How, Then, Shall We Pray?

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

When the darkness is closing in,
when we can’t see the way forward,
when we desperately need a rescue, a healing,
how, then, shall we pray?
Prayer
Do we pray with confidence, having faith that God will perform miracles?
Do we pray with humility, submitting to the greater plan of God?
How, then, shall we pray?
Pray
When multitudes of prayers in all shapes and colors overflow the Scriptures,
when even looking toward the perfect Man produces a confusion of faith that moves mountains and nevertheless thy will be done,
how, then, shall we pray?
Pray
As my Papa used to say:
Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.
Here is what I do know.
We are to pray.
We are to pray and in our praying we are to ask, beg even.
We are to ask and to continue asking, even if we do not get what we ask for.
We are to pray and ask and lament and wail and we can know beyond a doubt that at the very least, we are heard and we are loved.
Pray
Here is what I also know.
We have our brother, Jesus.
We have our brother, Jesus, praying for us as He sits at the right hand of the Father.
We have the Spirit of God.
We have the Spirit of God inside of us, praying along with us, taking every word and every desire too deep for words straight to the presence of God, advocating for us exactly as God wills.
pray
How, then, shall we pray?
Perhaps after all it does not matter.
Perhaps as long as we have Jesus praying for us and the Holy Spirit praying with us, the only important thing is that
we pray.
pray
Peace be with you as you plead before our ever loving Father.

Art Credits: The Pathway to Life by  Thomas De Witt Talmage; Prayer by Antonio Parreiras; Prayer by László Mednyánszky; Axentowicz the Anchorite by Teodor Axentowicz; Men, Women, and Children Praying by H. Wood; Children at Prayer by Antoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet

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Finding God in the Darkness

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Where is God when your world falls apart?
When your pleas seem unheard, when the horror seems to increase, when God Himself seems to have withdrawn into the darkness,
where do we find God?
Meet Calla.
Calla
Calla
The Woods
Calla is a nine year old girl full of sparkle and light, full of love and joy.
Until now.FightingUntil now when she is fighting for her life against the darkness of aggressive, rapidly growing tumors in her brain.
Where is God when your world falls apart?
Here.
He is right here.broken
Emmanuel.
God with us.
Jesus promised us crosses. We are to expect them.
And He also promised us empty tombs in the end.
It may not happen until the end, but He gave His word that He would make those tombs empty again.
So we must remember.
This is beyond hard when your baby girl is fighting for her life, yet Calla’s parents, Ben and Crystal, are also fighting hard.
love
love
Fighting hard to remember,
to remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
In the words of Corrie ten Boom from the hell of a Nazi concentration camp: No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.
broken with us
And if that were not enough, if the promise of the rising sun melting away these sorrows like the morning dew were not enough,
He also promised to be with us through it all.
This is what Calla’s parents are fighting to shine into their darkness –
that God is good and He is with us.
When it feels as though life is beating you into the ground, when the weight of your burden does not allow you to rise from your bed in the morning, when you cannot carry your cross for one more step, you can know that He is here with you, carrying your cross with you, taking your burden on Himself.
Every tear we shed becomes His tear. He may not yet wipe them away, but He makes them His. Would we rather have our own dry eyes, or His tear-filled ones?
He came to us. He is here with us. We can be certain of Emmanuel in all circumstances.
Job learned this in a very real way.
When he wanted to know why his world was burning to ashes around him, God showed Job the wonders of the zoological world and the stunning beauties of the galaxies and told him, I did this!
When Job wanted, even demanded, an answer from God, God gave him something much more beautiful than a simple answer.
He gave Job the same answer that He gives to all who ask, to all who seek: Himself.
And when we declare all of this – His goodness and power, His love and His with us,
then God is glorified and our hearts are nourished.
If He does not heal all our broken bones and loves and lives now, He comes into them and is broken, like bread, and we are nourished.
the gift of Himself
Our Bread of Life, broken for us, will nourish us. He will never leave us.
broken for us
Will you join me in praying for Calla and her family? Pray for a miracle of healing to bring God all the glory, of course, and also pray for peace and joy and a tangible sense of God’s presence in the middle of this darkness to bring God all the glory.
I have only done this once before in my eight years of writing in this space, but would you consider giving a little to help my friends, as they wait? The waiting is so hard, especially when you have two other children back home in another state, especially when you must leave your work to wait with your girl. You can give by clicking here. If you want to stay updated on Calla and the ways in which God is being glorified by her family, click here.
Calla
my friends, the Woods
Thank you for praying. And may the peace of God be with you wherever you may be.
On Another’s Sorrow 
by William Blake
Can I see anothers woe,
And not be in sorrow too.
Can I see anothers grief,
And not seek for kind relief.
Can I see a falling tear
And not feel my sorrows share,
Can a father see his child,
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d.
Can a mother sit and hear,
An infant groan an infant fear—
No no never can it be.
Never never can it be.
And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small birds grief & care
Hear the woes that infants bear—
And not sit beside the nest
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near
Weeping tear on infants tear.
And not sit both night & day,
Wiping all our tears away.
O! no never can it be.
Never never can it be.
He doth give his joy to all.
He becomes an infant small.
He becomes a man of woe
He doth feel the sorrow too.
Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy maker is not by.
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy maker is not near.
O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

