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
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
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.
No doubts are permitted— though they will come and may before our time overwhelm us.
Just as the nature of briars is to tear flesh, I have proceeded through them. Keep the briars out, they say. You cannot live and keep free of briars.
At our age the imagination across the sorry facts lifts us to make roses stand before thorns.
But we are older, I to love and you to be loved, we have, no matter how, by our wills survived to keep the jeweled prize always at our finger tips. We will it so and so it is past all accident. ~William Carlos Williams (written at age 72) from “The Ivy Crown”
How can we, at our age, who have treated love as no accident, looking into a well of such depth and richness – how can we tell the young to will their love to survive – to strive through thorns and briars, though tears wept and flesh torn, to come to cherish the prize of rose and ivy crown.
It is everything that matters, this crown of love we have willed and worn together:
I love you or I do not live at all. I to love and you to be loved.
When it snows, he stands at the back door or wanders around the house to each window in turn and watches the weather like a lover.
O farm boy, I waited years for you to look at me that way. Now we’re old enough to stop waiting for random looks or touches or words, so I find myself watching you watching the weather, and we wait together to discover whatever the sky might bring. ~Patricia Traxler “Weather Man”
My farm boy always looked at me that way, and still does — wondering if today will bring a hard frost, a chilly northeaster, a scorcher, or a deluge, and I reassure him as best I can, because he knows me so well in our many years together: today, like every other day, will always be partly sunny with some inevitable cloud cover and always a possibility of rain.
What a person desires in life is a properly boiled egg. This isn’t as easy as it seems. There must be gas and a stove, the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills, banks that dispense the lozenge of capital. There must be a pot, the product of mines and furnaces and factories, of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts, of women in kerchiefs and men with sweat-soaked hair. Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies and God knows what causes it to happen. There seems always too much or too little of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping stations, towers, tanks. And salt-a miracle of the first order, the ace in any argument for God. Only God could have imagined from nothingness the pang of salt. Political peace too. It should be quiet when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums knocking down doors… It should be quiet, so quiet you can hear the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body. Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain that came from nowhere. ~Baron Wormser, from “A Quiet Life” from Scattered Chapters.
So much depends on the cluck of a chicken, on her self-satisfied cackle when she releases her perfect egg into the nest.
I wish I could be so flawless as her egg but am far from it. The simple things in life season me with meaning and flavor, all God-given mercy making it possible that I am here at all: walking this earth for the time I am granted, talking with those who listen intently, healing those who seek my help, writing for those who read kindly, loving those who, like me, thrive solely on being fed God’s gentle grace salted over my forgiven flaws: I’m a boiled egg peeled imperfectly with divets and bits of shell still attached, yet formed from a clucking chicken fed generously from His holy hand.
When I wake up earlier than you and you are turned to face me, face on the pillow and hair spread around, I take a chance and stare at you, amazed in love and afraid that you might open your eyes and have the daylights scared out of you. But maybe with the daylights gone you’d see how much my chest and head implode for you, their voices trapped inside like unborn children fearing they will never see the light of day. The opening in the wall now dimly glows its rainy blue and gray. I tie my shoes and go downstairs to put the coffee on. ~Ron Padgett, “Glow” from Collected Poems.
It is my morning routine to wake early and I take a moment to look at you still asleep, your slow even breaths and peaceful face- I’m thankful for every day I get to spend with you.
I know you know this~ we remind each other each day in many ways, to never forget.
What blessing comes from a love openly expressed and never hidden~ thriving in the dark of night, yet never shining brighter than in the delights and daylights of each new morning together.
I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love. At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise. ~Jane Kenyon “Otherwise” from Otherwise
We become complacent in our routines, confident in the knowledge that tomorrow will be very much like yesterday. The small distinct blessings of an ordinary day become lost in the rush of moving forward to the next experience, the next task, the next responsibility.
The reality is there is nothing ordinary about this day – it could be otherwise and some day it will be otherwise.
Jane Kenyon wrote much of her best poetry in the knowledge she was dying of leukemia. She reminds us that we don’t need a terminal diagnosis to understand the blessings of each ordinary moment.
So I look around longingly at the blessings of my life that I don’t even realize, knowing that one day, it will be otherwise. I dwell richly in the experience of these moments, these peaches and cream of daily life, as they are happening.