We in the West live in a world still immersed in the Enlightenment. We still believe that Truth is only what can be observed, tested, measured.
Wendell Berry calls this, the idea that the touchable world of science and matter is all there really is, our modern superstition. ” … we moderns dismiss this (idea that the world tells us about God’s love) as fancy and view the world with disenchanted eyes as a collection of atoms and dust – something to measure but not something that means.”
This, of course, has left us dissatisfied. When the only thing that exists is that which is measurable, when we are told that nothing around us has any deeper meaning, we are left discontent and searching for meaning and contentment in all the wrong places.
And when the unthinkable happens, when our world crumbles and leaves us drowning in grief and pain, we have been trained by our culture and even our churches to look to facts and information to make life easier. If we can only gather enough theological information, we believe, we can solve the problem of grief and pain.
Facts are a cold comfort, though, when we are stumbling through the darkness of suffering. It is good and necessary for us to know facts about the character of God, but we will never know the presence of the Father in data.
Our culture and even many of our churches have trained us to dismiss art, music, joy in nature, as frivolous and trivial.
The truth? These beauties are small glories offered to us as communion with our Creator.
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” ~ Alexander Schmemann
Art, music, the beauty of nature, all of these are God’s gift to us, one way that he enters our world of suffering and transforms it into a space where we can know his unfailing love.
Suffering cannot be transformed by theological data. There is not much that will be made new in this life. Yet while we wait for the sure renewal of all things, it is through the “triviality” of beauty, through art and music and joy in nature, that we are able to catch a glimpse of the deeper truth that is Emmanuel, God with us.
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God.
many of the ideas in this post are from This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson
Art credits: Wind Mountain by James Madison Alden; The Water-Lily Pond by Claude Monet; photograph of mountain stream by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are my own
There have been times when my hurt and grief overwhelmed me and turned my face away from God.
Times when sorrow turned my inmost thoughts to darkness and I “blamed God for it with fierce, hot breath and yet ached for his touch at the same time.”
We all wrestle with God at times, shoving against him in the darkness of our pain and doubt.
We wrestle like Jacob by the river. We wrestle, hurling our accusations while at the same time refusing to let go until he blesses us.
And isn’t this what most often happens? We fight against God without being able to let go of him.
I strike at him with my pain while being unable to rid myself of my anguished desire for his love.
He was the cause of my grief, the opponent, and the peace I craved all in one enigmatic, awful Beloved. I could no more walk away from his existence than I could walk away from my own desire for breath. ~ Sarah Clarkson in This Beautiful Truth
Do you know the story?
Jacob, deceiver, heir to God’s covenant promises, is heading home after twenty years in exile. Home to the land God promised him.
He sends his family and servants across the river Jabbok, but stays behind to spend the night on the shore alone. We don’t know why.
Suddenly, out of the darkness, a stranger leaps at Jacob and they fall to the ground, wrestling through the darkness. All night they struggle until just before dawn when Jacob realizes who it is that he has been grappling with.
God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight — God, the beloved enemy. ~ Frederick Buechner in The Magnificent Defeat
In the realization that it is God who is wrestling with him, Jacob refuses to release his grip, just as he has refused to release his grip all night, but in his pleading for a blessing, his grip of violence becomes a grip of desperate need.
God is our beloved enemy because he promises us everything, but before he gives us everything, he demands of us everything. “Before giving us life, he demands our lives — our selves, our wills, our treasure …” Buechner
Will we give them, you and I? I do not know.
Only remember Jacob, limping home against the growing light of dawn, a shadow of one to come.
Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God. ~ Buechner
Art credits: Jacob Wrestling by Gustave Doré; Jacob Wrestles by Gerard Hoet; Jacob Wrestled by Charles Foster
Today I needed this post from several years ago. Maybe you need it too. Peace be upon you all.
It changes nothing. It changes everything.
How do you endure? When everything around you is falling apart, when all that you love on this earth fails you, how do you keep going?
It happens to all of us. At some point in our lives, whether early in life or late, we sit in stunned silence while our world crumbles.
What do we do? What do we do when we or one we love is living in the middle of unimaginable pain? What is it that keeps us going, that lets us persevere?
It changes nothing. It changes everything.
Hope doesn’t heal the sick or take away the pain. It doesn’t fill the stomach or bring your loved one back.
