Waiting

It is a time of waiting.
Waiting
It is a time of waiting in darkness, of waiting in grief, of waiting in loneliness.
Darkness
We are a people living in a land of darkness, in a land of the shadow of death, and as much as we would wish to skip the waiting and rush straight into the glorious light of Christmas, we are still living in Advent.
Living in waiting
It is same as our desire to skip over the ugly of Good Friday and rush straight into the beauties of Easter Sunday. Yet we cannot get to the power of Easter without first living through the pain of Friday.
And we cannot get to the light and wonder of Christmas without first living through the darkness and tenuous hope of Advent.
Living in Advent
Even our Christmas hymns hint at this. They speak of a longing for deliverance, a yearning for Immanuel, God with us.
O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.
It is a time to linger with the deepest longing of our heart:  the longing for God to come, the longing for God to make our world and our hearts right again.
Our world was a land of darkness with only the whisper of a light to come that anyone was able to hold on to.
Whisper of light
And then.
And then the end of the story broke gloriously into the middle of the story. The Christ, the Messiah, the end of our story came bursting through with light and stars, with angels and worship.
End of the story
The light came and shone upon the people living in a land of great darkness. The light arrived and we saw that the darkness was not the final word.
Light
We still live in a land of darkness, but now we have more than a whisper. Now we have a glimpse of the Light Himself to hold on to. We have seen the breaking dawn and we know the end of the story.
It is still a time of waiting for yet another Advent.
It is still a time of waiting in the darkness. If we cannot linger through the darkness of our world’s need for the light, if we cannot dwell long in our own need for the darkness of our hearts to be banished, then we cannot ever reach the hope and joy of Christmas.
The deepness of the darkness is what shows us the glory of the light.
So wait. Linger in your waiting.
And then, when Advent is over, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you will be able to revel in the joy and hope of the light that came and that promises to come again.
Light for all time
This time to banish all darkness for good.

Art credit: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Le Brun

Embodied Souls

What does it mean to be human?
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It is a question asked by many.  Perhaps asked by all in the way that they live and learn if not with words from the mouth.
It is a question that was recently asked by the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, William “Bro” Adams. He is exploring how the study of the humanities can answer questions about life, how we should live, and the values by which we should live.
adams_headshot
Adams desires for us as a nation to explore how the study of philosophy and humanities can help us to understand what it means to be human.
There is nothing new in this. Throughout the ages philosophers and psychologists alike have tried to figure out what it means to be human, what a human really is. They have laid out theory after theory, description after description about humanity.
We as Christians and theologians then take those theories and descriptions and use them to figure out Christ’s humanity. Hear that again: we use our own selves to figure out the piece of Jesus that is human.
Correggio_004
Does that seem backward to anyone else?
Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, wondered how we could possibly know what it means to be human if all we know about being human comes from a messed up, broken state of humanity due to our unnatural state of sin. Christ’s humanity therefore shows us what it means to be human rather than the other way around.
Jesus was an embodied soul, an ensouled body, to use a phrase from Karl Barth. For Jesus, being human was always being a soul and a body. Even after the resurrection He made it a point to eat and drink to show us that even after our own resurrection we will still be embodied souls.
Caravaggio_Liebfrauenkirche_Abendmahl_in_Emmaus
We have always been body and soul, and of a finite nature. Before The Fall, we were finite in body and soul but were allowed to continue living by way of the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve sinned, we were still finite, still formed from the dust of the earth, but now we were subject to death and decay because we were cut off from the Tree of Life.
Then the LORD God said, “…Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden…
Our bodies are part of what constitutes our identity, as important as our thoughts, our feelings, our will.
Is this important? Does it really matter whether we view our bodies as important or as inconvenient?
This is where this post could grow to become book-long, but I will try to only brush up against potential ramifications rather than expanding on each one.
If our bodies are just as important as our souls, then we should spend time caring for our bodies in our daily lives. We should take the time to think about how we care for our babies’ bodies even while in the womb and whether things such as prenatal testing is more helpful or harmful in this regard. We should take the time to consider the end of life and how much should be done to keep our bodies alive.
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The idea that our bodies matter a great deal affects the ethics of medicine, of medical research and technology. If we begin to think of our bodies as unimportant or, worse, as impediments to a good life, then our decision making about the health of those bodies begins to become skewed.
It is as important to the decisions we make every day as it is to the decisions that we will make at the end of our lives or at the beginning of our children’s lives.
Perhaps thinking deeply about what it means to be human, about the nature of our own selves, about the importance of our souls and our bodies, is something that is too important to be left to philosophers and psychologists alone.
Perhaps it is something that is meant to be pondered by all of us.
Pondered and prayed over.

