Regaining Joy and Wonder

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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

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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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The Resurrection Is Our Crocus

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Reality.
All of creation conspires to teach us what is real.
When God created, He carefully crafted the laws of nature to point toward reality.
reality
nature
reality
Every growing seed points to the reality that we must die in order to bear fruit.
Every autumn leaf points to the reality that in dying to ourselves, our true colors burst forth.
Every new birth points to the reality that new life comes only after great labor pains.
All of creation shouts out God’s beautiful reality.
Today, as I look out the window on a Palm Sunday in the middle of April and see this:
winter
spring
I am meditating on the reality that when the calendar says it is spring, when the crocus first peeps up from the ground, it is truly spring, even when it still feels like winter.
winter
Because, let’s be honest, it still feels like winter in this world.
As refugees stream out of war-torn countries,
as friends fight deadly diseases,
as families continue to grieve beloved ones who have died,
it still feels like winter to me.
winter or spring
And yet.
I sit here on Palm Sunday, contemplating the Holy Week to come:
The road into Jerusalem which led to the giving of bread and wine,
a desperate prayer in a garden,
the cross.
The ghastliness of Holy Saturday and the knowledge that God is dead.
And then.
A weighty boulder moved easy like a feather.
An angel wondering at anyone presuming to find Jesus in a tomb.
A familiar voice: Mary
Jesus.
Alive.
Resurrection.
And suddenly I understand what I am truly seeing out of my window on this Palm Sunday in the middle of April, when the crocuses have peeped out their heads and yet snow lays heavy on the ground.
signs
reality
The resurrection is our confirmation.
Yes, it may still feel like winter all around,
but the resurrection is our crocus.
resurrection
Spring is really here.

Art Credit: all photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2019. And yes, I know that none but the last photograph are actually of crocuses. Mea culpa.

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Easter Joy and Sorrow

I had another post ready for this week, but have been grieving my Gram and Papa a little more heavily this week, so decided to post this from the archives instead, as it more accurately describes my current feelings. May it bless you as well.

Easter.
Spring.
New life.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”

Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history
Death is beaten, You have rescued me
Sing it out, Jesus is alive!
Endless joy, perfect peace,
Earthly pain finally will cease
Celebrate Jesus is alive!
Oh, happy day, happy day…
My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without my Gram.

March-July10 036
As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Gram with a physical ache.

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.

And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.

And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.
My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much?

You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.

On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin Westheaven picturecross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

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To Hope While Living in Hell

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What does it look like to become like Jesus?
becoming like Christ
What does it look like when your heart is in the process of being transformed?
transformed
I have come to believe that one major characteristic of those who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is the supernatural power to keep your eyes fixed on Christ when your world is crashing down around you.
eyes on Christ
Whether it is your inner world or the world all around, the ability to cling to God no matter what is a powerful witness to all around us.
physical pain
grief
loneliness
depression
worry
fear
There is so much that could swamp us in our life with God.
be still
I am learning that being still before God, practicing the disciplines of silence and solitude, is one of the most important ways that we can open up space to allow the Holy Spirit to change us.
I hope to write more about that soon, but I wanted simply to write today about the idea that God can so surround us with Himself that nothing else can devastate us.
I don’t mean that we won’t feel negative emotions such as fear or sadness, but that we will still be able to hope regardless of our inner and outer circumstances.
In the monastic tradition, the highest form of sanctity is to live in hell and not lose hope. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart
Hope
trust
To know that God is with you, even when you don’t see Him.
To know that in the end everything will be okay, even if the end is not in sight.
To know that below all of the the hurt and pain, underneath all of the heartache and sorrow, there lies the incomprehensible and immovable peace and joy of Jesus.
Hope
hope
May God grant you the ability to hold on to hope, no matter what happens to you this week.

Art Credits: St. Peter’s Rescue from the Lake of Galilee by Herbert Boekl; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee, author unknown

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To Confess I Cannot

We are on spring break this week, so I am posting a Lenten essay from the archives. May it bless you this week.
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 really hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
I cannot
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Lent
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fire
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Lent
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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Trying too Hard in Prayer

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Prayer
I like to do things right.
If I am going to bother to do something, I want to do it well.
I tell my children this frequently: If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing excellently.
weary
weary
weary
They might be weary of this particular expression.
This character trait serves me well much of the time.
Except when it comes to my relationship with God.
In my spiritual formation program, I am in the middle of a class on prayer. One of the main things I am learning?
I try too hard.
I have been half convinced that if I can find the right method to use, the best pattern of words, the correct posture of body,
POOF!
Magic
I will hear God.
Like magic.
Except prayer is not magic. It is a friendship.
Prayer is a friendship
I know this, of course.
Yet I also don’t know this.
Because I have still been looking for just the right way to pray, rather than just
being still.
I have been trying to control prayer, both its method and its results, rather than surrendering to God so that He can give me the gift of His presence,
the gift of communion with Him in whatever form He wishes that to take.
Prayer is God’s work, so it will always succeed.
If I feel that I have failed at prayer it is because I have decided what it should look like and then have become frustrated because I cannot make it look that way.
Prayer is nothing more or less than the interior action of the Trinity at the level of being. This we cannot control; we can only reverently submit. ~ David Benner
Did you hear that? You who want desperately to hear from God, to know Him more, to experience His presence,
listen closely.
Prayer is God’s work, so it will always succeed.
Always.
Your work is simply to be still.
Be still and know that I am God.

