The Back Pew

There’s coffee and pie
with a widow from the church.
Why do you sit
in the back pew? she asks.
I’m close enough, I say.
Can I sit back there with you?
I’ve always sat there, I tell her,
with my same two friends,
and their clicking oxygen pumps.
One sat next to me for years,
called herself my church girlfriend,
who metastasized, telling me she was
tired of waiting to die.
Now, there’s just my 88-year-old friend,
his pump echoing in the sanctuary,
and there’s that empty
space between us.
I’d like to invite the widow to sit there,
but I miss my dead friend’s laugh,
her loving stories about her husband,
and how we were always
glad to see one another.
I tell the widow all this.
What if I just sat there? she asks.
It’s a free country, I tell her,
and she smiles.
~Bruce Pemberton “Autumn 2017” from Third Wednesday, (Vol. XI, no. 2, 2018)

We used to occupy the back pew with our young family, figuring a wiggly child would be less disruptive if we stayed in the back. Our children would sing loud, draw pictures on index cards, take notes on the sermon and sometimes fall asleep under the bench. As they got older, we slowly made our way to the middle benches, and even sat in the very front when we walked into church late.

Sometimes we go sit in the back again for old times sake and find the most interesting group holding down those pews.

There is a fellow over ninety years old who still drives himself to church and he prefers the back because he can see everyone else who is in church without having to turn around. He decided the back was the place to be after seeing a 16 year old girl who always sat in the back pew bring her baby daughter to church for the first time, and how she was the center of a swarm of church ladies who came to oooh and aaah over the baby at the conclusion of the worship service. He told me he knew there was special grace and acceptance in that back bench.

It’s a loving and safe place to be. Everyone should try it sometime.

photo by Barb Hoelle

We Are No Longer Alone: It is Time to Awaken From Sleep

If we want Advent to transform us
– our homes and hearts, and even nations –
then the great question for us is whether
we will come out of the convulsions of our time with this determination:
Yes, arise!
It is time to awaken from sleep.
A waking up must begin somewhere.
It is time to put things back where God intended them.
~Alfred Delp from When the Time Was Fulfilled

Isaiah 60:1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”

Light and dark are part of the interwoven tapestry of advent. 

We stumble in the dark, groping for a foot and hand hold to keep ourselves from falling off the abyss.

Then His glory lifts us, illuminates, covers and surrounds us so we can find our path and walk with confidence.

Startling, wondrous magnificence beyond imagination. Grace that brings us to our knees, especially when we are mired in trouble.

Drink deeply of this.

Hold it, savor it and know that to witness His Light is to see the face of God.

Our Light has come, unexpected, shining in an infant’s smile, from the depths of darkness within a manger.

We Are No Longer Alone: The Word That Takes On Flesh

 

Praise be that this thin mark, this sound
Can form the word that takes on flesh
To enter where no flesh can go
To fill each other’s emptiness.
To words and how they live between us
To us and how we live between the worth

And in between the sound of words
I hear your silent, sounding soul
Where one abides in solitude
Who keeps us one when speech shall go
~Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer “Two Toasts”

In the quiet of a room they sigh.
In candle’s glow they live under
An icon’s shadow and an unheard cry
And the Truth-bearing words that thunder–
Those Sacred Silences who
tenderly await the soul.

They speak of His coming, not delayed, but near
for etched in unknown depths, they say,
the same Image of the One whose patient tear
slays the heart and gives all away–
In those Sacred Silences who
tenderly await the soul.

Let saving truth’s grammar unbound
Those lips thirsting for syllables of love
To drink deep the wisdom in whose font resound
Those words below of the Word above:
As enveloped in great silences
The soul awaits His coming.

~Anthony Lilles

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1: 1-5

Somewhere between the Word in the beginning and the Word that becomes flesh and the Word that now exists in our hearts and hands, there is the sacred silence of God.

Advent is a time of quiet stillness, awaiting the Light brought by the Word; a flint is struck to our wick, the Darkness abolished in the eternal glow of His illuminating Word.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,

For with blessing is His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, Yet born of Mary,
As of old earth He stood, Lord of lords,
In human vesture, In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful.