Art credits: Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Supper at Emmaus by Michelangelo da Caravaggio

Coming

It is a waiting.
A breathless hope that is sometimes too fragile to look at straight on.
Will He come?
Waiting
He came once before and has promised to come at the end.
But will He come now?
We don’t want to be disappointed and so we hide our deepest waiting with the waiting for other things.
Different kind of waiting
We wait for chaotic colors and shiny sounds.
Shiny
We wait for hustling and bustling and we fill up our days with old and new memories to avoid peering hard into hearts.
Shopping
We wait for silver bells and for sugar plums so that we don’t have to feel our desperate waiting for Him.
Bright paper packages
Will He come? Will He show up at this time and in this season?
In Advent is waiting and in Advent is coming and if we wait, will He come in a way that brings the peace and joy we crave?
Stop.
Stop
Breathe.
Breathe
Close your eyes.
Close your eyes
Listen.
Listen
He is here.
He has come and He will come and He will continue to come for as long as we are here, which is for always and forever.
He gives breath to your hope and whispers into your waiting that He loves you and He delights in you.
It is a waiting.
A waiting that bears the fruit of His greatest gift of all.
His greatest gift
He has come.
Himself

Art credit: photos of Christmas color by R.K. Sewell Photography

Seeking Knowledge

Children have control over so little in their lives.
We grownups like to think that we have control over our lives, but perhaps that is only illusion.
Daddies and Mommies tell them when to get up and when to lie down, when to eat and when to play, what to wear and where to go.  Children will often grasp at anything that will give them more power over their lives.
One of the things I’ve noticed that children use to gain a little control is knowing what name to call things, especially when that thing frightens them a little.  When she was smaller, my eldest daughter’s constant response to a loud noise was That was? That was?  Now that she is a little older, she asks What was that? That noise?  Knowing the name of something gives her power over it, makes it seem a little less scary.
She seeks to know.
Perhaps she is not very different from many adults.
Scientists, medical researchers, geneticists, stay-at-home moms who like to learn…people want to know what name to call things, want to know about things, because that gives them power over those things, those ideas.  If we know how something was put together or how something works or even just what to call it, we feel as though we have power over our world.
We seek to know.
A long time ago, in a land far away, around the beginning of the Christian Church (perhaps even earlier), there lived a group of people we call Gnostics who believed (among other things) that matter, the material universe, was bad and that deliverance from our material form could only come through special knowledge.
Not long ago at all, in a land not at all far away, there lived a group of people who believed that their minds were all-powerful, that the dying of their flesh was bad, that through knowledge they could overcome all physical limitations.  They could eat poorly and take vitamin supplements.  They could ignore their children and send them to therapists.  They could extend life and choose the sort of life that they procreated through the technology they created.  They believed that saving our natural resources wasn’t important because their minds, human ingenuity in the form of science and technology, could surely take care of that problem as well.
There is nothing new under the sun…
In C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man (in 1943!), he said that mankind’s power to do exactly what it wants seems to be growing all the time through humanity’s so-called “con­quest of Nature” – the progress of applied science.  However, “each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”  We can throw bombs from airplanes but can also be bombed ourselves; a race of birth-controllers is a race whose own birth has been controlled.
We seek to know.  We seek to control.
Why do we feel that Nature is bad, that the material world needs to be conquered?  Even as Christ-followers we seek knowledge because we fear.  We want to know and to name so that we can control that which is uncontrollable.
Is the pursuit of knowledge wrong?  Not at all.
Paul says in Philippians:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. ~Philippians 1.9-11 (Italics mine)
Paul seeks to know.
Paul also said this:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~Philippians 4.12-13
Paul is definitely not in control, nor does he seek to be.
Is this a Faustian-like power, this power of knowledge?  A power that gives away everything good that God created in order to gain power and control over His creation?
It can be.
As Christ-followers, do we seek knowledge because we are fearful of the future and wish to wrest control of His creation from the One Who set it all in motion?
Sometimes I do.
Perhaps instead we can seek knowledge in order to praise God with our minds.  Perhaps we can seek knowledge in gratitude for our imagination and intelligence, in gratitude for the complexity of His creation.
I suppose that, as with most that God has created, the goodness or evil of the pursuit of knowledge depends upon the heart of His creation.
May our hearts and minds seek to know out of thanksgiving rather than out of fear.

