The Prayer that Welds the House

house-with-lights-on
Last week I wrote about the idea of the self being a home with two floors – the lower floor representing the physical self and the upper floor representing the spiritual self.
While many theologians over the centuries have written about this notion, mostly recently I have been reading about it in Evelyn Underhill’s Concerning the Inner Life, a book I would highly recommend.
Underhill wrote of the Lord’s Prayer as an example of one way to move in your prayers from one floor to the other and weld the whole thing together as a whole and complete house. This particular prayer “witnesses with a wonderful beauty and completeness to this two-story character of the soul’s house.” It is such a lovely and helpful way to think about this concept, so I thought I would share it with you here today.
We begin at the top of the house with the one relationship that rules all the rest:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
“Whatever the downstairs muddle and tension we have to deal with … all this rich and testing experience is enfolded and transfused by the cherishing, over-ruling life and power of God.”
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The prayer then brings us gradually downstairs allowing the sacred to fill every space, cleansing and sanctifying it all. Thy Kingdom come – hope and expectation. Thy will be done – the loving union of our will with His.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Give us the “food from beyond ourselves which nourishes and sustains our life. Forgive all our little failures and excesses, neutralize the corroding power of our conflicts … we can’t deal with them alone … Lead us not into situations where we are tried beyond our strength; … and protect the weakness of the adolescent spirit against the downward pull of the inhabitants of the lower floor.”
And then? The reason for all of this.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
“… bringing together, in one supreme declaration of joy and confidence, the soul’s sense of that supporting, holy, and eternal Reality who is the Ruler and the Light … of every room in every little house.”
Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.
Amen and Amen

The Welding Together of the Whole House

whole house
There is so much confusion in our current place and time when it comes to our selves and what we consist of.
Some tell us that we are purely physical and have no need to consider any spiritual aspect.
Others tell us that the most important piece of us is the spiritual piece and we should disregard the physical altogether.
I confess that I tend to lean toward the latter. Most days I’d prefer to ignore my physical body completely and only tend to my spiritual life. There are probably many of you who lean the other way.
Both of these either/or views, however, don’t accurately depict the way God created humans.
God created man to be unique among all created beings. He created us to be the link between natural life and spiritual life, called to manifest his glory in both.
link between heaven and earth
Humans are
truly created a little lower than the angels, yet truly crowned with glory and worship, because in this unperfected human nature the Absolute Life itself has deigned to dwell. ~ Evelyn Underhill
We are the only beings created to be both physical and spiritual. We stand in the gap between heaven and earth, bringing God’s kingdom rule here on earth and reflecting the praises of creation back to God.
Rulers and priests.
Physical and spiritual.
It has helped me when thinking through this idea to think of the self as a house. Many theologians over the centuries have written of the self in this way.
whole house
St. Teresa of Avila, a Christian mystic in the 16th century, wrote a book called The Interior Castle in which she describes the movement between the lower floors of the castle (the physical self) and the upper floors (the spiritual self) as prayer.
Evelyn Underhill, a theologian from the early 1900’s, wrote of the self as a home with an upstairs (again, the spiritual self) and a downstairs (the physical body).
Both floors of the home are necessary. Taking care of both is essential to being a whole person in the way God intended for us to be.
Therefore a full and wholesome spiritual life can never consist of living upstairs, and forgetting to consider the ground floor and its homely uses and needs; thus ignoring the humbling fact that those upper rooms are entirely supported by it. ~ Underhill
I feel as though those words were written directly to me.
I not only tend to forget the “humbling fact that those upper rooms are entirely supported by” the ground floor, I sin against my Creator when I disparage my physical body as unimportant or less than.
Back to the singularness of human beings, the strength of our “house” consists in that “intimate welding together of the divine and the human.” (Underhill)
That intimate welding together found its perfection in the humanity and deity of Christ.
That intimate welding together is what you and I must aim toward if we are to become like Jesus, become the kind of human we were created to be.
whole house
We were created to be a whole house, with the lower and upper floors intimately welded together for the glory of God.

