Finding Truth in Fairy Tales

I love how much truth can be found in fairy tales and myths.  I love that God chooses to give us glimpses of Himself and His Word in the words of storytelling throughout time.
Reading Fairy Tales
We often view Christianity as rules and laws, as limitations on our freedom.  We wonder why God puts so many limits on our fun.  I once experienced a switch of perspective.
I read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.  In his book, he points out that in fairy tales, there is always an “if”.  You may go to the ball IF you return by midnight.  You may marry the princess IF you never let her see a cow.
The Princess
All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend on one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden. ~ Chesterton
Everything beautiful and glorious that cannot be understood is dependent upon a condition that equally cannot be understood.
In fairy tales, this does not seem unjust.  If Cinderella asks her Fairy Godmother why she has to be home by midnight, the Godmother may reply “why should you go to the ball for any amount of time?”  If the miller asks “why can’t I let the princess see a cow?” the fairy may reply “why should you get to marry the princess at all?”
Wild and fantastic
Fairy tales never focus on the condition.  The condition is so small as to seem irrelevant.  The focus is on the dazzling, the wild, the fantastic vision.
We don’t focus on the vision.  We focus on the limitation.  We wonder why we must not get drunk instead of marveling at the beauty, the deep color, the richness of the wine.  We wonder why we must only marry one person instead of living in wonder at the existence of sex.
No restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself…keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman…It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. ~ Chesterton
What a beautiful change of viewpoint!  To look not at the limitation but at the wonder of the permission.  To not complain about being asked to keep our words pure but to wonder at the startling glory of language.  To not gripe of not being allowed to eat all that we desire but to be astonished at the wild and vast expanse of color and taste of food.  To look upon the dazzling, wild, fantastic vision.
Vision
In Christ, all is made sacred, so search for Him everywhere.  Look for Him in the stories and fables, in the myths and fairy tales that you read.  You will find Him there.

Stories

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: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith; Fairy Tale Barnstar by Arman Musikyan; In Fairyland by Richard Doyle; A Fairy Tale by Dorothy M. Wheeler; The Fairy Tale by Walther Firle

edited from the archives

A Psalm of Collective Lament

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy.
We are lost, are broken, are despairing.
Our world is wandering in darkness.
Our churches are falling into division.
Our hearts are mired in filth.
Rise up, O God!
Defend your people!
Rescue your world!
We are lost without you.
Lord have mercy.
Thee we adore
Thee we adore.
You are goodness and beauty.
You created all,
flinging the stars into space and crafting the ladybug’s wings.
You are power and strength.
With your right hand, you held back the seas.
With the breath of your mouth, you took down city walls.
You are love and mercy.
You took the very powers of sin and death into yourself so we wouldn’t.
You forsook the companionship of your Trinity so we could be with you.
Thee we adore.
Into Thy hands
Into Thy hands.
Though the world grow dark,
I know who you are.
I remember what you have done.
Though my heart be filthy,
I trust your heart toward me and our world.
I know all the reasons I adore you.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth I desire but you.
Whether you come to the rescue today
or wait for another thousand years,
Into Thy hands.
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: Grief by Bertram Mackennal; Children at Prayer by Antoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet; Risen Christ on the Lake of Gennesaret by David Teniers the Younger

How to Surrender to God Under the Weight of This Pain

We had an ice storm followed by a few inches of snow in our part of the country last week.
ice
beauty
It was beautiful.
And it was destructive.
weight
Tree limbs were down, power was out in many parts of town,
and my birch tree.
bowed down
Oh, my poor birch tree.
surrender
I don’t know how to adequately describe to you how much I love trees.
Perhaps with this tidbit: I decided against attending a certain college because there were not enough trees flourishing on campus.
Or perhaps with the way my heart resonates with this: I couldn’t live where there were no trees — something vital in me would starve. ~ Anne (in Anne’s House of Dreams)
It hurts something deep within me to see our birch tree so weighed down, to see branches that once stretched up to the sky now brushing the dirt.
submit
Yet there is also something deep within me that feels much the same way after the events of this past year.
You too?
Impeachment, pandemic, shut-downs and sheltering in place, more shootings, social protests, election …
We are all weighed down and weary, our souls tending to brush the dirt these days rather than stretching up to the sky.
surrender
I look at our birch tree, look at the way she surrenders and bends rather than resisting and breaking, and want to react the same way when circumstance weighs me down.
I want to surrender to God, surrender to what the Spirit is doing inside of me, rather than pushing back and resisting to the point of breakage.
resisting
No matter what the weight, I trust that our God loves us and wants what is best for us.
When all that is heavy in our world and in your life causes you to doubt this, simply turn your eyes toward the cross.
The cross is the answer to your questions of Does God really love me? Is God really good? Does God really have the power to rescue me?
Yes. A resounding yes.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give him all things?
See how heaven ordered such deep pain for the salvation of the world and for your soul, and know that if His deepest pain will never be wasted, neither will yours. ~ Matt Papa
I want to be like my birch tree, surrendered to the Spirit, trusting the heart of God, as he works his glory in me through this current sorrow.
trusting
One day, just as he promised, the weight of this world will melt away in the light of the Son himself and we will spring upward to meet him.
promise
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.

