Love, we are in God’s hand. How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead; So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? ~Robert Browning from “Andrea del Sarto”
We have had names for you: The Thunderer, the Almighty Hunter, Lord of the snowflake and the sabre-toothed tiger. One name we have held back unable to reconcile it with the mosquito, the tidal wave, the black hole into which time will fall. You have answered us with the image of yourself on a hewn tree, suffering injustice, pardoning it; pointing as though in either direction; horrifying us with the possibility of dislocation. Ah, love, with your arms out wide, tell us how much more they must still be stretched to embrace a universe drawing away from us at the speed of light. ~R.S.Thomas “Tell Us”
Ah, Love You the Incarnate, stretched and fettered to a tree
arms out wide embracing us who try to grasp a heaven which eludes us
this heaven, Your heaven brought down to us within your wounded grip and simply handed over.
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered…and he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:61-62
Peter never thought of turning (in the thick of his sin), but the Lord turned first. And when Peter would rather have looked anywhere else than at the Lord, the Lord looked at Peter. Only when we come to our Father in response to his waiting look can we be freed and forgiven. ~Henry Drummondfrom Bread and Wine
Peter’s bitter tears flowed–out of his predicted personal failure, out of recognition of his guilt, as well as being caught in the act of doing what he said he would never do, knowing he himself had turned away and denied his best friend, mentor, and Lord.
What message was the Lord sending when he turned first with that “straight look” after Peter had turned away?
It wasn’t condemnation: Peter feels the heaviness of his guilt without any assistance at all.
It wasn’t anger: Peter’s denial was just as He predicted so not at all unexpected.
It was a look of love: full of sad longing and waiting, a look reflecting rejection and hurt, a look of resignation, acknowledging the hard and painful path lying ahead, a look wondering how long it will take the children of God to accept grace and to open the gift of forgiveness they were freely given.
We need to know this: even when we have turned away, denying and rejecting our relationship with Him, He turned toward us first, loving us as we are. But our story doesn’t end there. Our tears are dried and we turn back to Him, looking Him full in the face.
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
Turn to me, O man and be saved, Says the Lord for I am God; There is no other, none beside me. I call your name.
1. I am He that comforts you; Who are you to be afraid of man who dies, is made like the grass of the fields, soon to wither.
2. Listen to me, my people; Give ear to me my nation: a law will go forth from me, and my justice for a light to the people.
3. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth down below. The heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment. – John Foley
Days pass when I forget the mystery. Problems insoluble and problems offering their own ignored solutions jostle for my attention… And then once more the quiet mystery is present to me, the throng’s clamor recedes: the mystery that there is anything, anything at all, let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything, rather than void: and that, O Lord, Creator, Hallowed one, You still, hour by hour sustain it. ~Denise Levertov from “Primary Wonder” from Sands of the Well
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw upon 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
Inundated by the constantly bad news of the world, I must cling to the mystery of His magnetism for my own weaknesses and flaws, my bitterness. He willingly pulls evil onto Himself, out of us. Hatred and pain and shame and anger disappear into the vortex of His love and beauty, the mucky corners of my heart vacuumed spotless.
We are let in on a secret: He is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives. He is sustaining us; we are anything rather than void.
Created in His image, sustained and loved, thus reflecting Him, we are washed forever clean.
Moonless darkness stands between. Past, O Past, no more be seen! But the Bethlehem star may lead me To the sight of Him who freed me From the self that I have been. Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy; Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly; Now beginning, and alway: Now begin, on Christmas day. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins
Between the darkness and the illumination of the star is the beginning of who we were created to be.
We are led away from the past to the hope of a new self – pure and meek and loved and freed through forgiveness.
Christmas is the day we all begin again.
Sing this night, for a boy is born in Bethlehem, Christ our Lord in a lowly manger lies; Bring your gifts, come and worship at his cradle, Hurry to Bethlehem and see the son of Mary!
See his star shining bright In the sky this Christmas night! Follow me joyfully; Hurry to Bethlehem and see the son of Mary!
Angels bright, come from heaven’s highest glory, Bear the news with its message of good cheer: “Sing, rejoice, for a King is come to save us, Hurry to Bethlehem to see the son of Mary!”
See, he lies in his mother’s tender keeping; Jesus Christ in her loving arms asleep. Shepherds poor, come to worship and adore him, Offer their humble gifts before the son of Mary.
Let us all pay our homage at the manger, Sing his praise on this joyful Christmas Night; Christ is come, bringing promise of salvation; Hurry to Bethlehem and see the son of Mary!
Prick my ears, Lord. Make them hungry satellites, have your way with their tiny bones, teach the drum within that dark to drum again. Because within the hammering of woodpecker is a long tongue unwinding like a tape measure from inside his pileated head, darting dinner from the pine’s soft bark. And somewhere I know is a spider who births a filament of silk and flies it to the next branch; somewhere, a fiddlehead unstrings its violin into the miracle of fern.
