My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen. ~Thomas Merton “Prayer” from Thoughts in Solitude
kyrie eleison, have mercy, christe eleison, have mercy.
We are all alike in this one way when we can barely agree about anything else – We are all lost, wandering weeping wretched
It is when I am shown mercy that I become mercy, loving where others show hate giving where others take away building up where others tear down.
We are found: we become Christ where we live because He renews in us through His sacrifice a new life in Him.
I emerge from the mind’s cave into the worse darkness outside, where things pass and the Lord is in none of them.
I have lingered too long on this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul I was leading upwards towards the light, To look forward? Ah, what balance is needed at the edges of such an abyss. I am alone on the surface of a turning planet. What to do but, like Michelangelo’s Adam, put my hand out into unknown space hoping for the reciprocating touch? ~R.S. Thomas “The Threshold”
I can feel utterly alone at times in the dark wilderness of this world, barely aware God has put me here for His purpose.
The dark conceals forward and backward, up and down, inside and outside — I become disoriented and disconnected, balancing on the edge of known and unknown.
I reach out blindly, mustering the confidence He is near. My hand is created to grip Him tightly at His touch.
And He will hold me fast.
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139: 8-12
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4
To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness- especially in the wilderness – you shall love him. ~Frederick Buechner from A Room Called Remember:Uncollected Pieces
I usually think of wilderness as a distant peak far removed from anything or anyone. From my farmhouse window on a clear day, I can see a number of distant peaks if the cloud cover moves away to reveal them.
Or perhaps the wilderness is a desolate plain that extends for miles without relief in sight.
Wilderness is also found in an isolated corner of my human heart. I keep it far removed from anything and anyone. During my televisit computer work, I witness this wilderness in others, many times every day.
A diagnosis of “wilderness of the heart” doesn’t require a psychiatric manual: there is despair, discouragement, disappointment, lack of gratitude, lack of hope. One possible treatment to tame that wilderness is a covenantal obedience to God and others. It reaches so deep no corner is left untouched.
There come times in one’s life, and this past year especially, when loving God as commanded seems impossible. We are too broken, too frightened, too ill and too wary to trust God with faith and devotion. We are treading life simply to stay afloat.
During this second Lenten pandemic, God’s love becomes respite and rescue from the wilderness of my own making. He is the sweet cure for a bitter and broken heart.
God called Abram to leave the familiar and go, go on a road he would make by going, to a place he would know by finding.
Jesus led Nicodemus to the threshold of a birth, a newness he could only know by going through it.
Only what’s behind us, not ahead, keeps us from going on, from entering the impossible womb of starting new.
The stones of disappointment in your pockets, the grave marker of the old life, they can’t come with you.
The path is not a test. It’s our freedom. Many a prisoner has looked into the tunnel, the Beloved waiting in the light, and said no.
Where is the Spirit calling you, the wind blowing? Where is the thin place between your habits and a new birth?
These pangs, this heavy breathing: the Beloved is trying to birth you. Let it happen. ~Steve Garnaass-Holmes “A new birth”
Like most people, I cling fast to the safe and familiar, sometimes wishing to retreat back to what feels most secure and safest. Yet, it is an impossible womb that would allow me back – it is clear I am meant to be fully launched, for better or worse. So carrying my checkered history stuffed deeply in my pockets, I embark on this life’s journey led by the Spirit and blown by His breath, uncertain where it will take me or how long it takes to get there.
There is an unsurpassed freedom in the path from womb to tomb; if I let His breath carry me, I’ll go so far beyond the place where my bones someday are laid.
As the deer pants for the water so my soul pants for you, God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” from Psalm 42
Why no! I never thought other than That God is that great absence In our lives, the empty silence Within, the place where we go Seeking, not in hope to Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices In our knowledge, the darkness Between stars. His are the echoes We follow, the footprints he has just Left. We put our hands in His side hoping to find It warm. We look at people And places as though he had looked At them, too; but miss the reflection. ~R.S. Thomas “Via Negativa”
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6: 8b-10
The way of negation (via negativa) – describing who God is by describing who He is not — is like describing the interstitial spaces between my cells rather than the cells themselves, or the blackness between stars rather than the light that emanates from them.
It is impossible to understand God unless I absorb what He says about Himself. Yet I am too finite and He is too infinite to grasp fully.
So, like a deer panting for water, I thirst for Him, seeking more than a reflection of water for my real thirst. I want Him tangible and warm before me like Thomas thrusting his hand into Jesus’ wound, crying “My Lord and My God!”
The mystery of God is how He is so much more than mere reflection and the spaces in between what I see and feel in this existence. He is all things, all at once.
Are Job’s successes — even his holy successes — his treasure? Or is God his treasure? That’s the question everyone of us must ask. And there is no reason to believe that God will not test any one of us just as he did Job. When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation. ~John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. Job 19: 25-26
The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too -– everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued — taken away. If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?
I know I have fallen far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.
This past year, in particular, I’ve seen people lose almost everything in the pandemic: their health, their loved ones, their financial security, their home, their worship community. I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God. I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”
The invitation, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, that it be closer to something I would choose to do, somehow that it not hurt so much.
His plan for my life was written before I was born, personally carried to me via His Son, and placed in my hands. It is up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude, respond with an emphatic RSVP: “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away from your invitation to me.”
Or I could leave it unopened, hesitant and fearful to reveal its contents. Or even toss it away altogether, believing it really wasn’t meant for me.