all photographs copyright 2021 Made Sacred

A Season of Right Doubt

Christmas is hard when your world is full of doubt.
jangle
When the world’s darkness seems to encircle the pinpricks of real light, your eyes squint tight against the harsh-colored glow;
your ears are cotton-shielded against the dissonant jangle of happiness and cheer.
dissonant
Christmas is jarring when your life is full of darkness.
Elizabeth Jennings, in her poem November Sonnet, writes “This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.”
The season of right doubt.
Do you know that there is such a thing?
season of right doubt
“Right doubt” is, in part, what this season of Advent is about.
There is a rightness about searching and uncertainty. Nature reflects God’s truth, and so this rightness is reflected in the seasonal increasing of the cold and the dark.
We do, after all, see darkly and in a mirror, so we should never feel too certain about every aspect of this mystery who is God.
We can know, of course, that God is Love, but what does Love look like? What does Love do? How does Love act?
a good uncertainty
It can be good to let go of all your certainty and surrender to what is unknown and unsure.
It can be good to let go of your need for knowing and controlling all the answers.
The darkness has been defeated but has not yet been banished.
Death does not get the final word, but it has not yet been muted.
It is good and right to feel the weight of Advent, the weight of not yet,
the weight of our waiting.
There is a doubt that is good and proper. A right doubt.
Yet never forget that the Christ child was born and because he was born, because God fulfilled his first promise, we can be certain that he will fulfill the rest of his promises.
The Light will come again.
Light
“Tall shadows step and strut/Facing the big wind daily coming on/Faster. This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.” ~ Elizabeth Jennings
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: Christmas photos by Kirk Sewell; Nativity by Charles Le Brun; all other photos copyright 2020 Made Sacred

When Advent Gives Way

IMG_9123
I want to hear from God.
I want to see luminous brilliance,
be brought to my knees by incomparable glory,
hear divine language thunder loud.
I want King on white horse, sword in fist, charging in to right all my wrongs.
**
What I receive is a soft, still voice deep inside.
What I receive is minor light,
a golden leaf to seize my senses,
a tune to haul up my heart.
What I receive is Baby in manger, dimpled fists, slipping in quietly to die for all my wrongs.
**
In this world God is mostly still hidden, coming to us in glimpse and slant.
The veil is torn but not torn away.
We see in mirror but not in full.
We dwell in dawnlight but not in brilliant sun.
So we wait for one day (soon, I hope?) when Advent gives way to Arrival.

We Are Waiting and Longing for Advent

We are a people who, more than usual this year, realize that we are living in darkness.
longing
We are longing for a glimmer of light.
We are waiting, holding our breath, for the promised light to appear.
waiting
This is Advent.
A longing for God to come.
A waiting for God to fulfill his promises as creator God and covenant God.
What has God promised?
He has promised to come to us, to rescue us from sin and death, to make us his perfect and holy people.
promise
In a way, we have been in Advent for months.
We have been waiting and longing for God to come down and fix this, fix us, clean up this mess we’ve made.
In a way, we have been living in Advent our whole lives.
In this season of Advent, we wait for Christmas. We practice and imagine waiting as Israel waited for hundreds of years for Messiah. Savior.
How do we know that God will keep his promise? We have waited so long.
Advent
We know that God will keep his promise because he kept it once before.
Messiah came. He came and he defeated sin and death and now we can know that God keeps his promises.
And so we keep Advent this year, especially this year, to remind ourselves that God keeps his promises.
One day he will come again and rescue us and set things right for all time. He will come and we will be his people and he will be our God.
He will come and give us the best gift of all.
Emmanuel
Emmanuel.
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.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

Thankful

Thanksgiving

As we all celebrate our harvest, whether that harvest be from fields of grain
or of family
or of work
or even of your own spirit,
I want you to know that I am grateful for you.
Peace and joy be yours.

