“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” —G.K. Chesterton
It’s the season of grace coming out of the void Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance It’s the season of possible miracle cures Where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown Where time begins to fade And age is welcome home
It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise And holding fast with sharp realization It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention You are safe here you know now
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you
It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart Of feeling the full weight of our burdens It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind And knowing we are not alone in fear Not alone in the dark
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you ~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”
I have heard the same message from several patients: they feel so alone so in the dark, so afraid and weighted down they would rather choose to end their life~
yet not believing in God means jumping from the pain of living into …nothing at all…
(feeling nothing being the point of ceasing to be)
Perhaps they can’t imagine this God who loves doubters too sore afraid of His caring enough to die to assure no one ever becomes nothing.
Definite beliefs are what make the radical mystery — those moments when we suddenly know there is a God about whom we “know” absolutely nothing –– accessible to us and our ordinary, unmysterious lives.
And more crucially: definite beliefs enable us to withstand the storms of suffering that come into every life, and that tend to destroy any spiritual disposition that does not have deep roots. ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Unexpected God, your advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent
We are only a few weeks away from the beginning of Advent, a time when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle story of Christmas Eve’s silent night, the sleeping infant away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.
The reality, I’m confident, was far different.
There was nothing gentle about a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver. There was nothing gentle about the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets. There was nothing gentle about Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered. There was nothing gentle about a family’s flight to Egypt to flee that fate for their only Son. There was nothing gentle about the life Jesus eventually led during his ministry: itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days, owning nothing, rejected by his own people, betrayed by his disciples, sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate, tortured and hung on a cross until he took his last breath.
Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth and would return him to heaven, and back again someday. No signal flares needed there.
When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week as a desperate person who will never ever save oneself. We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on. It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the radical mystery of God.
It is not for the faint of heart, this finding a “definite belief” within our ordinary unmysterious lives and giving it deep roots to thrive. It is reasonable and necessary to be “sore afraid” and “bend our anger” into His peace.
The rose is a rose, And was always a rose. But the theory now goes That the apple’s a rose, And the pear is, and so’s The plum, I suppose. The dear only know What will next prove a rose. You, of course, are a rose– But were always a rose. ~Robert Frost, “The Rose Family” from The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
We are more alike than we are different, from every thing to every one, yet we still strive to discriminate and differentiate.
We arose from the same origin:
put together atom to atom, amino acid to amino acid, conceived within the mind of God, formed by His Hands and Breath, designed as treasured artwork whether flower or fruit or fetus.
So we can only know what He has told us in His carefully chosen Words: we are dear, we are His rose, in whatever form or function we appear, however we have been put together~
We will always be His rose.
There is no rose of such virtue As is the Rose that bore Jesu: Alleluia. For in this rose was contained Heaven and earth in a small space. Wondrous thing. Res miranda. By that rose we may well see There is one God in persons three. Equally formed. Pares forma. The angels sang; the shepherds, too: Glory to God in the highest! Let us rejoice. Gaudeamus. Leave we all these worldly cares And follow we this joyful birth. Let us be transformed.Transeamus. ~Benjamin Britten “There is no rose” from “Ceremony of the Carols”
Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Cost of Discipleship
On this Maundy Thursday we are called to draw near Him, to gather together among the hungry and thirsty to the Supper He has prepared. He washes the dirt off our feet; we look away, mortified. He serves us from Himself; we fret about whether we are worthy.
We are not.
Starving and parched, grimy and weary, hardly presentable to be guests at His table, we are made worthy only because He has made us so.
The cup and the loaf You beckon me close to commune Like fruit on the vine crushed into wine You were bruised Broken and torn crowned with scorn Poured out for all
Chorus: All my sin All my shame All my secrets All my chains Lamb of God Great is your love Your blood covers it all
I taste and I drink You satisfy me With your love Your goodness flows down and waters dry ground like a flood Let mercy rain Saving grace Poured out for all
My sin, not in part You cover it all, You cover it all Not in part, But the whole You cover it all, You cover it all It’s nailed to the cross. You cover it all You cover it all And I bear it no more You cover it all. ~Allie LaPointe and David Moffitt
Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.
For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.
Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life. ~Makoto Fujimura
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:33-36
Daily I see patients in my clinic who are struggling with depression, who are contemplating whether living another day is worth the pain and effort. Most describe their feelings completely dry-eyed, unwilling to let their emotions flow from inside and flood their outsides. Others sit soaking in tears of hopelessness and despair.
This weeping moves and reassures me — it is a raw and honest spilling over when the internal dam is breaking. It is so deeply and plainly a visceral display of humanity.
When I read that Jesus weeps as He witnesses the tears of grief of His dear friends, I am comforted. He understands and feels what we feel, His tears just as plentiful and salty, His feelings of love brimming so fully they must be let go and cannot be held back. He too is overwhelmed by the pathos of His vulnerable and visceral humanity.
Our Jesus who wept with us becomes a promise of ultimate joy.
There is beauty in this: His rain of ephemeral tears.
“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland“
On this Sabbath, we anticipate the bright light of Easter morning in two weeks.
Each Sabbath, each Sunday celebration of Resurrection Day dims over time as I return to my daily routine on Monday. The humdrum replaces the extraordinary, tragedy overcomes festivity, darkness overwhelms dawn. The world encourages this, and I don’t muster enough resistance. I climb right back into the tomb of my sin, move the huge stone back in place, and remain there, waiting for rot to settle in.
I am not alone. I have plenty of company with me behind the stone. There is no excuse for us to still be there.
The stone was pushed aside, the burden shouldered, the debt completely paid.
How can we not allow His light to dayspring our dimness?
He is risen. We are eastered. No need to sink down in darkness. None.
Your absence has gone through me Like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color. ~W.S. Merwin “Separation”
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. ~2 Corinthians 1:20
…you can read my heart, I hear you say: For once be present to me, I am here, Breathe in the perfect love that casts out fear Open your heart and let your yea be yea. Oh bring me to that brink, that moment when I see your full-eyed love and say Amen. ~Malcolm Guite — “Amen”
We become restless and uneasy in our separation from God, broken and empty, feeling unknowable and unloveable — we need mending and stitching with God’s colored thread.
Our answer to Him should be “Yes”, over and over.
God tells us “Yes”, again and again, that we may know Him as He is one with us, part of our lives’ weave and tapestry. Mere mortals like us experienced God born of flesh, as He walked, ate, slept among us.
Christ became the Yes, the consistent thread in our lives, the covenant God made with us. Still we pull away and say “No” as the unloveable are wont to do, regularly and emphatically.
When young Mary was told the implausible and incomprehensible would happen to her, her response was not “No way–go find someone else”. Her response was “Behold the willing servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word.”
She says, in essence “Yes! And Amen!”
How often do we respond with such trust and faithfulness, accepting Christ as the ultimate “Yes” from God, who ensures our everlasting salvation?
Let it be. Let Him run through our lives like a thread that never breaks. Let our Yes be Yes.