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.

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

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

The Practice of Lent

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I have been contemplating Lent recently.
Lent
I am still fairly new to the practice of Lent, but it seems healthy in our spiritual lives to have a time each year when we examine the deepest places of ourselves.
Lent is a time of practicing our dependence on God by giving up something we are dependent on that is not-God.
Lent is a time of being alone and quiet in order to search out the deepest places of ourselves that we are still keeping back from God.
Lent is a time to give those places back to God so that He can heal them and make them whole.
silence
I don’t yet know what Lent will look like for me this year.
I have been asking God how He wants me to die to myself during this season of Lent so that I can more fully be alive with Him when Easter arrives.
As much as I am tempted to try, we cannot skip over death and straight into resurrection glory.
I have been trying to listen to God during my times of silence and solitude with Him.
I have not yet heard any answers.
Perhaps it is because I am still so new to this practice.
Perhaps it is because He doesn’t have an answer for me.
Often He leaves the decision up to us.
dying to self
Lent is also a time of looking straight into the face of death itself,
and seeing that, after all we have been through,
after all this world has to throw at us,
after all of the screaming and crying and groaning and God where in this hell are You,
 God is still with us.
He is still Emmanuel.
Emmanuel
He is still the One who came to us and died a gruesome death for us so that He could be with us forever.
He is the God of Lent and the God of Easter, and we cannot reach the one without suffering through the other.
So will you consider Lent with me?
contemplating Lent
Lent begins on March 6 with Ash Wednesday.
Take some time in the quiet before then and ask God how He wants you to practice this season of Lent.
And then be still and listen.
Maybe you will hear something.
Maybe you won’t.
Either way, you are beginning the work of dying to yourself so that by His grace you can live more fully and abundantly with Him.
IMG_0314
If it would be of help to you, attached to this post are two links to a devotion that I have written for this season of Lent, one for the PDF version and one for the online version. It will take you through Ash Wednesday, the six Sundays of Lent, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
Take it and may God bless you through it.
You can download the PDF version by clicking here.
You can access the online version by clicking here.

Art credits: all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Clothed in Goodness

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We are good.
good
Not due to anything inherent in ourselves,
but good because God proclaimed it over us.
Left to ourselves we are a mass of ugliness and evil.
Full of selfishness and pride, we wallow in our muck and call it good.
Yet while we were still ragged, filthy,
God spoke.
And we were good.
God's goodness
clothed in goodness
Words have power.
Especially God’s words.
God’s Word flows from His mouth to water the ground and grow the seed.
It will not return to Him void.
God spoke and it is so.
Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century mystic, said that we must discover that “we are clothed in God’s goodness.”
We are lovely because God loves us.
lovely
God's loveliness
Both sides of this matter.
It matters that our goodness comes from God.
Otherwise we might adore ourselves.
It matters that we are clothed in God’s goodness.
Otherwise we might despise ourselves.
clothed in God
When we submerge ourselves in the fullness of this truth for long enough,
God’s love spills over
and makes everything lovely.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining ’till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
The worth that was declared by God from the beginning.
He saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good.
delight
God's delight
We are good because God made us.
We are lovely because He loves us.
God delights in us.
We must steep ourselves in this.
Because once we believe this?
Believe it in the deepest places of ourselves?
We will naturally delight in all those around us.
And they will be more lovely for having tasted our God-delight.
good
We breathe in the spirit that delights in our being – the fragrance of it. And it works on us. Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere) – to breathe into the world this same spirit of delight. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart

Art credits: final photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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Fear Into Faith

