You love the roses – so do I. I wish The sky would rain down roses, as they rain From off the shaken bush. Why will it not? Then all the valley would be pink and white And soft to tread on. They would fall as light As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be Like sleeping and like waking, all at once! ~George Eliotfrom “The Spanish Gypsy”
It was gardener/author Alphonse Karr in the mid-19th century who wrote that even though most people grumble about roses having thorns, he was grateful that thorns have roses.
There was a time when thorns were not part of our world, when we knew nothing of suffering and death. Yet in pursuing and desiring more than we were already generously given, we received more than we bargained for. We are still paying for that decision; we continue to reel under the thorns our choices produce — every day there is more bloodletting.
So a Rose was sent to adorn the thorns.
And what did we do? We chose thorns to make Him bleed and still do to this day.
A fragrant rose blooms beautiful, bleeding amid the thorns, raining down as we sleep and wake, and will to the endless day.
Abandon entouré d’abandon, tendresse touchant aux tendresses… C’est ton intérieur qui sans cesse se caresse, dirait-on; se caresse en soi-même, par son propre reflet éclairé. Ainsi tu inventes le thème du Narcisse exaucé. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Dirait-on” from his French Poetry collection ‘Les chansons de la rose’
(Literal translation of “So They Say” from “The Song of the Rose”) Abandon enveloping abandon, Tenderness brushing tendernesses, Who you are sustains you eternally, so they say; Your very being is nourished by its own enlightened reflection; So you compose the theme of Narcissus redeemed.
Spend your life trying to understand it, and you will lose your mind; but deny it and you will lose your soul. ~St. Augustine in his work “On the Trinity”
Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. . . . Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. ~J. L. Packer from Knowing God
The story goes 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, bound to save us from ourselves.
“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.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
…the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing my feeble beam, a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying: …as that hand of fire touched my lips and scorched by tongue and pulled by voice into the ring of the dance. ~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” in Breathing the Water
Unless the eye catch fire, Then God will not be seen. Unless the ear catch fire Then God will not be heard. Unless the tongue catch fire Then God will not be named. Unless the heart catch fire, Then God will not be loved. Unless the mind catch fire, Then God will not be known. ~William Blake from “Pentecost”
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work. yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world. Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. ~Teresa of Avila
Today, when we feel we are without hope, when the bent world reels with a troubled sickness of shedding blood and spreading violence, when faith feels frail, when love seems distant, we wait, stilled, for the moment we ourselves – not our cities – are lit afire ~ when the Living God is seen, heard, named, loved, known forever burning in our hearts deep down, brooded over by His bright wings~ we are His dearest, His freshest deep down things, in this moment and for eternity.
I hope my life was penned in such a way that when time comes to write my epitaph someone might think to say not that I was good so much as kind and that I wrote quite well beyond my means because it was the wind of grace blown down that gave me words and moved my sluggish hands, and that I always sought to know the unseen things and though I loved the breadth of language for my art, my heart always seemed fixed on a day when all the sound and words would fall away, and that I was quite hopeful to the last if anyone would choose one line to inscribe my memory in stone it surely should be the simple supposition I know right: there merely is no synonym for light. ~Margaret Ingraham “Epitaph” from Exploring This Terrain
The world can feel like a fearsome place with endless stories of tragedy and loss, so much pain and suffering, blinding me in darkness so I fail to see the light all around me.
How to describe a Light that transforms all that is bleak?
With these Words:
Be not afraid Come have breakfast Touch and see Follow me Do you love me? Feed my sheep Peace be with you
As I am mere breath and bone, a wisp in a moment of time, His truth anchors my heart and illuminates my soul: I am called forth into His Light.
We human beings do real harm. History could make a stone weep. ~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead
As humankind was created with the freedom to choose our own way, we tend to opt for the path of least resistance with the highest return.
Hey, after all, we’re human and that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it.
No road less traveled on for most of us–instead we blindly head down the superhighway of what’s best for #1, no matter what the means of transportation, what it costs to get there, how seedy the billboards or how many warning signs appear, or where the ultimate destination takes us.
History is full of the piled-high wrecking yards of demolition remnants from crashes along the way.
It’s enough to make a stone weep.
Certainly God wept.
And He wept even after creating man in His own image, emphatically declaring our creation good, even knowing how everything was going to turn out.
Despite the harm we continue to cause, despite our suffering too many crashes along the way, we are declared good only because His breath remains full within us while His tears never fail to wash us clean.
