It was like a church to me. I entered it on soft foot, Breath held like a cap in the hand. It was quiet. What God there was made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart’s passions – that was praise Enough; and the mind’s cession Of its kingdom. I walked on, Simple and poor, while the air crumbled And broke on me generously as bread. ~R.S. Thomas “The Moor” Collected Poems: R. S. Thomas
This is a Sabbath morning when I’m surrounded by His stilling presence~ when God is felt, neither seen or heard, overtaking me within each breath taken, following the path of each glistening tear, feeding me manna from sky and body, becoming the ground reaching to meet my foot with each step I take.
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange— The size of it made us all laugh. I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave— They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy, As ordinary things often do Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park. This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy. I did all the jobs on my list And enjoyed them and had some time over. I love you. I’m glad I exist. ~Wendy Cope “The Orange”
I close my eyes, savor a wafer of sacred cake on my tongue and try to taste my mother, to discern the message she baked in these loaves when she was too ill to eat them:
I love you. It will end. Leave something of sweetness and substance in the mouth of the world. ~Anna Belle Kaufman “Cold Solace”
Each day brings something special to my life, so I peel it carefully to find what hides inside, all the while inhaling its fragrance then carefully, slowly, gently lifting it to my mouth to savor it, knowing only love, only loving, could taste this sweet.
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
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.
The bus releases you beside the bakery at 5 AM. His light’s on. You can smell the secret life of bread– the russet brawny shoulders rising in the pan, yeast swelling yearning toward croissants, pretzels, braided curls of challah. You give the baker money, he gives you a loaf. Neither of you can say the mystery you share like lovers. You shyly nod and bear your loneliness to work in helpless hands. Whatever it is, you can not explain the one thing that matters. You break his bread at noon and fling it toward frozen ducks on the millpond and you awaken from what you’ve been. You want to be bread broken. ~ Jeanne Murray Walker “Baker” from Pilgrim, You Find Your Path By Walking
We all harbor mystery; oftentimes we can’t even decipher what is in our hearts, much less communicate it to another. Breaking open may be the only way to reveal it but that can be too much for even the strongest of us.
We are not a mystery to God. We are transparent as shattered glass to Him when we are opaque to ourselves and others.
He knows our comings and goings, where our cracks are and where the glue continues to hold in what has already been repaired.
Most of all, He knows Himself what it means to be broken to feed others – flung and woke — even for those who turn their backs to a meal to freedom.
It was one of those days when the sun poured gold into the air, and flecks of light floated in shafts that fell through the branches of yellow leaf and green.
We’d had dinner at a place on the edge of a lake, and now we were going back to town. There was a simple way to get there, but she didn’t take it. Instead, we
drove the country roads with the corn rows flicking by, each one visible for a half second, then gone. “Hello, hello, hello,” they said, then “Good-bye, bye, bye, bye.”
The soybeans, we agreed, had turned burgundy overnight, but it was the cornfields we watched, as if we were waiting for the waters to open, as if we might cross over Jordan. ~Joyce Sutphen “Country Roads” from After Words
Traveling the country roads around here can feel a bit like seeking the entrance to the promised land: we can see it, just over there, glowing with so much potential. We haven’t quite found the way, it flicks by so quickly. It’s not yet our time, so we tread hungrily on the outskirts almost tasting the promise and waiting for the invitation to come.
Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Cost of Discipleship
On this Maundy Thursday we are called to draw near Him, to gather together among the hungry and thirsty to the Supper He has prepared. He washes the dirt off our feet; we look away, mortified. He serves us from Himself; we fret about whether we are worthy.
We are not.
Starving and parched, grimy and weary, hardly presentable to be guests at His table, we are made worthy only because He has made us so.
The cup and the loaf You beckon me close to commune Like fruit on the vine crushed into wine You were bruised Broken and torn crowned with scorn Poured out for all
Chorus: All my sin All my shame All my secrets All my chains Lamb of God Great is your love Your blood covers it all
I taste and I drink You satisfy me With your love Your goodness flows down and waters dry ground like a flood Let mercy rain Saving grace Poured out for all
My sin, not in part You cover it all, You cover it all Not in part, But the whole You cover it all, You cover it all It’s nailed to the cross. You cover it all You cover it all And I bear it no more You cover it all. ~Allie LaPointe and David Moffitt