Art Credits: The Pathway to Life, Thomas De Witt Talmage; photos of some of my children, copyright Made Sacred 2019; Bible Primer image of a sacrifice, Adof Hult; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Johannes Vermeer

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Lightening and Love

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Be adored among men,
God, three-numberèd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightening and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.
With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins
poetry as art
lightening and love
I am struck by how much truth can be contained within the words of a poem.
This poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, for example – though you would grow weary long before I reached my end, still allow me to pull out just a few of my favorite bits.
Thou art lightening and love, I found it
God’s is a dangerous love. He is a holy fire that purifies. He pulls us from our filth and rebellion and makes us sons and daughters, and demands nothing less than all of us. Lightening and love.
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung
God demands our whole being. We are to pick up our cross, deny ourselves to follow Him. Our hearts are wrung, more, they are transformed into something new. And the entire painful time, He is holding us close, gracing us with His Father presence that will never let us go.
With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still
Some of us require the anvil and fire in order to mold our hearts into the likeness of Jesus. Others of us have hearts that can be melted slowly, as the spring melts the snow, and remade into Christ’s heart. Yet all of us must be mastered by the One who created us to bear the image of His Son.
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King
As God our Father, in His great mercy, masters our hearts so that we may show mercy to those around us, let us adore Him as our Lord and King. The Lord be with you all.
This was different from my normal posts, I know. Let me know if you loved it, hated it, or thought it was slightly better than a morning at the dentist. I enjoy hearing your feedback.
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A Taste of Hope

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Often this life seems unfair.
God’s answers to desperate prayers seem arbitrary and rare.
Prayer
Prayer
Prayer
One family prays for their unborn child and gives birth to a stillborn; another family prays for their unborn child and applauds at his piano recital.
One mother fights cancer and loses; another mother fights cancer and dances at her daughter’s wedding.
Sometimes God chooses to step in. Often He does not.
Why?
This is the age old question, is it not?
Why did God do this and not that?
Why, even in Scripture, does God say yes to some and no to others?
Taste
Why did Jesus not heal everyone He came across? Why did He not save everyone from death?
As my Papa used to say, Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what I do know.
This world is broken. It is broken because of sin.
It is broken because of the sin of men.
Our sin.
The ugly in our world?
This is our world as we have made it.
This is our world and we cannot fix it.
We are helpless and hopeless to bring any kind of beauty out of the ugly.
Except.
Except God.
Our God stepped down into the ugly and took on our flesh so that He could be God-with-us, so that He could make everything beautiful again.
hope
This He has done. It is finished.
And yet it is not finished.
The end is certain, yet this world takes time to be restored to its original perfection.
I don’t know why this is so. It feels so long since the days of Christ.
It is, at times, easy to give up, to decide that He is never coming back and that the broken state of our world is its inevitable end.
hope
Except.
Except God.
Except for those moments when God steps in and gives us a taste of what is to come.
Those moments when God steps in and reminds us that a time is coming when there will be no more sickness or grief or pain, when there will be no more veil between Him and His people.
Those moments when God steps in and gives us hope.
This world is broken and full of the ugly and the suffering, and it would remain so for always.
Except.
Except God.

Art Credits: Prayer by Antonio Parreiras; The Pathway of Life by Thomas De Witt Talmage; Prayer by Mednyánszky László; When the King Came by George Hodges; Jesus Christ by Asta Kr; candle-lit cross by Made Sacred

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This Kind of Sorrow

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Sorrow is common to us all.
Sorrow is part of what it means to live, part of what it means to be human.
Frederick Buechner says that this universal experience is what pulls us together, is what makes us feel akin to each other.
sorrow
Sorrow is what keeps coming back to me as I prepare for this season of Lent.
While we all experience sorrow, only those of us who claim the name of Jesus have experienced the sorrow that comes when we are brought face to face with the shadowless light of God that exposes all of the ugliness deep inside.
It is this kind of sorrow that leads to the cross of Christ.
It is this kind of sorrow that leads to the beauty of transformation.
It is this kind of sorrow that changes everything.
godly sorrow
Paul says that this kind of sorrow produces hope within that does not fail.
Paul also says that there is a worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow.
The worldly kind of sorrow produces death.
The godly kind of sorrow produces repentance which leads to salvation.
It is this kind of sorrow that breaks us and opens us wide to the painful healing that saves us.
It is this kind of sorrow that I want to lean into this Lent.
repentance
Our God is standing with His arms wide open, offering this kind of sorrow.
“Yet even now,” declare the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. ~ Joel
I attended an Ash Wednesday service at a nearby Lutheran church this week.
We stood and confessed all together that we had sinned, that we had done wrong against God and against each other, that we couldn’t even manage to do the good God had asked of us much less refrain from doing evil.
And then we walked up to the pastor, one by one, and were marked with ashes.
We were marked with ashes as we mourned the wrong we cannot seem to turn away from.
We were marked with ashes in the sign of the cross as we remembered that we are covered by the grace of God.
The pastor looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are marked by the cross of Christ. You are a child of God.”
This is what this kind of sorrow produces.
The gift of becoming children of God.
So lean into your sorrow in this season so that you can settle into the hope of joy for eternity.
hope
You are marked by the cross of Christ.
You are a child of God.

Art credits: Sketch of The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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