Not Alone in the Dark

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”
—G.K. Chesterton

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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”

shuksanhiding

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.

Our Ordinary Unmysterious Lives

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

photo of Wiser Lake Chapel sanctuary by Barb Hoelle

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.

And not forget our crash helmets.

walking to church in Tokyo


Always a Rose

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.

Rayonnant rose window in Notre Dame de Paris

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 thingRes miranda.
By that rose we may well see
There is one God in persons three.
Equally formedPares forma.
The angels sang; the shepherds, too:
Glory to God in the highest!
Let us rejoiceGaudeamus.
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”

A Bright Sadness: Let Mercy Rain

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

A Bright Sadness: Ephemeral Tears

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

fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

3When 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.




A Bright Sadness: The Dimness in Us

“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.

What wondrous love is this?

A Bright Sadness: Stitched With His Color

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.