*etching is “Faust” by Rembrandt

*edited from the archives

Famine in the Land

Word
Bread
 Light
Amos, the herdsman turned prophet.
The visionary with the visions of things he kept talking God out of doing.
Too much! he would say, and God would agree.
Locusts forming up to devour the land.
Too much! And they were turned away.
Fire consuming the deep places in his country.
Too much! And they were put out.
Amos looked around at the men lounging around eating their fill of the richest of foods and throwing the rest to the hounds.  He looked around at the women dressed in the finest of cloth and adorned with the choicest of jewels.  He looked around at the leaders and their wives lying on beds of the softest linens and dabbing themselves with the sweetest perfumes.
Amos also looked at the men and women who fought with the rats for the stalest of bread, who froze when the wind whipped through the largest of holes in their shirts, who slept with the cockroaches on the hardest of stone.
He said there would be famine.  A famine and a thirst and a loss of the sun in the middle of the day.  But not a famine of bread or a thirst of water.
No, this famine would be far worse.  It is a shortage of the words of God.  It is a loss of the light of His face.
The rich and the lovely would be doomed to run from sea to shining sea, searching and thirsting for the Word of Life.
It is a loss of light, a loss of life.  It is the loss of God himself.
Towards the end, God will make himself so scarce that the world won’t even know what it’s starving to death for. ~ Frederick Buechner in Peculiar Treasures
Too much!
May God have mercy and not abandon us to our own selves and desires.
Lord, we would have more of You.

My Little Circle of Lamplight

We wander around in the dim light.
Dim Light
Lost in a twilight we hope will end in glorious dawn yet are frightened may only lead to utter darkness, we stumble around and squint about us for a path.
We can ever only see the next step, sometimes two, but we still strain our eyes towards the horizon, searching for a ray of the sun.
Twilight
Other shadows stumble near us and we are as likely to swing out clumsily to protect our frightened selves as we are to welcome them as companions on a journey.
All we can do is cling to Jesus, to that name, whatever it means to each of us. We cling to the Word and are disappointed that it is a lamp and not a floodlight.
lamplight
Yet as we stumble and search, if we keep our eyes on that dim pool of lamplight, we find that it is enough. We find that a circle of candlelight is enough to keep us from falling flat on our faces if we will only keep our eyes on our own path instead of casting them around farther ahead or behind.
candlelight
Asking for our daily bread keeps us crying out that we need Him every hour rather than only every week or so.
And so the dim light helps rather than hinders. It keeps us clutching the One who knows where we ought to be rather than stubbornly crawling off the edge of a cliff because we have the right and freedom to do so.
Perhaps the searchlight of God would be enough to turn us to stone and make us beg for the soft familiar lamplight again.
soft guiding light
We all wander around in the murky light.
And if we can only remain content in our small circle of candlelight, then one day we will see, perhaps only out of the corner of our eyes at first, the first rays of Him who is the Light of the world breaking through our mist and burning it all away for a glorious dawn.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