Even if, in my heart, I absolutely know it is meant for me.
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ ~C. S. Lewis from The Great Divorce
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days. Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals. Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices. Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart. Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all the things you did and could have done. Remember treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes pointing again and again down, down into the black depths. ~Dan Albergotti “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” from The Boatloads.
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 4:4
Most of us feel as though we were swallowed into the belly of the whale a year ago. We are treading water in the dark, disoriented and not just a little angry. All we can see of the outside world is a bit of blue sky through a tiny hole above us.
We try to imagine what life was like before the pandemic swallowed up our light and hope but if you are like me, you are grumpy.
Yet the belly of the whale is not forever. It is a time of contemplation with little distraction other than our own emotions. We’ll soon be regurgitated back onto the shore of our trivial pursuits and busyness where suddenly it will feel too noisy with too many demands.
This quiet time is meant to teach something to each of us, even if it is just to count the ribs, gaze into our own darkness and contemplate how we were trying to escape when God asked something of us.
I think of all the things I did and could have done, but resisted when the Lord asked me. It is time that I stop being angry and start to listen.
1. Courage, my soul, and let us journey on, Tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long. Thanks be to God, the morning light appears, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
Chorus: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
2. Billows rolling high, and thunder shakes the ground, Lightnings flash, and tempest all around, Jesus walks the sea and calms the angry waves, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
3. The stars have disappeared, and distant lights are dim, My soul is filled with fears, the seas are breaking in. I hear the Master cry, “Be not afraid, ’tis I,” And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
4. Soon we shall reach the distant shining shore, Free from all the storms, we’ll rest forevermore. Safe within the veil, we’ll furl the riven sail, And the storm will all be over, Hallelujah!
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.
For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.
It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. ~G.K. Chesterton from Orthodoxy
To an infant, nothing is monotonous — it is all so new. The routine of the day is very simple and reassuring: sleep, wake, cry, nurse, clean up, gaze out at the world, turn on the smiles –repeat.
The routine becomes more complex as we age until it no longer resembles a routine, if we can help it. We don’t bother getting up to watch the sun rise yet again and don’t notice the sun set once more. We truly flounder in the wilderness of our own making.
Weary as we may be with routine, our continual search for the next new thing costs us in time and energy. We age every time we sigh with boredom or turn away from the mundane and everyday, becoming less and less like our younger purer selves.
Who among us exults in monotony and celebrates predictability and enjoys repetition, whether it is sunrise or sunset or an infinite number of daisies?
God does. He sees our short attention spans. He alone remains consistent, persistent and insistent because we need someone to lead us out of our wilderness.
Do it again, God. Please — please do it again.
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging
Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing? While though the tempest round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth. And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing? I Lift my eyes. The cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it. And day by day, this pathway smooths, since first I learned to love it.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, I hear the music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? How Can I Keep from singing? Keep Singing.
Will you come and follow me If I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know And never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, Will you let me name be known, Will you let my life be grown In you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind If I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind And never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare Should your life attract or scare. Will you let me answer prayer In you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see If I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free And never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, And do this as such unseen, And admit to what I mean In you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide If I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside And never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found To reshape the world around, Through my sight and touch and sound In you and you in me?
Lord, your summons echoes true When you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you And never be the same. In your company I’ll go Where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow In you and you in me.
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20
How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain As the changing of seasons prepares me again For the long bitter nights and the wild winter’s day My heart has grown cold, my love stored away My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
I’ve been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow Where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go I’ve taken the pain, no girl should endure But faith can move mountains of that I am sure Faith can move mountains of that I am sure
Just get me through December A promise I’ll remember Get me through December So I can start again
No divine purpose brings freedom from sin And peace is a gift that must come from within And I’ve looked for the love that will bring me to rest Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest ~Gordie Sampson & Fred Lavery
It is winter in Narnia… and has been for ever so long …. always winter, but never Christmas. ~C. S. Lewis from The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
We’ve been traveling through a wilderness of the pandemic for nearly a year, even as the calendar has changed from spring to summer to autumn and in December back to winter. In this winter wilderness, we struggle with the chill of isolation from each other and from God, the endless discouragement and fatigue, and the hot cold of resentment and anger.
We are called in the gospel of Matthew to leave behind our helplessness when overwhelmed by pervasive wilderness. He tells us to believe, even if it is only the tiniest grain of faith. Our cold hearts love and hunger for God.
So if we can’t make it to the mountain in the distance, our faith can move the mountain closer. God hears our plea and brings His peace to us by bringing Himself as close as the beating heart in our chest. There will be a Christmas again and there will be Easter.
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
I laughed in the morning’s eyes. I triumphed and I saddened with all weather, Heaven and I wept together, and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine. Against the red throb of its sunset heart, I laid my own to beat And share commingling heat.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come. Halts by me that Footfall. Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest, I am He whom thou seekest. Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me. ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit in front of their screen and I in front of mine, so close yet so far from each another – a wilderness of unexpressed emotions.
They struggle to hold back the flood from brimming eyes. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: How to take yet another painful breath of this sad life? must there be another breath? Must things go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than any viral pandemic. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish there was a vaccine to protect us all from our unnamed fears in the wilderness.
I want to say to them and myself: Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop. Stop expecting this feeling must be “fixed.” Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be in the now and now and now.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it. Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write, out of my own anxiety over you, yet another prescription you don’t really need.
Just be– and be blessed– in the now and now and now.