All photographs not of Calla and her family are copyright Made Sacred 2019

Quotes are from Peter Kreeft

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For the Ugly Days

There are some days when it is easy to love.
Loving each other
Happy Baby
I am able to surrender to the Spirit which causes peace to fill me up and overflow into the hearts of my daughters, my husband. I have the supernatural strength to stay calm in the midst of tantrums, kind in the midst of misunderstandings, and joyful in the midst of hurt.
Then there are days like today.
Yelled at by Mommy
Days when something ugly wells up inside of me. Days when I want to be mean. Days when I feel resentful towards those I love best.
I hate these days.
What is this darkness, this nastiness that overwhelms me and threatens to spill out into the hearts of those I love?
Sadness
Tantrums
Anger
Defiance
My daughters cry to be held, fuss about wearing clothes, throw tantrums because school is hard, and my desire is not to comfort them but to scream like a crazed woman with fire in my eyes.
My husband makes an innocent comment and my desire is not to hear his loving intentions but to deliberately misunderstand and hiss a disparaging remark.
I intentionally fight against the changing of my mood. I want to savor, to wallow in my blackness.
I hate these days.
I get so tired of fighting this battle within me. I get so weary of fighting my very self. I long for the day when I finally look like Jesus, when my desire is to love rather than hate, when my heart is all light with no shadow at all.
As ugly as my heart can be, I am grateful that God refuses to give up on me. I am thankful that He does not save me and then leave me as I am. I am astounded that He is filling me up with Himself, crowding out the ugliness until there is nothing left but Beauty.
I try not to feel impatient.
Yet I know. I know. I know that I belong to Jesus. He gave Himself for me and therefore sin has lost its hold on me. I can hold on to that knowing even when I cannot feel it. Little by little, sin’s grasp is slipping away because Love has taken hold and nothing dark can hold on in the light of this fiercest Love.
As the recent hymn says, “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand; ‘till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
No scheme of man. Not even my own schemes. Nothing can separate me from Love Himself.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Amen.

all photographs copyright Made Sacred

edited from the archives

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Standing in the Middle

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

We stand in the middle, with arms raised, between heaven and earth.
in the middle
We offer what we have been given by God to the world.
We offer the praise of the world back to God.
We are created to be priests.
priests
Like priests offering the bread and wine to the Church, we offer the beautiful kingdom rule to the world.
Like priests offering the prayers and worship to God, we offer the praise of creation to the Creator.
We stand in the middle, unique among all of God’s creation.
Not better.
There are many who critique the Church for claiming that humanity is better, more important, more the center than any of the rest of creation.
creation
The idea of better leads to much of the abuse of creation all around us.
We are not better than the rest of creation.
We are, in fact, the only piece of creation actively rejecting God.
rejection
Definitely not better.
Yet we are unique.
We are a hybrid of material and spiritual, of visible and invisible.
Animals have a living body, but not a rational soul.
Angels have a rational soul, but not a living body.
Humans are a microcosm of creation.
We are the only creation to contain the whole.
worship
Not because of any merit on our part, but because that is the way we were created.
We stand in the middle
Arms outstretched
Mediating between heaven and earth.
imitation
Doing our best to imitate the Man who remained whole.

