The Intolerable Longing of Beauty

This surprising, pleasing world is so full of truth, goodness, and beauty.
beauty
Simply to step outside is to be drawn to the idea of a true, good, and beautiful Creator.
Sunlight stirring up the scent of pine trees.
A pang of joy in the sound of brief birdsong.
Creation is a gift, and in pausing to contemplate the gift, we sense the presence of the Giver.
truth
Beauty pulls our hearts straight toward God.
Herein lies a problem.
Beauty stirs up in us a remembrance of how things were, once upon a time.
goodness
A painful contrast to the way things are now.
Beauty awakens a pain in our hearts.
A pain that, often, we do not quite understand.
We do not understand why the sight of beauty produces a tightness in our chest,
a lump in our throat,
a deep desire to turn aside and weep.
longing
We do not understand why the sight of beauty produces a deep discontent with the world all around.
Sometimes this almost unbearable longing causes us to turn away, to shut ourselves off from this feeling we do not quite understand.
Beauty awakened such intolerable longing that people often shut their eyes to it, unaware that the longing was the greatest treasure that they had, their very lifeline, uniting the country of their lost innocence with the heavenly country for which their sails were set. ~ Elizabeth Goudge
This intolerable longing is our tether to what will be again someday. It is what keeps our whole selves aimed toward our telos, our ultimate goal, a vision of heaven and earth made new again.
This longing is what brings us back again and again to this Jesus-path toward restoration and renewal.
intolerable longing
This longing is what keeps our hearts awake to the very presence of the Creator who will once again craft all things into a work of beauty.
Even us.
It will be a lasting beauty, this time, unmarred by the ugly that currently plays a jarring counterpoint all through our world.
longing
Don’t shut your eyes to the beauty of this world.
Be still, rather, with the intolerable longing it awakens in you.
Then pray for the return of the Giver who will make all things new.
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Art credits: photographs of light through trees, mountains, and rapids by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

The Problem of Pleasure

We often speak of the problem of pain.
problem of pain
This world is so broken and full of hurt.
problem of pain
How do we reconcile an all-loving, all-powerful God with the reality of the suffering that occurs all around us all the time?
I, myself, have written of this quite often in this space over the years.
Yet there is another problem.
One we don’t speak of nearly as often, if at all.
The problem of pleasure.
problem of pleasure
This world is so astonishing, so beautiful.
How do we reconcile the possibility of the unreality of God with the truth, goodness, and beauty that occurs all around us all the time?
problem of pleasure
This world.
This surprising, pleasing world.
problem of pleasure
A sky that can be so blue it causes your chest to tighten with longing and then puts on an incredible show of brilliant colors. Twice. Every day.
Creatures like the narwhal that make us laugh and creatures like the bald eagle in flight that make us catch our breath.
Procreation, the continuation of our species, that brings with it an ecstasy that sets the nerves aflame.
Apples that nourish our bodies. With a crisp, sweet, juicy taste. With a brilliant color that is lovely to look at. With a smell that delights.
An all-loving, all-powerful God who created this world to be good before it became broken through sin seems a reasonable explanation for why this world contains so much pleasure.
problem of pleasure
Moments of pleasure are the remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck, bits of paradise extended through time. ~ G. K. Chesterton
These moments are pieces of the world as it was created to be, scattered around to stir up in our hearts a longing for Beauty, to focus our hearts on Truth, to remind our hearts of the Goodness that one day will fill the earth completely again.
Things on this earth, from the experience of joy to the touch of the softest kitten fur, still bear traces of their original state. They are shining clues into the true nature of creation, as it was originally created to exist.
If there is no Creator, if there is no powerful God of love, how do we explain the problem of pleasure?
problem of pleasure
I know how I explain this existence of pleasure in our universe.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the truth, goodness, and beauty that occur all around us all the time do, after all, point toward the reality of an all-loving, all-powerful God.
Just perhaps.

 

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.

Art credits: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2019

Hunger

I hunger for You
Hunger
Hunger
or, perhaps,
I want to hunger for You.
If only I could catch a glimpse.
Hunger
Hunger
I don’t ask for much.
I don’t place myself at the level of Moses,
do not request the sight of Your back.
Only a glimpse of Your heel,
the hem of Your robe,
perhaps.
Would that stir my heart toward hunger?
Would a glimpse whet my appetite for You?
Only for a shining moment, I fear.
Hunger
I know myself, know how quick I am to distraction.
I often catch a glimpse of Your glory.
Morning light catching dew.
Pudgy hands serving a sibling.
Symphony chorus sounding in the twilight.
I often catch a glimpse, yet
I am quick to dismiss the glimpse for the fully seen.
Hunger
Only You can make me hunger.
Only You can create new longing.
Only You can bring my desire to match my need.
Make me hunger for You
Hunger
Hunger
so that I am awake to each glimpse
and drawn to hunger yet more.

