Between Midnight and Dawn: Laboring in Me

spring232116

God looks down from heaven
    on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
Psalm 53:2

 

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

 

258503_2023255813320_4029126_o
photo by Josh Scholten

The first day of spring is a traditional celebration of the rebirth of nature’s seasonal rhythms, and God’s inner renewal of our hearts.

Instead this morning was pitch black, looking and feeling like the bleakest of October mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of deep autumn and winter all over again.

One would think no self-respecting God would birth Himself into something like this: a dawn as dark as night.

But this God would.

He labors in our darkest of hearts for good reason.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts.  Though we are called to celebrate the renewal of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us.   The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our broken hearts now healing.

 

10523998_10205922980805935_5739538639980692388_n
photo by Josh Scholten

 

Between Midnight and Dawn: The Stones Will Cry Out

bakerbasalt2

rockies2

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
S
ome of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,”
he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said,
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Luke 19: 37-44

rockvine

So much conspires to keep us silent~
Faith is not fashionable;
A crutch for the weak
Outmoded, obsolete,
Outrageous belief.

Far easier to worship the earth
Or each other
Or nothing at all
Rather than exalt the
Living God Everlasting.

His name no longer spoken
At school or work
Remembered one hour a week
By some,
Forgotten by most.

Sing of His glory
In joy and gratitude
Imperfectly sincere,
Never to be silenced
While we have tongues.

If we do not shout out loud,
Nor spread branches at His feet,
If we worry what others might think,
The stones will cry out and will not stop,
As He weeps,  as He weeps
for us.

 

graystonepile

causeway3

Between Midnight and Dawn: Not in Jest

daffrain4

snowdrops62116.jpg

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—
his eternal power and divine nature—
have been clearly seen,
being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20

 

Divinity is not playful.
The universe was not made in jest
but in solemn incomprehensible earnest.
By a power that is unfathomably secret,
and holy,
and fleet.
There is nothing to be done about it,
but ignore it,
or see.

~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

homerroller

We weren’t conceived by random happenstance,
even those who are not welcomed
but wished or washed away before taking a breath.

We are here because we were earnestly needed and wanted,
by a power and divinity beyond comprehension
with a capacity for love and compassion
beyond anything in our earthly experience.

We aren’t a cosmic joke.
We aren’t pawns in the universe’s chess game.
We may look silly as we intentionally loll about in the smelly stuff of life,
or we may think what we say or do doesn’t matter a hill of beans,
but we are created to clearly see God for who He is,
and in whose image He made us.
He won’t be ignored;
we have no excuses.
It is time to open our eyes,
and see.

sunset813151

marchblooms

Between Midnight and Dawn: The Scattering of Light

earlysunrise31816

sunrise31816

 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”  You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness.  Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.
Deuteronomy 4:10-12

 

In the old days, on Easter night, the Russian peasants used to carry the blessed fire home from church. The light would scatter and travel in all directions through the darkness, and the desolation of the night would be pierced and dispelled as lamps came on in the windows of the farmhouses, one by one. Even so, the glory of God sleeps everywhere, ready to blaze out unexpectedly in created things. Even so, his peace and his order lie hidden in the world, even the world of today, ready to reestablish themselves in his way, in his own good time – but never without the instrumentality of free options made by free people.
~Thomas Merton

 

During our northwest winters, there is so little sunlight on gray cloudy days that I routinely turn on the two light bulbs in the big hay barn any time I need to go in to fetch hay bales for the horses. This is to help me avoid falling into the holes that inevitably develop in the hay stack between bales. The murky lighting tends to hide the dark shadows of the leg-swallowing pits among the bales, something that is particularly hazardous when carrying a 60 pound hay bale.

When I went to feed the horses at sunset tonight, I looked up at the lights blazing in the hay barn and went to the light switch to shut them off, but the switch was already off. Puzzled, I realized that lighting up the barn was a precise angle of the setting sun, not light bulbs at all. The last of the day’s sun rays were streaming through the barn slat openings, richocheting off the roof timbers onto the bales, casting an almost fiery glow onto the hay. The barn was ignited and ablaze without fire and smoke which are the last things one would even want in a hay barn. I could scramble among the bales without worry to get my chores accomplished.

It seems even in my life outside the barn I’ve been falling into more than my share of dark holes lately. Even when I know where they lie and how deep they are, some days I will manage to step right in anyway. Each time it knocks the breath out of me, makes me cry out, makes me want to quit trying to lift the heavy loads. It leaves me fearful to even venture out.

Then, amazingly, a light comes from the most unexpected of places, blazing a trail to help me see where to step, what to avoid, how to navigate the hazards to avoid collapsing on my face. I’m redirected, inspired anew, granted grace, gratefully calmed and comforted amid my fears. Even though the light fades, and the darkness descends again, it is only until tomorrow. Then it will reignite again.

The scattered light returns and so will I.

fullbarn

sunset33014

sunset319141

Between Midnight and Dawn: Being a Flower in the Green

patrickscathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ireland
stpatrickgrave
St. Patrick’s grave marker

Be still, and know that I am God…
Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
~St. Patrick

 

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,
Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!
Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,
With open love to your old enemies,
Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,
Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.
You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins
Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,
Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,
Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,
And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:
A gospel seed that flowers in belief,
A greening glory, coming into leaf.
~Malcolm Guite  — A St. Patrick Sonnet

 

St. Patrick is little remembered for his selfless missionary work in Ireland in the fifth century, but rather has become a caricature of all the drunken silliness of this day.  Visiting his grave in Ireland, a humble stone on a hill top overlooking the sea, I wondered what he would make of the modern March 17.

