A Bright Sadness: Truth Beyond All Truths

[The Incarnation is like] a wave of the sea which,
rushing up on the flat beach, 
runs out, even thinner and more transparent, 
and does not return to its source but sinks into the sand and disappears.
~Hans Urs von Balthasar from Origen: Spirit and Fire

And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life? 
~Frederick Buechner  from The Magnificent Defeat


Halfway through the weeks of Lent, we look forward to the fullness of Easter morning.  Many of us feel hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces waiting to be filled to the brim with grace.

More over, through commemoration of the historical events leading to the Resurrection, God on earth once again sinks deeply into our lives, pours Himself onto our earthly soil and into our fleshly souls.  He washes our dirty feet, feeds us at His table, and pleads on our behalf for forgiveness when we deserve none of it.

He loses Himself into us.  Through Him,  we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.

From hollowed to hallowed.

A Bright Sadness: Through a Glass Darkly

A cross and nails are not always necessary.  
There are a thousand ways to kill him, 
some of them as obvious as choosing where you will stand 
when the showdown between the weak and the strong comes along, 
others of them as subtle as keeping your mouth shut 
when someone asks if you know him.

Today, while he dies, do not turn away.  
Make yourself look in the mirror.  
Today no one gets away 
without being shamed by his beauty.  
Today no one flees
without being laid bare by his light.
~Barbara Brown Taylor

 

teahouseceiling

Shame is considered old-fashioned these days;
too erosive to self-esteem,
a drag on our self-worth,
an inconvenient truth.

Yet how else do we see ourselves
through the glass darkly
than to see our shame convicted,
and be convinced in our guilt:
our darkness exposed
by a Light that reveals all shadows,
forgiving as it illuminates all –
there is no place to hide,
nor should we want to.

 

window


For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1Corinthians 13:12

 

graymirror

A Bright Sadness: Even Among These Rocks

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks…

…And let my cry come unto Thee.
~T.S. Eliot from “Ash Wednesday”

Too many daily distractions prevent me from remaining still and seeking peace in my earthly life. 

I constantly build up, and then tear down, and keep moving just to prove I can.

I care too much, I care too little — anything to avoid being mistaken for a mere stone-faced rock. 

I’m always aware everlasting stillness will come soon enough, indeed much too soon, in the grave, in the forever fate of stone disintegrating to dust.

Yet even rocks fail to stay rooted in place;  the earth heaves them up from the depths, they are washed away with the waves, moved at the mercy of the tide or the soil, landing somewhere new and unfamiliar only to be temporarily stilled, before they are shifted once again.

Let my peace become stone-like, to be picked up and moved where He wills, to settle where I am placed until the time comes to be moved again.

Let my peace be in the knowledge that God alone moves pebbles and mountains, not I.

And so I cry out as even stones cannot remain silent in the presence of the Living God.

Even among the rocks…
Even among the rocks.

A Bright Sadness: The Everyday Moments

The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears reveal only…a gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with all our being and imagination.. what we may see is Jesus himself.
~Frederick Buechner

We can be blinded by the everyday-ness of Him: 
A simple loaf of bread is only that. 
A gardener crouches in a row of weeds, restoring order to chaos. 
A wanderer along the road engages in conversation.

Every day contains millions of everyday moments lost and forgotten, seemingly meaningless.

We would see Jesus if we only opened our eyes and listened with our ears.   At the table, on the road, in the garden.

The miracle of Him abiding with us is that it truly is every day.

He has made it so.

A Bright Sadness: Away Grief’s Gasping

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows
flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-

Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash,
wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long
ashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous
ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases;
in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed
dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks
treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd,
nature’s bonfire burns on.


But quench her bonniest, dearest
to her, her clearest-selvèd spark

But vastness blurs and time
beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping,
joyless days, dejection.
                      Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam.
Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm;
world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
                      In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is,
since he was what I am…
~Gerard Manley Hopkins, from
“That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection”

A day of wandering through peerless beauty vanquishes the darkness of our times. When surrounded by the hope that comes with emerging spring, it is possible to push aside grief and discouragement to welcome a promised resurrection.

I am all at once what Christ is,
since he was what I am…

He came and saw how desperate we were and His mercy was abundant. He turned night into day, dark into light, dust into living flesh, flesh into bread and wine in remembrance.

We will remember he sent grief away. Oh, we will remember.

A Bright Sadness: Quickened

I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the fallen leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
~Christina Rossetti from “A Better Resurrection”

I remember panicking as a small child when my mother would help me put on or take off a sweater with a particularly tight turtleneck opening, as my head would get “stuck” momentarily until she could free me.  It caused an intense feeling of being unable to breathe or see – literally shrouded.  I was trapped and held captive by something as innocuous as a piece of clothing.

That same feeling still overwhelms me at times when I’m frozen in a winter of my flaws and deficiencies, bruised and fallen in my struggles to be freed.

My only hope for salvage is a new life quickening within me.  There is no freedom without spring sap flowing, His life blood rising in what is left of my dried husk.

And rise it shall — the confining shroud of discouragement discarded and cast aside.

Now that it is spring once again,  I can breathe free, quickened.

A Bright Sadness: Leave the Light On




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

It is easy to lose faith: one bad outcome, one prayer seemingly unanswered, one loss leaving a gaping hole.

It can feel like God has up and left.

Much harder to sustain is faith that keeps an open mind in the darkness of the deep pit, in the midst of interminable waiting, or while facing the disappointment of lost hopes and dreams.

When belief is elusive, the worst possible reaction is to abandon it, to close the door and shutter the windows and remain in the dark. Prayer for faith in the middle of the struggle is to leave the light on even if you aren’t sure God will come back anytime soon.

He knows you’ve left the light on for Him.
He’ll be back.
Because He never left.