The Intolerable Longing of Beauty

This surprising, pleasing world is so full of truth, goodness, and beauty.
beauty
Simply to step outside is to be drawn to the idea of a true, good, and beautiful Creator.
Sunlight stirring up the scent of pine trees.
A pang of joy in the sound of brief birdsong.
Creation is a gift, and in pausing to contemplate the gift, we sense the presence of the Giver.
truth
Beauty pulls our hearts straight toward God.
Herein lies a problem.
Beauty stirs up in us a remembrance of how things were, once upon a time.
goodness
A painful contrast to the way things are now.
Beauty awakens a pain in our hearts.
A pain that, often, we do not quite understand.
We do not understand why the sight of beauty produces a tightness in our chest,
a lump in our throat,
a deep desire to turn aside and weep.
longing
We do not understand why the sight of beauty produces a deep discontent with the world all around.
Sometimes this almost unbearable longing causes us to turn away, to shut ourselves off from this feeling we do not quite understand.
Beauty awakened such intolerable longing that people often shut their eyes to it, unaware that the longing was the greatest treasure that they had, their very lifeline, uniting the country of their lost innocence with the heavenly country for which their sails were set. ~ Elizabeth Goudge
This intolerable longing is our tether to what will be again someday. It is what keeps our whole selves aimed toward our telos, our ultimate goal, a vision of heaven and earth made new again.
This longing is what brings us back again and again to this Jesus-path toward restoration and renewal.
intolerable longing
This longing is what keeps our hearts awake to the very presence of the Creator who will once again craft all things into a work of beauty.
Even us.
It will be a lasting beauty, this time, unmarred by the ugly that currently plays a jarring counterpoint all through our world.
longing
Don’t shut your eyes to the beauty of this world.
Be still, rather, with the intolerable longing it awakens in you.
Then pray for the return of the Giver who will make all things new.
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: photographs of light through trees, mountains, and rapids by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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

If This Is Creation

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.

 

Creation
If this is creation,
from the cold and unapproachable star
to the velvety and pungent sage,
if this is creation,
that matters.
It makes this world,
from the Alaskan wilderness
to the plumber under our sink,
a gift to cherish rather than a commodity to be used.
It makes all of knowledge,
from the how-it-works of the sciences
to the what-is-it and why-is-it of the arts,
a discovery of reality rather than a making of what we wish life to be.
If this is creation,
we cannot consider any aspect of this life in a truthful way
without also considering the Source of it all.
The very novelty that is you,
your distinctive character and perspective,
only occurred because
the thought of you occurred
in the imagination of the Creator.
The Creator who was, is, and will always be
Creating
Moving
Holding all things together.
If this is creation,
that matters.

I AM

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 am hungry.
I am unsatisfied,
empty,
left with no way to fill myself up.
I am darkness.
I am lost,
confused,
full of evil with no hope of change.
I am a wall.
I shut people out,
turn them away,
stand firm to protect myself.
I am filled with death.
I am physically dying,
falling apart,
spiritually dead if left alone.
I am a sheep.
I am foolish,
slow-witted,
helpless to do anything for myself.
I am a wanderer.
I am homeless,
shelterless,
prone to fall off the path.
I am a branch.
I am dependent,
vulnerable,
incapable of producing anything good.
Good Shepherd
Until Jesus.
I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the door of the sheep.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
I am the true vine.
Praise be to God for His unfailing mercy and His  eternal lovingkindness.
true vine
I am nothing without Him.

Art credit: The Good Shepherd from a catacomb in Rome, second half of the 3rd century.

A Whisper from God

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.

 

Some of the sparkle and light went out of our world on Wednesday when little Calla died.
Calla
I will come clean and admit that I do not understand God at times like these.
Why do I get to kiss my almost-nine little girl tonight and Calla’s parents go home with empty arms?
Why does one child gain his mother back cancer-free and another child grows up without a mom?
Why does one family receive the miracle of a healing and another family receives heart-break?
no miracle
We live in a broken world.
A world broken and distorted by sin.
Our sin.
This sickness and pain and loneliness and death?
This is not how it was supposed to be.
This is NOT how it was supposed to be.
In the Beginning
We should lament and wail and grieve, because this is not the way God created us or our world.
And the miracles that do happen?
Perhaps they are a whisper from God.
A whisper that says Remember.
miracle
Remember how it was in the beginning.
Remember how it was created to be and remember how it will be again someday.
Remember what we are straining toward.
Remember what creation is groaning for.
Remember.
glimpse of hope
Perhaps the miracles that happen, whether or not they happen to you, are a glimpse of light,
a glimpse of hope,
a glimpse of
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…Behold, I am making all things new.
miracle is coming
A glimpse of the day when the miracle will be standard fare for all of us.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Art credits: Adam and Eve by Foster; all other photographs except the one of Calla are copyright Made Sacred 2019

How, Then, Shall We Pray?