Those are your sounds, are they not? Do not deny it, Lord, do not deny me. I do not know those songs. Nor do I know the hush a dandelion’s face makes when it closes, surrenders, then goes to seed. No, I only know the sound my own breath makes as I wish and blow that perfect globe away; I only know the small, satisfactory popping of roots when I call it weed and yank it from the yard. There is a language of all you’ve created. Hear me, please. I just want to be still enough to hear. Right here, Lord: I want to be. ~Nikole Brown from “Prayer to Be Still and Know”
The hardest thing sometimes is to shut up our constant internal monologue long enough to be able to hear all the other voices outside in the world around us.
We just spent a few days with a visiting 13 month old who wanted very much to communicate even though none of his language was understandable to our ears, yet all the appropriate inflections were there. He clearly was speaking sentences, asking questions, making emphatic statements with the rise and fall of his voice, but his baby babble was completely foreign to our grown-up ears. Sometimes I wonder if that is exactly how God hears us: all blather and babble which makes sense to us, but not remotely intelligible.
So I need to shut up and listen to all the subtle language around me and not keep trying to shout it down, grumble it to the ground, or whisper it away. I need the Lord’s still small voice coming from a billion corners of creation to understand who He is and why He gave me — me! — ears to hear.
My friend, old and passing, said, “There is more to life than staying alive. Don’t rescue me too much.”
On his farm, twelve miles out
by rough gravel roads, he is done with plowing, spraying, harvesting.
But he is not done watching the sun sink below the windbreak or listening to the nighthawks above his fields.
Don’t make him move to town.
There is more to tragedy
than dying. ~Kevin Hadduck “A Note to His Doctor”
Look, the world is always ending somewhere.
Somewhere the sun has come crashing down.
Somewhere it has gone completely dark.
Somewhere it has ended with the utter quiet that follows the news from the phone, the television, the hospital room.
Somewhere it has ended with a tenderness that will break your heart.
But, listen, this blessing means to be anything but morose. It has not come to cause despair.
It is simply here because there is nothing a blessing is better suited for than an ending, nothing that cries out more for a blessing than when a world is falling apart.
This blessing will not fix you, will not mend you, will not give you false comfort; it will not talk to you about one door opening when another one closes.
It will simply sit itself beside you among the shards and gently turn your face toward the direction from which the light will come, gathering itself about you as the world begins again. ~Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace
Today I honor the passing of a beloved pastor in our small community of local churches:
Pastor Ken Koeman, who rests today in the arms of Jesus.
He had only a few weeks between doing his vigorous daily work to absorbing the reality of a devastating diagnosis to accepting there is more to life than living, and a greater tragedy than death.
He never lost the hope he knew abounds in heaven and eternal life.
He was never done watching the Son.
Sir, we would see Jesus. (John 12:21)
Lord Jesus, we know Ken sees you now
and as he did in life, he points the rest of us to you.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ Mark 13:35-37
Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception, The future futureless, before the morning watch When time stops and time is never ending; And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning, Clangs The bell.
~T.S. Eliot from “The Dry Salvages”
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents
We can tend to suffer from Attention Deficit when it comes to waiting and watching for the Lord. Our focus wanders as we want what we want when we want it. Sitting in worshipful watching is hard work for us when all we can think about is recess or a nap.
He must not catch us sleeping. We must keep our eyes wide open to not miss His coming.
May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.
Let this day’s air praise the Lord— Rinsed with gold, endless, walking the fields, Blue and bearing the clouds like censers, Holding the sun like a single note Running through all things, a basso profundo Rousing the birds to an endless chorus.
In joy. For it is he who underlies The rock from its liquid foundation, The sharp contraries of the giddy atom, The unimaginable curve of space, Time pulling like a patient string, And gravity, fiercest of natural loves.
At his laughter, splendor riddles the night, Galaxies swarm from a secret hive, Mountains split and crawl for aeons To huddle again, and planets melt In the last tantrum of a dying star.
Sit straight, let the air ride down your backbone, Let your lungs unfold like a field of roses, Your eyes hang the sun and moon between them, Your hands weigh the sky in even balance, Your tongue, swiftest of members, release a word Spoken at conception to the sanctum of genes, And each breath rise sinuous with praise.
Now, shout from the stomach, hoarse with music, Give gladness and joy back to the Lord, Who, sly as a milkweed, takes root in your heart. ~from Robert Siegel’s poetry in Flourish Magazine 2010
Judging from the long lines at grocery store check-out aisles, this is the week of the stomach and feasting. Feeling over-full after a sumptuous meal on Thursday does nothing to satisfy the ravenous hunger we feel all the rest of the year.
It is, in fact, the heart that must be filled continuously, not the stomach three times a day. Our stomach may shout and growl, but it is the heart that yearns and mourns for Love lost, Love regained, Love pondered and treasured up.
May He take root in our hearts this week and always as our stomach is silenced by the feast only He can serve.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14
a spider’s web under the olive trees
splendidly hung with early drops, already
vanishing up the vortex of the air
…a heaven-sent refreshment? or a curtain
cutting out the light?
And I must ask it now (small moisture that I am) under the sun of God’s great grace on me: Which am I–dew, or fog? ~Luci Shaw from “…for you are a mist“
To be mere mist that clarifies
rather than opacifies,
that reflects new worlds
rather than absorbs,
that replenishes grace
rather than depletes~
at once evaporating heaven-ward within His warmth
while glistening from His descended touch.