Waiting in Wilderness: A Man Wondering

Nate Gibson at Sendai, Japan
Nate while visiting home on the farm

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.
~St. Augustine of Hippo

Our firstborn son turns thirty five years old today. Nate was born on a day very much like this: sunny, frosty, a not-yet-spring kind of early morning. He was so welcome and cherished after years of our struggling to have children. Nate seemed to come with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm for whatever life had in store for him.

First-time parents don’t think much about where their child’s path will lead in a mere twenty years – it seems so far off. We knew he was a home-body. Nate wanted to write and teach and settle into the small town life that he loved and understood.

But God had other plans. God asked him to wonder at himself in relation to the world beyond his small town. So Nate was called to teach in Japan within days of graduating with his teaching degree in 2008. He has remained there ever since, reaching the hearts and minds of well over a thousand individual students in his classroom during those years, while falling in love with his soulmate Tomomi and becoming father to their two beautiful children.

Nate has discovered the irony of moving from a town where the majority of his classmates were blonde to thriving where he is the only redhead among thousands in a train station throng. He has learned a new culture, a new language and a new way of thinking about what “home” in God’s kingdom really means.

When we visit Nate now, only virtually since the pandemic, we see a man who has traveled far, in miles and spiritually. He continues to wonder where God may call him, along with Tomomi and their family, next. We cherish them all, from so far away, no matter where their home may be, as they embody servant love wherever they are needed most.

Happy Birthday, Nate!
Sending our love across the many miles of ocean that separates us but our shared hearts remain close.

The towering tree spreads his greening canopy —
A veil between the soil and sky—
Not in selfish vanity,
But the gentle thrush to shade and shelter.
So it is with love.
For when we love,
Simply love,
Even as we are loved,
Our weary world can be transformed.
The busy thrush builds her nest below —
A fortnight’s work to weave and set—
Not for herself alone,
But her tender brood to shield and cherish.
And so it is with love.
For when we love,
Simply love,
Even as we are loved,
Our weary world can be transformed Into the Kingdom of God!
~Charles Silvestri

Balancing Upon a Broken World

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.

~Amy Lowell, “September, 1918” from The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell

Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer
asking that today be the start of healing
rather than conflict and hostility and pain,
that the barbaric destruction of yesterday
transform to reconciliation and understanding–

no more angry mobs,
no more inciting speeches,
no more windows bashed,
no more doors breached,
no more explosives hidden away,
no more conspiracies hatched,
no more untruths believed as gospel…

no more rising infection counts
no more overflowing ICUs
no more mounting deaths…

Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer
to seek only
to celebrate the sunrise
to watch the clouds glide past
to praise God in His heaven
to watch His Light slowly replenish itself
after weeks – no, months – no, years – no, decades
of darkness,

to take out this one day and taste it
and find that it is good,
especially in the midst of deprivation
then put it away for self-keeping
to share when and if I find someone else
as hungry for grace and mercy as I am,

so as to balance myself somehow
in the beauty of this world while
teetering on its brokenness?

I am not the only one.

I know I am not.

An Advent Paradox: Hands Too Small

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A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox:

that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.

Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded…

I mean that all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now turned inward to the smallest…

It is true that the spiritual spiral henceforward works inwards instead of outwards, and in that sense is centripetal and not centrifugal.

The faith becomes, in more ways than one, a religion of little things.

– G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

 

 

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As the universe expands around us,  our faith, in response, spirals inward.
The Hands that flung the stars and planets into their places now reach inside us to grip and hold our hearts.

It’s the little things that feed our faith:
there are so many to remember during this month of waiting.

And it begins with the paradox of small Hands.

 

 

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Ah, What Then?

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What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
~Samuel Coleridge  “What if you slept”

 

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This mountain, this strange and beautiful Shuksan flower that appears suddenly as we round a corner on the hour drive up the Mt. Baker Highway:  this mountain has one foot on earth and one foot in heaven – a thin place if there ever was one.

The only way to approach is in awed silence, as if entering the door of a grand cathedral.  Those who are there speak in hushed tones if they speak at all.

Today Mt Shuksan wears autumn lightly about its shoulders as a multi-faceted cloak, barely anticipating the heavy snow coat to descend in the next two weeks.

I hold this mountain tight in my fist, wanting to turn it this way and that, breathe in its fragrance, bring it home with me and never let go.

Ah, what then?

Home is not nearly big enough for heaven to dwell.  I must content myself with this visit to the thin edge, peering through the open door, and waiting until invited to come inside.

 

 

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The Clouds That Veil

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Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted
and one is able to glimpse the glory of God.
~Celtic saying

 

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For as a cloud received Him from their sight,
So with a cloud will He return ere long:
Therefore they stand on guard by day, by night,
Strenuous and strong.

