The Real Is the Thing You Would Never Have Guessed

One of the great scourges of our time and place is the idea that what is real is predictable and governable.
not real
The real is what we can wrap our minds around and wrestle into submission.
The real can be measured and understood.
The real is able to be repaired and manipulated.
not real
I would assert (along with most Christian theologians) that, in fact, the opposite is true.
The real is the thing you would never have guessed.
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Almost everyone would agree (there are always a few truly dedicated relativist philosophers who might not concur) that birth is real. The process by which humans procreate is a thing that is real.
C. S. Lewis asks us to consider this way of creating new life, writing that it is
a very curious process, involving pleasure, pain, and danger. A process you would never have guessed.
This is never more true than when considering the first reality to exist.
The same God who is terrible to gaze upon is also good.
The same God who couldn’t allow Moses to look upon His face lest Moses die submitted Himself to a humiliating death out of love for us.
The same God who is the King of heaven and earth became poor for our benefit.
Mr. Beaver, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, says of Aslan, the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He’ll be coming and going. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.”
God is not safe, but He is good.
The real is the thing you would never  have guessed.
This is important to remember when life is out of control, when circumstances are spiraling downwards.
When life seems more than we can bear, safety is not what we need.
A “wild, terrifying, powerful” goodness is what we want and what we need.
He is somehow perfectly self-consistent and yet altogether unpredictable … (able) to love in ways that nobody could have guessed. ~ Jonathan Rogers in The World According to Narnia
There is nothing predictable or safe about God. But He is good.
And in the end, omnipotence turns out to be the same thing as infinite love. Who would have guessed it? ~ Jonathan Rogers

What Does Jesus Think Is Most Important?

We are the Church.
You and me.
Trinity Lutheran
Notre Dame rose window inside
Whatever our stage of life or economic status, whatever bits of theology on which we might differ, whatever our politics or race, we are the Church.
When the world wants to know about Jesus, to know what He thought was most important, they look to us.
What did Jesus think was important?
Well, He said that loving God with all of your being was the most important thing of all, followed by loving others. In fact, the Bible teaches that one of the main ways you love God is by loving others.
Jesus thought that this loving others business was so important, in fact, that He named it as the main way that the world would know we follow Him.
Would the world know that today’s church follows Jesus?
Church light
Arched ceiling
If you knew you were going to die in the next day, what would you pray for? Trivialities and side issues, or would you pray for whatever was paramount in your heart?
When Jesus was about to leave His disciples and head toward the cross, what did He pray for? What did He think was most essential?
He prayed for His followers to love each other. He prayed for unity. He prayed that His followers would be one in the same way that He and the Father were one.
We are the Church.
You and me.
Is that what the world sees?
Dome St Peters
Michelangelo
Jesus is no longer on this earth. His Spirit is inside of each of us, but we the Church are now His body to bring God’s kingdom to this world.
Are we acting like a body or is the hand slapping the head in the face? Is the right foot kicking the left leg?
Jesus pleaded with God to make us one. Why? So that we could be happier and have easier lives while treating each other more kindly?
So that the world would know God’s love.
This is how those in the world can know that God loves them – by the way that we love each other.
What does the world see when it looks at the Church?
That question makes me want to weep.
What does the world see when it looks at you?
Whatever has come before, I implore you now. Love each other. Be unified.
Invite someone from another faith tradition to go along with you the next time you head out to serve the hungry and the orphans.
Find someone who grew up in another culture or another part of the country or even just a different side of town, and take them out to lunch. Listen to them. Ask questions.
After a particularly nasty election and its aftermath, invite someone who voted for the other candidate over to your home for a meal.
Altar
St Peter altar
We are the Church.
You and me.
I entreat you to show the world what Jesus valued. Astound the little piece of your world with your love for other Jesus followers nearby.
Our world needs some astonishment. And it is up to us.

Art credit: Photos of various cathedrals by Kirk Sewell

edited from the archives … yet sadly not any less relevant at all.

