Living Under the Penetrating Gaze of God

To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. 

To live in the presence of God is to understand

that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it,
we are acting under the gaze of God.

There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze.

To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity.
It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency

in the majesty of God.

Our lives are to be living sacrifices,
oblations offered in a spirit of adoration and gratitude.

A fragmented life is a life of disintegration.
It is marked by inconsistency, disharmony, confusion,
conflict, contradiction, and chaos.

Coram Deo … before the face of God.

…a life that is open before God.
…a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord.
…a life lived by principle, not expediency; by humility before God,

not defiance.

~R.C. Sproul
from “What Does “coram Deo” mean?”

We cannot escape His gaze. Why is that?

We…all of us, all colors, shapes and sizes…
are created in His image, imago dei, so He looks at us as His reflections in the mirror of the world.

And what would He see this week?
Surely nothing that reflects the heart or face of God.

I cringe to think. I want to hide from His gaze.
All I see around me and within me is:
inconsistency, disharmony, confusion,
conflict, contradiction, and chaos.
And most of all:
defiance.

Surely, surely I know best.

I’m not alone: so many others also each know best, calling hypocrisy on one another, holding fast to moral high ground when the reality is:
we drown together in the mud of our mutual guilt and lack of humility.

It is past time for us to be on our knees pleading for mercy, certainly not on our knees leaning upon the neck of another imago dei, squeezing out their very life breath and right to exist.

We are miserable reflections, each and every one of us, surely not coram Deo.

All that we have done, we have done onto God Himself.
Kind of takes one’s breath away.


A Bright Sadness: Through a Glass Darkly

A cross and nails are not always necessary.  
There are a thousand ways to kill him, 
some of them as obvious as choosing where you will stand 
when the showdown between the weak and the strong comes along, 
others of them as subtle as keeping your mouth shut 
when someone asks if you know him.

Today, while he dies, do not turn away.  
Make yourself look in the mirror.  
Today no one gets away 
without being shamed by his beauty.  
Today no one flees
without being laid bare by his light.
~Barbara Brown Taylor

 

teahouseceiling

Shame is considered old-fashioned these days;
too erosive to self-esteem,
a drag on our self-worth,
an inconvenient truth.

Yet how else do we see ourselves
through the glass darkly
than to see our shame convicted,
and be convinced in our guilt:
our darkness exposed
by a Light that reveals all shadows,
forgiving as it illuminates all –
there is no place to hide,
nor should we want to.

 

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For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1Corinthians 13:12

 

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An Advent Paradox: Loose a Heart Bound By Shame

 

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 from The Crown and the Fire

 

 

We cling to the mystery of His magnetism for our weaknesses and flaws.
He came in love to loose up our hearts ~
hearts completely bound up in shame and guilt.

He willingly pulls our evil onto Himself and out of us, freeing us.
Hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness
disappear into the fiery vortex of His love and beauty,
until evil is left in ashes.

We are let in on a secret, this mystery of His incarnation:

by torching the dirty messes of our lives in the refiner’s fire,
we are purified,
we too are wholly reborn.

 

 

 

 

Christ whose glory fills the skies
Christ the everlasting light
The son of righteousness arise
And triumph o’re these shades of night

Come thou long awaited one
In the fullness of your love
And loose this heart bound up by shame
And I will never be the same

So here I wait in hope of you
All my soul’s longing through and through
Dayspring from on high be near
Day Star in my heart appear

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Until your love in me is born
And joyless is the evening song
Until Emmanuel has come

So here I wait in hope of you
All my soul’s longing through and through
Dayspring from on high be near
Day Star in my heart appear

So here I wait in hope of you
All my soul’s longing through and through
Dayspring from on high be near
Day Star in my heart appear
~Christy Nockels based on the Charles Wesley hymn “Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies”

Turn Aside and Look: To Lift My Face

snowyfir 
The rain this morning falls

on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell

the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.
Today I want

to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk

a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.
~Kim Addonizio “New Year’s Day”
snowywoods

…with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed:“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.
~Ezra 9: 5-6

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Our prayer for cleansing during these Lenten days requires that we admit our guilt, shame and disgrace, and nevertheless we willingly turn aside from our ways and face the Lord.  He will rain blessings down on our upturned faces.  Salvation is coming.