Art credit: Orchard in Flanders by Emile Claus

The Defeat Itself Becomes Victory

There is much suffering in our world.
suffering
Much pain, grief, loneliness, disease, fear, death.
abnormal reality
These are normal on our planet. No one escapes.
This suffering reveals the defeat of man, the defeat of life itself, and no number of advances in technology or medicine can overcome it.
Yet their very normalcy is abnormal. It is not how our world was created.
perfect creation
Disease and death is not the way we were intended to live, yet our sin has broken our world and our very selves, and here we are.
It is into this abnormal reality that Christ comes. He comes not to remove our suffering but to transform it into victory.
transformation
God through Jesus transforms even our ultimate defeat, death, into victory, into an entrance into his kingdom and into the only true healing.
The Church comes, then, not simply to help us in our pain but to make us a witness to Christ in our sufferings. She comes to make us martyrs.
A martyr, in the words of Alexander Schmemann, is “one for whom God is not another — and the last — chance to stop the awful pain; God is his very life, and thus everything in his life comes to God.”
If we only come to God to stop the suffering, if we only turn to him for comfort in our pain, we miss the chance to become who we were created to be. We miss the chance to become more truly human.
We miss the chance to be made more closely into the image of God.
Rather than merely receiving comfort, we could become a witness to others of Christ himself. We could become one who beholds “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” We could become the victory for those around us.
pain into glory
We could gain the glory of Christ.
Through (the witness’) suffering, not only has all suffering acquired a meaning, but it has been given the power to become itself the sign, the sacrament, the proclamation, the ‘coming’ of that victory; the defeat of man, his very dying, has become a way of Life. ~ Schmemann
This is the way of God. Flipping the things of this world on their head. Pain becomes proclamation. Suffering becomes sacrament. Defeat becomes victory. Death becomes life.
Don’t settle for a dry crust when you could feast with the King.
Surrender to God, to whatever he wants to do through your suffering, and allow his Holy Spirit to transform that suffering into a sacrament of life.
defeat becomes victory
It takes submission, and this is hard. So very hard. Yet God has promised. Your surrender to him allows him to turn your defeat into victory, and that victory leads you into the only true healing.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
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: Resurrection by Luca Giordano; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

Too Slow, Too Common

Slow.
Discipline.
Cultivation.
Practice.
slow
These are not popular ideas these days.
We prefer glitz and glamour, look for fast-paced action, demand instant results.
glitz
We are impatient of slow, meandering ways of reaching goals.
This is what we have been taught as we live in this technological age: this dismissal of slow as substandard, this elevation of streamlined over satisfying.
We want to rush through everything in order to cram in more. We strive to find the most efficient ways of reaching our goals so we can stretch ourselves toward newer, better achievements.
We want to do more, have more, be more.
There is much that is lost when we fall into this way of reaching career, parenting, or personal goals.
discipline
Everything is lost when applying these technological methods to our relationship with God.
We read our chapter of Scripture, have our devotion, talk at God for a moment or two, then rush off to the rest of our day, wondering all the while why we feel such deep emptiness inside.
We try to fill that emptiness with more worship music, more religious podcasts, more sermons, yet none of this will make up for what we have lost.
What can bring us back?
cultivation
That which we have rejected:
slow and steady,
being disciplined over a period of decades,
a long cultivation of spiritual habits,
practice and more practice and yet more practice.
The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. ~ A. W. Tozer
Spiritual practices such as silence and solitude, lectio divina, contemplation, self-examination and confession – these are the slow habits that bring us into a deep, abiding relationship with God.
We are called to abide with Christ, and abiding is necessarily a long and slow process, one that takes place by degrees over many decades.
practice
If you are wondering where God is, perhaps you need to slow down, make time.
He is here. He is always here. We do not often perceive him, but he is always here.
Perceiving takes time. It is a sacrifice of time to be sure. I won’t pretend that it is easy to move against the flow of our age.
Yet for me, at least, I want this awareness more than I want the illusive rewards of hurry and instant.
I am trying. I fail often. The process is so much slower than I would prefer.
slow
Slow as it may be, I begin to notice progress. I begin to notice God.
It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more perfect consciousness of the divine Presence…He is nearer than our own soul. ~ A. W. Tozer
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.

