A Whisper from God

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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The River of Worship

We do not swim in a pond every Sunday.
pond worship
The activities we do in church, the liturgies in which we participate, are not simply a splashing around in a pond.
We do not climb back out as we walk out the doors into the world.
Whether you stand or kneel, pray from the Book of Common Prayer or spontaneously lift your hands, worship is not meant to be contained in a building.
pond worship
The weekly liturgies of the Church are, instead, a rushing river that refreshes us, sustains us, nourishes us,
and then carries us out the doors into the world.
river worship
What happens in our church services should be a communal expression of our individual daily lives, not a break from them.
The praise within the music should be pouring from our lives.
The remembrance of the Eucharist should permeate our days.
The immersion in the Scriptures should suffuse our every activity.
We were created to worship.
We will worship, whether purposefully or not, so shouldn’t we be intentional about allowing our Sunday worship to flood our lives, spilling over into the rest of our piece of the world?
river worship
The foyers of our churches are not walls, keeping the world at bay.
The narthex should be a door.
A door that opens wide, allowing the rushing river of worship to sweep us out to a world that is dying of thirst.
Our world is bone-dry and cottonmouthed, desperate for a thirst-quenching drink of living water.
Who else can give that to them other than those who weekly are immersed in the river of worship?
We must allow our Sunday ventures to send us out to the world all around rather than splashing around in our shallow pond, experiencing only a brief time of refreshment before climbing back out to reenter our regular lives.
pond worship
Our world depends upon the river of life that flows through the Body of Christ.
Our own lives depend upon that river to flourish.
river worship
A pond, after all, often becomes stagnant.

Art credits: all photographs are by Kirk Sewell

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

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