Art credits: Solomon Dedicates the Temple by Tissot; Three Crosses Sketch by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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Is God In Control?

I am hunkered down this week, writing my final project (another book!) for this spiritual formation Master’s level course I have been  working on for two years.  Please enjoy this essay from my archives as I finish up my writing.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

God is in control.
This phrase seems to float around a lot, especially after events like presidential elections.
At the end of the day, everything will turn out okay because God is still King.
God as King
What do people mean by this?
Do they mean that everything in their lives will be beautiful? Do they mean that crises will never plague them?
Since this is clearly not true, since suffering is common to us all, either God is not in control after all or that is not really what God meant.
Yet God Himself did claim to be in control.
If being in control does not mean that justice reigns, that love wins, that pain vanishes, what does it mean?
beautiful result of labor pain
It means that somehow, in some inexplicable way, all that is hard in this world is only labor pain. The beautiful end is already decided and all that we go through in this world is somehow necessary to bring about that glorious end.
I don’t pretend to understand how this works out. I certainly don’t mean that every evil thing a person chooses to do is required for God’s plan. Yet a world in which free will exists and thus in which a broken mankind and a broken creation is possible is crucial to God’s plan.
In that moment in time when God broke into our broken world, He caused the end of the story to come crashing down into the middle. The end of death, the rescue of man and creation, our glorious new bodies, all of this has already happened in the first century, in little Israel.
this life
storm of life
Just as winter storms can still throw blizzards and hail to destroy the tulips after the calendar has already declared it to be spring, Satan is still casting icy lances to destroy as many as he can after the resurrection has already declared God’s victory.
It is our mission, our part of God’s story, to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth, to plant our tulips in the certain hope that spring is on the way.
God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that everything will happen now the way we may wish.
It does mean that the end is decided and that everything that happens is bringing us swiftly toward that end.
So plant your tulips in hope.
hope is here
Our faith is certain. The warmth of spring is on its way.

Art credits: Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860; tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell

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The Line Between Us and Them

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Them.
You know, the ones who are not us.
The ones who stand against everything that is important.
The ones who stand for everything that is wrong with our world.
The ones whose sole aim is to bring down our way of life.
It is our job, no, our duty, to bring them down first, before all that we love is destroyed.
We must watch out for them.
They are everywhere.
They are in our schools, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods,
in our hospitals.
I met one of them.
I met one of them in a hospital waiting room, waiting for his young daughter to come out of surgery.
He was one of them, no doubt about it.
My defenses went up and I prepared to go on the attack.
He was one of them.
And he was hurting.
Just like us.
He was grieving.
Just like us.
He was worried about one he loved.
Just like us.
I heard a whisper saying, He, too, is My beloved.
Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
And suddenly the line between us and them seemed just a bit blurry.

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

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Eight Years of Writing

It has been eight years.eight years
Eight years of weekly coming into this space with words.
writing
Some words have been better than others.
Some have been addled; a few have been helpful.
I have always loved writing. I have never thought of myself as a blogger.
Perhaps, after eight years, that thought should evolve.
This summer I am finishing up work on a two year journey of learning about spiritual formation. I do not know whether different venues for my writing will open up or whether I will remain solely in this space, but I am confident that either way I am held by the One who does know.
This space has brought me discipline in my writing; it has provided a place for me to hone my craft and learn how to make my words sing.
This space has given me a place to continue working out what I think and believe about this world, this life, this God of ours; it has allowed me the gift of helping others, some of you, perhaps, who read these words every week.
I do not know what the future holds for me and my words. For now I will remain quietly here, content to offer these words to a few. If the Holy Spirit allows me to touch even one heart and mind, it is enough.
I will continue to be obedient, to hold out my words in this space until I feel Him say, Enough. Then I will close my laptop and ask, What next?
I wonder what the answer will be.
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Breathe

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Breathe
He knelt down, leaned in close, and
breathed into the dust.
Dust became man and man
breathed in His image and life.

 

He breathed His Word and
Word gained skin and
breathed life into twelve who then
breathed that life into more.

 

Spirit became fire and
breathed mighty wind into
hearts and minds which then
breathed change into the world.

