Listening to Lent — A Heart Enfolds

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  1. O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
    Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
    O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
    Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine. 
  2. What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
    Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
    Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
    Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace. 
  3. What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
    For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
    O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
    Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee. 
  4. Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
    Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
    Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
    My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.
    ~Bernard of Clairvaux

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.
Saint Augustine

When I am one of billions
there can be nothing special
to attract attention
or affection

When I blend into the background
among so many others
indistinct and plain,
common as grains of sand

There is nothing to hold me up
as rare, unique,
or exceptional,
worthy of extra effort
on a day such as today.

Yet it is not about my worth,
my work, my words;
it is about His infinite capacity
to love anything formed

by the touch of His vast hand,
the contraction of His immense heart,
the boundlessness of His breath reaching me
as if
as if
as if
I were the only one.

Three in One

photo by Josh Scholten

“Spend your life trying to understand it, and you will lose your mind; but deny it and you will lose your soul.”
Augustine in his work “On the Trinity”

A story has been told that Augustine of Hippo was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity.  Then he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole.
Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.”
“That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said Augustine.
The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.”

I accept that my tiny brain, ever so much tinier than St. Augustine’s,  cannot possibly absorb or explain the Trinity–I will not try to put the entire ocean in that small hole.  The many analogies used to help human understanding of the Trinity are dangerously limited in scope:
three candles, one light
vapor, water, ice
shell, yolk, albumin
height, width, depth
apple peel, flesh, core
past, present, future.

It is sufficient for me to know, as expressed by the 19th century Anglican pastor J.C. Ryle:  It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, “Let us make man”. It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, “Let us save man”.

All one, equal, harmonious, unchangeable.
“It is not easy to find a name that will suitably express so great an excellence, unless it is better to speak in this way:
the Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things. 
Thus the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and each of these by Himself, is God,
and at the same time they are all one God;
and each of them by Himself is a complete substance, and yet they are all one substance.

The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Spirit;
the Son is not the Father nor the Holy Spirit;
the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son:
but the Father is only Father,
the Son is only Son,
and the Holy Spirit is only Holy Spirit.

To all three belong the same eternity, the same unchangeableness, the same majesty, the same power.
In the Father is unity, in the Son equality, in the Holy Spirit the harmony of unity and equality.

And these three attributes are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all harmonious because of the Holy Spirit.”

–Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, I.V.5.

As If There Were Only One

photo by Josh Scholten

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.
Saint Augustine

When I am one of billions
there can be nothing special
to attract attention
or affection

When I blend into the background
among so many others
indistinct and plain,
common as grains of sand

There is nothing to hold me up
as rare, unique,
or exceptional,
worthy of extra effort.

Yet it is not about my worth,
my work, my words;
it is about His infinite capacity
to love anything formed

by the touch of His vast hand,
the contraction of His immense heart,
the boundlessness of His breath reaching me
as if
as if
as if
I were the only one.

Lenten Reflection–The Cost of Humanity

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Man was added to Him, God not lost to Him; He emptied Himself not by losing what He was, but by taking to Him what He was not.
Augustine

Look upon the baby Jesus. Divinity may terrify us. Inexpressible majesty will crush us. That is why Christ took on our humanity…that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.” Martin Luther

He was pushed out in those first moments on earth, birth-bloodied, then cradled and held in human arms. Three decades later, He was pulled down following  His last breath, death-bloodied, then cradled and held in human arms. The symmetry of His birth and death mirrors the symmetry of our lives, a consolation about how He belongs to us as much as we belong to Him.

The blood shed at birth is the mother’s alone. The blood lost at death is God’s alone, pumping through human heart and arteries, soaking the wretched ground below.

He empties completely because He is fully human; He returns risen and complete because He is fully God.

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Lenten Reflection–Mute Eloquence

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He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.
Augustine

It turns the mind inside out–created within His creation, hugged within an earthly embrace, by way of heaven, fed from human breast while becoming food for the heart, bathed while cleansing the bather.

In the beginning the Word breathed and articulated life, knowing its utterance would someday come from lips and tongue and throat, whether as an infant’s cry, a toddler’s chuckle, a child’s secret or an adult’s stricken sorrow. 

We are speechless, listening.

Lenten Reflection–He is Here

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And He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here.
Augustine

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:30-32

I think often of the disciples walking to Emmaus on the evening of Resurrection Sunday, trying to make sense of all the events of the day. When another traveller joined them, they shared everything they knew, expressing their wonder and amazement. They spoke from the heart, and as He, in turn, shared insights from the gospel, He set their “hearts burning within” them as they listened to His words.

