Our Ordinary Unmysterious Lives

Definite beliefs are what make the radical mystery
those moments when we suddenly know there is a God
about whom we “know” absolutely nothing –
accessible to us and our ordinary, unmysterious lives.

And more crucially:

definite beliefs enable us to withstand the storms of suffering

that come into every life, and that tend to destroy
any spiritual disposition that does not have deep roots.

~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

photo of Wiser Lake Chapel sanctuary by Barb Hoelle

Does anyone have the foggiest idea
of what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church;
we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.

~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

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

We are only a few weeks away from the beginning of Advent, a time when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle story of Christmas Eve’s silent night, the sleeping infant away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.

The reality, I’m confident, was far different.

There was nothing gentle about a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver.
There was nothing gentle about the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets.
There was nothing gentle about Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered.
There was nothing gentle about a family’s flight to Egypt to flee that fate for their only Son.
There was nothing gentle about 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 and hung on a cross until he took his last breath.

Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth and would return him to heaven, and back again someday. 
No signal flares needed there.

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 as a desperate person who will never ever save oneself.   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, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the radical mystery of God.

It is not for the faint of heart, this finding a “definite belief” within our ordinary unmysterious lives and giving it deep roots to thrive. It is reasonable and necessary to be “sore afraid” and “bend our anger” into His peace.

And not forget our crash helmets.

walking to church in Tokyo


Our Plodding Resistance



If that’s what he means,’ says the student to the poetry teacher, ‘why doesn’t he just say it?’ 

‘If God is real,’ says the parishioner to the preacher, ‘why doesn’t he simply storm into our lives and convince us?’ 

The questions are vastly different in scale and relative importance, 
but their answers are similar. 

A poem, if it’s a real one, in some fundamental sense 
means no more and no less than the moment of its singular music and lightning insight; it is its own code to its own absolute and irreducible clarity. 

A god, if it’s a living one, is not outside of reality but in it, of it, 
though in ways it takes patience and imagination to perceive. 

Thus the uses and necessities of metaphor, which can flash us past our plodding resistance and habits into strange new truths. 

Thus the very practical effects of music, myth, and image, which tease us not out of reality, but deeper and more completely into it.
~Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

We are an impatient and unimaginative people; we want proof of God and we want it now. Yet we plod through our days blind and deaf to His presence in our lives, with little awareness of Him walking beside us.

So each day I try to take the blinders off and look for Him, listen for Him and wait on Him to make His presence known.

I will call Him by Name.

When Faith Appears Like Dew

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Faith steals upon you like dew:
some days you wake and it is there.
And like dew, it gets burned off 
in the rising sun of anxieties,
ambitions, distractions.
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

 

 

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My faith,
refreshed in the light of morning,
can evaporate in the dry stress of the day.
May I turn my face up
each night, asking to be washed
in the mist of God’s dew,
my anxiety settled like dust.

 

 

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Like Dew

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Faith steals upon you like dew:
some days you wake and it is there.
And like dew, it gets burned off
in the rising sun of anxieties,
ambitions, distractions.
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

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Our faith,
refreshed in the light of morning,
can evaporate in the dry stress of the day.
May we turn our faces up
each night, asking to be washed
in the mist of God’s dew,
our anxiety settled like dust.

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Time-bound and Time-ravaged

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It is easy enough to write and talk about God
while remaining comfortable
within the contemporary intellectual climate.
Even people who would call themselves unbelievers
often use the word gesturally,
as a ready-made synonym for mystery.
But if nature abhors a vacuum,
Christ abhors a vagueness.
If God is love,
Christ is love
for this one person,
this one place,
this one time-bound and
time-ravaged self.

~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

 

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Well aware of all I am not,
my shortcomings and failings,
my temptation to deny self-denial,
my inability to see beyond my own troubles,
forgetting this life is not all about me:

~neglecting to witness first hand
all that God through Christ is:

the beauty in His becoming man,
the joy of His joining up with us,
the love in His gracious sacrifice,
the full promise of His Word that breathes
life back into my dying soul~

and so it becomes all about me
not because of
what I’ve done,
or who I am,
but because of
who He is and was and will be:
He loves me,
this time-bound and time-ravaged me,
no matter what.

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Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw on to itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means, chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom.
~N.T. Wright

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God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.
C.S. Lewis

 

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Between Midnight and Dawn: The Mystery of the Cross

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Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—
in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
 
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality,
then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?

    Where, O death, is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15: 51-55

 

The void of God and the love of God come together in the mystery of the cross.
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

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There is no event so commonplace
but that God is present within it,
always hiddenly,
always leaving you room to recognize Him
or not…

Listen to your life.

See it for the
fathomless mystery that it is.

In the boredom and pain of it no less
than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the
holy and hidden art of it
because in the last analysis
all moments are key moments…..

and Life itself is Grace.
~Frederick Buechner from Now and Then- Listening to Your Life

 

May I accept what I cannot know and cannot understand;
it will remain mystery until it is revealed in His time.

Until then I am tempted to assumption, speculation, and doubt,
accepting the void of God rather than experiencing His love first hand.

The mystery is worth the often intolerable wait, once the final page is turned and His last Words spoken from the cross: It is finished.

 

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Prepare for Joy: An Unlovely Thorn

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Christ … is a thorn in the brain.
Christ is God crying I am here,
and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you,
but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you,
here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.
To walk through the fog of God
toward the clarity of Christ is difficult
because of how unlovely,
how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be.
~Christian Wiman from Image Journal “Varieties of Quiet”

We spent over 20 hours traveling yesterday, through two train stations, finding a crowded bus shuttle on the streets of New York City, then passing through four airports, enduring one cancellation and another delay.  It was a painfully difficult trial of endurance, something so ungodly and unlovely after experiencing wonderfully clarifying and nurturing visits with beloved family members.

Yet we made it home despite the long lines, the packed planes and trains, the noise, the security pat downs, the overpriced everything, the sea of humanity everywhere.

We would endure anything in order to be together with family — Christ endured so much more to bring us into His family, declaring “I am here for you!”   He leads us through the fog to come home to Him — even though the process may be appalling, offensive, degrading, and requiring painful endurance.

We are home, clearly one of His family.

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