Art credits: painting is by Thomas Kinkade; photo of light through trees is by Kirk Sewell

Living a Mixed Life

Our lives are “extroverted to excess. Our attention is incessantly called outwards toward the multitude of details and demands …” Evelyn Underhill, 1926
Times Square
Culture has been heading this direction for a long time. Perhaps this world has always been so, developing in us a call to focus outward, a pride in busyness, a tendency to give undue importance to external details.
Many of our churches follow in the same direction, calling their people towards service and events far more than prayer, contemplation, and spiritual formation. We are asked to always be ready to give and serve yet are not told how to be filled up with anything to give.
It becomes clear, when we look at the life of Jesus, that we should live a mixed life, not a single-focused life. We should live a life of prayer and service, a life of looking and working, a life of being filled up with God and spilling that life out for others.
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To deepen our own spiritual lives to meet the demands of others, we must first spend time gazing at God. We need a vision, a conception, as clear and deep and lovely as we are able, of the splendor and beauty of God.
That enrichment of the sense of God is surely the crying need of our current Christianity. A shallow religiousness, the tendency to be content with a bright ethical piety wrongly called practical Christianity … seems to me to be one of the ruling defects of institutional religion at the present time.
We have not changed directions since Evelyn Underhill wrote this in 1926. We have only moved further down that path.
Stressing service rather than awe simply does not wear well. In those moments when the pain and mystery of life are deeply felt, in the moments when we fall into a dangerous spiritual exhaustion in the name of meetings the needs of others, this “shallow religiousness” falls flat.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said that “Man was created for this end – to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord his God.” Notice that two of the three things for which our souls were made are our relationship with God: adoration and awe. Unless these two pieces are in their correct place, the last of the triad, service, will not be right.
Axentowicz_The_Anchorite
Again, it is in looking to Jesus and the pattern of his own life that we see the way in which we should walk. This mixed life of prayer and service
unites the will, the imagination, and the heart; concentrates them on one single aim. In the recollected hours of prayer and meditation you do the looking; in the active and expansive hours you do the working. (Underhill)
Our secret life of prayer, the steady orientation of our hearts to the reality of God, is what leads to the desire and ability to be Jesus’s hands and feet to those around us. Ruysbroeck, a contemplative in the Middle Ages, said that the result of a perfected life of prayer was “a widespreading love to all in common.”
It is, for certain, a grace from God to have a sense of wonder and delight in him. Like all graces, however, our ability to receive it depends mostly on the exercise of our will and desire, on our openness and giving of our time to receive it. It will not be forced upon us.
Our churches are not wrong in teaching that a life of service is good and necessary, yet service should not, cannot, come first. We must first “deepen (our) own lives, that (we) are capable of deepening the lives of others.” (Underhill)
Prayer2
Christ set us an example in all things, and so it is a mixed life that we are called to live, a life of prayer and service, of looking and working. We must first take the time to be filled up with a deep and clear vision of the splendor of God; only then will we have the ability to spill out our lives in love for others.

This Frivolous Beauty

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.”
beauty
beauty
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.
beauty
beauty
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.
beauty
beauty
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

The Day We Were Separated From God

Holy Saturday.
2048px-Vittore_Carpaccio_-_Preparation_of_Christ's_Tomb_-_Google_Art_Project
The day God the Son is dead.
Don’t miss this.  Don’t rush through it.
On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God-with-us is dead.
Belgium
Only one part of the Trinity, yes, but God nonetheless.
The Word of God is gone.  We can no longer hear Him.
Linger in this day.  Does the earth feel different?  Somehow vacant?
Elmendorf
There is, for this day, no possible way to reach God.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
No Most Holy Place where the high priest could meet with God.
It is finished.
He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
No Word of God in whom we can see the Father.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Garden Tomb Side
Remain in this day as long as you can.  I don’t understand how, but somehow this day exists on which we are completely isolated from God.
Breathe in the horror of this day.  God is dead.  He is, for this day, unattainable.  Can you catch even a glimpse?
The disciples did.  They lived it for what must have felt like an eternity.
We’d rather skip past this day, this Saturday that contains Christ’s body in the tomb.  Yet we must linger if we are to grasp the power of Easter Sunday.  We must dwell here awhile if we are to be allowed to hold the joy of Easter Sunday.
When the Son, the Word of the Father is dead, then no one can see God, hear of Him or attain Him.  And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father, accordingly, inaccessible. ~ Hans Urs Von Balthasar (theologian and author)
Can you feel the terror of it?  Do you sense the incomprehensible void that stretches before us on this day?  What does it even mean?
Do not rush too quickly past this Holy Saturday on your way to the miracle.  You may miss the deepest part of the gratitude and joy that are to come.
Garden Tomb
The deepest gratitude and joy that come only when you understand what was absent, and understand that it was only for a day.

