The Implications of a Created Order

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There is a created order.
order to nature
order to family
order to government
order to food
There is an outward created order. This is what scientists attempt to discover.
There is an inward created order. This is what poets attempt to discover.
The truth of this created order is what we Christ followers attempt to discover.
discovering the created order
If it is true that there is a created order to everything (and I do believe that this is indeed what Scripture indicates), then the way we think about everything matters.
Every aspect of the way we live matters.
There is no separation between God and work or family or government or health or…
anything.
If there is a created order then there are implications for all spheres of life.
order to home
order to agriculture
order to family
There is a way we were meant to consume food and material things.
There is a way we were meant to grow crops and tend animals.
There is a way we were meant to shepherd our imaginations and order our emotions.
If there is a created order then we should be seeking the truth of how we should follow that order in more areas than simply our churches and our private worship.
order to home
order to study
order to the earth
We should be seeking to know and have the mind of Christ, to see all things through Christ’s eyes.
Living a cruciform life involves all the nooks and crannies of our lives.
order to music
order to art
order to chores and service
order to nature
order to death
order to neighborhoods
order to government
order to food
This takes a great bending of our wills.
It is a bending that I, admittedly, am not ready to undertake in all of my crevices.
I think it is worth contemplating, however.
Perhaps the contemplation is the precursor to the work of bending my will so that I am able to live out this created order in all things.
This beautiful, created order.

My Wilderness Time Confession Part Two

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Last week was the first half of my own experience in attempting an extended time of silence and solitude. If you missed it, you can read that here. If you missed the previous posts on the necessity of practicing the Spiritual Discipline of silence and solitude, I wrote here about the necessity for silence and solitude in a world inundated by words; I wrote here about why silence and solitude are necessary for our souls as well as for the souls that surround us.
I pray that writing about my own feeble beginnings with this Habit are encouraging to you. As I wrote last week, for any who, like me, are just beginning to explore this idea of retreating with God, of spending “wilderness time” with Him, I don’t want you to come away with the idea that I am any good at this. I am experimenting and stumbling in this new Discipline, yet am convinced that the practice of it is worth my fumblings. Whichever new Discipline you are determined to begin, do not be discouraged when you are not proficient from the beginning.
 silence
For my second period of retreat with God, I went to a local church. I almost left before I even went in because of signs threatening dire consequences if I parked there. I could feel a war waging inside of me, but I had nowhere else to go so I entered the church with a quick prayer that my car would still be there when I returned.
A lady in the church showed me the sanctuary and was very hospitable, making sure I had what I needed, even offering to find a minister with whom I could speak if I so desired. After assuring her that I truly did simply want solitude and silence, I sat in a pew and again tried to simply be still.
solitude
Waiting
obeying
I find that I am most drawn to the presence of God in the presence of beauty, and so my eyes and my heart were drawn to the stained glass on either side of the sanctuary. It was a rainy day, which made the figures in the glass difficult to see, but I attempted to discern the story each section was telling. I asked the Spirit to speak to me through each Biblical story depicted. I again struggled to still my thoughts so that I could hear God.
There was a striking cross on the wall at the front of the room, with a glowing light coming from behind. My eye, however, was drawn to another cross. It was a plain, rough-hewn wooden cross, lying on its side on the floor. There often seems to be an inner beauty to a rugged cross that is missing from one that is more ornate.
listening
hoping
Henri Nouwen suggests using just one word or phrase over and over in an attempt to bring your mind down to your heart. I used a phrase from Elizabeth Goudge’s writing: “Lord, have mercy. Into Thy hands. Thee I adore.” Again, either my thoughts took over or I repeated that phrase in vain, without any success of emptying myself so that God could fill me.
I don’t know what to expect, neither do I understand exactly for what I am hoping. I pray that I will know it when it happens.
praying
searching
I ended my wilderness time by participating in an Ash Wednesday service. Included in the service was a liturgical confession spoken by the entire church. This drove home to me both the terrible heft of my sin and the truth that all of us in the Church are sinners together, falling short of the glory of God. I will never understand the reasons why Jesus bore our consequence, and all I can do is to offer my thanksgiving to our Father.
I went forward to receive the ashes. The priest marked my forehead with the ashy shape of the cross, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “You are marked by the cross and the forgiveness of Christ.” The weight of that struck my heart and, at least in that moment, I understood that if I never in my life hear from God except through Scripture, He has given me more gift than I deserve.
silence and solitude
Whether or not I ever have the joy of having a tangible experience of God’s presence, I trust in His promise to always be with me. He asks me to spend time in the wilderness with Him, and so I will obey, whether or not He ever chooses to allow me to experience His presence in ways that I can comprehend.