Sometimes as an antidote To fear of death, I eat the stars
Those nights, lying on my back, I suck them from the quenching dark Til they are all, all inside me, Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself Into a universe still young, Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space, The light of all the not yet stars Drifting like a bright mist, And all of us, and everything Already there But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough To lie down here on earth Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields Of our discarded skulls, Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis, Thinking: whatever left these husks Flew off on bright wings. ~Rebecca Elson “Antidotes to Fear of Death”
We live out our earthly lives within these shells we call bodies, aware we were made intentionally and uniquely by our Creator in His image. Every part of us has purpose and meaning, down to the smallest corpuscle and the longest bone. We are His treasure, so much so He came to walk with us to preserve us by looking like, feeling like and suffering like us.
Yet we weaken over time, as this is temporal housing only. Even a small packet of viral RNA can cause us to fade and become dry husks.
Easter means it isn’t over. Death is overcome, the tethers of earth are broken, these husks become bright wings that soar as treasures lit from within.
…nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
There is a fragrance in the air, a certain passage of a song, an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book, the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears. Who can say when or how it will be that something easters up out of the dimness to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?
God himself does not give answers. He gives himself. ~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale
“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” ― Gerard Manley Hopkinsfrom “The Wreck of the Deutschland”
All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. ~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”
It has been a slow coming of spring this year, seeming in no hurry whatsoever as we all shelter in place, isolated and lonesome for one another.
Snow remains in the foothills and the greening of the fields has only begun. The flowering plum and cherry trees finally have burst into bloom despite a continued chill. It feels like winter at night yet the perfumed air of spring now permeates the day.
Such extreme variability is disorienting when we are desperate for something – anything – that feels routine and normal. It is almost like standing blinded in a spotlight in a darkened room.
This is exactly what eastering is like. It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening a door to let in fresh air, and the stone that locked us in the dark rolled back.
Overnight all has changed, changed utterly. We, who have been wintering and weathered, weary and withered, are transformed by the Light.
How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song–all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.
Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God. ~Nicholas Wolterstorffin Lament for a Son
In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, God takes the worse we can do to Him and turns it into the very best He can do for us. ~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness
“My God, My God,” goes the Psalm 22, “hear me, why have you forsaken me?”
This is the anguish all we of Godforsaken heart know well. But hear the revelation to which Christ directs us, further in the same psalm:
“For He has not despised nor scorned the beggar’s supplication, Nor has He turned away His face from me; And when I cried out to Him, He heard me.“
He hears us, and he knows, because he has suffered as one Godforsaken. Which means that you and I, even in our darkest hours, are not forsaken. Though we may hear nothing, feel nothing, believe nothing, we are not forsaken, and so we need not despair. And that is everything. That is Good Friday and it is hope, it is life in this darkened age, and it is the life of the world to come. ~Tony Woodlief from “We are Not Forsaken”
We aren’t even capable of truly wanting Jesus without his help. Tim Keller
May we remember today, of all days, the worst that can happen becomes the best that can happen. We tussle and haggle over the price of what this will cost us, but realizing it has been paid for us makes an impossible loss possible.
We are paid in full, no longer debtors.
From now on, we are freed from worry: the worst became the best because now we want Him over all else…
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors which it passes to a row of ancient trees. You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.
leaving you, not really belonging to either, not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent, not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing that turns to a star each night and climbs–
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads) your own life, timid and standing high and growing, so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out, one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy
We, frail people that we are, live out our lives between heaven and earth, sometimes in an uneasy tug-of-war between the two. We feel not quite ready for heaven as our roots go deep here, yet the challenges of daily life on this soil can seem overwhelmingly difficult and we seek relief, begging for mercy.
As we struggle to stay healthy during a spreading pandemic, it is frightening to watch others suffer as death tolls rise. We pray for safety for ourselves and those we love, knowing we are living “in between” where we are now and where we soon will be.
Shall we remain stones on the ground, still and lifeless, or are we destined to become a star glistening in the firmament?
Or are we like a tree stretching between soil and sky trying to touch both and remain standing while buffeted by forces beyond our control?
Christ the Son, on earth and in heaven, maintains an eternal connection to above and below. In His hands and under His protection, we are safe no matter where we are and where He takes us.
We can be mere stones no more.
This year’s Barnstorming theme for the season of Lent:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller