Nobody in the hospital Could tell the age Of the old woman who Was called Susanna
Because she had no visitors I would stop by to see her But she was always sleeping
One day I was beside her When she woke up Opening small dark eyes Of a surprising clearness
She looked at me and said You want to know the truth? I answered Yes
She said it’s something that My mother told me
There’s not a single inch Of our whole body That the Lord does not love
She then went back to sleep. ~Anne Porter from “Susanna”
So many people lie in a hospital bed these days, all alone and fearful, wondering what could happen next, waiting for the tide to turn and move them back to the shore or sweep them out into the arms of their Creator forever.
We tend to forget the love of the One who made us, including our funny looking feet, our anxieties, the crooked teeth, the wrinkles, the scars, the split ends —
We see only our imperfections and frailty when our Creator sees dust made manifest in His image.
He loves us even when we do not love ourselves, as we hide our flaws and cover up our vulnerable nakedness.
He loves every inch because we are His opus, a masterpiece, so He became one of us.
He knew exactly what He was doing and even now, in the midst of our loneliness, He knows exactly what He is doing with the dust that still swirls around us.
In our secret yearnings we wait for your coming, and in our grinding despair we doubt that you will.
And in this privileged place we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we and by those who despair more deeply than do we.
Look upon your church and its pastors in this season of hope which runs so quickly to fatigue and in this season of yearning which becomes so easily quarrelsome.
Give us the grace and the impatience to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes, to the edges of our fingertips.
Come in your power and come in your weakness in any case and make all things new. Amen. ~ Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
We simply have to wait and wait. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14
These are troubling times and yes, I’m troubled. It can feel like things will never change. It can feel like I will never adapt to how the world is darker right now, how people are more bitter and angry, how each day brings more bad news, how tired we all are of wearing our real and figurative masks.
I know better than this; I’ve seen dark times before that have taken time to resolve. So why does this time seem different? Why have doubts become four-dimensional realities?
So I remember: we were created for this waiting in-between. We were created to keep watching for when all things will be made new. From the bottoms of our toes to the tips of our fingers, we marvel at the power shown by our God choosing weakness as the vessel that saves us.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Psalm 130: 5-6
The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock —more than a maple— a universe. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I think there is a yawning gaping separation threatening us right now.
I feel a fissuring gap in my life. People who have eaten at our table, shared our home, who we have worshiped alongside – are now estranged, no longer trusting. This separation is buoyed by the chill wind of politics blowing bitterly where once there was warmth and nurture and caring.
We no longer understand one another. We no longer listen to one another. The argument has become more important than the connection.
How can we even allow these gaps between us to develop? How do we fill these fissures with enough of ourselves so something new and vital can grow? How can we stalk the gaps together, knowing how we are all exposed?
Not one of us has the corner on the Truth; if we are honest with ourselves and each other, we cower together for safety in the cracks of this world, watching helplessly as the backside of God passes by too holy for us to gaze upon. He places us there together for our own good. I see you there alongside me.
We are weak together. We are dependent together. We need each other.
Only His Word – nothing else – can fill the open gaping hollow between us. His Grace is great enough to fill every hole bridge every gap bring hope to the hopeless plant seeds for the future and restore us wholly to each other.
Now we are here at home, in the little nation of our marriage, swearing allegiance to the table we set for lunch or the windchime on the porch,
its easy dissonance. Even in our shared country, the afternoon allots its golden lines so that we’re seated, both in shadow, on opposite
ends of a couch and two gray dogs between us. There are acres of opinions in this house. I make two cups of tea, two bowls of soup,
divide an apple equally. If I were a patriot, I would call the blanket we spread across our bed the only flag—some nights we’ve burned it with our anger at each other.Some nights we’ve welcomed the weight, a woolen scratch on both our skins. My love, I am pledging
to this republic, for however long we stand, I’ll watch with you the rain’s arrival in our yard. We’ll lift our faces, together, toward the glistening. ~Jehanne Dubrow from “Pledge”
Whether it is a beloved country, or a devoted marriage, there is need for loyalty to last through the difficult times and the imperfections.
We pledge allegiance to the republic of one another among acres of opinions: our differences in how we see the world contrast with our shared goals and dreams. Our stubborn persistence to stay intact is threatened by our fragile weaknesses that can easily break us asunder.
So we stand united, no matter the dissonance and the disagreements, drenched with the responsibility and accountability to make this union work, no matter what, for as long as we shall live, and much much beyond.
May we glisten with the pledge of allegiance: we can only accomplish this together.
No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades. ~J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings
Frodo is a study of a hobbit broken by a burden of fear and horror— broken down, and in the end made into something quite different. Frodo undertook his quest out of love– to save the world he knew from disaster at his own expense, if he could; and also in complete humility, acknowledging that he was wholly inadequate to the task His real contract was only to do what he could, to try to find a way, and to go as far on the road as his strength of mind and body allowed. He did that. ~J.R.R. Tolkien
We are regularly called to do more than we feel capable of accomplishing. Whether we are in the midst of a crisis of confidence, feeling beaten down, physically and emotionally vulnerable, or just plain scared – it is tempting to shrink away from doing what is needed.