Art credits: all cathedral photographs are by the talented Kirk Sewell; candle photographs are copyright 2018 by the mediocre Made Sacred

My Wilderness Time Confession

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Before I wrote a few essays for Lent, I had been writing about the Spiritual Discipline of silence and solitude. I wrote here about the necessity for silence and solitude in a world inundated by words. I wrote here about why silence and solitude are necessary for our souls as well as for the souls that surround us.
silence and solitude
I thought it might be helpful (and amusing) for you to read about my first experience with an extended time (eight hours) of practicing this Discipline of silence and solitude.
For any who, like me, are just beginning to explore this idea of retreating with God, of spending “wilderness time” with Him, I don’t want you to come away with the idea that I am any good at this. I am experimenting and stumbling in this new Discipline, yet am convinced that the practice of it is worth my fumblings. Whichever new Discipline you are determined to begin, do not be discouraged when you are not proficient from the beginning.
“I think of what the Desert Fathers said of the spiritual life. We are always beginners. We fall and we rise, we fall and we rise.” Judith Valente in Atchison Blue
As it was my first time to spend so many hours alone with God, I strove to hold my expectations  for this wilderness time lightly, but I will confess that I came away disappointed. I had hoped to experience God in some way, to feel that I had truly met with Him, but I ended my time feeling more like I had failed. I was encouraged afterward by my professor who confessed that he, too, struggled when he first began this Discipline. It was encouraging to know that I am not the only one who didn’t have intimate moments on the first try, that I only need to persevere. This is one of the few areas in which my stubbornness can serve me well.
wilderness
I began my time wandering a path through some woods that are a short drive from my home. It was cold and snowy, and I was struck by the stark beauty of the bare tree limbs against the bright blue sky, the kind of blue that only seems to happen in the crisp cold of winter. I spoke to God as I walked and tried to listen. The silence all around me helped, but it was difficult to still my thoughts. I considered the imagery of walking a path as I wandered, praying that the Holy Spirit would guide me in this pursuit of Him.
retreat
silence
I sat for a long time on a large stone, watching a stream that was mostly frozen over. Just below the icy surface I could see the water racing furiously. My mind kept trying to consider how I could use this experience in my writing, and I kept trying to rein it back in. I felt fairly disgusted with myself for trying to use my wilderness time for non-spiritual gain, but I simply kept confessing my struggle to God and asking His Spirit to help me keep my thoughts on Him.
As I walked, I came across an outdoor chapel. There were large logs lined up in rows for seats, so I sat and tried again to be still. A rough-hewn cross was set up at the front of the chapel and I tried to keep my eyes and my heart focused on it. I don’t know how long I sat there, but after awhile I felt that I should kneel before that cross. So I obeyed and began confessing my sins as I knelt. For a brief moment, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for all that the cross meant, for Christ’s death and forgiveness. Then I was distracted by the creaking of the trees in the breeze and the moment was lost.
solitude
My path took me across the road to a cemetery. It is almost impossible to wander through a cemetery and not be filled with thoughts of life and death. As the path meandered around the tombstones, I read the messages of hope inscribed on many of them, messages of hope in the coming life for those whose lives are hidden in Christ. The small stones with dates that spanned only days or months were weightier than those whose dates spanned full lifetimes. I spoke with God about my own children, asking Him to give me the courage to remember that they belong to Him and not to me.
Seeking God
Just next to the cemetery is a chapel. It is a small, white, clapboard building, with a simple beauty to it. There are two aging family Bibles set under glass and I wondered what sorts of people had handled those pages, what tears and laughter had fallen over those words. I sat in the wooden pews for a long time and attempted to just be.
I tried so very hard to empty out my own thoughts so that I could hear God speaking to me. It is difficult to know what to expect when listening for an unseen Spirit. I am a very solid introvert, and a mother of four little ones, therefore I cherish my snatched moments of being alone, yet my introvertedness also gives me a rich inner world and I often have a difficult time stilling that world. I did not succeed this time. It is difficult to quiet my thoughts and listen to a voice deep underneath my own self. I left the church and walked slowly back through the woods to my car.
Discipline
I had to break my wilderness time into two parts. As this post is already too long for most of you to reach the end, I will share the second half of my time next week.
Blessings.

