This Field, This Sky, This Tree

What words or harder gift
does the light require of me
carving from the dark
this difficult tree?

What place or farther peace
do I almost see
emerging from the night
and heart of me?

The sky whitens, goes on and on.
Fields wrinkle into rows
of cotton, go on and on.
Night like a fling of crows
disperses and is gone.

What song, what home,
what calm or one clarity
can I not quite come to,
never quite see:
this field, this sky, this tree.

~Christian Wiman, “Hard Night”

Even the darkest night has a sliver of light left,
if only in our memories.
We remember how it was and how it can be —
the promise of better to come.

While the ever-changing sky swirls as a backdrop,
a tree on a hill became the focal point, as it must,
like a black hole swallowing up all pain, all suffering,
all evil threatening to consume our world.

What clarity, what calm,
what peace can be found at the foot of that tree,
where our hearts can rest in this knowledge:
our sin died there, once and for all
and our names are carved into its roots for all time.

Blooming Impossibly

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

~Li-Young Lee, last stanza of “From Blossoms” from Rose.

… it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

To live as if
death were nowhere in the background:
that is impossible right now
when death is in every headline
and everyone knows someone
who has been lost to the virus.

Yet, to still emerge and blossom,
despite the dryness and drought of pandemic~
this is Christ’s call to us.
 
We are not dying,
but alive in Him,
an amazing impossible flowering.

So I allow my eye to peer through
a dying time such as this,
needing a flotation device
and depth finder
as I’m likely to get lost,
sweeping and swooning
through the inner space
of life’s deep tunnels,
canyons and corners,
coming up for air and diving in again
to journey into exotic locales
draped in silken hues
~this fairy land on a stem~
to immerse and emerge
in the possibilities
of such an impossible blossom.

A Terrible and Beautiful Saturday

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
~Christian Wiman “Every Riven Thing”

The Holy Saturday of our life must be the preparation for Easter,
the persistent hope for the final glory of God. 

The virtue of our daily life is the hope which does what is possible
and expects God to do the impossible. 

To express it somewhat paradoxically, but nevertheless seriously: 
the worst has actually already happened; 
we exist,
and even death cannot deprive us of this. 

Now is the Holy Saturday of our ordinary life, 
but there will also be Easter, our true and eternal life. 
~Karl Rahner “Holy Saturday” in The Great Church Year

This is the day in between when nothing makes sense
 we are lost, hopeless, grieving, riven beyond recognition.

We are brought to our senses by this one Death, this premeditated killing, this senseless act that darkened the skies, shook the earth and tore down the curtained barriers to the Living Eternal God.

The worst has already happened, despite how horrific are the constant tragic events filling our headlines.

Today, this Holy Saturday we are in between, stumbling in the darkness but aware of hints of light, of buds, of life, of promised fruit to come.

The best has already happened; it happened even as we remained oblivious to its impossibility.

We move through this Saturday, doing what is possible even when it feels senseless, even as we feel split apart, torn and sundered.

Tomorrow it will all make sense: our hope brings us face to face with our God who is and was and does the impossible.


Here in between the death and life
Of broken God and risen Christ
We watch and wait, we kneel and pray
For hope to breathe at break of day
The temple torn by sacrifice
How can this be the way?

The Son of God nailed to a tree, this is not how we thought it’d be
Your condemnation makes no sense, an act of hate and violence
We broke the bread; we spilled the wine; how can this be the way?

Within this day of Sabbath rest- A gift to those whom you have blessed-
Your peace transforms our hearts content in this already and not yet.
In stillness beats the drum of life. How can this be the way?

Your never-ending sovereignty, still flickers with eternity
It brightens fading eventide, the gospel hums of mercy wide.
Oh Lord of Life, open Your eyes, you are the only…
you are the only… You are the only way.

~ Rev. Brian Moss

They have been saying all our plans are empty.
They have been saying “Where is their God now?”
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.

They have been saying no one will remember.
They have been saying Power rules the world.
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.

They have been saying no one hears the singing.
They have been saying all our strength is gone.
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.

They have been saying “All of us are dying.”
They have been saying “All of us are dead.”
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.
~Tom Conry

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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