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Fear.
fear
It creeps in everywhere and is so hard to banish.
There is much to fear in this broken world of ours.
Fear is, at its root, the failure to believe God.
We don’t truly believe that He will take care of us, that He wants what is best for us, and so we are afraid.
There is much fear in the gospels.
The disciples fear the storms on the sea, fear the hungry crowds, fear the strange suffering of which Jesus keeps speaking.
In Mark’s gospel the opposite of faith is not unbelief but fear. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
fear
I recently was afraid.
We are still paying off medical bills from last year, and suddenly both of our cars needed work done and were not driveable.
At the same time.
Immediately I felt the fear creeping in.
How will we take the girls places? With four children, we don’t all fit in just any kind of vehicle! How will we pay for it all?
Often, I confess, I give in to the fear.
This time, however, God gave me the grace to resist.
My husband and I continued to tithe.
The night our vehicles broke down I spoke with my girls about God as our Provider, about the promises He made to always take care of us, about the ways He has provided in the past.
Our Bible story that evening happened to be the story of the loaves and the fish.
The story that happens in the desert.
With no natural food sources to be found.
Where God provides enough.
And more than enough.
That same night I received a text from my parents.
Five days previously, they had decided, for no particular reason, to give a monetary gift to each of their children.
Five days previously.
I fell to my knees in gratitude.
God our provider.
The next morning I got to gather my girls into my arms and tell them that even before we knew we needed it,
God provided.
fear
Fear is everywhere.
The circumstances that produce the feelings of fear are constant.
Will we choose to dwell in that fear, allowing thoughts of worry and anxiety to win?
Or will we choose to push them out with reminders of the character of God, the times He has cared for us in the past, the stories in Scripture of His care for His beloved?
Will we choose to believe?
There is much fear in the gospels.
The gospel of Mark, in fact, ends in fear.
Mark ends with an empty tomb, a message from an angel, and three women who say nothing “for they were afraid.”
I am those women.
More often than not I give in to my fear rather than choosing to believe.
Mark lets me know that God is gentle with my fear, wanting to comfort rather than chastise me.
We do, after all, still live in this broken world, in this space before the restoration of all things.
This is where we live: after the resurrection but before the Return, entrusted with a message that is wonderful, but the import of which we don’t quite understand. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
Mark gives me hope.
faith
Hope that God is gentle with my fear, that He still entrusts me His message.
Hope that He will not give up on me but will continue to change my fear into faith.

Art credits: photographs of storms by Kirk Sewell; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee from The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation; Jesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Dore

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The River of Worship

We do not swim in a pond every Sunday.
pond worship
The activities we do in church, the liturgies in which we participate, are not simply a splashing around in a pond.
We do not climb back out as we walk out the doors into the world.
Whether you stand or kneel, pray from the Book of Common Prayer or spontaneously lift your hands, worship is not meant to be contained in a building.
pond worship
The weekly liturgies of the Church are, instead, a rushing river that refreshes us, sustains us, nourishes us,
and then carries us out the doors into the world.
river worship
What happens in our church services should be a communal expression of our individual daily lives, not a break from them.
The praise within the music should be pouring from our lives.
The remembrance of the Eucharist should permeate our days.
The immersion in the Scriptures should suffuse our every activity.
We were created to worship.
We will worship, whether purposefully or not, so shouldn’t we be intentional about allowing our Sunday worship to flood our lives, spilling over into the rest of our piece of the world?
river worship
The foyers of our churches are not walls, keeping the world at bay.
The narthex should be a door.
A door that opens wide, allowing the rushing river of worship to sweep us out to a world that is dying of thirst.
Our world is bone-dry and cottonmouthed, desperate for a thirst-quenching drink of living water.
Who else can give that to them other than those who weekly are immersed in the river of worship?
We must allow our Sunday ventures to send us out to the world all around rather than splashing around in our shallow pond, experiencing only a brief time of refreshment before climbing back out to reenter our regular lives.
pond worship
Our world depends upon the river of life that flows through the Body of Christ.
Our own lives depend upon that river to flourish.
river worship
A pond, after all, often becomes stagnant.