My Prison

Sometimes I live in a prison.
prison1
It is a prison of my own making, but it is a dingey dungeon nonetheless.
These bars over here are the guilt I give myself whenever I read instead of playing with my children. The guilt that I feel Every Single Time.
prison2
Those dirty, cinder block walls over there are the pressures I put on myself to be sure I am teaching my kids every single thing they will ever need to know in their lives. Perfectly.
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That low, suffocating ceiling up there is the stress of trying to be the perfect wife, with the perfect body and the stellar cooking skills. The pressure of trying to give without taking. Ever.
prison4
It is an unreasonable prison, and I know it. Deep down I know that I am imperfect and that it is okay to rest, to receive, to care for myself.
Gratefully, I live here only some of the time. Only some of the time do I give in to the pressure I feel around me; only some of the time do I tuck deep into my heart those perfect photos on Pinterest.
The rest of the time?
Those are the times in which I wisely choose to listen, instead, to a God who says “I love you No Matter What”. Those are the times in which I choose to listen to One who tells me that His is a “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”
And in those times?
prison5
There is release.

 

Art Credits: photo of prison 1 and last photo of open door by Miguel Saavedra, photo of prison 2 by Colin Brough, photo of cellar prison from rgbstock. photo of prison window by Chris Hitchcock,

Works and Grace

His thoughts and wisdom come from years of walking steadily towards God.
Steadfast
This father of mine who has read the Bible through every year for years upon years, who yet still is searching and seeking, discovering new depths in this Word that he loves.
Walking
We walk through the woods, sunlight blazing through the red and yellow leaves, the sounds of fall in the leaves at our feet.  In spurts, in between the happy screams of children running up and down hills, he speaks to me of his latest wonderings.
He wonders about the difference between the writings of Paul and words of Jesus.
“What if…” he feels his way forward.  “What if we didn’t have Paul’s letters?  What if all we had were the gospels, the words of Jesus?  Jesus speaks much more of actions, of behavior, of thoughts and emotions.  He almost never speaks of grace.”
He’s right.  Jesus doesn’t dwell much on the beauties of grace.  His business seems to be with the practical, with the fruit that a life of a disciple should bear.
Only those who do the Father’s commands will enter the Kingdom.
By your words you will be acquitted or condemned.
When asked, What must I do to be saved?, His answer is simple: Keep the commandments.
It is enough to bring despair, if that were the only way to be saved.  Obedience for salvation?  This is not gospel.  This is not good news.
Yet when someone comes to Him for healing, Jesus tells them that it is their own faith that has saved them.
Healing
What does it mean, this faith that is a saving faith?  What kind of a faith will save us?
Perhaps a clue comes from the times that Jesus tells us, Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. 
Bible Reading
Perhaps it does all come down to whether or not we truly believe Jesus.  If we truly believe that His way is best, that He is who He says He is and therefore knows what in this crazy upside down world He’s talking about, then we will obey Him.
Not perfectly and not all the time (Which is where Paul’s grace seems to come in.  Which is where Jesus’ statements like it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God…but with God all things are possible seem to bring in grace), but if you really believe then you will allow your heart to be changed.
Sometimes it is dramatic and fast, like Paul.  Other times it comes slowly and painfully, small choice by small choice, like the disciples.
It does seem, at times, that there is an apparent contradiction between works and grace in the New Testament.
Searching
It also seems, though, that while we can never be good enough to earn our way in, and while it is only by the blood of Christ that we are able to come near to God at all, at the same time, once we have decided that He is truth then our lives should reflect that truth.
A life that is given up to the Lordship of Christ should bear fruit.
We do not try to obey so that we can be loved, but rather the love of Jesus allows us a beginning of the ability to obey, however imperfectly.
The grace brings about the works.
I am still learning, however, and welcome your own wisdom.  What would happen if we only had the gospels and not the letters of Paul?  How are grace and works reconciled, and should we put a greater emphasis on works?

