Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Not Yet Not

For in this hope we were saved.
But hope that is seen is no hope at all.
Who hopes for what they already have?
But if we hope for what we do not yet have,
we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:24-25

Morning of buttered toast;
of coffee, sweetened, with milk.

Out the window,
snow-spruces step from their cobwebs.
Flurry of chickadees, feeding then gone.
A single cardinal stipples an empty branch—
one maple leaf lifted back.

I turn my blessings like photographs into the light;
over my shoulder the god of Not-Yet looks on:

Not-yet-dead, not-yet-lost, not-yet-taken.
Not-yet-shattered, not-yet-sectioned,
not-yet-strewn.

Ample litany, sparing nothing I hate or love,
not-yet-silenced, not-yet-fractured; not-yet-

Not-yet-not.

I move my ear a little closer to that humming figure,
I ask him only to stay.
~Jane Hirshfield “Not Yet”
from The Lives of the Heart.

To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension.

There is tension in knowing that something profound is happening – a vernal equinox, a brilliant sunrise, a fading sunset, a new life growing, but the transformation is not yet complete, and I’m unsure when it will be.

I am still unfinished business and so is everyone else.

In less than three weeks I will be reminded of what is yet to come. I will know the shock of the empty tomb. My heart will burn within me as more is revealed, through the simple act of bread breaking.

Waiting is never easy;
it can be painful to be patient,
staying alert to possibility and hope.
Others won’t understand why I wait,
nor do they comprehend what I could possibly be waiting for.

I’m all-ready, not-yet-finished, not-yet-not.

By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,
In quiet and in trust your strength lies.
~Isaiah 30:15

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – A Peculiar Treasure

Imagine yourself in a big city in a crowd of people.  
What it would be like to see all the people in the crowd like Jesus does —
an anonymous crowd with

old ones and young ones,
fat ones and thin ones,
attractive ones and ugly ones—
think what it would be like to love them.  

If our faith is true, if there is a God,
and if God loves, he loves each one of those.  
Try to see them as loved.  
And then try to see them, these faces, as loved by you.  
What would it be like to love these people, to love these faces —
the lovable faces, the kind faces, gentle compassionate faces?  
That’s not so hard.  
But there are lots of other faces —
disagreeable faces, frightening faces, frightened faces, cruel faces, closed faces. …
they are all peculiar treasures.  


In Exodus, God said to Israel,
“You shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.”  
God meant it for all of us.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life

t doesn’t take long for me to be overwhelmed by humanity when we have visited some of the world’s largest cities. Airports are a shock of weaving lines of weary people and crying children, commuter trains are packed with individuals standing like sardines for an hour or more twice a day, the stations are a sea of bobbing heads flowing out onto the streets where the crosswalks become a mass hive of activity whenever the light changes.

Yet I’ve been struck by the effort some locals make to help visitors who look lost, or who simply look different. There is outreach at times that is spontaneous, genuine and completely unexpected. Those are easy faces to love and we do. What is much much harder to is love those hundreds of thousands who rush past us on their way to work, to shop, to return home.  How can I even begin to have the capacity?

Who greeted Jesus after he entered Jerusalem in the final week of His life? These were not all friendly faces. He loved them all any way, every single one of them were peculiar treasures to him, forgiven and redeemed by His walk to, and death on, the cross.

I realize much of the time I too feel rushed, not bothering to reach out and be helpful when needed. Even so, He loves me still, flaws and all, as His redeeming grace is meant for one such as me – a peculiar treasure.  

Because of His love, I become the real thing and not just a distorted reflection of what I think I should be.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – A Door Left Open

The world hides God from us,
or we hide ourselves from God,
or for reasons of his own God hides himself from us,
but however you account for it,
he is often more conspicuous by his absence than by his presence,
and his absence is much of what we labor under and are heavy laden by.
Just as sacramental theology speaks of a doctrine of the Real Presence,
maybe it should speak also of a doctrine of the Real Absence
because absence can be sacramental, too,
a door left open,

a chamber of the heart kept ready and waiting.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth

…my faith has weathered in a holy way;
it’s larger, gentler, especially as I have learned to bear the needs of others,
to pour myself out at least a little bit like God does for me.
In that offering, I’ve learned a lot about God’s quiet, ever-present nourishment.
A larger, patient acceptance has come to me.
I haven’t found every answer, I still ‘want’ so much more of God than I have,
and yet, I also have learned to live with the holy hunger that is the groaning

of God’s Spirit within me as I wait for the full coming of the Kingdom.⁣
~Sarah Clarkson reflecting on Buechner’s quote above

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Romans 8:24-25

To wait is a hard sweet paradox in the Christian life.  It is hard not yet having what we are promised will be coming – truly Real Absence for now.  But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of the footprints we have seen:

He has been here among us. 

