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.
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He doesn’t usually appear with trumpets blaring to take away what hurts us.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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All photographs copyright Made Sacred

Finding the Beauty in Tension and Delay

I once heard a story about a company that allows you to rent a grandma.
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I was intrigued and turned up the volume to learn more. I learned that you can rent a grandma of your own ethnicity who can teach you about your roots. She will teach you your traditions and will teach you how to cook your ethnic foods.
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As I smiled to myself and thought about the silliness of the idea of renting a grandma to try to fill a space that can only be truly filled by someone who has known you from birth, who knows your good and your bad and yet loves you anyway, my mind drifted off to what I might wish to pay someone to accomplish for me.
Cleaning my home. Birthdays. Decorating my home. Planning a vacation.
The more I dreamed about not having to do any of those things anymore, however, the more it occurred to me that perhaps hiring someone to plan a birthday party or to do all the planning for a vacation so that I do not have to give any thought to it is not really all that different from paying someone to be a grandma.
Both are about avoiding a process that might be a bit messy and difficult, as well as trying to achieve a result that will be more perfect than what I am able to accomplish on my own.
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Yet if I search my own memories of childhood, or if I ask my own kids what they love and remember most, it is that very same messy process and not-so-perfect ending that bring the most smiles and laughter. Perhaps, if I truly want a beautiful party or an inviting home, the only way to really get that is for my family to journey through the process together.
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Later, as I watched my girls with their finger paints, I couldn’t help but wonder if these ideas in my head about process and journey are perhaps true for more than just the activities in my life.
Perhaps they are true for life itself.
When faced with the ugliness that can be found in this life, in this world, I often echo John’s words: E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.
I wonder why there has been so much delay between our salvation and our redemption.
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I sat at the piano and played through a bit of Bach.
As I played, the music reminded me that time is good. That delay can bring out beauty. That tension makes the release infinitely more beautiful than could be had otherwise.
Music challenges the belief that the longer something takes, the worse it will be…Music, in a very concentrated way, tells us that something can take time AND be good. Music takes time to be what it is, and as such can be glorious. It can remind us that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth
I need this reminder.
I want to look for the purpose in this time we have here, especially in these hard days. I want to see the beauty in the way God created our world to need time in order to become as He intends.
I want to enjoy God’s glorious ending (beginning?) when God will make his dwelling among us, when there will be no more tears, when we will forever enjoy the beauty of the new heaven and new earth.

Listen and revel in the way the music takes us through the delay, the messiness, and the tension of time on into a glorious ending.
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The Intolerable Longing of Beauty

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

Art credits: photographs of light through trees, mountains, and rapids by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Regaining Joy and Wonder

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This world is full of wonder.
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We are surrounded by truth, goodness, beauty.
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Yet rather than pausing to drink it all in, rather than marveling at it all, I find myself slogging through each day with my head down and my heart full of drudgery.
Worse, I am discovering that this blindness is contagious. Rather than inviting my children to stop and gaze at the wonder all around, I am teaching them to plod through their days of math and grammar with nary a glance toward the splendor without or within themselves.
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I am teaching them that learning is only toil rather than a work that satisfies our longing for truth, goodness, and beauty.
It is an easy thing to do three weeks before the end of school.
I must repent.
I must repent of my lack of joy and wonder. Joy in this creation and wonder in the learning of this creation.
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Even in these last days of school, I must pull my head up and take time to pause and gaze.
I must invite my children to pause and gaze.
The final goal of learning is, after all, to become a better human, to become the person God created us to be.
I cannot only tell my girls about truth, goodness, and beauty.
I must show them.
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And before I can show them, I must regularly repent of losing my own joy and wonder.
Beautiful Creator of all, forgive me for my lack of joy. Teach my heart never to lose awe and wonder at all that is around and within me.
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God
Let me never cease to gaze at truth, goodness, and beauty
And in that gazing may I catch a glimpse of You.

