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.
God is not dead, nor does he sleep. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellowfrom Christmas Bells
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
During Advent there are times when I am guilty of blithely invoking the gentle bedtime story of that silent night, the infant napping away in a hay-filled manger, His devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door. All is calm. All is bright.
I’m dozing if I think that is all there was to it.
The reality is God Himself never sleeps.
This is no gentle bedtime story: a teenage mother giving birth in a smelly stable, with no alternative but to lay her baby in a rough feed trough. This is no gentle bedtime story: the heavenly host appearing to shepherds – the lowest of the low in society – shouting and singing glories leaving them “sore afraid.” That means: terrified. This is no gentle bedtime story: Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he sought out to kill a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered. This is no gentle bedtime story: a family’s flight to Egypt as immigrants seeking asylum so their son would not be yet another victim of Herod. This is no gentle bedtime story: 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, hung on a cross until He gave up his spirit.
Yet Jesus understood He was not of this world; He knew the power that originally brought him to earth as a helpless infant lying in an unforgiving wood trough.
He would be sacrificed on rough unforgiving wood, He would die and rise again, He would return again as King of all nations, He is not of this world yet comes to save this world.
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 admitting we are a desperate people seeking rescue. 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, shame, guilt and self-doubt to confront the reality of an all-knowing God who is not dead and who never ever sleeps.
This bedtime story is not for the faint of heart — we are “sore afraid” to “bend our anger” into His peace.
Yet be not afraid: the wrong shall fail the Right prevail.
The walls of a stable are not worthy of a king. You come, little one, borne on the songs of angels, the echoes of prophets, and the light of a strange star. Do not cry, though you must lie on this rough, unforgiving wood. You will be wrapped in lengths of linen, and you will sleep. Being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Though you must lie on this rough, unforgiving wood, you will be wrapped in lengths of linen, and you will sleep. These walls are not worthy of a king, little one, but your kingdom is not of this world.
I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play And mild and sweet their songs repeat Of peace on earth good will to men And the bells are ringing (peace on earth) Like a choir they’re singing (peace on earth) In my heart I hear them (peace on earth) Peace on earth, good will to men And in despair I bowed my head There is no peace on earth I said For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men But the bells are ringing (peace on earth) Like a choir singing (peace on earth) Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth) Peace on earth, good will to men Then rang the bells more loud and deep God is not dead, nor does he sleep (peace on earth, peace on earth) The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace… ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles, Whether I walk city streets, Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water, Or stand under trees in the woods, Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love, Or sit at table at dinner with the rest, Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon, Or animals feeding in the fields, Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air, Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright, Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring; These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles, The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same, Every foot of the interior swarms with the same. Every spear of grass — the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns them…
Everywhere I turn, there is a miracle in the making. I know this deep in my bones, even when our days on this earth are short. I turn my camera to try to preserve it; I search for words to do it justice.
The strange miracle is that we are here at all: in an instant we are formed in all our unique potential, never having happened before and never to happen again—to become brain and heart and skin and arms and legs. We were allowed to be born, a miracle in itself in this modern age of conditional conception.
Now precious lives are being prematurely lost in this pandemic of spreading virus as well as the societal pandemic of divisiveness, when we need unified meeting of the minds more than anything else. I am trying not to get infected: a mask may cover my face and my hands can be washed, but how do I shield my ears and eyes from the barrage of words and images that spread distrust more effectively than a cough or sneeze?
The strangest miracle of all is that we are still loved, corrupted as we are. We are still offered salvage, undeserving as we are. We are still gifted with the miracle of grace until our last breath.
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time. ~Marie Howe “Part of Eve’s Discussion”
We all know how vulnerable we are to temptation; we know our failings and weaknesses yet how quickly we can go from knowing to forgetting.
There is a stillness, a suspension of time, in that moment of knowing – there is constant internal debate about the choices we face and what to do with that knowledge.
How many of us, knowing well the consequences, still do what we ought not to do? How many of us, having been previously told, having learned from history, having already experienced our own banishment, still make the wrong decision?
All of us, all the time, that’s how many. We are helpless despite our knowledge of good and evil. We forget, over and over.
Thank God for His grace in the face of our poor memories. Thank God He still feeds us wholly from His loving hands.
The whole concept of the Imago Dei (or)…the ‘Image of God’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected…
This gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this…there are no gradations in the Image of God.
Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the Image of God.
One day we will learn that.
We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man. – Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “The American Dream” sermon, July 4, 1965
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. ~C. S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory
We are united by our joint creation as the Image of God. Not one of us reflects God more than another but together form His body and His kingdom on earth.