Like the labor of childbirth, we groan knowing what it will take to get there, yet we are full to brimming already.

The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted, barely able to function.  Others won’t understand why we wait, nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for. 

We persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping; we are a community groaning together in sweet expectation.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – A Greening Glory

Be still, and know that I am God…
Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
~St. Patrick

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,
Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!
Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,
With open love to your old enemies,
Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,
Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.
You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins
Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,
Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,
Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,
And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:
A gospel seed that flowers in belief,
A greening glory, coming into leaf.
~Malcolm Guite  — A St. Patrick Sonnet

St. Patrick is little remembered for his selfless missionary work in Ireland in the fifth century, but rather has become a caricature of all the drunken silliness of this day.  Visiting his grave in Downpatrick, Ireland, just a humble stone on a hill top overlooking the sea, I wondered what he would make of the modern March 17.

He would advise us to be still and know.

He would plant his staff in us and all we do; we would respond by flowering up from the green.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland
St. Patrick’s grave marker

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Leave the Rest to God

I think there is no suffering greater than
what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. 

I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, 
in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. 
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. 
They think faith is a big electric blanket, 
when of course it is the cross. 


It is much harder to believe than not to believe. 
If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: 
keep an open mind. 
Keep it open toward faith, 
keep wanting it, 
keep asking for it, 
and leave the rest to God.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted. 

Nothing that comes from God,
even the greatest miracle, can be proven like 2 x 2 = 4.
It touches one;
it is only seen and grasped when the heart is open and the spirit purged of self.
Then it awakens faith. 

… the heart is not overcome by faith,
there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes. 
What comes from God
touches gently,
comes quietly;
does not disturb freedom;
leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.
~Romano Guardini from The Living God

On my doubting days, when my faith is weak,
I remember the risen Christ reaching out
to place Thomas’s hand in His very real wounds,
guiding the doubter to believe
His painful sacrifice is reality.

His open wounds call out to my mind and heart-
Christ’s flesh and blood fortifies my faith
by such a gentle guiding touch.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who know me
Will I discover a soul saving love or
Just the dirt above and below me?

I’m a doubting Thomas
I took a promise
I do not feel safe
O’ me of little faith

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face
Then I beg to be spared cause I’m a coward
If there’s a master of death I bet he’s holding his breath
Cause I show the blind and tell the deaf
About his power

I’m a doubting Thomas
I can’t keep my promises
Cause I don’t know what’s safe
O’ me of little faith

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared that I’ll find proof that it’s a lie
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
To prove I’m not ready to die

Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted

I’m a doubting Thomas
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothing’s safe
O’ me of little faith
O’ me of little faith
~Chris Thile

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – A Ministry of Presence

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them.

It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.

My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.

But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.
~Henri Nouwen from The Practice of the Presence of God

For too many years, I was wrapped up in the trappings of the “useful” life – meetings, committees, schedules, strategic priorities – and I forgot there is so much living usefully that I neglected to do.

There needs to be more potlucks, more “oh, by the way” conversations, more connections “just because,” more showing up when extra hands are needed.

If only I could invite you all over for breakfast. We’d have a wonderful chin wag…

Actually, now that I think of it —
you ARE invited for breakfast – Sunday, April 9, 2023 at 7 AM.
Dress warmly. Wear boots. Come hungry and thirsty for the Word and ready for hugs.
Easter Sunrise on our hill.

photo by Joel De Waard

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Don’t Worry, You’ll Make It

To the shepherd herding his flock
through the gorge below, it must appear as if I walk
on the sky. I feel that too: so little between me

and The Fall. But this is how faith works its craft.
One foot set in front of the other, while the wind
rattles the cage of the living and the rocks down there

cheer every wobble, your threads keep
this braided business almost intact saying: Don’t worry.
I’ve been here a long time. You’ll make it across.
~Matthew Olzmann “Letter to a Bridge Made of Rope”

I have never walked a rope bridge though I’ve seen one from a distance in Northern Ireland. It swayed far above a rocky gorge, hanging almost miraculously in the air as walkers trekked blithely across.

Not for me, I said.

I feel disoriented and dizzy when the surface beneath my feet sways and moves with the wind and due to my own movement. I make my own wobbling worse with my fear. The rocks below seem menacing; I don’t trust my own ability to navigate over and through them.

Oh, me of little faith. So little between me and The Fall.

Simply crossing a narrow wooden bridge built over a fallen large old-growth tree trunk takes all my courage. I try to focus on my feet taking each step, testing the solid wood beneath me rather than looking down at the rushing water and sharp rocks below.

