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

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

The Weight of Holy

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 grew up in, and still attend, a Christian Church, one of those denominations bursting out of the Restoration Movement in the United States.
High Church
In many ways I am proud of my faith tradition. I will be the first to admit that we have our troubles, things with which I don’t agree, but there are many things I think we get right.
I am grateful for our emphasis on the Bible, our insistence on a personal relationship with God, our reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice to make us clean.
There are a few pieces of Christianity I think we miss out on, though.
Depth
One of those pieces is our loss of a sense of the sacredness and holiness of God when we focus solely on a personal, intimate relationship with God.
Weighty
In our casual services, in our emphasis on God as friend, we forget sometimes how other God is. He is holy, which means separate.  Apart.
He is not like us. He is so far above us that we cannot begin to comprehend Him. We are not worthy to stand in His presence. We cannot meet His gaze. To see His face is to die.
Sacred
We attended a Lutheran church service a few Sundays ago.
I was struck by the ceremony, the honor and respect with which they treat all things belonging to God: in particular, the Word and the Lord’s Supper.
Every move was accompanied by a genuflect before the table holding the Bible and the Communion. There was a reverence to that portion of the service that was weighty.
Holy
 Set apart
There was a hush of holiness over the proceedings that I do not see in my own tradition. As each person came up to receive the bread, they were looked in the eye and told This is His body which was broken for you. As each person came up to receive the cup, they were looked in the eye and told, This is His blood which was shed for you“. As each child came past with their parents, a hand was laid on their head and a blessing given on them.
It was holy and it was personal.
As each server of the bread and wine came to their turn to be the receiver, they bowed before the Word and the Communion. Not in worship of those items, but in reverence for the One they represent. In a recognition that God is holy and has declared these things to be sacred.
Holiness
 Reverence
Our whole lives are to be sacred. I recognize that there is no separation between sacred and secular in our everyday lives. That is the premise behind this very blog. Yet it serves us well to be reminded every now and then of the absolute holiness of the One who makes everything sacred.
Nothing is sacred without God.
Cathedral
Sometimes we forget how much more sacred is the Giver than the gifts.
Sometimes we lose the weightiness of holy and in that shallowness can float upward until we believe that we are closer to God than we truly are.
The weight of holy
…and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald…From the throne came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

All photographs this week are by Kirk Sewell. You can purchase canvas prints of many of his gorgeous art on his website: photographybysewell.webs.com

edited from the archives

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

Clothed in Goodness

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

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

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One Another

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There is much suffering in this world.
suffering
There is much pain.
It is one thing that connects us all, a piece of what it means to be human.
Sometimes the sheer force of it all is enough to sink me.
And yet.
one another
Recently I was struck deeply by the idea that we could be a part of someone’s healing simply by being willing to bear their suffering through compassion.
In compassion, one may carry the sin and suffering of others in such a way that they may be restored to wholeness precisely because their sin and suffering are borne. ~ Andrew Purves
Compassion often involves great personal cost as we become involved with another.
Perhaps we could go so far as to say that compassion requires suffering.
Why not?
This kind of suffering, this level of involvement incurring great personal cost, is precisely the kind of suffering that Jesus bore on our behalf.
compassion
If our goal, our telos, is to become like Jesus, to live a life like His, than we should not be surprised that our lives should involve suffering, specifically compassionate suffering.
Jesus’s suffering is the method of our healing.
Jesus suffers with the world in order to heal it.
healing
What is surprising, the truth I want to ponder more, is the idea that our suffering, like His, could be the means by which another could be healed.
Perhaps this should not be startling.
If we are, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, to be the body of Christ, to be His hands and His feet,
if we are to care for one another as we would care for our own body,
perhaps we should instead expect to be able to do what He did.
one another
Perhaps we should be even more willing to take on the suffering of others, as Jesus did for us, because we know that in so doing, we will be given a part in restoring them to wholeness.
One person at a time, as we are lead by the Holy Spirit,
perhaps we can begin to heal the whole world.

Art credits: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; The Palsied Man Let Down Through the Roof by James Tissot; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Pietà by Michelangelo

Mostly There Is Nothing…and Yet

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.

 

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

Waiting in the Dark

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We are all waiting in the dark.
dark
Waiting for results,
Waiting for change,
Waiting for healing.
Waiting for
Something.
We often believe that we are waiting in the light.
deceitful
We deceive ourselves into believing that we are not truly waiting at all.
false
Yet if we will simply be still in the dark,
if we will stop distracting ourselves with stark light,
if we will stop blinding ourselves with hollow sparkle,
there is a hope that whispers.
hope
This hope whispers that all of your waiting is pregnant with promise.
promise
This hope arrived once before.
This hope arrived silently, in the dark.
joy
This hope will come once again.
This hope will come in a blaze of holy light, banishing the darkness forever.
And in this in-between time,
in this already-and-not-yet time,
keep waiting.
Keep waiting with confidence.
Keep waiting with action.
Keep waiting with watchfulness.
waiting
Keep waiting with joy.

all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

Longing to Stand Inside

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Outside
 We stand outside the world.
We dance and dream and die, and through it all we long.
We long for something else, for something more.  We long for something bigger, for something more real.
Some understand what they long for and others do not.  We long for what is true.  We long for a world that is fully real.
We catch breaths of the morning air, fresh and clean and pure.  We catch glimpses of the morning light, startling and bright and glorious.
Yet we stand outside the world and these hints of morning air do not change us.  We do not become pure or glorious.
We stand outside the world and we hear a Word.  We hear a Word that spreads a rumor.
It is a rumor that this shall not always be so.  It is a rumor that one day we will be allowed to walk through the door and stand on the right side.  On the inside.
It is a rumor that one day we will finally be changed by the Morning.  Through the Morning Star we will become pure and clean, bright and glorious.
We will be as we were made.  We will become as we are remade.  Remade into the very image of the Word.
And by moving through the Word we will be allowed to stand.  To stand in desperate gratitude.  To stand covered in another’s glory.
We will dance and we will dream, but we will not die.
We will stand inside the world.

Art credit: photograph by Kirk Sewell

retrieved from the archives as my family is traveling for Thanksgiving

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