Dr. King’s words and wisdom continue to inform us of our shortcomings more than 50 years later as we flounder in our flaws and brokenness; so many question not only the validity of equality of all people of all shades, but even doubt the existence of a God who would create a world that includes the crippled body, the troubled mind, the questioned gender, the genetically challenged, the human beings never allowed to draw a breath.
Yet we are all one, a composition made up of white and black keys too often discordant, sometimes dancing to different tempos, on rare occasions a symphony. The potential is there for harmony, and Dr. King would see and hear that in his time on earth.
Perhaps today we unite only in our shared tears, shed for the continued strife and disagreements, shed for the injustice that results in senseless killings, shed for our inability to hold up one another as holy in God’s eyes as His intended creation, no matter our color, our origin, our defects, our differences and similarities.
We can weep together on this day, knowing, as Dr. King knew, a day will come when the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces — all colors just as they are.
There are no longer gradations in who God is nor who He made us to be.
Why shouldn’t we go through heartbreaks? Through those doorways God is opening up ways of fellowship with His Son. Most of us fall and collapse at the first grip of pain; we sit down on the threshold of God’s purpose and die away of self-pity… But God will not. He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son and says, “Enter into fellowship with Me, arise and shine.” If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart. ~Oswald Chambers from “Ye are not your own” from My Utmost for the Highest
The great mystery of God’s love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken. In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness in which we can come in touch with the unique way that God loves us. The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing. I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away. But how do you live in your brokenness? Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse? The great call of Jesus is to put your brokenness under the blessing. ~Henri Nouwen from a Lecture at Scarritt-Bennett Center
There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus. ~ Blaise Pascal
Everyone is created with a hole in their heart that has no murmur, doesn’t show up on scans or xrays nor is it visible in surgery. Yet we feel it, absolutely know it is there, and are constantly reminded of being incomplete. Billions of dollars and millions of hours are spent trying to fill that empty spot in every imaginable and unimaginable way.
Nothing we try fills it wholly. Nothing we find fits it perfectly. Nothing on earth can ever be sufficient.
We are born wanting, yearning and searching; we exist hungry, thirsty and needy.
Created with a hankering heart for God, we discover only He fits, fills and is sufficient. Only a beating heart like ours can know our hollow heart’s emptiness. His bleeding stops us from hemorrhaging all we have in futile pursuits.
The mystery of the vacuum is this: how our desperation resolves and misery comforted by being made complete and whole through His woundedness.
How is it possible that through His pierced limbs and broken heart, it is we who are made holy, our emptiness filled forever.
More than once I’ve seen a dog waiting for its owner outside a café practically implode with worry. “Oh, God, what if she doesn’t come back this time? What will I do? Who will take care of me? I loved her so much and now she’s gone and I’m tied to a post surrounded by people who don’t look or smell or sound like her at all.” And when she does come, what a flurry of commotion, what a chorus of yelping and cooing and leaps straight up into the air! It’s almost unbearable, this sudden fullness after such total loss, to see the world made whole again by a hand on the shoulder and a voice like no other. ~John Brehm from “If Feeling Isn’t In It”
We all need to love like this: so binding, so complete, so profoundly filling: its loss empties our world of all meaning as our tears run dry.
So abandoned, we woeful wait, longing for the return of the gentle voice, the familiar smile, the tender touch and encompassing embrace.
With unexpected restoration when we’ve done nothing to deserve it- we leap and shout with unsurpassed joy, the world without form and void made whole again.
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this. ~A.A. Milne
It is the final week of a very long academic year and tension is running high.
Among those students to whom I provide care, there are many who dwell deeply in “what if?” mode, immobilized in their anticipation of impending disaster.
I understand this line of thinking, particularly in this day and age of “in the moment” tragedy played out real-time in the palm of our hand and we can’t help but watch as it unfolds.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes it worse. It teaches one to think catastrophically. That is what I do for a living, to always be ready for the worse case scenario.
When I rise, sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all must do at times~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — He says (and thus we are comforted)
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.
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to.
You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see
and my self is the earth’s shadow
that keeps me from seeing all the moon.
The crescent is very beautiful
and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see;
but what I am afraid of, dear God,
is that my self shadow will grow so large
that it blocks the whole moon,
and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You God
because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.
~Flannery O’Connor from her journals
I get in the way all the time — like a photobomb of a shadow casting darkness on all that is light and beauty. With my human “blinders” on, I can’t see beyond where I stand, where I move, what I feel, what I fear, what I see and hear.
And I certainly get in the way of my knowing God. I think this is all about me.
He’s there, though partially hidden in my need to be front and center.
He’s there, His glory and truth manifest behind me, if only I would turn to see.
He’s there, gently instructing me to get out of my own way.
He’s there, fully radiant, once I step back in awe.