In the course of life, I have to take steps that feel uncertain and unsupported. I freeze in place, afraid to move forward, reluctant to leave the security of where I am to do what it takes to get safely to the other side.

Yet I need to trust what holds firm for others will hold firm for me.

Christ is the bridge for those like me who fear, who don’t trust their own feet, who can’t stop seeing the taunting and daunting rocks below. He has braided Himself around me to keep me safe, no matter what and no matter where. He’s been here a long time and will always be.

I can step out in that confidence.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Loving shepherd of Thy sheep,
Keep Thy lamb, in safety keep;
Nothing can Thy power withstand,
None can pluck me from Thy hand.

I will praise Thee everyday,
Gladly Thy all will obey;
Like Thy ones blessed above,
Happy in Thy presence love.

Loving shepherd, ever near,
Teach Thy lamb Thy voice to hear;
Suffer not my steps to stray,
From the straight and narrow way.

Where Thou leadest I would go,
Walking in Thy steps below;
Till before my Father’s throne,
I shall know as I am known.

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – A Hard Gift to Keep

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
~Li-Young Lee, “The Gift” from Rose

I did, without ever wanting to, remove my child’s splinter, lance a boil, immobilize a broken arm, pull together sliced skin, clean many dirty wounds. It felt like I crossed the line between mommy and doctor.  But someone had to do it, and a four hour wait in the emergency room didn’t seem warranted.

My own children learned to cope with hurt made worse by someone they trusted to be comforter. I dealt with inflicting pain, temporary though it may be, to flesh that arose from my flesh. It hurt as much as if it were my own wound needing cleansing, not theirs.

And so, in the similar way, our wounds are His – He is constantly feeling our pain as He performs healing surgeries in our lives, not because He wants to but because He must, to save us from our own self-destruction. Too often we yell and kick and protest in our distress, making it all that much more difficult for both of us.

If only we can come to acknowledge His intervention is our salvage:
our tears to flow in relief, not anguish,
we cling to His protection rather than pushing Him away,
we kiss Him in gratitude as we are restored again and yet again.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – An Exaltation of Purple

Here in purgatory bare ground
is visible, except in shady places
where snow prevails.

Still, each day sees
the restoration of another animal:
a sparrow, just now a sleepy wasp;
and, at twilight, the skunk
pokes out of the den,
anxious for mates and meals. . . .

On the floor of the woodshed
the coldest imaginable ooze,
and soon the first shoots
of asparagus will rise,
the fingers of Lazarus. . . .

Earth’s open wounds — where the plow
gouged the ground last November —
must be smoothed; some sown
with seed, and all forgotten.

Now the nuthatch spurns the suet,
resuming its diet of flies, and the mesh
bag limp and greasy, might be taken
down.

Beside the porch step
the crocus prepares an exaltation
of purple, but for the moment
holds its tongue. . . .
~Jane Kenyon, “Mud Season” from Collected Poems.

photo by http://www.positivebloom.com

Walking, I drew my hand over the lumpy
bloom of a spray of purple; I stripped away
my fingers, stained purple; put it to my nose,

the minty honey, a perfume so aggressively
pleasant—I gave it to you to smell,
my daughter, and you pulled away as if

I was giving you a palm full of wasps,
deceptions: “Smell the way the air
changes because of purple and green.”

This is the promise I make to you:
I will never give you a fist full of wasps,
just the surprise of purple and the scent of rain.
~Kwame Dawes “Purple”

I have always identified more with the bland plainness of mud season as squishy brown ground is underfoot. I tend to dress myself in browns and never in elegant purples. It’s not that I don’t like purple – I do. I just have never felt worthy to be adorned in it like the sky and flowers and fruit.

Perhaps my reluctance to wear purple is that it represents the those who are regal and royal … yet also those who are bruised and battered … all at once.

I know One who was both, who took a beating for me in my place.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Realizing the Snow is Melting…

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise 
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing. 
Our spirit persists like a man struggling 
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

~Jack Gilbert “Horses at Midnight Without a Moon”

As if —
we are walking through the darkest valley, still stuck in the throes of winter, and catch a whiff of a floral scent, or a hint of green grass, or hear the early jingle bells song of peeper frogs in the wetlands, or feel the warm breath of horses puffing steam at night.

As if —
there is hope on the other side, refreshment and renewal and rejoicing only around the corner.

As if —
things won’t always be frozen or muddy or barren, that something is coming behind the snowdrops and crocus.

The snow is melting, imperceptibly, but melting nonetheless.
And that, in turn, melts me…

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18