Art credits: Photographs of snowy woods with cabin and snowy woods with fence are by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright 2018 Made Sacred

The Dangerous Grace of the Cross

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Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I am only beginning to explore this journey that is Lent.  This season was not a part of my faith tradition growing up, but it seems to be growing more popular among evangelicals these days.
Lent
This long season of Lent is not a frivolous sort of giving up as it appeared to a fairly oblivious teenage self (fasting from M&M’s anyone?) but a giving up for the purpose of giving away.  It is a period of self-denial in order to become more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
It is a difficult thing to be unified with Jesus.
Gazing into the eyes of Christ for too long has frightening consequences.
When you stare at the cross, you find yourself looking at your own death, at your sin and its just consequence.  You come face to face with all of the spiritual deformities that are in your own soul and find yourself tempted to turn away from the harsh reflection.
Crucified with Christ
When you gaze at Christ crucified for these forty days that are Lent, you are pulled close to the grace and forgiveness of your death finished for you.  But it is a dangerous grace.
This grace is one that does not leave you unfinished.  It is a grace that purges and renews.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken in you a sense of your own sin, your guilt for your sin, and your sorrow over your sin.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken “the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins.  To (awaken) or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of the gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.” (Edna Hong in Bread and Wine) 
Awakening
This grace can only be approached at the end of Lent.
It is a long journey, these forty days.
It is a necessary journey, one that fights the apathy and smugness of this world in which we often find it easy to spot deformities in the souls of others and find it also easy to turn away from the crippled places of our own souls.
Yet we do not travel this path of Lent alone.
God’s Spirit Himself travels with us, maneuvering us down this steep path that ends at the foot of the cross.
As we stand at the foot of the cross, stripped of our illusions about ourselves, we gaze at the battered and broken body of the One who came to rescue us.
This body of Jesus that is our grace.  This grace that brings fire.  This fire that purges and cleanses and does not consume but instead resurrects us into a new self.
Gaze at the Cross
It is beautiful, this amazing and dangerous grace.
Dangerous Grace
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you, my only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
How Firm a Foundation

edited from the archives

Credit to Edna Hong and Walter Wangerin in Bread and Wine for many of the ideas in this post.

Photography is copyright Made Sacred 2018

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The Eclipse of God

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One dark night, God the Son pleaded with God the Father
and was answered by silence.
silence
cries
One dark afternoon, God the Son cried out to God the Father
and was answered by the turning of His back.
rejection
The Father rejected the Son and the Son experienced “the dark night of the soul, in which everything that makes life something living withers away, and in which hope vanishes.” (Jurgen Moltmann)
For the parents who have just lost their child
For the girl who has just been raped
For the man who has just lost his job
For the woman who is drowning in loneliness
the only answer to your cry of Why? Why, oh God, why? is not a because
it is an experience.
Lent
The reality of whatever makes you feel what Martin Buber calls the eclipse of God can only be answered by the reality experienced by Jesus.
“‘For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.'” (Jurgen Moltmann)
The Jesus whose cry was met with silence, the Jesus who was rejected by God, He is the friend to whom we can confide everything because He has suffered everything that has happened to us.
And more.
eclipse of God
reality of Christ
For into our unanswered cry to God, He came.
He came and entered into the darkness and the suffering to be with us.
He came as a brother to sit with us in our fears, our weeping, our brokenness.
He came as a mother to reclaim His own. “Could a mother desert her young? Even so I could not desert you.
“He sits beside us not only in our sufferings but even in our sins. He does not turn His face from us, however much we turn our face from Him.” (Peter Kreeft)
It is the truth Corrie ten Boom spoke from the hell of a Nazi death camp, “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.”
And because He came, He can answer our cry with His reality.
after the eclipse
reality of the resurrection
He can answer our reality with the experience of His reality that no matter how dark the eclipse of God, it is always followed by the blinding dawn of the resurrection.

Art Credits: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Resurrection by Luca Giordano; Der Engel öffnet das Grab Christi by Benjamin Gerrisz Cuyp; all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

The Tension in Desiring Solitude

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I am nearing the end of this first year of a two year long journey through my Spiritual Formation course of study.  It has already been a difficult and beautiful journey.
Aren’t most beautiful things in life also difficult?
Hard Beauty
In my most recent class I learned much about solitude and silence. I recently wrote a piece that shared a little of what I learned; I’d like to share a bit more today.
As a part of this class, I read a book by Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart. Perhaps you are already familiar with his writings, but this was my first Nouwen book. I am already hungry for more.
He placed great emphasis on what must be the origin of our words, which spoke deeply to my own writer’s heart. His stress on carrying our solitude, silence, and prayer out into the world around us spoke deeply to my mother’s heart.
I want very much to take what I learn through these classes and allow it to permeate my writing.
I want desperately to take what I learn through these classes and allow it to permeate my parenting. 
Let the Little Ones Thirst
Nouwen writes that our words must be birthed out of silence, in the same manner as God’s Word.
The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God, and it is to this Word out of silence that we want to be witnesses.
This is my prayer and my hope, that my words will be witness to the Word. I am learning that for my words to have meaning, for them to bear fruit, they must come from a place of solitude and silence.
Words out of Silence
My tendency, like many other writers, is toward verbosity. I love language, love how words work and play together, love to craft a sentence in just the right way. Often I err on the side of long-windedness.
Nouwen, again, writes directly about this tendency:
As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a guard of the Holy Spirit.
I am intrigued by the idea that too many words weaken our faith.
Perhaps convicted is a better word than intrigued.
I am convicted by the thought that when I am not certain of my own convictions regarding this huge, holy, and terrifying God of ours, I write more than I ought in an attempt to enshroud my doubts in eloquent language.
Words out of Solitude
I am convicted by the thought that when I am doubtful of the Holy Spirit’s ability to reach someone’s heart, I pour out my own words in an attempt, as ridiculous as it is, to be the Holy Spirit myself.
Nouwen speaks, it seems, directly to me:
Sometimes it seems that our many words are more an expression of our doubt than of our faith. It is as if we are not sure that God’s Spirit can touch the hearts of people: we have to help him out and, with many words, convince others of his power. But it is precisely this wordy unbelief that quenches the fire.
I am convicted by my own “wordy unbelief”.
Nouwen unequivocally writes that solitude and silence and prayer must result in a greater compassion towards those whom God has placed in our little piece of the world.
As a mother who stays home to school her children, this profoundly moves my heart. I understand that my children need my presence in their daily lives, and I desire that my children know God, that they thirst for Him. It is difficult sometimes to trust that leaving them for a period to spend wilderness time with God is in their best interest.
Parenting out of Solitude
Nouwen’s emphasis on the service aspect of wilderness time is helping my heart to agree with my mind:
Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion.
Nouwen also writes of the way our world creates for us a false identity.
He says that we fall into the world’s version of best because we want to be perceived in a certain way by those around us. He teaches me that solitude (and silence and prayer) is the way in which I encounter a God who loves me enough to offer me a new self. It is this new self that has the capacity for having compassion on the broken people around me.
It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need.
It is in the wilderness that I become deeply aware of my solidarity with my children, with my husband, with my neighbors.
I am quite often a prideful and self-righteous person, and I desperately need this “solitude that molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own sinfulness and so fully aware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry.”
I need to become more gentle; I need my very life to become ministry. Everyone around me needs this too.
I am far from understanding all of this, far from being able to put it all into practice. 
Yet I will continue reading as I struggle to understand the importance of wilderness time, as I search for what it looks like to spend long stretches of time alone with God.
I will continue to seek ways to put these ideas into practice, even with little ones running around my feet.
Will you continue to join me in this journey?

Value in Our Lenten Suffering

I am relaxing with my family away from the internet this week. To follow last week’s post on Lenten suffering, I have pulled this related post from the archives. Read, be blessed, and go enjoy your own family and friends.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Where in the world but in Christianity?
Where in the world could you find a premise about life that ekes value out of suffering?
Beginning
Beginning
Suffering happens. There is no denying this. But to find value in this suffering that is common to us all?
The ancient Jews had come to understand this.
Isaiah. Jeremiah. Daniel. The Psalms.
This theory of the way life works finds its fulfillment in Jesus, of course.
…He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
To be made perfect.
This is our goal, our telos, or vision of life toward which our whole being is aimed.
To bring glory to God and to be God’s rulers on earth.
How? By being made like Jesus.
And it is our obedience in the middle of our suffering that brings this about.
Whether we are suffering from what others have done to us, whether we are suffering from grief or pain, whether we are simply suffering because our faithful lives are out of step with the people and powers of this world, when we are obedient in this suffering, we are made like Jesus.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Obedience in little things, every day, is practice for the urgent things, the catastrophes.
Obedience daily prepares us, is the only thing that can prepare us, for obedience in suffering
We celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Our hope is for the glory of God.
His glory is both the divine stewardship of this earth entrusted to us and the return of His presence to His people after our long exile.
Our hope is to be made like Jesus.
To be made perfect, as He is perfect.
End as it was created to be
End as it was created to be
This is the value in our suffering.
This is what makes it all worth it in the end.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