Art credits: Preparation of Christ’s Tomb by Vittore Carpaccio; Tomb of knight Philip Keerman in Flanders, Belgium; 1912 photograph of Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Dwight Lathrop Elmendorf; Side view of Garden Tomb by Deror Avi; Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Berthold Werner

How to Be a Friend of God

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about making and sustaining friendships in middle age.
Girls2 copy
Girls copy
The article included advice such as just ask, create a routine, schedule time, and even try a friendship matchmaking site.
It made me think of my own friendships, the new ones and the old ones, the ones were good for a season but then faded away and the ones that have lasted over many seasons of life.
Jesus called us friends. Did you know that? I had been a Jesus follower for an embarrassingly long time before I knew that.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Friendship with God, however, does not mean comfort and ease. True friendship, even earthly friendship, does not mean that you indulge your friend or always give him or her what they want. A true friend will sometimes tell you things you don’t want to hear, will do things that seem painful to you because they want to help you be the best you you can be.
When I look in Scripture at those who have been called a friend of God, this is the kind of friendship I see.
friend of God
friend of God
Who in Scripture has been called a friend of God?
Abraham and Moses.
What do we see when we look at the lives of both Abraham and Moses?
Definitely not comfort and ease.
I see uncertainty, hardship, loss, sacrifice …
God didn’t call Abraham to go lie in a hammock under a palm tree but to leave his home on an uncertain, dangerous journey towards an already occupied land.
God didn’t call Moses to continue living a life of ease in the palace, secure in his position of power, but to challenge that power and then leave on an uncertain, dangerous journey (while leading a gaggle of cranky, complaining people) towards an already occupied land.
God demands a lot of his friends.
In the verse before the one where Jesus calls us friends instead of servants, he says that we are his friends if we do what he commands us.
Expectations color our experience, and we need to know what to expect as friends of God.
Jesus warned us to expect trouble in this world, and we need to be careful not to expect things of God that he has not promised.
Scripture is so important. We must know what God means when he says that we are his friend.
It is a dangerous thing to be a friend of God.
And at the same time, even while God demands everything of us, he also has given us everything.
The verse before Jesus instructs us to obey his commands?
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Before he demanded anything of us, before we were friends of God, while we were still set against him,
Christ died for us.
What do I see when I look at the lives of Abraham and Moses?
I see intimacy, companionship, purpose, hope, …
And that is what the friendship of God and Abraham is all about. Abraham was in touch with the God who was in touch with him. He accepted God’s concern for him as the reality of his life, and he returned it by making God the center of his life. (maybe end quote there or maybe this bit too:) He obeyed, he journeyed, he prayed, he believed, and he built altars. He did none of this perfectly. But perfect is not a word we use to describe friendship relationships. Perfect is a word that refers to inanimate things – a perfect circle, say, or a perfectly straight line. With persons we talk of response, growth, listening, and acting. Abraham did all of that in relation with God, whom he was convinced was determined to be a good friend to him.”~ Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire
It is a glorious and beautiful thing to be a friend of God.

Art credits: Abraham Visited by Three Angels by Jacques Gamelin; Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt

God With Us In Beauty

When we are hurting, when we are grieving, when we are stumbling in the dark, God doesn’t usually come down in a blaze of holy fire.
beauty
He doesn’t usually appear with trumpets blaring to take away what hurts us.
God with us
We can feel as though he is silent, feel as though we are thoroughly abandoned by our Maker. Yet I have discovered that God does answer us in the darkness.
He answers us, as Sarah Clarkson puts it, in the language of presence.
Our Father comes to us in our world through his Son, he is closer than our breath through his Spirit,
and also he comes to us through beauty.
beauty
Sometimes it is the way the light falls across a fragile petal.
Sometimes it is a bar of intricate music.
Sometimes it is a stroke of color in a painting.
God with us
This beauty catches my breath, it startles up tears, it pulls an ache and a longing up from the depths of my heart. It is God himself, “clothed in countless tangible moments of beauty.”
What beauty reveals is the intimacy of the divine in our grief. God gives us beauty … as his offering — a gift that immerses us in something that allows us to touch hope, to taste healing, to tangibly encounter something opposite to disintegration and destruction. ~ Sarah Clarkson
Beauty reminds us of what we hope for.
God with us
Beauty reminds us that even though we still walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even though we live in a fallen world and reside in frail bodies, we have not yet arrived at the end of the story.
Beauty reminds us of what we hope for and beauty tells us about this God who made us.
Beauty teaches us not just that God exists but that he is lovely and good. Beauty tells us that we were created for joy and summoned to healing. ~ Hans Urs von Balthasar
When we experience moments of beauty in our darkness, we are experiencing a reality that is deeper and truer than our darkness.
beauty
In those moments of beauty we experience the nature of God’s created reality, and it is oh so lovely.
So very often I am unable to imagine any way out of my darkness other than God swooping down in his mighty power.
What I need in these times is for God to heal my imagination.
God with us
I need is God to heal my imagination so that I can picture a slow and quiet, but no less mighty, power, a power that does not discard the brokenness but makes of it something beautiful and new.
What we need is the healed capacity to imagine and believe the profound goodness of the future, to stand in the light of a happy ending whose power reaches into our present and draws us forward in hope. ~ Sarah Clarkson
beauty

All photographs copyright Made Sacred

Pulling Us Into God’s Story

God promises in Scripture that the struggles of this life will somehow be redeemed, that the ugliness in our world will be molded by the hands of a loving, powerful God into a thing of beauty.
suffering into beauty
In the face of the horrors this world can hold, this promise is hard to trust. It is difficult to imagine or even hope that it might possibly be true.
Like Abraham, we are asked to keep trusting in the face of apparent impossibility. Trusting that what God said to Abraham is truth for all: “is anything too hard for the Lord?”
fasting
One of the ways I learn how to trust is gazing at the way God fulfilled this redemption promise once before in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Practicing the story of Lent leading into Easter is one way to do this. Practicing the story is a way to catch a glimmer of how this promise could be true. Lent fills us with the sorrow of this broken world and leads us in a physical way through the story of that sorrow into the story of the glory of resurrection, of new creation.
God created us as physical beings and he knows how much we need physical rhythms and habits to ground us in what is true. The Old Testament is full of feasts and festivals, sacrifices and rituals, to keep reminding Israel of who she was and who God is. There is an embodiment to the Lenten practices that has done much to steep my heart in the theological truth of God’s promise to restore our locust-eaten years.
fasting
One of the habits that has pulled me into God’s story is fasting.
I know it is popular lately to fast from any number of things — social media, sugar, screens — but there is something deeply good about embracing our given physicality and fasting from food.
The practice of fasting from a substance you truly need for life roots your entire being down into the reality of brokenness, both the brokenness of our world and the brokenness of our own selves. It tugs me back into the reality of my utter dependence on God, reminds me that the control I think I have over my life is really just an illusion.
Fasting reminds me that God is the only one who truly controls anything.
Fasting reminds me that I am safe in his hands.
Another reason for fasting is to practice Christ’s command to deny ourselves, to die to ourselves. It is a way to build up our spiritual muscle in a small thing so that when the more consequential temptations come we are strong enough to resist.
… misuse of food is an equal-opportunity temptation available three times a day to everyone from nine to ninety. Those who overcome this most basic temptation gain spiritual strength to battle all the rest. Of course, almost no one does. Frederica Mathewes-Green in At the Corner of East and Now
Of all the spiritual disciplines, fasting is probably one of the least talked about these days. It didn’t used to be so. There were regular times of fasting in the Old Testament, times when fasting was commanded and times when it was voluntary. In the New Testament, when Jesus spoke of fasting he didn’t say if you fast but when you fast.
Normally fasting is a private discipline, one you don’t go around talking about. When Jesus taught about fasting, he specifically told his followers not to go around with ashes on their heads and mournful looks on their faces but to live their outward lives as normally as possible.
As I have thought about the way fasting has faded into the background these days, however, I have felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to fast in community during Lent this year. If you would like to join me, we can humble ourselves together before God, encouraging each other and allowing the Spirit to teach us how to use this discipline to grow in our dependence on him.
Here is what I will do: I have committed to fasting for a 24 hour period each week during Lent, from Thursday after supper to Friday supper. I will set up a Facebook group for anyone who would like to be in that kind of community while practicing your fast. If you would like to join, just send me an email at elizabeth@madesacred.com, telling me so.
You could also just join on your own, knowing that there is a community who is fasting with you. There is strength in that kind of knowing. You can send me an email, letting me know that you are joining us. Or you can not.
Whether or not you join me in this specific fast, I hope you will spend time praying about and studying fasting. Tell God what you wonder about fasting. Ask him what he wants to say to you about fasting.
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2.12-13

Why Do We Want to Know?