He would advise us to be still and know.

He would plant his staff in us and all we do; we would respond by flowering up from the green.

 

dandeclover2

morningclover

patrickcathedral2

 

 

 

Between Midnight and Dawn: As Warm As Tears

 raindrops1126
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19:41

 

Love’s as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love’s as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts–infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love’s as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song hung in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering ‘Dare! Dare!’
To sap, to blood,
Telling ‘Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best.’

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.
~C.S. Lewis

hearttears

Jesus is reported to have wept twice in the gospels.  When informed His friend Lazarus was dead, He weeps in response to the grief and lack of faith demonstrated by friends and family even though they knew Jesus’ power to heal and restore.  The second time was on Palm Sunday, as triumphantly He approached Jerusalem and stopping, looked down upon the city, knowing what lay ahead.   This time the stakes were not the loss of one life, but the loss of an entire city due to the unbelief and lack of faith of its people.

Indeed, Jerusalem, still torn between factions, faiths and fanatics, has not really known peace ever since.

And our own country, more fractured and torn than ever before in living memory, is raising up its own version of factions and fanatics.  How can this end well?

I am struck by the compassion shown in the Lord’s tears.  These are not tears of self-pity, nor anticipation of His own imminent personal suffering, but tears shed over the continued blindness of mankind.  They expected the militant entrance of a victorious king, unaware their salvation rode into their midst on a donkey’s colt.

Can we not,  the impatient and ignorant electorate, learn from this?  — humility and sacrifice is far more powerful in the kingdom of God than weapons, verbal barbs and hatred.

Those sacred tears shed so long ago, and still shed, were never for Himself, but for us.

Human tears rolling down the face of God;
Divine tears washing the face of man.

Peace no longer is hidden from us; we know from where our help comes.
Now that we know, there are no excuses for our blindness.

1031drops8

During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

 

Between Midnight and Dawn: Broods with Bright Wings

windyday
photo of a windy day at Manna Farm — Nate Lovegren

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Luke 13:34

 

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
windyday2
photo of a windy day at Manna Farm — Danyale Tamminga

 

We are moving toward the crushing of Christ in the Garden of the Oil Press, Gethsemane.  Even there, the moment of betrayal became the moment He was glorified, and God was glorified.  Crushed, bleeding,  poured out over the world — in one moment He is the wings that brood and cover us, the next He becomes the sacrifice that anoints us.

“for him to see me mended,
I must see him torn…”
~Luci Shaw

 

 

Between Midnight and Dawn: When Breath Enters

deerskull

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Ezekiel 7: 1-11,14

 

“Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so. No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place. What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?”
~Paul Harding

 

What persists indeed?  There are times when all appears to perish, especially in wind storms and tsunamis, wild fires and flooding. The obituary pages predominate in the paper, bringing home the local stories in the midst of an overload of bad news, shootings, genocide and suicide bombings.

All appears to be perish with no relief or hope.

But it is the waning light and short days coloring my view like smoke haze in the sky painting a sunset blood red.  Darkness is temporary and inevitably helpless; darkness can never overcome the light of all things made.

Life persists in the midst of perishing because of the cataclysm of a loving and bleeding God dying as sacrifice, breathing His Spirit into us so that we may live.

Nothing, nothing can ever be the same.

 

God goes where God has never gone before.”
~ Kathleen Mulhern in Dry Bones

 

sunsetedit

Between Midnight and Dawn: Keep Asking

sprouting21816

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20: 27-28

 

While Faith is with me, I am blest;
It turns my darkest night to day;
But while I clasp it to my breast,
I often feel it slide away.

What shall I do, if all my love,
My hopes, my toil, are cast away,
And if there be no God above,
To hear and bless me when I pray?

Oh, help me, God! For thou alone
Canst my distracted soul relieve;
Forsake it not: it is thine own,
Though weak, yet longing to believe.
~Anne Bronte from “The Doubter’s Prayer”

 

I think there is no suffering greater than
what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe.

I know what torment this is, but I can only see it,
in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened.
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.
They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course it is the cross.
It is much harder to believe than not to believe.
If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this:
keep an open mind.
Keep it open toward faith,
keep wanting it,
keep asking for it,
and leave the rest to God.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

sprouting6

 

On my doubting days, days too frequent and tormenting,
I remember the risen Christ
reaching out to place Thomas’ hand in His wounds,
gently guiding Thomas to His reality,
so it becomes Thomas’ reality.
His open wounds called
to Thomas’ mind and heart,
His flesh and blood
awakening a hidden faith
by a simple touch.

 

plumrain2

Between Midnight and Dawn: Taking Us On

filbertbloom3
sprouting221816
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 
so that, just as sin reigned in death,
so also grace might reign through righteousness
to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:20-21
Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
~Martin Luther

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, the weak and the strong all thrown together by random chance.

This is not like an explosive election year where choosing sides means being aligned with a political candidate with whom I vehemently disagree, simply to avoid supporting an even worse option.

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.

This 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 to stay unexposed and hidden in the shadows.

It isn’t just about choosing,
but being chosen, my flaws being taken on by Christ,
just as I am,
so that I might become what I was not before.

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

moss118161
lichen611616
During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn