A Continual State of Surprise

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So strange, life is. 
Why people do not go around
in a continual state of surprise
is beyond me.
~William Maxwell

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If I stop and really look at something I usually pass by with only a cursory glance, I am astonished at what I didn’t notice before.

Inside and up close is an unfamiliar richness and strangeness, as if of a foreign world.  I might miss seeing it altogether if I didn’t find the time to be surprised by life.

It is beyond me how much is beyond me.
It is all beyond me.

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Marching Orders

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All my life I have risen regularly at four o’clock and have gone into the woods and talked to God. There He gives me my orders for the day.
George Washington Carver

To rise early is to know the quiet solitude before dawn and look out with anticipation upon the expanse of an unwritten day. The ordained details are unknown to me and that is just as well. If I knew what was coming,  I might dive back under the covers, trying in vain to hide.

So when I do get up early and talk to God, mostly I listen. I am asked to trust and leave the details up to Him.

Then I try to obey, as best I can muster. Too often I mess up: I head off in the wrong direction, turn left instead of right, trip over my own feet, fall flat on my face.

So I’m pulled up out of the dirt yet again, dusted off, and sent marching on all day into the sunset, the way clearly demarcated, the pathway straight.

Even I can’t miss it and can’t mess it up.

Thank God.

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What Man has Made of Man

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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”
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As shy spring emerges from this morning’s haze,
I can’t let go the fog of lament
about what we’ve become
and the mess we’ve made of things:
man cannot fix man.

We are irretrievably lost
if repair was up to us.
We need our
heaven-sent rescue
~divinity clothed inside
a human soul~
fixed to bloom fully
in our broken hearts.

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Wax and Wane

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Out in the rain a world is growing green,
   On half the trees quick buds are seen
       Where glued-up buds have been.
Out in the rain God’s Acre stretches green,
   Its harvest quick tho’ still unseen:
       For there the Life hath been.

If Christ hath died His brethren well may die,
   Sing in the gate of death, lay by
       This life without a sigh:
For Christ hath died and good it is to die;
   To sleep when so He lays us by,
       Then wake without a sigh.

Yea, Christ hath died, yea, Christ is risen again:
   Wherefore both life and death grow plain
       To us who wax and wane;
For Christ Who rose shall die no more again:
   Amen: till He makes all things plain
       Let us wax on and wane.
~Christina Rossetti “Easter Monday”

 

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On this day after Easter, this Easter Monday, we can too quickly settle back to routine as if nothing special happened. This was not the case when Jesus would appear in a room of people, joining others walking on a road, cooking breakfast for His friends by the lake.

So we look for Him to make things plain to us: we watch the waxing and waning of the seasons, of the living and dying around us, indeed, our own waxing and waning, living and dying. The transformation from death to life yesterday is everywhere we look, if we look.

The huge chestnut tree in our front yard is filled with such chrysalises of metamorphosis, from bud to green-winged butterfly leaf.

We are waxing on in Christ who shall die no more.

Amen and Amen.

 

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Between Midnight and Dawn: His Flesh and Ours

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Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6: 8-10

 

So what do I believe actually happened that morning on the third day after he died?
…I speak very plainly here…

He got up.  He said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Love is the victor.  Death is not the end.  The end is life.  His life and our lives through him, in him. Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream.  Christ our Lord has risen.
~Frederick Buechner

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Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall…

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
~John Updike from “Seven Stanzas at Easter”

 

Since this moment (the resurrection), the universe is no longer what it was;  nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more, and should not be anymore, what we were before.
~Paul Tillich

 

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Our flesh is so weak, so temporary,
as ephemeral as a dew drop on a petal
yet with our earthly vision
it is all we know of ourselves
and it is what we trust knowing
of Him.

He was born as our flesh, from our flesh.
He walked and hungered and thirsted and slept
as our flesh.
He died, His flesh hanging in tatters,
blood spilling freely
breath fading
to nought
speaking Words
our ears can never forget.

And He got up,
to walk and hunger and thirst alongside us
and here on this hill we meet together,
–flesh of His flesh–
here among us He is risen
–flesh of our flesh–
married forever
as the Church:
a fragile, flawed
and everlasting body.

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During this Lenten season, I have drawn inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Between Midnight and Dawn: The Darkness Shall be Light

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Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.
They spring up like flowers and wither away;
    like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
Do you fix your eye on them?

If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
  Job 14: 1-3, 14-15

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I said to my mind, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; yet there is faith
But the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing.
~T. S. Eliot, from “East Coker”  The Four Quartets

 

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This in-between day
after all had gone so wrong
before all will go so right,
puts us between the rock
and the hard place:
all hope, love and faith is squeezed from us.
Today we are flattened,
dried like chaff,
ground to pulp,
our destiny with death sealed.

We lie still
as sprinkled spices
try to delay inevitable decay,
wrapped up tight,
stone cold and futile.

A rock placed
so we are caught in between-
entombed, inside,
our bodies like His-
weeping outside,
cut off and left behind.

We cannot know what is to come
in the dawn tomorrow
the stone lifted and rolled,
giving way,
the separation bridged,
darkness overwhelmed by light,
the crushed and broken rising to dance,
and inexplicably,
from the waiting stillness He stirs
and we,
finding death emptied,
are moved.

 

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Between Midnight and Dawn: Marred Beyond Human Likeness

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I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
    You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
~Psalm 22: 14-19

See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Isaiah 52: 13-15

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When I was wounded
whether by God, the devil, or myself
—I don’t know yet which—
it was seeing the sparrows again
and clumps of clover, after three days,
that told me I hadn’t died.
When I was young,
all it took were those sparrows,
those lush little leaves,
for me to sing praises,
dedicate operas to the Lord.
But a dog who’s been beaten
is slow to go back to barking
and making a fuss over his owner
—an animal, not a person
like me who can ask:
Why do you beat me?
Which is why, despite the sparrows and the clover,
a subtle shadow still hovers over my spirit.
May whoever hurt me, forgive me.
~Adelia Prado “Divine Wrath” translated from Brazilian Portuguese by Ellen Doré Watson

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Emmet Till’s mother
speaking over the radio

She tells in a comforting voice
what it was like to touch her dead boy’s face,

how she’d lingered and traced
the broken jaw, the crushed eyes–

the face that badly beaten, disfigured—
before confirming his identity.

And then she compares his face to
the face of Jesus, dying on the cross.

This mother says no, she’d not recognize
her Lord, for he was beaten far, far worse

than the son she loved with all her heart.
For, she said, she could still discern her son’s curved earlobe,

but the face of Christ
was beaten to death by the whole world.
~Richard Jones “The Face” from Between Midnight and Dawn

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In a daring and beautiful creative reversal,
God takes the worse we can do to Him
and turns it into the very best He can do for us.
~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness

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Strangely enough~
it is the nail,
not the hammer,
that brings us together~
becoming the glue,
the safety,
the permanence of
solid foundation,
and strong supports,
or protecting roof.

The hammer is only a tool
to pound in the nail
where it binds so tightly
it can’t blend or be forgotten,
where the hole it leaves behind
is a forever reminder
of what I, as hammer, have done
and how thoroughly
I am forgiven.

 

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn