What is coming upon the world is the Light of the World. It is Christ. That is the comfort of it. The challenge of it is that it has not come yet. Only the hope for it has come, only the longing for it. In the meantime we are in the dark, and the dark, God knows, is also in us. We watch and wait for a holiness to heal us and hallow us, to liberate us from the dark. Advent is like the hush in a theater just before the curtain rises. It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of snow which will turn the night to silver. Soon. But for the time being, our time, darkness is where we are. ~Frederick Buechner from The Clown in the Belfry
Darkness is not where we will dwell forever.
We are promised this in the Word: “and night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light… Revelation 22:5.
Somewhere between the Word in the beginning and the Word that becomes flesh and the Word thriving in our hearts and hands, there is the sacred silent Light of God come to earth.
This Advent is a time of quiet stillness, awaiting the Light brought by His Word; He is a flint struck to our wick, the Darkness abolished by the eternal glow of His illuminating Word.
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.” ~Danusha Laméris“Small Kindnesses”
No matter what the grief, its weight, we are obliged to carry it. We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength that pushes us through crowds. And then the young boy gives me directions so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open, waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through. All day it continues, each kindness reaching toward another—a stranger singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees offering their blossoms, a child who lifts his almond eyes and smiles. Somehow they always find me, seem even to be waiting, determined to keep me from myself, from the thing that calls to me as it must have once called to them— this temptation to step off the edge and fall weightless, away from the world. ~Dorianne Laux “For the Sake of Strangers”
Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things – in merely doing kind things? … he spent a great proportion of his time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people.
There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping. But what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.…
I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are. How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. ~Henry Drummond from The Greatest Thing in the World
Kindness has always watched for me; I remember how it infallibly surrounds me.
I weep with those who weep, whether in fear, or separation, or frustration, or anger, or grief, or loss, or sheer exhaustion.
I weep to wonder why any one of us should not know the kindness and comfort of being held in the arms of the Lord who loves us as we are despite who we are.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
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
Kindness, gentleness Tender ardent zeal Endless graciousness Dependable and real
Pity, piety Patient, sure and true Goodness, faithfulness Love that’s always new
Beauty, loyalty Generous and kind Relentless tenderness Hope of humankind Hope of humankind
Who You truly Are We hardly can believe You know what we are Yet You refuse to leave
All Your wordless power Your Own mighty strength, Your matchless might Your Holiness, In kindness seen
Beauty, loyalty Generous and kind Relentless tenderness Hope of humankind Hope of humankind ~Michael Card
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars. ~James Agee “Sure on This Shining Night”
Holy as a day is spent Holy is the dish and drain The soap and sink, and the cup and plate And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile Shower heads and good dry towels And frying eggs sound like psalms With bits of salt measured in my palm It’s all a part of a sacrament As holy as a day is spent Holy is the familiar room And quiet moments in the afternoon And folding sheets like folding hands To pray as only laundry can I’m letting go of all my fear Like autumn leaves made of earth and air For the summer came and the summer went As holy as a day is spent Holy is the place I stand To give whatever small good I can And the empty page, and the open book Redemption everywhere I look Unknowingly we slow our pace In the shade of unexpected grace And with grateful smiles and sad lament As holy as a day is spent And morning light sings ‘providence’ As holy as a day is spent ~Carrie Newcomer “Holy as a Day Is Spent “
If the New York Times says “Something Special is Happening in Rural America,” then of course, it must be true. But those of us out in the hinterlands have known the truth about the quieter life for decades. The pace is slower, the space is greater, the faces are friendlier.
It’s the small things that matter on a daily basis. Being in the center of things doesn’t matter.
Give me a home where the clouds and cows roam, where laundry is line-dried and there is no traffic noise.
From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention… pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.
Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.
Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.
And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.
In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the sine qua non of art and religion both. ~Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark
I have broken the commandment to “consider the lilies” way too many times. In my daily life I am considering almost anything else: my own worries and concerns as I walk past so much beauty and meaning and holiness. My mind dwells within, blind and deaf to what is outside.
It is necessary to be reminded every day that I need to pay attention beyond myself, to be reminded to love my neighbor, to remember what history has to teach us, to search for the sacred in all things.
Stop, Look, Listen, Consider: all is grace, all is gift, all is holiness brought to life – stunning, amazing, wondrous.
But to apprehend The point of intersection of the timeless With time, is an occupation for the saint— No occupation either, but something given And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love, Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender. For most of us, there is only the unattended Moment, the moment in and out of time, The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight, The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply That it is not heard at all, but you are the music While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses; and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action. The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation. Here the impossible union Of spheres of existence is actual, Here the past and future Are conquered, and reconciled…
~T.S. Eliot from “Dry Salvages”
We want to understand.
We want to know, not just guess anymore.
We want God to fit into the holes of our comprehension exactly like a puzzle piece falls into place in the space meant just for it.
But He doesn’t. He won’t. Our holes are rarely God-shaped. They are ragged and changing moment by moment – the hints are laid out and we make our haphazard
The holes of our understanding gape so large that only God knows it takes the glue of faith to bridge the gap. Our doubts are conquered, our conflicts reconciled, the impossible union of heaven and earth made possible through the Incarnation.
Perhaps that is what “holy” is all about – filling up all our hole-li-ness with His Holiness come to earth from heaven.
I know for a while again,
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which I may even step
forth from myself and be free.
~ Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2000
I was told once by someone I respected that my writing reflected “sacramental” living — touching and tasting the holiness of everyday moments, as if they are the cup and bread that sustains us daily.
I have allowed that feedback to sit warmly beside me, like a welcome companion during the many hours I struggle with what to share here.
It is now apparent to me it is all too tempting to emphasize sacrament over the sacrifice it represents. As much as I love the world and the beauty in the moments I find here, my search should be for the entrance to the “thin places” between heaven and earth, by forgetting self and stepping forth through a holy threshold into something far greater.
There is a scary freedom in the sacrificial life, a wonderful terrifying illuminating freedom, still far beyond my grasp.
“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing;
I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.”
–From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870
To keep a husband and five children warm,
she quilts them covers thick as drifts against
the door. Through every fleshy square white threads
needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours
count each small suture that holds together
the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life.
She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright
to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers
the scraps grow to green birds and purple
improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter
mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold
between the double stars, the wedding rings. ~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”
It could be the world was made this way:
piecemeal, the parts fitting together
as if made for one another~
disparate and separate
coming together in harmony.
The point of its creation
to be forever functional,
a blanket of warmth and security
but its result is so much more:
beauty arising from scraps,
the broken stitched to broken
to become holy and whole.
(all quilts here are on display this week at the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden)
What God arranges for us to experience at each moment
is the holiest thing that could happen to us.
I know there are moments
when there is no holiness in sight,
and even God hides His face;
certainly His Son cried out in anguish too.
So we tread barefoot and bloodied on this holy ground,
whether rocky, muddy, crumbling or cushioned,
and He is there, walking before us,
ready to pick us up if we fall.