Then He revealed Himself during the meal as He spoke words of gratitude and broke the bread. In this simple every day action, they recognize Him, and so feel Him in their hearts. As He departs from their sight, they know where they may always look to find Him.

He is here. Deep in our beating hearts that He shared with us, deep in our every day activities of making and eating meals together, walking, sleeping, caring for one another, teaching, cleaning up, telling stories and simply saying thanks. He is here, so close, so accessible, so much part of our humanity, yet transcending His flesh and blood by giving it up for us. To find Him,we need provide no sacrifice, need make no pilgrimage, worship at no special shrine, pay no indulgences. As we eat, as we drink, as we express gratitude, we feel His Spirit, recognizing He offered Himself as the sacrifice made on our behalf.

No other God would. No other God has. No other God is here, dwelling within us.

Lenten Reflection–The Flooded Path

photo by Josh Scholten

God of our life,
there are days when the burdens we carry
chafe our shoulders and weigh us down;
when the road seems dreary and endless,
the skies grey and threatening;
when our lives have no music in them,
and our hearts are lonely,
and our souls have lost their courage.

Flood the path with light,
run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise;
tune our hearts to brave music;
give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age;
and so quicken our spirits
that we may be able to encourage the souls of all
who journey with us on the road of life,
to Your honour and glory.
Augustine

Those final few days may have been like this:
the sky oppressive with storm clouds,
the shouldered burden too painful,
the soul weighed down, discouraged, disheartened.
Each step brought Him closer
to a desperate loneliness borne of betrayal and rejection.

But the end of that dark walk was just the beginning
of a journey into new covenant.

Instead of rain, those clouds bore light, flooding the pathway so we can come together to lift the load.
Instead of loneliness, there arises community.
Instead of stillness, there is declaration of glory.
Instead of discouragement, He embodies hope for all hearts.
The promise fulfilled, spills over our path.
We are drenched.

photo by Josh Scholten

Lenten Reflection–Longing for Peace

photo by Josh Scholten

You called, You cried, You shattered my deafness, You sparkled, You blazed, You drove away my blindness, You shed Your fragrance, and I drew in my breath, and I pant for You. I tasted and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and now I burn with longing for your peace.
Augustine in “Confessions”

Augustine’s prayer startles,
describing our burning desperation for God and His effort to restore us.
He calls out to us, engaging all our senses.
We hear His cries, see His sparkling glory, smell His fragrance, taste and feel Him.
And long for more.

Our weaknesses shattered, blazed, and driven away.
Our breathlessness eased, our exhaustion rested, our aching emptiness quenched.
Starving, dehydrated, panting, yearning for rescue.
He brings us peace,
Everlasting.

Lenten Reflection–What Love Looks Like

Detail from Rembrandt's Face of Jesus

What does love look like?
It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
That is what love looks like.
Augustine

What love doesn’t look like:

it is not the Hollywood version
or the red carpet glittery gowns
or the fancy jewelry

it is not mostly uncovered magazine cover girls
or hooking up when it feels good
or a serial monogamy relationship of three months

it’s not an online status declaring “in a relationship”
or a choreographed and photographed proposal
or the designer wedding gown

it isn’t precisely planned conceptions
of predetermined gender and genetics
or discarding the imperfect

Love looks like
commitment
and sacrifice
and mercy
and selflessness
and forgiving grace

It looks like Him.

Lenten Reflection–Choosing Sides

photo by Josh Scholten

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5


The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.
G.K. Chesterton

This is not like choosing sides on teams in grade school, numbering off one-two-one-two until everyone knows where they stand. This is not like an election year where choosing sides means aligning myself with the political party that seems to be the best fit at the time, even if I don’t agree with all their platform points. This is not like a Lincoln-Douglas debate tournament where I might represent one viewpoint for the first round, and then be asked to represent the opposite viewpoint in the second half.

It is more like being chosen for one side or the other, even if, klutz that I am, it means always being the last to be chosen for any sports team with all my limitations, my poor coordination, my weakness and my flaws.

This choice is not for an hour or a day or a year, but for eternity; whether to stand in the light as it shines on my dark, glum, sullen head or stay unexposed and hidden in the shadows.

It isn’t just about choosing,
but being chosen,
just as I am.

Though the light shines on things unclean, yet it is not thereby defiled.
Augustine