His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
As Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim, With sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to His presence
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Lord Most High!

The Unblinking Fermata

In science
we have been reading only the notes to a poem:
in Christianity
we find the poem itself.
~C.S. Lewis from Miracles

Science – my life’s work – fails
to love unconditionally,
to grasp the hand of the dying,
to give hope to the weak and afraid,
to become sacrifice for sin,
to offer everlasting forgiveness and grace.

Science is mere end-of-the-day footnote
to the Word extending
beyond the here and now;
an unblinking fermata
within Creation, leading into
His ultimate symphonic Work.


Locked from the Inside

“Jesus moves among men and women–even if it means passing through doors locked from within”
Fr. William M. Joensen

Many of us frequently–or continually–bolt the doors of our hearts from within, yet we long for Christ to come to us.  We can have great hope . . . for He is the One who can enter “through doors locked from within.”
~Sr. Dorcee Clarey
“Witnesses to Hope”

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
John 20: 19-20

We’re bolted in alright, to ensure we’re safe from confronting our greatest fears and our most fervent longing.

But there is no lock or latch or deadbolt that can keep Him out. He knocks, waiting for us to answer and let Him in, but if we don’t answer, He’s ready to move right through those barriers we carefully construct.

Throw open wide the door of our hearts.

A Bright Sadness: The Light of the Body

Light chaff and falling leaves or a pair of feathers

on the ground can spook a horse who won’t flinch when faced
with a backhoe or a pack of Harleys. I call it “horse

ophthalmology,” because it is a different kind of system—
not celestial, necessarily, but vision in which the small,

the wispy, the lightly lifted or stirring threads of existence
excite more fear than louder and larger bodies do. It’s Matthew

who said that the light of the body is the eye, and that if
the eye is healthy the whole body will be full of light. Maybe

in this case “light” can also mean “lightness.” With my eyes of
corrupted and corruptible flesh I’m afraid I see mostly darkness

by which I mean heaviness. How great is that darkness? Not
as great as the inner weightlessness of horses whose eyes perceive,

correctly I believe, the threat of annihilation in every windblown
dust mote of malignant life. All these years I’ve been watching

out warily in obvious places (in bars, in wars, in night cities and
nightmares, on furious seas). Yet what’s been trying to destroy

me has lain hidden inside friendly-seeming breezes, behind
soft music, beneath the carpet of small things one can barely see.

The eye is also a lamp, says Matthew, a giver of light, bestower
of incandescent honey, which I will pour more cautiously

over the courses I travel from now on. What’s that whisper?
Just the delicate sweeping away of somebody’s life.

~Gail Wronsky

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5: 14-16

Some days I am dreaming awake with wide-open eyes.  There is a slow motion quality to time as it flows from one hour to the next to the next, and I can only take it in, watching it happen.  Life becomes more vivid, as in a dream — the sounds of birds, the smell of the farm, the depth of the greens in the landscape, the taste of fresh plums, the intensity of every breath, the reason for being.

There is lightness in all things, as the Creator intended.

Yet much of the time is rush and blur like sleepwalking,  my eyes open but unseeing.  I stumble through life’s shadows, the path indiscernible, my future uncertain, my purpose illusive. I traverse heaviness and darkness, much of my own creation.

Wake me to dream of light some more.  

Choosing the Right Side

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God is going to invade, all right:
but what is the good of saying you are on His side then,
when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream
and something else –
something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in;

something so beautiful to some of us
and so terrible to others that

none of us will have any choice left?

For this time it will be God without disguise;
something so overwhelming that it will strike
either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.

It will be too late then to choose your side.

There is no use saying you choose to lie down
when it has become impossible to stand up.
That will not be the time for choosing:
it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen,
whether we realized it before or not.

Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.

~C.S. Lewis  – from  Mere Christianity

 

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Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
~Exodus 33:19-23

 

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How can we choose the right side when God shows us only His backside?  We cannot see His face as He covers us with His mighty hand – to protect us – but to see God from the back is enough to choose His right side.

For He chooses us… our fronts, our backs and everything in between.

 

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