority segment of U.S. society has fought hard for over several decades, now granted through society’s expanding acceptance and tolerance of diverse lifestyles, the heterosexual majority increasingly deems marriage worthless and to be avoided.

Can someone shed some light on what is going on here?

I’m all for celebrating legal sanctioning of personal commitment. I have seen what happens when there is no commitment to commitment. Without steadfast loyalty, dependability, predictability, and honoring of promises made, relationships flounder and fizzle, descending into selfish silos of an “every person for themselves” approach to life. I watched it happen late in my parents’ marriage as their focus became less on the inherent value of the union of two people who made vows before God to stay together through thick and thin, and more on what’s best for the individual when needs go unmet. Any divorce is heartbreaking and painful, but the implosion of a 35 year marriage is truly tragic and unnecessary. Ironically, their original commitment reignited ten years later as they married again for the last few years of my father’s life.

There are now too many scarred and scared young people unwilling to take the step of marriage, having grown up inside the back and forth visitation homes of divorce or in a home offering no significant modeling of long term emotional commitment. Even monogamous devotion to a new sexual partner is seen as unnecessarily restrictive, while an unplanned new life conceived within that relationship becomes too easily postponed until it is “convenient” for the unprepared parents. We have forgotten what promises mean, what stability represents to a relationship and children, how trusting obedience to the longevity of the union should trump short term individual desires.

My clinic day increasingly is filled with the detritus of failed and failing relationships. Too many of my young adult patients who describe symptoms of depression and anxiety struggle with whether they want to continue to live at all, sometimes expressing their misery in escalating self harming behaviors or anesthetizing with alcohol or recreational drugs. They describe the chaos of parents living sequentially with multiple partners, of no certain “home” outside their school dorm or apartment, unsolvable complications with half- and step- sibling relationships, and all too frequently financial uncertainty. Many grew up supervised by TV and computer games rather than being held accountable to (mostly absent) parental expectations. They are more comfortable with on-line communication than risk being truthful about who they really are with flesh and blood people they see every day. They fear failure as they have seldom been allowed to make mistakes and subsequently experience forgiveness and grace from those who love them. They are emotional orphans.

In short, they know little about how love manifests through self-sacrifice and faithfulness.

Keeping commitment becomes the light that illuminates our lives, as reliable as the fact the sun rises every morning.

At least on that we can depend.

Dust to Dust

Over the last several weeks on the farm we have been running low on wood shavings, the absorbent bedding we use to cover the horse stall floors in the barns. In the winter, the animals, due to the cold and rainy weather, spend a significant part of the week indoors, so their bedding is important for their comfort and for the ease of cleaning every night after we get home from work. The large truck load of shavings we had delivered into our shavings shed last summer was rapidly diminishing to the last few wheelbarrow loads so I called the shavings company we’ve happily dealt with for twenty years to request a new delivery. As is the case when local sawmills are slow in the winter due to less demand for lumber, I knew there would be a wait but it is worth it to get the perfect load: large fluffy shavings with no dust for a feather light and cushiony bed for our horses.

It arrived today while we were at work and I hurried outside in the dark after dinner to admire the shavings shed once again filled to the brim. As I got closer and turned on the barnyard vapor light, my heart sank. This was no load of shavings–typically aromatic curly remnant wood flakes. This was a building full of sawdust powder–way too fine, heavy in the shovel and extremely dusty. In short, it was several tons of a mess that I could not undo or send back and now have to deal with. What the sawmill had cast off as leftover waste product has become my ten foot high mountain of recycled regret.

This pulverized stuff is not fit for man nor beast. It gets into noses and lungs, irritates eyes and gets swallowed down with hay. I’m sick with disappointment. It was all I could do to haul it into the barn and watch the dust clouds go airborne as I spread it in the stalls. My poor horses wonder why I’ve condemned them to eat from a dust bowl. It is bitter irony that I’m paying good money for something that was to help me keep things clean when the reality is that it will make things so much harder to keep clean.

After shoveling a few hundred pounds of dust, I came back to the house covered in a veil of powder, my eyes itchy, my nose running, my throat burning. I can look forward to six months of this daily aggravation, but at least I won’t have to sleep in it like my animals. I can climb in the bathtub with water up to my ears and soak it off, at least until tomorrow’s chores.

Like times in my life when I must cope with being let down, sometimes those I have always depended on just don’t come through. Disappointment may cover me like a shroud, but I must wear it gently, not angrily. I’ll try not to stir up clouds of it wherever I go, eating and breathing disillusionment so much it hurts others as well. I can be perpetually grimy and disgruntled from wallowing in the stuff but that is not who I want to be.

Instead, I can seek out fresh air, breathe deeply, put on protective equipment and dive back in to do what needs to be done. Someday the mountain of misery will be made miniscule.

There will always be a bath to look forward to at the end of the day.