A Bright Sadness: Take Your Shoes Off

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Over the next eight days, the body of Christian believers will be traversing once again the holy ground of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

Indeed, our children, happy to be barefoot most of the time, are more apt than the grown ups to follow the instruction of the Lord when He told Moses:

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

There have long been cultures where shoes are to be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple in an intentional act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

Yet we as Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week. We try our best to clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews. Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky. That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all, and that is exactly why we  need to worship together as a church family in need of cleansing, whether indoors or outdoors.

Jesus Himself demonstrated our need for a wash-up on the last night of His life, soaking the dusty feet of His disciples.

And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of our sandals. We must remove any barrier that prevents us from entering fully into His presence, whether it be our attitude, our stubbornness, our unbelief, or our constant centering on self rather than other.

No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

We trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where our feet land and the impact they leave behind. Perhaps by shedding the covering of our eyes, our minds, and our feet, we would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart.

So we may see.
So we may listen.
So we may feast together.
So we may weep at what we have done, yet stand forgiven.
So we may celebrate as our Risen Lord startles us by calling our name.
So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.

A Bright Sadness: Ephemeral Tears

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

fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

3When 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


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 hopelessness and despair.

This weeping moves and reassures me — it is a raw and honest spilling over when the internal dam is breaking.  It is so deeply and plainly a visceral display of humanity.

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 feelings of love brimming so fully they must be let go and cannot be held back. He too is overwhelmed by the pathos of His vulnerable and visceral humanity.

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

There is beauty in this: His rain of ephemeral tears.




A Bright Sadness: The Corpse Light of April

Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.

In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.

Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.

Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.
~May Swenson “April Light”

In April we wait for the corpse light~
a mysterious illumination which comes alive
on a bright Sabbath Easter morning,
taking bare stubs of people,
hardly alive,
begetting them green,
bursting them into blossom,
their cheeks pink with life,
in promise of faithful fruitfulness.

A Bright Sadness: Imperfect Stewardship

We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect characters to match. Our imperfections should not keep us from dreaming of better things, or even from trying, within our limits, to be better stewards of the soil, and more ardent strivers after beauty and a responsible serenity.
~Jane Kenyon from “In the Garden of My Dreams”

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1: 9-11

O Holy Father,
I will be a child of peace and purity
For well I know
Thy Hand will bless 
the seeker after righteousness
~Shaker Hymn

The beauty of peace and purity is right outside my back door, in a misty dawn moment of drizzle-sprinkled flowers.  They heal me after an imperfect yesterday and an imperfect night’s sleep and prepare me for another imperfect day today.

Today I will strive to be a steward for a garden of righteousness and serenity, aiding their growth and helping them flourish despite my flaws and failings.

I can never do it perfectly but am not giving up, as His hand blesses my seeking and my efforts.

A Bright Sadness: Ignore It or See

Divinity is not playful.
The universe was not made in jest
but in solemn incomprehensible earnest.
By a power that is unfathomably secret,
and holy,
and fleet.
There is nothing to be done about it,
but ignore it,
or see. 

~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—
his eternal power and divine nature—
have been clearly seen,
being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20


We weren’t conceived by random happenstance,
including so many millions not welcomed
but wished or washed away before taking a breath.

We are here because we were earnestly needed and wanted,
by a power and divinity beyond comprehension
with a capacity for love and compassion
beyond anything in our earthly experience.

We aren’t a cosmic joke,
or random couplings of DNA.
We aren’t pawns in the universe’s chess game.

We may look silly as we intentionally loll about in the smelly stuff of life,
or we may think what we say or do doesn’t matter a hill of beans,
but we are created to clearly see God for who He is,
and in whose image He made us.

He won’t be ignored;
we have no more excuses.
It is time to open our eyes,
to come and see.

A Bright Sadness: Blessed By Doubt

The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law,
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream.
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.
~Richard Wilbur “April 5, 1974”

photo by Nate Gibson

As the ground softens with spring,
so do I.
Somehow the solid winter freeze was comforting
as nothing appeared to change and stayed static,
so did I,
remaining stolid and fixed,
resisting doubt and uncertainty.

But now, with light and warmth,
the fixed is flexing,
steaming in its labor,
and so must I find
blessing in giving ground
and giving birth
to what will follow.
Flowers will come of it.


A Bright Sadness: The Dimness in Us

“Let Him easter in us,
be a dayspring to the dimness of us,
be a crimson-cresseted east.”
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland

On this Sabbath, we anticipate the bright light of Easter morning in two weeks.

Each Sabbath, each Sunday celebration of Resurrection Day dims over time as I return to my daily routine on Monday. The humdrum replaces the extraordinary, tragedy overcomes festivity, darkness overwhelms dawn. The world encourages this, and I don’t muster enough resistance. I climb right back into the tomb of my sin, move the huge stone back in place, and remain there, waiting for rot to settle in.

I am not alone. I have plenty of company with me behind the stone. There is no excuse for us to still be there.

The stone was pushed aside, the burden shouldered, the debt completely paid.

How can we not allow His light to dayspring our dimness?

He is risen. We are eastered. No need to sink down in darkness. None.

What wondrous love is this?