The Line Between Us and Them

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Them.
You know, the ones who are not us.
The ones who stand against everything that is important.
The ones who stand for everything that is wrong with our world.
The ones whose sole aim is to bring down our way of life.
It is our job, no, our duty, to bring them down first, before all that we love is destroyed.
We must watch out for them.
They are everywhere.
They are in our schools, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods,
in our hospitals.
I met one of them.
I met one of them in a hospital waiting room, waiting for his young daughter to come out of surgery.
He was one of them, no doubt about it.
My defenses went up and I prepared to go on the attack.
He was one of them.
And he was hurting.
Just like us.
He was grieving.
Just like us.
He was worried about one he loved.
Just like us.
I heard a whisper saying, He, too, is My beloved.
Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
And suddenly the line between us and them seemed just a bit blurry.

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

Regaining Joy and Wonder

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This world is full of wonder.
joy
wonder
We are surrounded by truth, goodness, beauty.
truth
goodness
beauty
Yet rather than pausing to drink it all in, rather than marveling at it all, I find myself slogging through each day with my head down and my heart full of drudgery.
Worse, I am discovering that this blindness is contagious. Rather than inviting my children to stop and gaze at the wonder all around, I am teaching them to plod through their days of math and grammar with nary a glance toward the splendor without or within themselves.
joy
wonder
joy
I am teaching them that learning is only toil rather than a work that satisfies our longing for truth, goodness, and beauty.
It is an easy thing to do three weeks before the end of school.
I must repent.
I must repent of my lack of joy and wonder. Joy in this creation and wonder in the learning of this creation.
wonder
joy
wonder
Even in these last days of school, I must pull my head up and take time to pause and gaze.
I must invite my children to pause and gaze.
The final goal of learning is, after all, to become a better human, to become the person God created us to be.
I cannot only tell my girls about truth, goodness, and beauty.
I must show them.
beauty
truth
goodness
And before I can show them, I must regularly repent of losing my own joy and wonder.
Beautiful Creator of all, forgive me for my lack of joy. Teach my heart never to lose awe and wonder at all that is around and within me.
joy
wonder
God
Let me never cease to gaze at truth, goodness, and beauty
And in that gazing may I catch a glimpse of You.

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2019

To Confess I Cannot

We are on spring break this week, so I am posting a Lenten essay from the archives. May it bless you this week.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

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

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

Trying too Hard in Prayer

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

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

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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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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Mostly There Is Nothing…and Yet

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O, God
I thirst for You.
silence
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
solitude
I mostly come away disappointed
and yet…
I mostly come away without a word
and yet…
I mostly come away feeling a failure
and yet…
And yet my thirst is growing.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
waiting
I strain to know Your thoughts, but mostly my own still swarm like a plague of gnats
and yet…
I seek to hear Your words, but mostly my own still darken my way
and yet…
I long to comprehend Your desires and plans, but mostly my own still lead me astray
and yet…
And yet my thirst is mounting.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
listen
Outwardly nothing changes.
There is no voice from heaven.
There is no flood of emotion.
There is no flash of understanding.
And yet…
Inwardly something is stirring.
Nothing grand,
nothing immense,
only the beginnings of a something is stirring.
Mostly there is nothing
and yet…
And yet my thirst is rising.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
thirst
 I thirst for You.
Oh, God.

all photographs copyright 2019 Made Sacred

A Post Full of Questions

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What if?
What if God did nothing more for me than what He has already done?
Would I still submit in obedience?
What if
What if?
What if, like Job, I was suddenly bereft of all whom and all that I love?
Would I still offer up my gratitude?
What if
What if?
Why do I do what I do?
Why do I pray and immerse myself in Scripture?
Why do I practice spiritual disciplines?
To be transformed into the image of Christ?
What if
A worthy pursuit, but what if?
What if God does absolutely nothing with my obedience,
with my gratitude,
with my spiritual practices?
What if?
What if
Am I willing to offer these spiritual disciplines to God for days and years and decades,
even if God does absolutely nothing with it?
Simply because He asked it of me?
Simply because it is Jesus?
So Jesus said…’Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…’

Art Credits: The Resurrection by Luca Giordano; The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki

The Fading Colors of Me

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Autumn is my favorite time of year.
Autumn
Colors
The cool, crisp air striking your skin, the blazing bonfire scent filling you up with every breath, the crunch of leaves underfoot. Most of all, the leaves. The dazzling display of fiery colors that fill your sight in every direction.
Dazzling
Those radiant colors that inspire poetry and art are, I recently discovered (or perhaps rediscovered as I feel sure I probably learned this at one time during my elementary school career), actually the true colors of the leaves.
The green that we see for most of the year, the green that fills up our springtime and summer, is just the tree-feeding chlorophyll covering up the brightness. It is not until the tree is no longer making food, not until the leaves are beginning to die, that their true colors blaze out.
Green
I want that.
Changing
Oh, how I desperately want that.
Becoming
As I age, as my body moves closer to death, I want for the colors of this life to begin to fade away and the colors of Jesus in me to blaze out.
Beginning
From the moment we choose life in Jesus, we are changing.
Fading
Little by little, day by day, the green of this world starts to fade.
Shining
Little by little, choice by choice, the light of the life to come begins to shine.
Light
The older I become, the more I want people to look at me and see Jesus. I want the colors of me, the colors of my natural self, to fade away. I want the brilliance of Jesus to take over.
Brilliance
At the end of my life, my body will be bent and wrinkled, dry and withered. My prayer is that by then my own self will be so one with Christ that when people look into my eyes, they are taken aback with the dazzling display of Jesus that fills their sight.
Dazzling
Beauty
Creation
Nature
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. ~ Romans 1.20

Art Credit: all photographs by Made Sacred copyright 2018

edited from the archives