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Lift up your face, lift up your face
Salvation is calling, salvation is calling

You have fallen so far now
You don’t even know how, you are going to survive
(But) Just above the horizon
A new light is shining, breaking through the darkest night
Love is coming and it’s calling out your name

You feel like your life is fading
You’re tired of waiting, for your moment to arrive
But tomorrow will bring a song that you can sing
And your hope is gonna rise
Love is coming and it’s calling out your name

Oh yeah…
Do you hear Him calling?
Can you hear Him calling?
He’s calling out your name
He’s calling out your name

Can you hear Him calling?
Can you hear Him calling now?
Oh, can you hear Him calling you
He is calling you now
He is calling out your name

Just above the horizon
A new light is shining
Salvation’s on its way
~Third Day

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Kind of Fasting

drizzlethorn

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Isaiah 58: 6-9

*****************

Is this a fast, to keep
                The larder lean ?
                            And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
                Of flesh, yet still
                            To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
                Or ragg’d to go,
                            Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No ;  ‘tis a fast to dole
                Thy sheaf of wheat,
                            And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
                From old debate
                            And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent ;
                To starve thy sin,
                            Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.
~Robert Herrick from Works of Robert Herrick , Vol. II  1891

**************************

The purpose of Lent is to arouse.
To arouse the sense of sin.
To arouse a sense of guilt for sin.
To arouse the humble contrition for the guilt of sin that makes forgiveness possible.
To arouse the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins.
To arouse or to motivate the works of love
and the work for justice that one does out of gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.

To say it again—this time, backward:
There is no motivation for works of love without a sense of gratitude,
no sense of gratitude without forgiveness,
no forgiveness without contrition,
no contrition without a sense of guilt,
no sense of guilt without a sense of sin.

In other words, a guilty suffering spirit
is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul.
Therefore, an age without a sense of sin,
in which people are not even sorry for not being sorry for their sins,
is in rather a serious predicament.
Likewise an age with a Christianity so eager to forgive
that it denies the need for forgiveness.

~Edna Hong from “A Look Inside” in the anthology Bread and Wine

*********************

Not even sorry for not being sorry for our sins.
Smug.
Apathetic.
No grief-rent hearts beating here.

It is time to fast a kind of fast that is not about our own deprivation
but about providing for others’ hunger and nakedness and need.
It is time to fast a kind of fast that sets the oppressed free
and turns away from hate and conflict.
It is time for our hearts and lives to be circumcised,
for thorns to pierce our smugness,
for us to forever bear the mark of forgiveness~

We need a kind of fasting forgiveness — badly, hungrily, guiltily.

Let Light break forth like Dawn.

lightanddark

 

During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

 

Prepare for Joy: Laid Bare

graymirror

A cross and nails are not always necessary. 
There are a thousand ways to kill him,
some of them as obvious as choosing where you will stand
when the showdown between the weak and the strong comes along,
others of them as subtle as keeping your mouth shut
when someone asks if you know him.

Today, while he dies, do not turn away. 
Make yourself look in the mirror. 
Today no one gets away
without being shamed by his beauty. 
Today no one flees
without being laid bare by his light.
~Barbara Brown Taylor

 

Shame is considered old-fashioned these days;
too erosive to self-esteem,
a drag on our self-worth,
an inconvenient truth.

Yet how else do we see ourselves
through the glass darkly
than to see our shame convicted,
to be known in our guilt,
our darkness reflected
by a Light that reveals all shadows
and forgives as it illuminates.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1Corinthians 13:12

sunsetappletree2

Preparing for Joy: Rend Your Heart

dillymoment

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love
Joel 2: 12-13

There is no motivation for works of love
without a sense of gratitude,
no gratitude without forgiveness,
no forgiveness without contrition,
no contrition without a sense of guilt,
no sense of guilt without a sense of sin.
~Edna Hong

 

We must start with a torn heart; there is no other way to finding and sharing joy.
It isn’t enough to “do good” because we are “good” as the secular world would suggest.
We aren’t good enough, not by any stretch, and never will be — just look at the headlines, at the video of slaughtered sons, husbands, fathers, beheaded by sons, husbands, fathers.

We can never love enough on our own until our own heart owns our own sin, and we bring those broken heart pieces back to its Creator for His fix and glue.

sin –> guilt –> contrition –> forgiveness –> gratitude –> love –> joy

The only true pathway to joy.  Everything else is a shortcut to nowhere and nothing.

Sharing the Guilt

dusk1176

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.
And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air
– however slight –
lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
~William O. Douglas

Be careful whom you choose to hate.
The small and the vulnerable own a protection great enough,
if you could but see it,
to melt you into jelly.