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2019

The Girl Whom Jesus Loved

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Who are you?
How do you see yourself?
Are you parent, child, sibling, aunt? Are you friend, lover, loner, partier? What about artist, engineer, plumber, teacher?
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There once was a man. A pastor and author, one of the main leaders of the Church as it existed then, an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. He had a lot going for him.
How did he see himself? What was his self-given identity?
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The disciple whom Jesus loved.
That’s it.
No leaning on his accolades, no referencing his great accomplishments (and he had quite the list of them!), no resting on whom he knew, only falling upon what Jesus thought of him.
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The other day, one of my daughters came into my bedroom while I was getting dressed for the day. She looked at me for a bit, then asked me why my stomach hung down all funny and whether I wished it wouldn’t.
I don’t always handle these sorts of things this well, and it took every ounce of self control not to cover up, hide, start mumbling excuses about how I know I need to eat fewer pieces of dark chocolate but YOU KIDS drive me to it…
Instead, I knelt down, looked her in the eye and told her that no, I didn’t wish my body was different. I told her that I knew my body was beautiful because God made it. I told her that my body had grown four human beings inside of it and that made it a little stretchy but that I wouldn’t change it if I could because if my stomach wasn’t stretchy, I wouldn’t have four beautiful girls in my life now.
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I told her that I was beautiful because God loves me.
She’s only six, so she may not understand just yet, but I want desperately for her and her sisters to only see themselves as one whom Jesus loves. Whether she is looking at her body or her intelligence or her talents, I want her to only see one whom Jesus loves.
I want desperately to be like John.
Every time John refers to himself in his gospel, he calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. Nothing else. He does not identify himself by his name or what he did. Only by how Jesus saw him.
When I get to the end of my life, when I look back on all I have seen, all I have done, and all I am, all I want to see is Jesus.
All I want to be is the girl whom Jesus loved.

Art credit: photo of statue of St. John the Evangelist by John Stephen Dwyer; detail from fresco of Jesus Christ and St. John the Apostle from Ubisi, Georgia

Lift Up Your Head

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The deep darkness in this world can sometimes weigh our heads down. Our eyes remain fixed on our next step, our minds focused on not stumbling, not falling flat on our faces.
It is easy to become mired in the muck of a broken world. We struggle and strive, our backs bent under the bulk of all that is upon us.
Yet God is here.
Right here.
Closer than your breath.
The evidence is all around you. So lift up your head just for a moment.
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You who are bowed down with physical pain, lift up your head.
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You who dwell under the weight of loneliness or depression, lift up your head.
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You who are crushed by a grief that prevents you from even getting out of bed in the morning, lift up your head.
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You who are burdened by the venom between fellow countrymen and fellow Christ followers, lift up your head.
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You who plead with God to do something, to rescue you, to save you, for God’s sake doesn’t He even care,
lift up your head.
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Lift up your head and take a breath of wonder. He is all around you. This beauty is for you.
It doesn’t fully dispel the darkness, at least not yet, but it will give you the strength to keep shining your own light for another day.
And that’s all you need. Just one more day.
Lift up your head.

Art credits: Mountain photos and tulip photo by Kirk Sewell; Space photos by NASAElk photo by Kevin Tuck; Elephant photo by Stella Bogdanic; all other photos are mine

Layers of Meaning in Scripture

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I am often astonished at the beauty of Scripture.
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Not only astonished at the beauty of individual books or passages, although that happens too.
What often takes me aback is the elegance of how the entire Bible fits seamlessly together, flowing in and out of itself like a river flowing into the sea.
The Old Testament points toward the New Testament, while the New Testament points back to the Old as well as forward into the future.
There are layers of meaning to everything – the personal inside the theological inside the historical – and every layer is truth.
Everything that Jesus said and did points back to what God did for Israel and forward to what He was going to do for all the nations.
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Look at the Crucifixion.
It was certainly historical and political. It happened to one man in one place on earth at one particular time, a man caught between two powers struggling for supremacy.
It was theological. When Jesus died, He took upon Himself the sins of the world to atone for them once and for all.
It was personal. Jesus paying the penalty for your own sins is about as personal as it can get.
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Look at the meeting between Jesus and the disciples after the resurrection. The one after the disciples had been out fishing and Jesus called them to shore for breakfast.
Jesus spoke to Peter and told him, If you love Me, then feed My sheep. That is a very personal calling.
A calling which is nestled inside of the layer of Jesus as the Passover Lamb and all of the theological meanings implied therein.
The theological meanings that are nestled inside the first Passover and Israel overthrowing Egypt in their escape through the Red Sea and all the historical and political pieces of those events.
Personal meaning burrowed inside theological meaning burrowed inside historical meaning.
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You see? Go look for it. Find it everywhere and be astonished.
See the Word as beautiful.