Do Not Despair in the Darkness

Sometimes I cannot see a way out.
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Sometimes the darkness is simply too great; I cannot fathom that there could be any way through to the light.
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I, or ones I love, have been enveloped in this kind of murkiness before. Some of those I love feel lost in it right now.
I would venture to suppose that you could say the same.
It is tempting to despair when faced with this kind of desperateness.
It is tempting to believe there is no way out.
It is tempting to decide there is no rescue coming.
The earliest Mothers and Fathers of our faith have taught that this is, indeed, a temptation.
The early monks recognized in despair
“the most vicious and self-defeating temptation of all, that of losing trust in God’s providence and love.” ~ Katherine Norris
When we are in the middle of the deepest darkness, Satan is right there with us, whispering in our ears, “There is no hope. God is not here. He does not care. There is no rescue to be had.”
I have heard the whisper.
I have been tempted to believe it.
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Hold on to hope, dear one, even if you can only manage the tiniest shred of it.
Your diminished imagination cannot begin to comprehend the vastness of possibilities God has at His fingertips.
“I must never, at any moment, presume to say that there is no way out for God because I cannot see any. For it is despair and presumption to confuse one’s pittance of imagination with the possibility over which God disposes.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
God’s way through the darkness will most likely not be the one you imagine.
His way will most likely not be the easiest, the most comfortable, the most pleasant.
It will, however, be the best.
His way through will be the best for you, for those you love, for those around you.
He promised.
So do not despair. Do not give in to the temptation to give up your trust in God’s providence and love.
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He loves you. He is working.
He will bring you through the darkness, He will give you glimpses of the light along the way, and the light will be that much more beautiful for having once been hidden from your view.
The Light is, after all, only hidden. Never absent. Never that.
He is with you always, to the very end of the age.

Art Credits: statue is Grief by Daniel Kornbau; all other photos are my own

These Are Gift — A Poem

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Logs piled high with fire bright
to keep away pain of deep freeze snow night;
Brilliant sun rises on even a dark day
reminding that peace our despair will allay;
Fears that are faced with soft laughter
and voices loud that flit high toward rafter;
These are gift
Hand offered up to tightly hold
while heart searches hard to discover it is bold;
One timid smile offered slow
on a troubled day that conspires to bring heart low;
Tiny dimpled fingers tightly wrap
around a thumb with paper skin deep in nap;
These are gift
One who spoke earth and star
is found wrapped in small by those traveling far;
He who is Creator’s song
takes on all our discord, killed for our wrong;
Promise of freedom from fear,
of healing our broken, of wiped away tear;
These are gift
for which we give thanks

edited from the archives

I Don’t Care

acedia

I sometimes get a restless feeling.
acedia
A feeling that makes me want to take a trip, move to a new place, find a different job.
A feeling that tempts me to believe that my current place and work don’t really matter, that nothing I do is important, that continuing on with my life as it is seems utterly unappealing.
I’ve had this feeling off and on throughout most of my life, yet it was only recently that I discovered this feeling has a name:
Acedia.
Naming a thing has power.
Acedia.
It is the feeling that what you are doing does not matter, is utterly unimportant, and that you would rather be anywhere else doing anything else.
acedia
It is the feeling that causes us to feel bored and impatient with all of the “drudgery” of whatever role we have in our lives.
Doing the dishes after one more meal, sitting through one more meeting, driving the kids to one more practice, coming home to your spouse one more time,
these are all practices that can cause acedia in our hearts.
acedia
We live in a consumer culture, one that advises us to keep our options open so that we are free to seize the new and improved edition when it comes out.
It prompts us to see obligations to family, friends, and colleagues as impediments to that freedom … Whatever the place of our commitment — a monastic cell, a faith community, a job, a marriage — well, we are better off just walking away … But soon we discover that no place will satisfy us, and no one person, no group of friends, can meet our needs. The oppressive boredom we had hoped to escape is lodged firmly within us … ~ Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me
Acedia is a condition of the heart that has long been recognized by the Christian spiritual tradition as a temptation to be resisted.
It shows itself in a boredom with the mundane, repetitive tasks of life, in not caring about anything in our hectic schedules, in a listlessness and a desire to give up and move on to something else, anything else.
What is it like, this failure in the art of life? It is the failure which manifests itself in a loss of interest in really important things … But if … your feelings and sensibilities are withering, if your relationships with people near to you are becoming more and more superficial, if you are losing touch even with yourself, it is Acedia which has claimed you for its own.” ~ Robertson Davies in The Deadliest of the Sins
The problem is, of course, that acedia is a disorder of the heart rather than a disordering of any outward circumstances. That restless, listless feeling can and does come with any work, any community, any place.
Let me pause and say that acedia is different from depression or despair. I like the way Kathleen Norris puts it: “For despair, participation in the divine nature through grace is perceived as appealing, but impossible; for acedia, the prospect is possible, but unappealing.”
Un-pause.
What, then, is the solution? If a change will not dislodge acedia from our hearts, what will?
Again we turn to our heritage, our earlier Fathers and Mothers of our faith, for help.
Their counsel lies in the spiritual practices of prayer and endurance.
Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth century monk and theologian, urged, “Endurance cures listlessness, and so does everything done with much care and fear of God … Set a measure for yourself in everything that you do, and don’t turn from it until you’ve reached that goal.” But also, “pray intelligently and with fervor, so that the spirit of listlessness will flee.”
Several of the desert Mothers and Fathers instructed their students to perform the humblest of tasks with full attention and no fussing over the whys and wherefores.
It seems too simple, to merely carry on with your current task in your current place with your current people.
Yet I can attest to the wisdom of their counsel from my own experience. The times I have responded to acedia with change, the feeling continues to hound me. The times I have responded with endurance, the temptation eventually flees.
Perseverance is the essential condition for conquering the temptation of acedia.
The monks and mystics of my faith all teach that persevering in a spiritual discipline, especially when it seems futile, is the key to growth. ~ Kathleen Norris
The consequence of not enduring? A gradual withering of desires and passion and interest in anything at all, as well as an enslavement to your own self.
There is no longer any room for an abandonment … to the other or for the joy of gift; what remains is sadness or bitterness within the one who distances himself from the community and who, being separated from others, finds himself likewise separated from God. ~ Jean-Charles Nault, OSB in Acedia: Enemy of Spiritual Joy
In my own life, I have found a great power in being able to name this feeling that comes upon me now and then. It gives me courage to hold on, knowing that if I will only continue to pray and endure, this temptation, like all others, will eventually flee.
I pray that this gives you courage as well.
I end with a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Take these words and use them when you have trouble finding your own. Peace be on you.
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
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: book images are from Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak

Seeing Every Piece of Me as a Gift

I often have difficulty understanding what I am feeling.
emotions
emotions
emotions
emotions
That may seem strange, but I’ve always found it difficult to name my emotions and understand them.
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emotions
emotions
emotions
Part of the trouble is that I generally have a fairly even-keeled sort of temperament. I don’t tend to sink into the depths of despair, but I don’t experience the dizzying heights of joy either.
There are benefits and drawbacks to every personality.
Another part of the trouble is that I mistrust the transience of emotions. Because emotions change quickly, because they don’t always tell what is true about something, I dismiss them as completely irrelevant. I am impatient with them.
I was recently reminded, however, that the One who created the sunset is the same One who created us as emotional beings.
Yes, some of us have bigger emotions than others, just as some of us have darker hair than others, but we all experience a range of emotions.
I was gently reminded by the Spirit that when I dismiss my feelings, I am dismissing a piece of God’s creation. I am throwing a piece of who God created me to be back in His face and telling Him that I do not think it is good.
My deep desire is to glorify God with everything that is in me. This means glorifying Him with the way I care for my emotional self.
I have neglected this part of me for so long.
This is hard.
I must be patient, bringing my emotions before God and asking His Holy Spirit to guide me in discernment and wisdom in caring for this gift that He has given me. I must ask Him to help to see it as a gift.
If there is a piece of you, mind or heart or body or soul, that you have tended to neglect (and probably we all have something), will you bring that fragment of you before God and ask Him how to better tend it, ask Him to knit it back into your whole?
This is part of the way in which we become whole people, capable of becoming who God created us to be, capable of glorifying our Lord with all that we are.

 

 

Why I Wrote the Book I Wrote

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Have you ever wondered about my writing process or how I published my first book? Want to read more about why I wrote Beyond the Front Door?
I was recently the subject of an author feature on the Inkling Creative Strategies blog. (I’ve never done that before … It was fun!)
Curious? Follow the link to read more!
Inkling Creative Strategies

New Life in the Darkness

This has been a particularly hard few weeks, so I hope you will enjoy this post from the archives as I take a short break from writing in this space. Peace to you.

Darkness.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
Darkness.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
Darkness.
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.