 

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All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

If This Is Creation

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Creation
If this is creation,
from the cold and unapproachable star
to the velvety and pungent sage,
if this is creation,
that matters.
It makes this world,
from the Alaskan wilderness
to the plumber under our sink,
a gift to cherish rather than a commodity to be used.
It makes all of knowledge,
from the how-it-works of the sciences
to the what-is-it and why-is-it of the arts,
a discovery of reality rather than a making of what we wish life to be.
If this is creation,
we cannot consider any aspect of this life in a truthful way
without also considering the Source of it all.
The very novelty that is you,
your distinctive character and perspective,
only occurred because
the thought of you occurred
in the imagination of the Creator.
The Creator who was, is, and will always be
Creating
Moving
Holding all things together.
If this is creation,
that matters.

Follow Me

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Follow Me.
Follow Me
This is His call to us.
Follow Me.
Just as He called to His disciples, without explanation, as they rose from their boats and reached for His hand.
Follow Me.
Follow Me
He calls and we either spend the rest of our lives following or we spend the rest of our lives fleeing that call.
Follow Me.
We do not truly know at first Who we are following;
we do not truly know at first to what He is calling us.
Follow Me
Yet as we obey, He reveals Himself in the work, in the doubts, in the sufferings we all pass through in His company.
No one can explain to us exactly who He is,
no one can detail out the depths of His character,
yet as we follow, we learn in our own experience who He is.
We catch a glimpse of this Son of Man who changed the course of our world in the moment of His birth,
and in that glimpse He begins to change us.
Follow Me.
Follow Me
And as we follow, through all of the work, the doubts, the sufferings, we begin to look like Him.
Follow Me.
As we follow and gaze deeply at His face, we begin to see it for what it is just possible that it might become:
the face of Jesus as our face.

Art credits: Jesus Calls Fishermen etching by Jan Luyken; Jesus Calls the Fishermen woodcut; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee; Jesus Calls James and John woodcut

I AM

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I am hungry.
I am unsatisfied,
empty,
left with no way to fill myself up.
I am darkness.
I am lost,
confused,
full of evil with no hope of change.
I am a wall.
I shut people out,
turn them away,
stand firm to protect myself.
I am filled with death.
I am physically dying,
falling apart,
spiritually dead if left alone.
I am a sheep.
I am foolish,
slow-witted,
helpless to do anything for myself.
I am a wanderer.
I am homeless,
shelterless,
prone to fall off the path.
I am a branch.
I am dependent,
vulnerable,
incapable of producing anything good.
Good Shepherd
Until Jesus.
I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the door of the sheep.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
I am the true vine.
Praise be to God for His unfailing mercy and His  eternal lovingkindness.
true vine
I am nothing without Him.

Art credit: The Good Shepherd from a catacomb in Rome, second half of the 3rd century.

A Whisper from God

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Some of the sparkle and light went out of our world on Wednesday when little Calla died.
Calla
I will come clean and admit that I do not understand God at times like these.
Why do I get to kiss my almost-nine little girl tonight and Calla’s parents go home with empty arms?
Why does one child gain his mother back cancer-free and another child grows up without a mom?
Why does one family receive the miracle of a healing and another family receives heart-break?
no miracle
We live in a broken world.
A world broken and distorted by sin.
Our sin.
This sickness and pain and loneliness and death?
This is not how it was supposed to be.
This is NOT how it was supposed to be.
In the Beginning
We should lament and wail and grieve, because this is not the way God created us or our world.
And the miracles that do happen?
Perhaps they are a whisper from God.
A whisper that says Remember.
miracle
Remember how it was in the beginning.
Remember how it was created to be and remember how it will be again someday.
Remember what we are straining toward.
Remember what creation is groaning for.
Remember.
glimpse of hope
Perhaps the miracles that happen, whether or not they happen to you, are a glimpse of light,
a glimpse of hope,
a glimpse of
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…Behold, I am making all things new.
miracle is coming
A glimpse of the day when the miracle will be standard fare for all of us.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Art credits: Adam and Eve by Foster; all other photographs except the one of Calla are copyright Made Sacred 2019

How, Then, Shall We Pray?

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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

Finding God in the Darkness

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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

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