Taking Time

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I’ve written before in this space about the beauty and goodness of time.
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I’ve written about this time we are in now, the thousands of years between creation and restoration, and how the delay of Christ’s coming is a gift to us.
I’ve written of the idea that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth
Sometimes, though, it is easier for me to accept this idea in the abstract than it is to accept it in my own little life.
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It is easier to be okay with Christ’s delay in returning, because that feels a long way off anyway, than it is to be okay with a delay in God fulfilling a dream that I think is His will for my life.
I feel sure that I am not alone.
We think that if God wants us to do something, to accomplish some purpose, then it should happen now. Or at least within a year or two. If it doesn’t happen quickly, perhaps it really wasn’t God’s will.
I am certainly guilty of this thinking. I dream of writing in a way that changes hearts for God. I dream of articles and books, of ministry that is a part of the story of God’s kingdom.
When I get yet another rejection, I wonder if perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps God does not want to use my writing after all.
I forget.
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I forget about Joseph who spent thirteen years in slavery before becoming second to Pharaoh. I forget that it took Moses forty years to get from the burning bush to Canaan. (Yes, I know he didn’t actually make it to Canaan, but that’s another story for another essay.) I forget that David waited over twenty years from when Samuel anointed him as king before he actually became king over all of Israel.
Like many of you, I forget that part of fulfilling God’s purpose means delay. It takes time to become what God created us to be.
Would Joseph or Moses or David have been the leaders they were without the waiting? Would they have been able to live out God’s story and lead His people without the process that shaped them into those very leaders?
No.
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And neither can we do anything within God’s story without allowing Him the time to change our hearts into the beauty He intended.
Whether it takes thirteen years or forty, we must accept where we are now, we must be faithful and obedient now, trusting that waiting is not bad, that delay is not ugly.
Growing into our role in God’s story takes time, so rather than chafing as though it were a setback, let Him use that time to make you into who He created you to be.
It will be beautiful, I promise.

Art credit: World Time by rizeli53; Ornate Clock by Kevin Tuck; Just In Time by Adrian van Leen; Clock Tower by Miriam Wickett

There Is Good News

Sometimes I am weary of this world.
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Often I adore this crazy beauty that surrounds us. There is much to love, much to be grateful for.
Every once in a while, however, the brokenness of it all begins to weigh heavy on me.
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My former pastor shares that he has cancer.
Blood work comes back and tells me I must take my daughter to a specialist.
The vitriol in the politics on my Facebook makes me just close my eyes.
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There are no easy answers. For all of its goodness, the fact remains that we have sinned and thus infused our world with darkness.
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The ugliness we see around us is here until Jesus returns.
The good news for right now?
He is here in the meantime.
God came down to live this same life in the midst of the brokenness.
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God died on a cross so that we can be with Him now through forever, so that we can be part of Him making the ugly beautiful again.
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God stayed here with us, to walk with us through the darkness. More than that, to be light inside of us that cannot be overcome by the darkness.
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So as I feel the heaviness press down, I don’t try to escape the hurt of this world.
Rather, I try to lean into it as God did, knowing that He is working through me to heal.
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Knowing that in the end He will heal it all perfectly.
And all that will remain will be beauty.

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: The Holy Night by Correggio; photo of Christ on the Cross statue by Asta Rastauskiene; Pentecost by Mildorfer

He Has Made Promises

I lost a friend this week.
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In high school, she was one of my best friends. We played and sang together. We did show choir and musicals together. We volunteered together. We even had secret names for each other. (Yes, we still did that in high school. We were nerds.) I got to be a part of her life when she was baptized. We lost touch over the years, but I still loved her.
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I’ve lost three friends over the past year and a half. This weighs heavy on me.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend.
Death and pain, sorrow and grief. These are not how life was created to be.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Only one thing makes this bearable.
Our God.
He has made promises to us that He will make it turn out all right in the end. He has made promises to us that when we see Him face to face, all the horror that came before will seem as insubstantial as a morning mist blown away by the rising sun. He has made promises to us that He will remain with us and in us until that beautiful day arrives.
How do I know He will keep His promises?
I know because God loves us enough to put on skin and come down to live with us, to suffer for us, to die for us. I know because God has enough power to rise from the dead and conquer death for all time.
He loves us enough and He has power enough.
I don’t know why God didn’t put it all right from the beginning. I don’t begin to understand why He places so much importance on human freedom of choice or why our sin and redemption are so closely intertwined with creation itself.
But I know He keeps His promises and I know that His promises are beautiful beyond imagining.
And for that I will trust Him.
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This one’s for you, Jenna. Until we meet again.

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.