 

We breathe a human breath then
slip under the waters where
all breath stops and when
we come up we now have His
breath in our souls.

 

One day our lungs will
breathe one last breath and we fall
asleep but when we wake we
find Him leaning close and He
breathes into us perfect life everlasting.

Art credit: Holy Spirit painting by Jakob Häne

edited from the archives

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Regaining Joy and Wonder

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

This world is full of wonder.
joy
wonder
We are surrounded by truth, goodness, beauty.
truth
goodness
beauty
Yet rather than pausing to drink it all in, rather than marveling at it all, I find myself slogging through each day with my head down and my heart full of drudgery.
Worse, I am discovering that this blindness is contagious. Rather than inviting my children to stop and gaze at the wonder all around, I am teaching them to plod through their days of math and grammar with nary a glance toward the splendor without or within themselves.
joy
wonder
joy
I am teaching them that learning is only toil rather than a work that satisfies our longing for truth, goodness, and beauty.
It is an easy thing to do three weeks before the end of school.
I must repent.
I must repent of my lack of joy and wonder. Joy in this creation and wonder in the learning of this creation.
wonder
joy
wonder
Even in these last days of school, I must pull my head up and take time to pause and gaze.
I must invite my children to pause and gaze.
The final goal of learning is, after all, to become a better human, to become the person God created us to be.
I cannot only tell my girls about truth, goodness, and beauty.
I must show them.
beauty
truth
goodness
And before I can show them, I must regularly repent of losing my own joy and wonder.
Beautiful Creator of all, forgive me for my lack of joy. Teach my heart never to lose awe and wonder at all that is around and within me.
joy
wonder
God
Let me never cease to gaze at truth, goodness, and beauty
And in that gazing may I catch a glimpse of You.

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2019

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The Weight of Holy

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

I grew up in, and still attend, a Christian Church, one of those denominations bursting out of the Restoration Movement in the United States.
High Church
In many ways I am proud of my faith tradition. I will be the first to admit that we have our troubles, things with which I don’t agree, but there are many things I think we get right.
I am grateful for our emphasis on the Bible, our insistence on a personal relationship with God, our reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice to make us clean.
There are a few pieces of Christianity I think we miss out on, though.
Depth
One of those pieces is our loss of a sense of the sacredness and holiness of God when we focus solely on a personal, intimate relationship with God.
Weighty
In our casual services, in our emphasis on God as friend, we forget sometimes how other God is. He is holy, which means separate.  Apart.
He is not like us. He is so far above us that we cannot begin to comprehend Him. We are not worthy to stand in His presence. We cannot meet His gaze. To see His face is to die.
Sacred
We attended a Lutheran church service a few Sundays ago.
I was struck by the ceremony, the honor and respect with which they treat all things belonging to God: in particular, the Word and the Lord’s Supper.
Every move was accompanied by a genuflect before the table holding the Bible and the Communion. There was a reverence to that portion of the service that was weighty.
Holy
 Set apart
There was a hush of holiness over the proceedings that I do not see in my own tradition. As each person came up to receive the bread, they were looked in the eye and told This is His body which was broken for you. As each person came up to receive the cup, they were looked in the eye and told, This is His blood which was shed for you“. As each child came past with their parents, a hand was laid on their head and a blessing given on them.
It was holy and it was personal.
As each server of the bread and wine came to their turn to be the receiver, they bowed before the Word and the Communion. Not in worship of those items, but in reverence for the One they represent. In a recognition that God is holy and has declared these things to be sacred.
Holiness
 Reverence
Our whole lives are to be sacred. I recognize that there is no separation between sacred and secular in our everyday lives. That is the premise behind this very blog. Yet it serves us well to be reminded every now and then of the absolute holiness of the One who makes everything sacred.
Nothing is sacred without God.
Cathedral
Sometimes we forget how much more sacred is the Giver than the gifts.
Sometimes we lose the weightiness of holy and in that shallowness can float upward until we believe that we are closer to God than we truly are.
The weight of holy
…and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald…From the throne came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

All photographs this week are by Kirk Sewell. You can purchase canvas prints of many of his gorgeous art on his website: photographybysewell.webs.com

edited from the archives

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