Terrible Love

It is Thanksgiving time and there is light.

Happy kids eating

Happy eating

Fine dining
They sit around the table laden with food, this family bound together by blood.  There is light and laughter, talk of sports and of God, there is caring and kindness between generations.  There are eyes shining bright, shining with love and with joy in the company around them.
And there is darkness.
There is one who is recently bereft of the comfort of spouse, struggling to find what is normal.  There is one who sits heavy with the weight of marriage that is harder than expected.  There is one who wonders if anything they do will ever seem good enough.
There is one who struggles with getting older, one who struggles with trouble at work and money that slips through the fingers, one who wonders if there is anything good coming when they can’t see what lies further down the road.
The Road
There is darkness in all of us.  It is a part of being human to feel the weightiness of the absence of God.  And there is an absence of God in this world.  The Bible we profess speaks of it.  The prophets and psalms all speak of Him who is not there when He is most needed.  The author of Hebrews strips all of our pretense away when he speaks of Noah, of Abraham, of Gideon and David and the rest who “all died without having received what was promised.”  It is the anguish of glimpsing the briefest glow of the light of presence without being allowed to bask in the sun.
Glimpse of light
It is a terrible love, this love of God for us.  It is a love that means His absence as often as it means His presence.  It is a love that Jesus speaks of when He utters in His darkest moment the piercing cry of Where are you, God?
You who are in heaven for us, why are you not down here in hell with us?

Light of presence

It is a terrible love that speaks of carrying our own cross, that utters the truth that all ye labor and are heavy laden.
It is a terrible love that wounds, or allows the wounds, before the healing can come.
It is a terrible love that weeps at the death of a friend, of Lazarus.  They are tears that speak of the absence of God.  Of the part of God in the very body of Jesus who would not save the life of His own friend.
This is, after all, the Gospel.  It is terrible before it is beautiful.  It is darkness before it is light.
Darkness before light
We all labor and are heavy laden.  We work so very hard to pretend that it is not so, but even when we are appalled at the darkness, we cannot help but listen to Jesus because we see in Him not only the darkness of being without God but the glorious light of what it looks like to be with God.
It is out of the absence of God that He becomes most present.  It is out of the whirlwind, out of the storm that God first speaks to Job, answering Him not with answers but with Himself.  It is out of darkness that we first begin to perceive the light.
Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can here in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.” ~ Frederick Buechner
Rembrandt
The cross itself is a symbol of defeat before it is a symbol of victory and it, too, speaks of the absence of God.
When the absence is all that we see, when we are tempted to see in it a well of doubt that could lead us into atheism or at least into becoming agnostic, there is yet something else to see as well.
It was out of the darkness and absence that God first spoke.  “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”  And darkness is upon our faces as well, a void that sinks deep into our hearts.  And perhaps it is necessary for the reality of this darkness to fold itself around us for us to be able to glimpse the reality of the word that God spoke into the darkness, “God said let there be light, and there was light.”
And there was light
It is a terrible love that is offered to us, and perhaps we must face the truth of the terribleness before we are capable of accepting the love.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Supernova photo by NASA

The Artistry of God

Revel with me in the artistry of God.
artistry
Be amazed at the depth of His creativity.
creativity
Look with wonder at variation beyond number.
variation
Ponder the beauty of difference.
difference
Of large
large
and small,
small
of smooth
smooth
and warty,
warty
of single color
single color
and multi-hued.
multi-hued
Praise the loveliness of His artistic diversity
diversity
in all of the people and pumpkins around you.