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.

 

When the darkness is closing in,
when we can’t see the way forward,
when we desperately need a rescue, a healing,
how, then, shall we pray?
Prayer
Do we pray with confidence, having faith that God will perform miracles?
Do we pray with humility, submitting to the greater plan of God?
How, then, shall we pray?
Pray
When multitudes of prayers in all shapes and colors overflow the Scriptures,
when even looking toward the perfect Man produces a confusion of faith that moves mountains and nevertheless thy will be done,
how, then, shall we pray?
Pray
As my Papa used to say:
Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.
Here is what I do know.
We are to pray.
We are to pray and in our praying we are to ask, beg even.
We are to ask and to continue asking, even if we do not get what we ask for.
We are to pray and ask and lament and wail and we can know beyond a doubt that at the very least, we are heard and we are loved.
Pray
Here is what I also know.
We have our brother, Jesus.
We have our brother, Jesus, praying for us as He sits at the right hand of the Father.
We have the Spirit of God.
We have the Spirit of God inside of us, praying along with us, taking every word and every desire too deep for words straight to the presence of God, advocating for us exactly as God wills.
pray
How, then, shall we pray?
Perhaps after all it does not matter.
Perhaps as long as we have Jesus praying for us and the Holy Spirit praying with us, the only important thing is that
we pray.
pray
Peace be with you as you plead before our ever loving Father.

Art Credits: The Pathway to Life by  Thomas De Witt Talmage; Prayer by Antonio Parreiras; Prayer by László Mednyánszky; Axentowicz the Anchorite by Teodor Axentowicz; Men, Women, and Children Praying by H. Wood; Children at Prayer by Antoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet

Standing in the Middle

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 stand in the middle, with arms raised, between heaven and earth.
in the middle
We offer what we have been given by God to the world.
We offer the praise of the world back to God.
We are created to be priests.
priests
Like priests offering the bread and wine to the Church, we offer the beautiful kingdom rule to the world.
Like priests offering the prayers and worship to God, we offer the praise of creation to the Creator.
We stand in the middle, unique among all of God’s creation.
Not better.
There are many who critique the Church for claiming that humanity is better, more important, more the center than any of the rest of creation.
creation
The idea of better leads to much of the abuse of creation all around us.
We are not better than the rest of creation.
We are, in fact, the only piece of creation actively rejecting God.
rejection
Definitely not better.
Yet we are unique.
We are a hybrid of material and spiritual, of visible and invisible.
Animals have a living body, but not a rational soul.
Angels have a rational soul, but not a living body.
Humans are a microcosm of creation.
We are the only creation to contain the whole.
worship
Not because of any merit on our part, but because that is the way we were created.
We stand in the middle
Arms outstretched
Mediating between heaven and earth.
imitation
Doing our best to imitate the Man who remained whole.

Art credits: Solomon Dedicates the Temple by Tissot; Three Crosses Sketch by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Is God In Control?

I am hunkered down this week, writing my final project (another book!) for this spiritual formation Master’s level course I have been  working on for two years.  Please enjoy this essay from my archives as I finish up my writing.
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.

 

God is in control.
This phrase seems to float around a lot, especially after events like presidential elections.
At the end of the day, everything will turn out okay because God is still King.
God as King
What do people mean by this?
Do they mean that everything in their lives will be beautiful? Do they mean that crises will never plague them?
Since this is clearly not true, since suffering is common to us all, either God is not in control after all or that is not really what God meant.
Yet God Himself did claim to be in control.
If being in control does not mean that justice reigns, that love wins, that pain vanishes, what does it mean?
beautiful result of labor pain
It means that somehow, in some inexplicable way, all that is hard in this world is only labor pain. The beautiful end is already decided and all that we go through in this world is somehow necessary to bring about that glorious end.
I don’t pretend to understand how this works out. I certainly don’t mean that every evil thing a person chooses to do is required for God’s plan. Yet a world in which free will exists and thus in which a broken mankind and a broken creation is possible is crucial to God’s plan.
In that moment in time when God broke into our broken world, He caused the end of the story to come crashing down into the middle. The end of death, the rescue of man and creation, our glorious new bodies, all of this has already happened in the first century, in little Israel.
this life
storm of life
Just as winter storms can still throw blizzards and hail to destroy the tulips after the calendar has already declared it to be spring, Satan is still casting icy lances to destroy as many as he can after the resurrection has already declared God’s victory.
It is our mission, our part of God’s story, to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth, to plant our tulips in the certain hope that spring is on the way.
God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that everything will happen now the way we may wish.
It does mean that the end is decided and that everything that happens is bringing us swiftly toward that end.
So plant your tulips in hope.
hope is here
Our faith is certain. The warmth of spring is on its way.