~Leif Enger from Peace Like a River

Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?
It is because people think only about their own business,
and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed,
nor bring the wrong-doers to light.
My doctrine is this,
that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop,
and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.
~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty

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A Loss of Innocence

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As a physician-in-training in the late 1970’s, I rotated among a variety of inner city public hospitals, learning clinical skills on patients who were grateful to have someone, anyone, care enough to take care of them. There were plenty of homeless street people who needed to be deloused before the “real” doctors would touch them, and there were the alcoholic diabetics whose gangrenous toes would self-amputate as I removed stinking socks. There were people with gun shot wounds and stabbings who had police officers posted at their doors and rape victims who were beaten and poisoned into submission and silence. Someone needed to touch them with compassion when their need was greatest.

As a 25 year old idealistic and naive student, I truly believed I could make a difference in the 6 weeks I spent in any particular hospital rotation. That proved far too grandiose and unrealistic, yet there were times I did make a difference, sometimes not so positive, in the few minutes I spent with a patient. As part of the training process, mistakes were inevitable. Lungs collapsed when putting in central lines, medications administered caused anaphylactic shock, pain and bleeding caused by spinal taps–each error creates a memory that never will allow such a mistake to occur again. It is the price of training a new doctor and the patient always–always– pays the price.

I was finishing my last on-call night on my obstetrical rotation at a large military hospital that served an army base. The hospital, built during WWII was a series of far flung one story bunker buildings connected by miles of hallways–if one part were bombed, the rest of the hospital could still function. The wing that contained the delivery rooms was factory medicine at its finest: a large ward of 20 beds for laboring and 5 delivery rooms which were often busy all at once, at all hours.  Some laboring mothers were married girls in their midteens whose husbands were stationed in the northwest, transplanting their young wives thousands of miles from their families and support systems. Their bittersweet labors haunted me: children delivering babies they had no idea how to begin to parent.

I had delivered 99 babies during my 6 week rotation. My supervising residents and the nurses on shift had kept me busy on that last day trying to get me to the *100th* delivery as a point of pride and bragging rights; I had already followed and delivered 4 women that night and had fallen exhausted into bed in the on call-room at 3 AM with no women currently in labor, hoping for two hours of sleep before getting up for morning rounds. Whether I reached the elusive *100* was immaterial to me at that moment.

I was shaken awake at 4:30 AM by a nurse saying I was needed right away. An 18 year old woman had arrived in labor only 30 minutes before and though it was her first baby, she was already pushing and ready to deliver. My 100th had arrived. The delivery room lights were blinding; I was barely coherent when I greeted this almost-mother and father as she pushed, with the baby’s head crowning. The nurses were bustling about doing all the preparation for the delivery:  setting up the heat lamps over the bassinet, getting the specimen pan for the placenta, readying suture materials for the episiotomy.

I noticed there were no actual doctors in the room so asked where the resident on call was.

What? Still in bed? Time to get him up! Delivery was imminent.

I knew the drill. Gown up, gloves on, sit between her propped up legs, stretch the vulva around the crowning head, thinning and stretching it with massaging fingers to try to avoid tears. I injected anesthetic into the perineum and with scissors cut the episiotomy to allow more room, a truly unnecessary but,  at the time, standard procedure in all too many deliveries. Amniotic fluid and blood dribbled out then splashed on my shoes and the sweet salty smell permeated everything. I was concentrating so hard on doing every step correctly, I didn’t think to notice whether the baby’s heart beat had been monitored with the doppler, or whether a resident had come into the room yet or not. The head crowned, and as I sucked out the baby’s mouth, I thought its face color looked dusky, so checked quickly for a cord around the neck, thinking it may be tight and compromising. No cord found, so the next push brought the baby out into my lap. Bluish purple, floppy, and not responding. I quickly clamped and cut the cord and rubbed the baby vigorously with a towel.

Nothing, no response, no movement, no breath. Nothing.  I rubbed harder.

A nurse swept in and grabbed the baby and ran over to the pediatric heat lamp and bed and started resuscitation.

Chaos ensued. The mother and father began to panic and cry, the pediatric and obstetrical residents came running, hair askew, eyes still sleepy, but suddenly shocked awake with the sight of a blue floppy baby.

