The Way Home to the Father

We are told to follow Jesus, to imitate Him as we live out our God-life here on earth.
We know this, and yet we find it all too easy to skim over the harder parts of His story.
washing feet
Some of the hardest parts to follow, at least for me, are the foot washing and the crucifixion. Yet these are two of the pieces that most embody Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Jesus spent much of His ministry telling the people around Him that His time had not yet come. Now it is the time of Passover and Jesus knew that His time had come. His time had come to leave this world and go to the Father.
What does He do first, now that His time has come? He washes the disciples feet. All of them. Even Judas.
serving
The Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Word who laid aside His glory in order to become a man now lays aside His clothes of fabric in order to wash feet.
He does not wash our feet despite the fact that He is God, but because He is God. This is how He shows us the Father.
This footwashing points us toward the cross, toward the moment when Jesus reveals the depths of the Father’s heart for us. This is who God is: the One who lays down His very life, first in service and then in giving it up completely through death, for His beloved creation.
These events, the footwashing and the crucifixion, are the events that lead Jesus to His time of going to the Father.
They are the events which form the ladder from this world to the Father’s world. They are the acted words the eternal Word must speak. They are the way home that the Son of God must take. ~ N. T. Wright
Why do we think that we can find a different way home to the Father?
deny self
Jesus says, after He has finished washing the feet of the disciples, that He has laid out a pattern for them to follow.
This is so hard. We are so proud and selfish. We proclaim Jesus as Lord and really mean that we have taken up His mantle of lordship within our little piece of the world. We want to rule and to push the serving bit off to the side.
This, however, is not following the pattern Jesus set for us. This is not imitating Him.
Instead, we, too, must lay aside our clothes, our clothes of pride and selfishness, and wash the feet of those given into our care, as the disciples were given into the care of Jesus.
We, too, must lay aside our lives, picking up our cross and dying to ourselves, for those the Father loves.
dying to ourselves
This is our way home to the Father.
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: The Washing of the Feet by James Tissot; Jesus Washing the Feet of Peter by Sudharkarbira; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni; Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples by Albert Edelfelt

The Problem of Pleasure

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

 

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2019

Hunger

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

 

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 Made Sacred 2019

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

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

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 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

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.

 

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