Art credits: all photographs are by Kirk Sewell

Moments

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Moments

All that we live splinters into moments
Moments of grace
Moments of beauty
Moments of mercy
For which we give thanks.
Moments of grace when we deserve nothing
Sweet fat dimpled hands reach up for a kiss
Wrinkled shaky fingers caress my cheek
Strong hand holds mine all covered with prayer.
Moments of light, of color, of beauty
Dancing of fireflies below with streaks of electricity above
Colors of sky and sun filter down through red and gold
Sounds of water dancing, sparkling, rushing, chasing.
Moments of mercy given at just the right time
Delight of child when sister gives a gift
Food brought when time and energy is spent
A whisper brings knowledge of love from the divine
Our splintering moments rush together as one
Grace, beauty, mercy all show us His love
Even in darkness I can open my eyes
To all these and more and give thanks to our Lord.
snow on flowers

edited from the archives

Theology Is Not a Dirty Word

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There is always a reason behind our actions.
Whether or not we realize it, the way we view God affects what we do and how we do it.
theology
Even if we never explore the beliefs behind our actions, we all believe something about God and the world and it is this belief that comes out in our behavior.
theology
theology
It is precisely because our beliefs dictate what we do that makes it so vital to explore those convictions.
Part of loving God with all of our mind, after all, means being deliberate about what we believe, knowing why we believe it. We all want our actions to be based on truth.
theology
theology
Enter theology.
It is a dirty word in some Christian circles. Some believe that it takes away the joy or emotion of loving God. Others think that theology does nothing but stir up trouble and break up churches. Still others suppose that theology moves away from Scripture, that it creates something that wasn’t there before.
Yet you already have a theology. You have already read Scripture and interpreted it and let what you believe it teaches you about God influence the way you live.
Wouldn’t you rather your theology be one you have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered rather than one that just evolved without conscious decision in your mind over time?
theology
Paul, I believe, was the first theologian. He used his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures along with his knowledge of Jesus to write some of the first doctrines of the Church. Certainly no one would have accused him of not knowing what he believed or why he believed it.
Theology is what brought us the teaching of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet by taking such Scriptures as the Shema, Christ’s own claims, and the teachings on the Spirit in the epistles, Church theologians have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity that we all know.
We all want to love God the best we can. We all want our actions to be based on truth. To do this, we all need to evaluate our own beliefs about God with the help of Scripture and what historically the Church has confessed.
Make sure that what comes out in your life, your words and thoughts and actions, is based on well-thought-out theology, not just-what-I-grew-up-thinking theology.
Let’s do our best to know why we do the things we do. Let’s do our best to be sure our actions are based on truth.
Let us love God with all of our mind.

credit: Thanks to Todd Daly for many of the ideas contained in this post.

edited from the archives

all photographs are copyright 2019 Made Sacred

The Slow Work of God

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When it comes to the things of God, I am impatient.
While I am certainly not immune to this problem in other realms, I am not particularly plagued with it.
Except when it comes to God.
impatience
I grow so weary of waiting for God to fulfill His promise to transform me into the image of Jesus:
I want to quit fighting my pride and my anger and my jealousy.
I want to stop saying the wrong thing to my husband, yelling at my children, hiding from others out of fear.
hurry
restless
I am easily frustrated when God is not maturing the hearts of my children as quickly as I might wish.
When they do not mature in the way and at the speed I think best, I grow anxious and worried, even irritated.
anxious
I am in a hurry for some that I love to decide to pursue God wholeheartedly rather than to continue on lukewarmly.
slow
I often want to “fix” things, to see signs of “progress” before continuing on the path to which I believe God has called me.
slow work
I recently read a phrase that has hushed me like a child. Teilhard de Chardin writes of trusting in “the slow work of God”.
The slow work of God.
slow work of God
The very words soothe my spirit, calm my impatience.
Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to? It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart
Who am I that I should be the one who hurries God? Who am I that I should get to skip past the waiting?
Am I better than Moses, waiting for forty years in Midian? Am I more privileged than David, waiting for fifteen years to fulfill his anointing?
Ours is a God who waits. Who am I not to?
wait
In my impatience, I could easily abandon the slow work of God.
God forbid that I should miss any work of His.
Especially the slow kind.
Wait for it.

all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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