I sat stunned, immobilized by what had just happened in the previous five minutes. I tried to review in my foggy mind what had gone wrong and realized at no time had I heard this baby’s heart beat from the time I entered the room. The nurses started answering questions fired at me by the residents, and no one could remember listening to the baby after the first check when they had arrived in active pushing labor some 30 minutes earlier. The heart beat was fine then, and because things happened so quickly, it had not been checked again. It was not an excuse, and it was not acceptable. It was a terrible terrible error. This baby had died sometime in the previous half hour. It was not apparent why until the placenta delivered in a rush of blood and it was obvious it had partially abrupted–prematurely separated from the uterine wall so the circulation to the baby had been compromised. Potentially, with continuous fetal monitoring, this would have been detected and the baby delivered in an emergency C section in time. Or perhaps not. The pediatric resident worked for another 20 minutes on the little lifeless baby.

The parents held each other, sobbing, while I sewed up the episiotomy. I had no idea what to say,  mortified and helpless as a witness and perpetrator of such agony. I tried saying I was so sorry, so sad they lost their baby, felt so badly we had not known sooner. There was nothing that could possibly comfort them or relieve their horrible loss or the freshness of their raw grief.

And of course they had no words of comfort for my own anguish.

Later, in another room, my supervising resident made me practice intubating the limp little body so I’d know how to do it on something other than a mannequin. I couldn’t see the vocal cords through my tears but did what I was told, as I always did.

I cried in the bathroom, a sad exhausted selfish weeping. Instead of achieving that “perfect” 100, I learned something far more important: without constant vigilance, and even with it,  tragedy intervenes in life unexpectedly without regard to age or status or wishes or desires. I went on as a family physician to deliver a few hundred babies during my career,  never forgetting the baby that might have had a chance, if only born at a hospital with adequately trained well rested staff without a med student trying to reach a meaningless goal.

This baby should now be in his 30’s with children of his own, his parents now proud and loving grandparents.

I wonder if I’ll meet him again — this little soul only a few minutes away from a full life — if I’m ever forgiven enough to share a piece of heaven with humanity’s millions of unborn babies who,  through intention or negligence,  never had opportunity to draw a breath.

Then, just maybe then, forgiveness will feel real and grace will flood the terrible void where, not for the first time nor the last,  guilt overwhelmed what innocence I had left.

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Hiding Nothing

changedpriorities
You can hide nothing from God.
The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.
He wants to see you as you are,
He wants to be gracious to you.
You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers,
as if you were without sin;
you can dare to be a sinner.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together

One of my Monday morning jobs in our college health clinic is to meet with any student who got so intoxicated they had to spend part of the weekend in the emergency room.  Alcohol poisonings are distressingly common on all college campuses, and ours is no exception.   What I do during our morning-after visit is review the records with the student so they have some idea what took place before they woke up hours later on a gurney in a noisy smelly emergency room– alcohol is an effective amnesia-producing anesthetic when it doesn’t manage to outright kill its consumer.   It is a humbling experience to read about what one said and did while one was under the influence of intoxicants and yet have no memory of any of it.   That is why my time is well spent with the recovering and remorseful.   Not only does their stomach lining still burn from all the vomiting, but their head hurts from acknowledging the risks they took in the name of having a good time.  It is rare that I ever need to meet again with the same student about similar behavior.

This, in reality,  is a very effective kind of hurting, one that is crucial to future decision-making: dangerous behavior is far less appealing when one still carries the scars.  Priorities change for the better.

Today I won’t be able to work in several hundred now-sober students into this morning’s clinic schedule after the unfortunate and widely publicized events that happened just a couple blocks off our college campus a little over 24 hours ago.  I suspect most of the students involved remember more than they wish to about their participation in a big-block-party-gone-terribly-wrong.  They were part of an aggressive mob mentality threatening law enforcement personnel trying to disperse an increasingly rowdy and obnoxious crowd.  Some are finding themselves in video and Instagram/Facebook documentation of their profane words and gestures, throwing potentially lethal objects, vandalizing private and city property as well as causing thousands of dollars of city resources to confront out of control drunk rioters.   These students can try to lay low but there is no place to hide from their inner knowledge of what they have done, the part they played and the irreparable damage they caused to individuals, relationships, property and as well as the reputations of the city and the university.  There is no comforting alcohol amnesia to hide within this time.

The only possible healing from an event like this is to come clean about what one has done, admit the mistakes made and work to make it right no matter the cost — to dare to acknowledge the sins committed and accept the consequences of one’s actions.

Hiding is cheap — guilt and shame remain behind the mask.
Grace and forgiveness is costly but there is no longer need to hide and be eaten away by a continually hurting soul.

My prescription for this day and in the days to come:  changed priorities ahead.  College is about obtaining a valuable and precious education, not about finding the biggest and best party of intoxicants.

Take with food and a large dose of humility.