Children have control over so little in their lives.
We grownups like to think that we have control over our lives, but perhaps that is only illusion.
Daddies and Mommies tell them when to get up and when to lie down, when to eat and when to play, what to wear and where to go.  Children will often grasp at anything that will give them more power over their lives.
One of the things I’ve noticed that children use to gain a little control is knowing what name to call things, especially when that thing frightens them a little.  When she was smaller, my eldest daughter’s constant response to a loud noise was That was? That was?  Even when she was a little older, she still asked What was that? That noise?  Knowing the name of something gave her power over it, made it seem a little less scary.
She sought to know.
Perhaps she is not very different from many adults.
Scientists, medical researchers, geneticists, stay-at-home moms who like to learn…people want to know what name to call things, want to know about things, because that gives them power over those things, those ideas.  If we know how something was put together or how something works or even just what to call it, we feel as though we have power over our world.
We seek to know.
A long time ago, in a land far away, around the beginning of the Christian Church (perhaps even earlier), there lived a group of people we call Gnostics who believed (among other things) that matter, the material universe, was bad and that deliverance from our material form could only come through special knowledge.
Not long ago at all, in a land not at all far away, there lived a group of people who believed that their minds were all-powerful, that the dying of their flesh was bad, that through knowledge they could overcome all physical limitations.  They could eat poorly and take vitamin supplements.  They could ignore their children and send them to therapists.  They could extend life and choose the sort of life that they procreated through the technology they created.  They believed that saving our natural resources wasn’t important because their minds, human ingenuity in the form of science and technology, could surely take care of that problem as well.
There is nothing new under the sun…
In C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man (in 1943!), he said that mankind’s power to do exactly what it wants seems to be growing all the time through humanity’s so-called “con­quest of Nature” – the progress of applied science.  However, “each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”  We can throw bombs from airplanes but can also be bombed ourselves; a race of birth-controllers is a race whose own birth has been controlled.
We seek to know.  We seek to control.
Why do we feel that Nature is bad, that the material world needs to be conquered?  Even as Christ-followers we seek knowledge because we fear.  We want to know and to name so that we can control that which is uncontrollable.
Is the pursuit of knowledge wrong?  Not at all.
Paul says in Philippians:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. ~Philippians 1.9-11 (Italics mine)
Paul seeks to know.
Paul also said this:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~Philippians 4.12-13
Paul is definitely not in control, nor does he seek to be.
Is this a Faustian-like power, this power of knowledge?  A power that gives away everything good that God created in order to gain power and control over His creation?
It can be.
As Christ-followers, do we seek knowledge because we are fearful of the future and wish to wrest control of His creation from the One Who set it all in motion?
Sometimes I do.
Perhaps instead we can seek knowledge in order to praise God with our minds.  Perhaps we can seek knowledge in gratitude for our imagination and intelligence, in gratitude for the complexity of His creation.
I suppose that, as with most that God has created, the goodness or evil of the pursuit of knowledge depends upon the heart of His creation.
May our hearts and minds seek to know out of thanksgiving rather than out of fear.

*etching is “Faust” by Rembrandt

*edited from the archives

Breathe – A Poem

Breathe
He knelt down, leaned in close, and
breathed into the dust.
Dust became man and man
breathed in His image and life.

 

He breathed His Word and
Word gained skin and
breathed life into twelve who then
breathed that life into more.

 

Spirit became fire and
breathed mighty wind into
hearts and minds which then
breathed change into the world.

 

We breathe a human breath then
slip under the waters where
all breath stops and when
we come up we now have His
breath in our souls.

 

One day our lungs will
breathe last breath and we fall
asleep but when we wake we
find Him leaning close and He
breathes into us perfect life.