It changes nothing.
Hope gives you a glory-full vision of the end of your story. It gives you a glimpse of the beauty, the joy, the perfection that is promised.
It changes everything.
When you know the end of the story, when you know that Christ wins and that we will be with Him forever, it gives us the power to bear anything. Anything. When you can see the end of fear, the end of despair, the end of pain, when you can see the adventure, the rest, the wholeness that waits for you, you are sustained in the now because you know that this, too, shall pass.
So hope. Hope in what is promised. Hope in what God has promised through the power of the resurrected Christ.
For you who have just received that 3 a.m. phone call, you who walk dazed from your doctor’s office, you who saw your child drift away, you who wish desperately for a child, you who sit weeping in a corner, who think that you will always be alone and unloved, for all of you who live in darkness and doubt…
there is hope. Beautiful, glorious, resurrection hope. So breathe deep of this hope. Let it fill you up with peace and joy so that you are able to endure all things. For He who is our hope is coming.
It is promised. It shall be so.
Art credit: last photograph by R.K. Sewell Photography (photographybysewell.webs.com)
Sometimes I cannot see a way out.
Sometimes the darkness is simply too great; I cannot fathom that there could be any way through to the light.
I, or ones I love, have been enveloped in this kind of murkiness before. Some of those I love feel lost in it right now.
I would venture to suppose that you could say the same.
It is tempting to despair when faced with this kind of desperateness.
It is tempting to believe there is no way out.
It is tempting to decide there is no rescue coming.
The earliest Mothers and Fathers of our faith have taught that this is, indeed, a temptation.
The early monks recognized in despair
“the most vicious and self-defeating temptation of all, that of losing trust in God’s providence and love.” ~ Katherine Norris
When we are in the middle of the deepest darkness, Satan is right there with us, whispering in our ears, “There is no hope. God is not here. He does not care. There is no rescue to be had.”
I have heard the whisper.
I have been tempted to believe it.
Hold on to hope, dear one, even if you can only manage the tiniest shred of it.
Your diminished imagination cannot begin to comprehend the vastness of possibilities God has at His fingertips.
“I must never, at any moment, presume to say that there is no way out for God because I cannot see any. For it is despair and presumption to confuse one’s pittance of imagination with the possibility over which God disposes.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
God’s way through the darkness will most likely not be the one you imagine.
His way will most likely not be the easiest, the most comfortable, the most pleasant.
It will, however, be the best.
His way through will be the best for you, for those you love, for those around you.
So do not despair. Do not give in to the temptation to give up your trust in God’s providence and love.
He loves you. He is working.
He will bring you through the darkness, He will give you glimpses of the light along the way, and the light will be that much more beautiful for having once been hidden from your view.
The Light is, after all, only hidden. Never absent. Never that.
He is with you always, to the very end of the age.
Art Credits: statue is Grief by Daniel Kornbau; all other photos are my own
This has been a particularly hard few weeks, so I hope you will enjoy this post from the archives as I take a short break from writing in this space. Peace to you.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
There is danger in the dark and there is fear, but is it the darkness that we fear or is it whatever lies within the darkness that we cannot see?
We light candles and we plug in nightlights and we busy ourselves to do whatever is necessary to hold the darkness at bay.
What are we really afraid of? Are we afraid that God is not there in the dark? Are we afraid that God is only in the light and if we enter into the darkness, whether it be the darkness of loss or of sin or of depression or even of death, we will lose the glory of His presence?
Yet in the darkness was where the glory of His presence was found, within the dark cloud over Mt Sinai when He made His covenant with His people Israel.
Yes, there is death in darkness.
There is new life in the dark.
In fact, life can only begin in the dark. A seed sprouts underground and a baby grows in the womb and even Jesus was raised into His new life in the dark.
In the darkness of a cave.
We see the afterwards of the resurrection, the earthquake and the angel and the glorious, blinding light.
But the resurrection itself?
It happened in the dark.
It happened in the dark, in the silence, with the smell of damp earth and the roughness of rock all around.
And if new life can only happen in the dark, well then,
instead of doing all we can to avoid it, perhaps we should lean in to the darkness, lean in to our fear.
Perhaps if we do, we will discover a new life that could not have been found otherwise.
All photographs are my own, copyright 2021 Made Sacred