Art credits: Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860; tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell

The Resurrection Is Our Crocus

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.

 

Reality.
All of creation conspires to teach us what is real.
When God created, He carefully crafted the laws of nature to point toward reality.
reality
nature
reality
Every growing seed points to the reality that we must die in order to bear fruit.
Every autumn leaf points to the reality that in dying to ourselves, our true colors burst forth.
Every new birth points to the reality that new life comes only after great labor pains.
All of creation shouts out God’s beautiful reality.
Today, as I look out the window on a Palm Sunday in the middle of April and see this:
winter
spring
I am meditating on the reality that when the calendar says it is spring, when the crocus first peeps up from the ground, it is truly spring, even when it still feels like winter.
winter
Because, let’s be honest, it still feels like winter in this world.
As refugees stream out of war-torn countries,
as friends fight deadly diseases,
as families continue to grieve beloved ones who have died,
it still feels like winter to me.
winter or spring
And yet.
I sit here on Palm Sunday, contemplating the Holy Week to come:
The road into Jerusalem which led to the giving of bread and wine,
a desperate prayer in a garden,
the cross.
The ghastliness of Holy Saturday and the knowledge that God is dead.
And then.
A weighty boulder moved easy like a feather.
An angel wondering at anyone presuming to find Jesus in a tomb.
A familiar voice: Mary
Jesus.
Alive.
Resurrection.
And suddenly I understand what I am truly seeing out of my window on this Palm Sunday in the middle of April, when the crocuses have peeped out their heads and yet snow lays heavy on the ground.
signs
reality
The resurrection is our confirmation.
Yes, it may still feel like winter all around,
but the resurrection is our crocus.
resurrection
Spring is really here.

Art Credit: all photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2019. And yes, I know that none but the last photograph are actually of crocuses. Mea culpa.

A Taste of Hope

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.

 

Often this life seems unfair.
God’s answers to desperate prayers seem arbitrary and rare.
Prayer
Prayer
Prayer
One family prays for their unborn child and gives birth to a stillborn; another family prays for their unborn child and applauds at his piano recital.
One mother fights cancer and loses; another mother fights cancer and dances at her daughter’s wedding.
Sometimes God chooses to step in. Often He does not.
Why?
This is the age old question, is it not?
Why did God do this and not that?
Why, even in Scripture, does God say yes to some and no to others?
Taste
Why did Jesus not heal everyone He came across? Why did He not save everyone from death?
As my Papa used to say, Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what I do know.
This world is broken. It is broken because of sin.
It is broken because of the sin of men.
Our sin.
The ugly in our world?
This is our world as we have made it.
This is our world and we cannot fix it.
We are helpless and hopeless to bring any kind of beauty out of the ugly.
Except.
Except God.
Our God stepped down into the ugly and took on our flesh so that He could be God-with-us, so that He could make everything beautiful again.
hope
This He has done. It is finished.
And yet it is not finished.
The end is certain, yet this world takes time to be restored to its original perfection.
I don’t know why this is so. It feels so long since the days of Christ.
It is, at times, easy to give up, to decide that He is never coming back and that the broken state of our world is its inevitable end.
hope
Except.
Except God.
Except for those moments when God steps in and gives us a taste of what is to come.
Those moments when God steps in and reminds us that a time is coming when there will be no more sickness or grief or pain, when there will be no more veil between Him and His people.
Those moments when God steps in and gives us hope.
This world is broken and full of the ugly and the suffering, and it would remain so for always.
Except.
Except God.

Art Credits: Prayer by Antonio Parreiras; The Pathway of Life by Thomas De Witt Talmage; Prayer by Mednyánszky László; When the King Came by George Hodges; Jesus Christ by Asta Kr; candle-lit cross by Made Sacred