All photographs are my own, copyright 2021 Made Sacred

A Knowing That Goes Beyond Words

I am a learner by nature. I am always curious and always want to know everything about everything.
knowledge
It drives my husband a little crazy. He often feels that I am giving him the third degree about his opinions, while I think I am only being curious about why he thinks the way he thinks.
We’ve both had to learn a lot during our 17 years of marriage.
My penchant for learning and research serves me well in many areas.
In some ways, it also serves me well in my walk with God.
In other ways, however, this piece of who I am has shown itself to hinder my knowing God.
knowing
There are different ways of knowing someone.
It is helpful in a relationship to know about a person, to know their character, to know what they have done and how they think.
You do have to know about someone to be able to know them.
Yet this alone is insufficient.
This is not truly knowing someone.
knowledge
God delights in being known by us. He wants us to seek for Him, to seek after knowledge of Him.
He also wants to make Himself known to us, and He often makes Himself known through other means than our logical mind.
… (at times) God no longer communicates himself through the senses. He does not make himself known through the analytical mind, which synthesizes and divides ideas. Instead, he begins to come through pure spirit, through simple contemplation, untainted by discursive thought. ~ St. John of the Cross in Dark Night of the Soul
St. Ignatius of Loyola, an early 16th century Spanish priest and theologian, wrote a series of prayers and meditations to help people seek after the will of God and devote themselves wholly to Him. As a part of the instructions, he writes that it is by contemplating the nature of God that a person will deepen his understanding of God and divine grace,
… for it is not an abundance of knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul but rather an interior understanding and savoring of things.
I hunger after that abundance of knowledge, but God is teaching me that this kind of knowledge is not enough.
Hungering after the knowledge of God is good and right, and it is insufficient on its own.
knowing
There must be a knowing that goes beyond facts, beyond words. There must be a deeper knowing that leads to falling in love.
Madeleine L’Engle puts it this way:
There is a kind of knowing that comes in silence and not in words — but first we must be still. ~ in Walking on Water
I have been learning this way of knowing, this knowing that comes out of being still before God, and I will testify that it is deeply satisfying.
Knowing about God leaves me thirsty for more.
Knowing God fills me to overflowing.
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: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith; all other photographs are my own, copyright Made Sacred 2021

This is what we are desperate for in this chaotic world_ an inner peace and joy that remains in us as we begin to look more like Jesus. This is what God promises us as we learn to abide in him. copy
Want to know more? Click here to learn about my book.

When You Feel as Though Nothing Is Happening

The book I recently published, Beyond the Front Door: Cultivating Rhythms of Abiding in Jesus, says a lot about being still before God, about the practice of silence and solitude.
stillness
One of the cautions I give in the book is to understand that you will not always feel something during your times of stillness. The work of God is slow and subtle, and an emotional experience of God is a rare gift. A welcome gift, to be sure, but rare.
St. John of the Cross
I recently read Dark Night of the Soul by 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. I wish I had read it earlier. There was so much in his writings that I wanted to add to my book! It is too late for that, but I want, nevertheless, to share with you some of what he is teaching me.
St. John writes much about the beginners on this spiritual journey of knowing God and becoming like Him, and one of the points he continues to come back to is that beginners strain toward feelings of pleasure. They become so attached to the idea of experiencing God through their senses that when no feelings come they believe they have failed.
St. John admonishes us:
Don’t they realize that the sensory benefits are the least of the gifts offered by the divine? God often withdraws sensual sweetness just so that they might turn the eyes of faith upon him.
He notes that anyone who searches for “sensory sweetness” ends up turning their face away from the bitterness of self-denial. Rather than seeking after feelings, we are to simply offer humble praise and reverence to God within ourselves.
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I am certainly guilty of feeling as though my time with God was a failure because I did not feel anything. Because nothing seemed to happen. Yet St. John calls this a “negative judgement against God.”
It is a lack of trust that God will accomplish His promised work inside of us regardless of whether we see Him working.
The idea that there is great benefit to God removing any sense of His presence is another idea St. John returns to again and again. When we feel satisfied, we tend to move toward practicing our own inclinations and weaknesses rather than leaning wholly on God. When we lose the feeling of God being with us, we wake up to our deepest desire for Him.
Without the turnings away, they would never learn to reach for him.
I hope this encourages you as it does me.
solitude
When we feel as though nothing is happening in our time with God, it is most likely that we are receiving even greater gifts than pure sensory benefit.
When we cannot sense the presence of God, let His seeming absence force us to trust more deeply in His promises and rouse us to reach out for Him.
He is, after all, always there.
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 credit: John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán; all other photos are mine, Made Sacred copyright 2021

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