Prepare for Joy: Keep An Open Mind

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I think there is no suffering greater than
what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe.

I know what torment this is, but I can only see it,
in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened.
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.
They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course it is the cross.
It is much harder to believe than not to believe.
If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this:
keep an open mind.
Keep it open toward faith,
keep wanting it,
keep asking for it,
and leave the rest to God.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

 

And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted.  Nothing that comes from God, even the greatest miracle, can be proven like 2 x 2 = 4. It touches one; it is only seen and grasped when the heart is open and the spirit purged of self. Then it awakens faith.  … the heart is not overcome by faith, there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes.  What comes from God touches gently, comes quietly; does not disturb freedom; leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.
~Romano Guardini

 

On my doubting days, days too frequent and tormenting,
I remember the risen Christ
reaching out to place Thomas’ hand in His wounds,
gently guiding Thomas to His reality,
so it becomes Thomas’ reality.
His open wounds called
to Thomas’ mind and heart,
His flesh and blood
awakening a hidden faith
by a simple touch.

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Prepare for Joy: Reason to Lament

 

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I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
~William Wordsworth from “Lines Written in Early Spring”
As shy spring emerges from this morning’s haze,
I can’t let go the fog of lament
about what we’ve become:
man in the midst of the muck
cannot fix man.
We await the joy of a
heaven-sent rescue —
divinity clothed inside
a human soul.

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Prepare for Joy: A God Who Weeps

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Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ) by Makoto Fujimura

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33 When Jesus saw her weeping,
and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping,
he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
John 11:33-36

 

Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.

For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.

Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life.
~Makoto Fujimura

 

Daily I see patients in my clinic who are struggling with depression, who are contemplating whether living another day is worth the pain and effort.  Most describe their feelings completely dry-eyed, unwilling to let their emotions flow from inside and flood their outsides.  Others sit soaking in tears of tragedy and despair.

Their weeping moves and reassures me — it is a raw and honest spilling over when the internal dam is breaking.  It is so human.

When I read that Jesus weeps as He witnesses the tears of grief of His dear friends, I am comforted.  He understands and feels what we feel, His tears just as plentiful and salty, His overwhelming feelings of love brimming so full they must be let go and cannot be held back.

Our Jesus who wept with us became a promise of ultimate joy.

There is beauty in this, His rain of tears.

photo by Nate Gibson from Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo
photo by Nate Gibson from Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo
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the “pink rain” of sakura blossoms in Higashi-Kurume, photo by Nate Gibson

 

Prepare for Joy: Before It Sours

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Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         

What is all this juice and all this joy?         
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.        
~Gerard Manley Hopkins  “Spring”
Once we were innocent, now no longer.  Cloyed and clouded by sin.
Given a choice, we chose sour over the sweetness we were born to,
giving up walks together in the cool of the day
to feed an appetite never sated.
So Christ made a choice to win us back with His blood
as if we were worthy of Him.
He says we are.  He dies to prove it.
Every day I try to believe it can be sweet again.
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Prepare for Joy: Took Flesh and Flew

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Out of the shame of spittle,
the scratch of dirt,
he made an anointing.

Oh, it was an agony-the gravel
in the eye, the rude slime, the brittle
clay caked on the lid.

But with the hurt
light came leaping; in the shock and shine,
abstracts took flesh and flew;

winged words like view and space,
shape and shade and green and sky,
bird and horizon and sun,

turned real in a man’s eye.
Thus was truth given a face
and dark dispelled and healing done.
~Luci Shaw  “The Sighting” John 9 from God for Us-Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter

 

Blinded I am by clinging to my finite understanding. I resist digging deeper than necessary in order to get by each day, skimming the surface of existence to avoid getting down and dirty.  But He doesn’t allow the easy way of darkness to continue.

He smears me with mortal mud made of His spit — essentially soiling my soul — and only then can I see His truth when opening my eyes.

The dark dispelled, winged words turned real.

No longer blind, I stare afresh, pondering the Face of Truth through muddy lashes.

Prepare for Joy: An Unlovely Thorn

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Christ … is a thorn in the brain.
Christ is God crying I am here,
and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you,
but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you,
here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.
To walk through the fog of God
toward the clarity of Christ is difficult
because of how unlovely,
how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be.
~Christian Wiman from Image Journal “Varieties of Quiet”

We spent over 20 hours traveling yesterday, through two train stations, finding a crowded bus shuttle on the streets of New York City, then passing through four airports, enduring one cancellation and another delay.  It was a painfully difficult trial of endurance, something so ungodly and unlovely after experiencing wonderfully clarifying and nurturing visits with beloved family members.

Yet we made it home despite the long lines, the packed planes and trains, the noise, the security pat downs, the overpriced everything, the sea of humanity everywhere.

We would endure anything in order to be together with family — Christ endured so much more to bring us into His family, declaring “I am here for you!”   He leads us through the fog to come home to Him — even though the process may be appalling, offensive, degrading, and requiring painful endurance.

We are home, clearly one of His family.

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Prepare for Joy: Regard for the Truth

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…one can never wrestle enough with God
if one does so out of pure regard for the truth.
Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because,
before being Christ, he is truth.
If one turns aside from him
to go toward the truth,
one will not go far
before falling into his arms.

~Simone Weil

Shall I wrestle with an angel to hold on to the ephemeral and grasp the truth? Shall the angel leave His mark upon me, will I bear it in humility?   Shall I seek the truth knowing the comfort of being wrapped in His arms forever?