Still Desperate for a Little Character

God's leadership
man's leadership
Whether or not you agree with their policies, whether or not you approve of what they are accomplishing for their constituents, most of us would find the character of our leaders to be severely lacking. We are quick to find excuses: That’s simply what politics takes these days. This particular issue is more important than what they do in their private lives. Our politicians mock the downtrodden, are proven liars, and blatantly do whatever it takes to scrabble for a bit more power. Yet we continue to re-elect and even laud them.
Why? Does it even matter? Is a person’s character at all important in this modern age or is it a relic of outdated morals? Character is more than merely important; it is vital to our society. It is important to people as individuals and it is important to society in its entirety.
When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our children that it is necessary to sometimes do insignificantly wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, then we are in trouble. For our society to function well, we need people of character in leadership positions, from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.
What has happened in our world? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways? Much of this dearth of character, this scarcity of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea that truth is unchanging, that truth can be the same regardless of place or time. If truth is, at best, all relative and only a matter of perspective and, at worst, a social construct and simply whatever we make it to be, then why should anyone work to develop a character that may or may not be valid to anyone else? If there is no truth that we can deliberate over and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be and wherever it may come from), we are left with, as Christian Cleric Richard John Neuhaus says, “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.”
This concept of truth comes from our distinctly American philosophy of pragmatism (founded by William James, 1842-1910, who said that the true was only the expedient. Truth, in other words, is what works.). When society contains multiple competing ways of viewing the world, and when all of those ways are equally valid, then the only way to determine which viewpoint is most true is to determine which is most useful. If truth is simply what is most useful, then truth will change over time.
There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we cannot keep society and relationships moving forward if we speak of one truth for all people because truth brings only conflict. Truth has become the loud uncle we are vaguely ashamed of, assuming that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life. When the biggest wrong that can be done in a society is to cause an argument, we are left with a society that vacantly agrees with every new opinion. When the biggest good a government can do is to smooth everything to the same level of truth, we are left with a government that changes policy for each group that shouts louder. When truth is sensible rather than stubborn, as trustworthy as a weatherman, we are left with a prediction for Snowpocalypse that leaves Walmart shelves empty but a reality of 60 degrees and sunny. Society is left to flounder on a foundation of shifting sand.
How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is? Part of the answer, I’m afraid, comes from us, the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth divisively, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting crusades and we have used truth as an excuse to look at our neighbor with contempt. Truth has become a weapon used to elevate ourselves by bludgeoning down all those we deem as “other”.
This becomes all the more baffling when we remember that Jesus, God in the flesh, claimed to be Truth. If we are condemning our neighbor with what we claim to be truth, perhaps it is not truly Truth we are wielding. Using truth as a magic wand to turn our neighbor into a stepping stone is a natural consequence when we who claim to follow Truth succumb to our world’s version of expedient truth. This is what our politicians have done and this is why so many evangelicals support him. Our state and federal leadership tends to be the embodiment of pragmatic truth, and when the Church has forgotten the words and life of Him who claimed to be truth, the Church is easily swayed toward truth that is useful, truth that serves a purpose, truth that turns character into a liability. As much as we might wish it, truth is not in our service, rather we who claim to be Christian are servants of the Truth in the person of Jesus.
If Jesus is, as He claimed to be, the Truth, we are given a truth that is unchanging, yet personal. We are given a truth that produces genuine, enduring character. When we follow Jesus as the Truth, living and speaking as He did, we find that God’s Spirit produces in us a character of love rather than a character of expediency. And when we are possessed of a character of love, we find that we are asked to proclaim this pure, loving truth to our world. More difficult, even, than proclaiming it, we are asked to live it out. Neuhaus tells us that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”. He reminds us that it is our duty to do more than merely tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them, even pursue them, in love.
How? How do we declare and live truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict, and wars? By remembering grace. Amazing grace. We can live out stubborn truth beautifully by remembering that we ourselves are unable to live up to our own standards and yet we are loved. When we despise or feel superior to anyone, when our goal is to “make America great again” by marginalizing the poor and disadvantaged, we derive more power from our own exalted sense of self-righteousness than from God’s grace. Living by this brand of truth that exalts ourselves is what poisons the truth with divisiveness. This is what politics does: cause divisiveness by playing one group against another, by exalting us by means of demeaning them. Living out Jesus as truth can also be divisive, but a much different sort of divisive.  Living out Jesus as truth produces a steady character of loving and caring for others. It is exalting others by humbling ourselves. This can be threatening, and therefore divisive, to those who have already exalted themselves, but it a way of living truth that is desperately needed in our world.

It is ageless, this genuine sort of character. It is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. It is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even attempting to gain political power. This is the sort of truth we need. The kind of truth that provides a firm and unchanging foundation for our society. One that will not allow people to helplessly flail but gives them the strength to build a society that lasts, one that cares for all of its members. Tim Keller says that this is the sort of truth that is “a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them.”
Much of the leadership in our country has become known as politicians who deceive others and who are themselves deceived. It seems unbelievable, but this seems to be what many in our country are searching for. Someone who does whatever is advantageous today, someone who manipulates and even creates truth to suit themselves and their supporters. If, instead, you are searching for someone who will lead by serving, someone who will follow Truth rather than create it, well, I’m afraid you probably won’t find that in the upper echelons of our country.
What, then, shall we do? Despair and give up on our country? Better yet by far than any vote you may cast, rather, become that sort of leader yourself in the world of your own influence. After all, presidents have never yet been able to save our country or her people. A country full of people who live lives full of Truth and Love, however? That sort of citizenry has been known to change the world.