He found himself wondering at times, especially in the Autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself ‘Perhaps I shall cross the river myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied ‘Not yet.’ ~J.R.R. Tolkien — Frodo in Fellowship of the Rings
When you live in Whatcom County, as we do, it is possible to cross the river (several times) over 90 minutes of two lane highway switchbacks to arrive in these wild lands, breathless and overcome by their majesty.
Visions of mountains from our dreams become an overwhelming 360 degree reality, nearly reachable if I stretch out my hand.
God touches every square inch of earth as if He owns the place, but these square inches are particularly marked by His artistry. It is a place to feel awed by His magnificence.
I am left to wonder about the wild lands, much like Tolkien’s Frodo, pondering what bridges God is building to bring us back home to Him.
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 world begins at a kitchen table. No Matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite. ~Joy Harjo “Perhaps the World Ends Here”
Our life revolves around this table. This is where we hang out late into the evening, and begin the day before dawn. This is where the prayers happen, the meals happen, the arguments happen. This is where we understand each other.
God is the fire my feet are held to. ~Charles Wright, from “Ars Poetica II” in Appalachia
If we think we’re going to get off easy in this life because we do what we’re told to do: keeping the Sabbath and our noses clean, saying what we ought to say when we should say it and keeping our mouths shut when it is best to say nothing at all.
If we think our good deeds and relative lack of bad deeds will save us, we have another think coming and a lot of explaining to do.
We walk through fire because nothing about God’s glory is easy. We are hidden in the cleft because He is too much for our eyes to behold. We remove our sandals to feel the hot coals of holy ground. He burns without being consumed so our hearts are scorched in His presence.
Yet His feet are blistered too. He knows exactly how this feels.
The bus releases you beside the bakery at 5 AM. His light’s on. You can smell the secret life of bread– the russet brawny shoulders rising in the pan, yeast swelling yearning toward croissants, pretzels, braided curls of challah. You give the baker money, he gives you a loaf. Neither of you can say the mystery you share like lovers. You shyly nod and bear your loneliness to work in helpless hands. Whatever it is, you can not explain the one thing that matters. You break his bread at noon and fling it toward frozen ducks on the millpond and you awaken from what you’ve been. You want to be bread broken. ~ Jeanne Murray Walker “Baker” from Pilgrim, You Find Your Path By Walking
We all harbor mystery; oftentimes we can’t even decipher what is in our hearts, much less communicate it to another. Breaking open may be the only way to reveal it but that can be too much for even the strongest of us.
We are not a mystery to God. We are transparent as shattered glass to Him when we are opaque to ourselves and others.
He knows our comings and goings, where our cracks are and where the glue continues to hold in what has already been repaired.
Most of all, He knows Himself what it means to be broken to feed others – flung and woke — even for those who turn their backs to a meal to freedom.
I appear at the kitchen door, spiritual equivalent of a wet dog from a storm, tail tucked, trembling. You open your lives, this life, provide prayerful provision, a vigorous toweling down, a large bowl of kibbles. I curl up and sleep safe on the rug by your heart, the chapel that warms His, and so, restored, return to the weary world rejoicing, perhaps to provide a bracing swig from the fiery word, perhaps to lead a lost one home. ~Bonnie Thurston “Strays” from O Taste and See
How many times have I shown up muddy, cold, hungry and you invited me in, dried me off, offered me your supper, let me sleep warmed and safe?
How many times did I go back out into the world with every good intention of doing the same for other strays and yet get lost again myself?
You call me back, whistle me in, open the door to let me know no matter how much of a mess I’m in your hearth, your heart await my return.