Art credit: All photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2018

God’s Lenten Love

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Lent is a time of self-denial, a time of sacrifice.
Lent
self-denial
Lent is a time of giving up, a time of letting go.
Lent is a time of death.
death
sacrifice
Perhaps it seems strange that a God Who claims to be Love would ask for His beloved to practice such harsh disciplines.
The difficulty often lies in our idea of love.
We see love as sweet and soft, as gift giving and hugs, as making someone happy.
God’s love, however, is a fiery love.
fiery love
fierce love
God’s love is a love that cares so fiercely about His beloved’s joy that He refuses to leave anything in His beloved that might diminish that joy.
God Who is love asks us to die to ourselves because He knows that you cannot have glory without suffering.
He knows from experience that you cannot have resurrection without death.
Lenten love
letting go
Lent has already begun, but it is not too late to begin practicing how to die to yourself.
Fast for a meal or two; give up television for an evening. Use that time to read God’s words and pray.
Set aside thirty minutes to practice solitude and silence. Go somewhere you can be completely alone and try to still your mind and listen to God.
These habits take practice, so start small.
giving up
Let God’s Spirit teach you how to deny yourself, to give up, to sacrifice.
resurrection
Learn how to die.
Only then can God give you His resurrection.
Lent
Learn how to Lent, and God will give you Easter.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

God Revealed

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God, where are you?
We who live in this dark world are searching for the light.

light revealed

We want God to show up in a big way.
We want the cancer healed, the baby conceived, the loneliness taken away.

darkness

death

We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself in all of His glory so that all will believe.
Why does He hide and make it so hard to find Him?
Why does He let us suffer when He could heal us all with just a Word?
We wonder why this world remains so dark.

Rembrandt

Those at the foot of the cross wondered the same.
The chief priests mockingly wondered why He would not save Himself when He had claimed to save others.
The women weepingly wondered why He would not come down from the cross when He had healed so many others.
I begin to understand, but don’t want to admit it. So much suffering is contained in the answer.

God revealed

If Jesus had come down from the cross in a blaze of glory, tens of thousands of angels at His side, He would not have gained love but would have become a tyrant.
If God were to reveal Himself in all of His glory, He would not have children who love Him for Himself but would have slaves who serve out of fear or compulsion.
God instead reveals Himself in the small. He shows Himself in the weak. His light shines through the poor, the sick, the hungry, the captive.

young and old

If we cannot find Him in the common, everyday miracle of life, we cannot love Him as Himself.
If He always arrived to take away the darkness, we would never learn to love Him. We would, instead, love the comfort of the light.
If He made it impossible to deny Him, He would be our dictator, not our Father. And we would be His cowering slaves.
He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. ~ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
So let us seek Him and find Him in the faces of the weak, and let us love Him as we stoop to serve the small.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; sketch of a triumphant Christ from a German Luther Bible; all other photos copyright Made Sacred 2018

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edited from the archives

Creation and Life from Silence

I apologize for being absent last week. Perhaps none of you even noticed, but in the six years of writing in this space I have missed posting only a handful of times as I want to be faithful to what God has asked of me. I was sick almost the whole week, and am grateful to be (almost) well and writing again.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

We are surrounded by words.
words

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Buy me! Eat me! Need me! Love me!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In our ears and in our eyes, in our hearts and in our minds, words penetrate us every where and every time.
power
Words are losing their power.
Words are losing their meaning.
Word
In the beginning and out of the silence God spoke.
God’s words had power. Power to create.
God’s words brought (and bring) life.
silence
Our words used to have the same power.
We had the power to create beauty and joy and peace, to bring life to others.
When we only speak out of noise, only bring words out of other words, our own words lose their life-giving power.
Only from the silence can we speak words of creation.
Only from the silence in which we have listened to the Word can we speak words of life.
The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God, and it is to this Word out of silence that we want to be witnesses. ~ Henri Nouwen
We must find regular times of silent listening. We must be quicker to listen and slower to speak when out in the world of words.
listen
When we pour out words, our words lose their power.
When we Christ-followers pour out words, the Word in us loses His power to create life through us.
I don’t understand why He allows His power to depend on these weak vessels, but He does.
silent
Words people speak have dynamite in them and a word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two. ~ Frederick Buechner
Practice silence.
Practice regular times of going away to be silent before God. Practice being silent when surrounded by others.
Be silent.
From your silence the Word of life will speak, bringing life to yourself and to others.
Wait in silence.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.

Art credits: Times Square photograph by Daniel Wildman; billboard photographs by Jay Simmons; street signs photograph by Michal Zacharzewski; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018