They do, they dare, they beyond seven times seven
Forgive, they cry God’s mighty word aloud:
Yet sometimes haply lift tired eyes to Heaven—
“Is that His cloud?”
~Christina Rossetti from “Ascension Day”

 

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Stretching Himself as if again,
through downpress of dust
upward, soul giving way
to thread of white, that reaches
for daylight, to open as green
leaf that it is…
Can Ascension
not have been
arduous, almost,
as the return
from Sheol, and
back through the tomb
into breath?
Matter reanimate
now must reliquish
itself, its
human cells,
molecules, five
senses, linear
vision endured
as Man –
the sole
all-encompassing gaze
resumed now,
Eye of Eternity.
Relinquished, earth’s
broken Eden.
Expulsion,
liberation,
last
self-enjoined task
of Incarnation.
He again
Fathering Himself.
Seed-case splitting.
He again
Mothering His birth:
torture and bliss.
~Denise Levertov  “Ascension”

 

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We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .
~Malcolm Guite “Ascension”

 

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Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 49

Q. How does Christ’s ascension to heaven
benefit us?

A. First, he is our advocate
in heaven
in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven
as a sure pledge that Christ our head
will also take us, his members,
up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth
as a corresponding pledge.

By the Spirit’s power
we seek not earthly things
but the things above, where Christ is,
sitting at God’s right hand.

 

 

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It doesn’t matter what you have been or what you have done. It doesn’t matter how flawed and foolish you are.

When the eyes of God the Father look at you, they see the ascended Jesus; when they listen to you, they hear him.

When God looks and listens to you, he sees and hears infinite beauty . . . He sees Jesus not sitting at the right hand but standing on his behalf, advocating for him.
~Tim Keller

 

Jesus is not on sabbatical from His earthly flesh; this day of observance of His ascension to heaven forty days after His Resurrection reminds us He remains flesh, just like our flesh,  while sitting at the right hand of God the Father – our representative, our interceder, our advocate.

The clouds that veil that thin line between earth and heaven still can’t help but shine with His glory.   We remain directly connected by our flesh/His flesh to God in heaven.

 

 

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Coram Deo

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To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.
To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God.
To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity.
It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God.
It is a life that is open before God.
It is a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord.
It is a life lived by principle, not expediency; by humility before God, not defiance.
It is a life lived under the tutelage of conscience that is held captive by the Word of God.
R.C. Sproul

 

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As we walk together through Holy Week and beyond into the holiness of every day, may we be under the gaze of God, under the authority of God, open before God, captivated by the Word of God.

And we walk away from the gaping grave knowing our purpose: whatever we do, wherever we do it, it is to be whole and holy before Him.

Coram Deo.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: A Pearl of Great Value

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…the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13: 45-46

 

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Suppose a person entering a house were to feel heat on the porch, and going further, were to feel the heat increasing, the more they penetrated within. Doubtless, such a person would believe there was a fire in the house, even though they did not see the fire that must be causing all this heat.

A similar thing will happen to anyone who considers this world in detail: one will observe that all things are arranged according to their degrees of beauty and excellence, and that the nearer they are to God, the more beautiful and better they are.
St. Thomas Acquinas from Sermon-Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles’ Creed

 

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Rather than stumbling upon the great treasure when least expecting it,  we can be looking for the treasure in every day moments, approaching closer and closer, feeling the heat, knowing what it will cost us to lay hold of it.

We know it when we find it, feel it in our bones and will sacrifice all we own to have it.

There is nothing more beautiful, more valuable, more everlasting.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Like a Mustard Seed

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30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32

Truly I tell you, 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

 

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When I was eight years old, I spent my hard-earned chores allowance on a little round glass ball necklace containing a mustard seed at the front and a scripture verse on the back.  At that tender age, I considered my faith very tiny indeed, so the necklace gave me courage and confidence that it (and I ) could somehow grow and flourish.

As was true of most things I said or did in grade school, I was teased about wearing the necklace, so I decided to hide it under my blouses and sweaters, tucked safely away over my heart, right where it belonged.  It was simply enough for me to know it was there, even if no one else did.

My faith became tinier as it became hidden away, eventually to end up in my little jewelry box along with my banished necklace, locked away with a little key and nearly forgotten over the years.

No seed grows without nurture and care.  No faith grows when invisible to others.  Yet the Kingdom of God thrives in such inauspicious places as our shriveling hearts, growing large and protective for those of us with the tiniest of faiths.

Nothing is impossible in the Lord, only because of the Lord.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Let Them Grow Together

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24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Matthew 12:24-30

 

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What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Inversnaid”

 

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There is despair in the wilderness of untamed hearts,
sown and growing weedy together with the good seed.
Such wildness lies just beneath the surface of good fertile soil;
ready to sprout,  nearly unnoticed and out of reach.

He came not to destroy this world’s wildness,
but to pull us away from it, gasping for breath,
liberated from the unforgiving clutches of weed roots.

As weeds survive well in the wilderness,
so we too must grow, flourish, and witness
to a wild world bereft.

O let us be left to be gathered.
Let us be left.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

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A Canticle for Advent: Ponder Nothing Earthly-Minded

photo by Julie Garrett
photo by Julie Garrett

1 Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

2 King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood,
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

3 Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the shadows clear away

4 At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia, alleluia,
alleluia, Lord most high!”
~from the Liturgy of St. James, 4th century

 

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth be silent before him.
Habakkuk 2:20

 

This ancient hymn is one of the most profound of Advent, demanding our silence as we ponder and honor these words that transcend all earthly bounds of our eyes, ears and voices.
How can we be anything but awe-struck silent as we consider Christ our God to earth descendeth?  We should be trembling; we should be standing mute in our shoes, amazed.
So we follow the lead of the angel host as they bring us the incredible news: Glory to God!  Alleluia!
There is nothing earthly minded in their song.
Earth will never be the same since He came,
He died,
He rose
and He readies us to join Him.