Our call to obedience may not be quite as dramatic as Frodo’s monumental task of saving the world from destruction by evil forces — it may simply be getting out of bed and facing the day despite pain and overwhelming sorrow — but it takes no less courage and strength.
We are equipped by the intimacy of the Word of God speaking to each of us individually, instructing us on how to live these days we are given.
Like Frodo, we are to do what we can, to find a way through darkness and fire and threat, and to go down that road as far as our minds and bodies allow. We are inadequate by ourselves, but we are bolstered by the constancy of God alongside. We never travel alone.
For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go.As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ~Kathleen Norris from Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
Inundated moment by moment by overwhelmingly bad news of a pandemic world, highlighted in rapidly changing headlines, blasted from cable news 24/7, tweeted real time from every nook and cranny, I stumble in my frailty to find something, anything, to hold me up.
I cling to the mystery of His magnetism for my weakness.
God now has my full attention: He willingly pulls despair out of me onto Himself and replaces it with strength I didn’t know I would need nor would have ever wanted.
Two months ago, not one of us knew we were to go where we never expected to go: by His grace, we have always had God’s full attention.
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
With great power there must also come great responsibility… ~The “Peter Parker Principle” from Spiderman Comics (1962)
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48b
This line, the final conclusion to the parable of the wise and faithful servant has become a modern mantra – thanks to Spiderman, the Supreme Court, Winston Churchill, President Obama and Bill and Melinda Gates.
Yet no one actually quotes the entire New Testament parable itself that ends with this very concept.
The story Jesus tells in Luke 12: 42-48 makes us wince, just as it is meant to:
42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
The same story as told in the gospel of Matthew ends with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Somehow that part is left out of Spiderman’s story and is a bit too close to home for those in power and those with immense wealth — like Peter Parker, we know all too well the reality of just how fragile and weak we really are despite our perceived Spidey powers.
We don’t have a choice in the matter if we want to live in Him as Christians, identifying by name with the Son of God who gave up everything for us.
We owe much when to us much has been given. U.S. Presidents can learn from the wisdom of Spiderman, remembering Who actually spoke it first.
What courage we had, our infantry stretched across the yard, no shields, no swords, no cavalry assembled behind us calming their nervous mounts. We had the strength of our arms, the speed of our legs. We had our friends and our convictions. Opposite us, the undulating line of children drew suddenly straight. It was early on a summer day but the larks fell silent. A high voice invoked the name Red Rover; we could not say who said it first. But righteousness passed through us like current through a wire. Or like an inaugural sip of wine burning in our chests, something father gave us over our mother’s earnest protestations. ~Connie Wanek, “Red Rover” from Rival Gardens
… if you ran, time ran. You yelled and screamed and raced and rolled and tumbled and all of a sudden the sun was gone and the whistle was blowing and you were on your long way home to supper. When you weren’t looking, the sun got around behind you! The only way to keep things slow was to watch everything and do nothing! You could stretch a day to three days, sure, just by watching! ~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
I was a kid born without the necessary courage to enjoy playground games and sports – I was always chosen last as I didn’t have good coordination, I wasn’t fast or strong and I wasn’t physically aggressive. Games like dodge ball and Red Rover were too intimidating as I inevitably got battered and bruised by the other kids.
In Red Rover, that impenetrable line-up of kids found a weak link in me. I could feel the electricity like a current through the linked arms in the line, until it came to me. I became the off switch. Kids knew to choose my arm to break through because I tended to let go rather than have my arm bashed and bruised by some big kid running straight into it.
How have my years of work felt similar? Now well into my seventh decade, I can recall a few times when I’ve chosen to “let go” rather than get bruised. I’ve tried to be strong enough to stand up to the battering that comes with leadership positions and taking unpopular stands. It takes its toll and I regret I’m not strong enough at times. However, there is relief in no longer being connected to the electric current of these times.
What I always liked best about the playground was to simply run and jump and holler and hoot from the joy of being alive, or to just stand and watch what was going on around me without having to be in the center of things. Now decades later, I find myself again standing apart, just watching, grateful I’m no longer part of the line up about to get bashed.
There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, and when they hear of the poverty of Christ, they are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem. They denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more kindly service and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably.
But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow humans need their help, and which they ignore in their misery. Where is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him?
The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—and not just their own friends—in whatever way there seems need.
No one wants to admit being in need of help so the helpless tend to remain invisible. We are called to seek out the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, and the homeless as they tend to stay well-hidden unless we look specifically for them.
When fed, hydrated, healthy, clothed and safe in our homes, we cannot be considered “poor” in the conventional sense. Yet if we don’t reach out to those more desperate around us, we are ultimately bereft and spiritually impoverished.
God arrived on earth in poverty, homeless, and certainly under threat of murder by simply being born. If He arrived in such circumstances today, who among us would reach out to Him and His parents out of respect for their humanity, not just for His divinity?
God wants us to notice the desperation around us. God wants us to give ourselves away. God wants us to give up our impoverished spirit to open the way to His everlasting abundance.