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

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

Found in the Dark

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Dark.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
Dark.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
Dark.
Darkness
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.
Lighting Candles
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.
And
There is new life in the dark.
New life
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.

Art Credit: all photographs by Made Sacred copyright 2018

edited from the archives

The Tension in Which We Live

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God promised to give Abram the land.
Abram
God promised Moses the same.
He brought Moses right up to the edge and promised the land to Israel.
Moses
God promised Joshua the land
and asked Joshua to fight.
Joshua
His promise was to give Israel the land
and He also asked Israel to fight the battles for the land.
Joshua led Israel in battle
and Israel fought for the land.
And yet God gave it to them.
Joshua's fight
As Israel fought, God caused the enemy to flee.
As Israel wielded their swords, God sent hailstones that killed more than the swords.
As Israel ran and sweat and grew bloody and bruised, God made the sun stand still.
God gave them the land
and Israel had to fight.
It is a tension within which we, too, are required to live.
God has promised to make us like Him
and He has asked us to work.
Our fight
God has promised to transform our lives
and He has given us disciplines to practice.
God's battle
It is by grace you have been saved, and not by works, so that no man may boast
and
Faith without works is dead
God, who saved us and called us…not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace
and
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We live in this tension.
This tension
As we sit in silence and solitude, God transforms our hearts.
As we meditate on God’s Words, God changes us into the hands and feet of the Word.
As we whisper faltering prayers, God grows fruit and works miracles.
God gives us our inheritance
and we are asked to fight. Our beautiful tension
It is beautiful, this tension in which we live.

Art credits: God’s covenant with Abraham, Bible primer; Moses Viewing the Promised Land by Frederick Edwin Church; Crossing the Jordan, Bible primer; Joshua at Gibeon, 5th century mosaic; all other photographs by Made Sacred, copyright 2018

Never Outside of God

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
beginning
created
earth
Yet God’s creative work did not stop there.
He did not create the universe, set it into motion, then step back and let things take their course.
For by Him all things were created…and in Him all things hold together.
in Him
never outside of Him
hold together
All creation was brought forth out of Himself and all creation is sustained by Him.
His presence is here, all around us, intimately close to us and yet also other than us. Other than creation.
He is still creating, still sustaining. He is constantly “bringing forth”.
creating
sustaining
bringing forth
This is not pantheism. God is not His creation.
Sustaining does not equal being.
Sustaining also does not equal controlling.
We still make our choices, live our lives, do what we were created to do.
live
art
science
Yet on a deeper level, God is sustaining us while we do what we were created to do.
We work on different levels. God has His work and has given us work to do. He has given all of creation work to do.
Perhaps we are the only ones who can refuse that work.
For God is other than His creation.
Too often we make Him the same, just bigger.
He is not the same, and we do well to remember it.
He has given us work to do, and while we are to obey and do that work He has given us to do, we are deceived if we believe we do that work on our own.
caring
praising
tending
providing
For while we work, doing what we were created to do, God is also at work, sustaining all things , holding all things together within Himself.
May that truth give you rest, for you are never outside of the sustenance of God.
You are never outside of God Himself.

Art Credits: Photograph of space by NASA; all other photographs copyright 2018 Made Sacred

When We Enter the Darkness

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Sometimes it happens this way.
Sometimes when you are closest to God, you feel as though you are farthest away.
It seems to happen that when you are a new Christian, God speaks clearly, you feel His presence solidly, light is all around you.
New
Fresh
As you progress in your faith, God’s voice gets fainter, His presence is harder to grasp, the clouds begin to form around you.Old
Dry
This is how it was for Mother Theresa who began her life full of fire and certainty and spent the last fifty years of her life full of darkness and silence. She continued to obey, even when the dry times outnumbered the rich times.
As a baby, you need God to discernibly carry you. When you become more mature, you need to trust that God is still carrying you.
When God first showed Himself to Moses, it was in the light.
Light
In a miracle of a fiery bush that did not become ash, He revealed Himself to a man who did not yet know Him.
Later, God showed Himself to Moses in a cloud.
Cloud
In the middle of the cloudy dimness of a pillar of cloud, God spoke to a man who was learning to trust Him.
Once Moses became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.
Dark
In the darkness on the top of a mountain, God gave His Word to a man who knew Him.
We should not think that this is unusual. We should not despair when we must enter the darkness. We should not give up on God when we can no longer see Him.
Rather, we should continue to obey, continue to trust, continue to speak and to listen.
What you discovered about God in the fiery light does not disappear once He cloaks Himself in darkness.
He is still there, He still loves you, and He is still working to perfect you.
Perfect
Especially in the darkness.

Ideas in this post come from St. Gregory of Nissa (335-395 AD)

Art Credits: God Appears to Moses from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg; Pillar of Cloud is a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company; Promulgation of the Law by Gerard Hoet; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

I have three papers to write this week for my Master’s course, so this post is edited from the archives. I hope you enjoyed it!