Light and Cloud-Shadows

.…you mustn’t be frightened … if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?
~Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet

…difficulties are magnified out of all proportion simply by fear and anxiety. From the moment we wake until we fall asleep we must commend other people wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in his hands, and transform our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf: 
With sorrow and with grief…
God will not be distracted.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters from Prison

Every day I see college students who are so consumed by anxiety they become immobilized in their ability to move forward through the midst of life’s inevitable obstacles and difficulties.  They become so stuck in their own overwhelming feelings they can’t sleep or eat or think clearly, so distracted are they by their symptoms.  They self-medicate, self-injure and self-hate.  Being unable to nurture themselves or others, they wither like a young tree without roots deep enough to reach the vast reservoir that lies untapped beneath them.  In epidemic numbers, some decide to die, even before life really has fully begun for them.

I grieve for them in their distress.   My role is to help find healing solutions, whether it is counseling therapy, a break from school, or a medicine that may give some form of relief.  My heart knows the ultimate answer is not as simple as the right prescription.

We who are anxious must depend upon a Creator who does not suffer from attention deficit disorder and who is not distracted from His care for us even when we turn away in worry and sorrow.  We magnify our difficult circumstances by staying so tightly into ourselves, unable to look beyond our own eyelashes.  Instead we are to reach higher and deeper, through prayer, through service to others, through acknowledging there is power greater than ourselves.

So we are called to pray for ourselves and for others,  disabling anxiety and fear and transforming it to gratitude and grace.   No longer withering, we just might bloom.


Locked from the Inside

“Jesus moves among men and women–even if it means passing through doors locked from within”
Fr. William M. Joensen

Many of us frequently–or continually–bolt the doors of our hearts from within, yet we long for Christ to come to us.  We can have great hope . . . for He is the One who can enter “through doors locked from within.”
~Sr. Dorcee Clarey
“Witnesses to Hope”

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
John 20: 19-20

We’re bolted in alright, to ensure we’re safe from confronting our greatest fears and our most fervent longing.

But there is no lock or latch or deadbolt that can keep Him out. He knocks, waiting for us to answer and let Him in, but if we don’t answer, He’s ready to move right through those barriers we carefully construct.

Throw open wide the door of our hearts.

A Brighter Sadness: Trembling

The Holy Saturday of our life must be the preparation for Easter,
the persistent hope for the final glory of God. 


The virtue of our daily life is the hope which does what is possible
and expects God to do the impossible. 


To express it somewhat paradoxically, but nevertheless seriously: 
the worst has actually already happened; 
we exist, and even death cannot deprive us of this.

Now is the Holy Saturday of our ordinary life, 
but there will also be Easter, our true and eternal life. 
~Karl Rahner “Holy Saturday” in The Great Church Year

This in-between day
after all had gone so wrong:
the rejection, the denials,
the trumped-up charges,
the beatings, the burden,
the jeering, the thorns,
the nails, the thirst,
the despair of being forsaken.

This in-between day
before all will go so right:
the forgiveness and compassion,
the grace and sacrifice,
the debt paid in full,
the stone rolled away,
our name on His lips,
our hearts burning
to hear His words.

We cannot imagine what is to come
in the dawn tomorrow as
the stone lifted and rolled,
giving way so
our separation is bridged,
our sadness relieved,
darkness overwhelmed by light,
the crushed and broken rising to dance,
and inexplicably,
from the waiting stillness He stirs
and we, trembling,
having found death emptied,
greet Him.


A Bright Sadness: She Did What She Could

From Meyers’ studio Munich 1899

She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:8-9

Rubens’ Mary Anointing of Jesus


We naturally wonder if our actions on this earth are pleasing to God, though we understand our faith, rather than good works we do, is the key to salvation.   Jesus’ response to Mary of Bethany’s anointing of His feet the day before He enters Jerusalem is provocative on a number of levels.  However, her story parallels the passion of this Passion week:

Mary acts out of faith even when she confronts a painful reality. She acknowledges Jesus’ predictions of His death and burial. Mary believes what His disciples refuse to hear.

Jesus prays a few days later to have the reality of suffering lifted from Him, but in obedience, He perseveres out of faith and love for the Father.

Mary acts out of her steadfast love for the Master–she is showing single-minded devotion in the face of criticism from the disciples.

Jesus, on the cross,  shows forgiveness and love even to the men who deride and execute Him.

Mary acts out of significant personal sacrifice–pouring costly perfume worth a full year’s wages–showing her commitment to Christ.

Jesus willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice of Himself–there is no higher price to pay.

Mary responds to His need–she recognizes that this moment is her opportunity to anoint the living Christ, and His response clearly shows He is deeply moved by her action.

Jesus, as man Himself, recognizes humanity’s need to be saved, and places Himself in our place. We must respond, incredulous,  with gratitude.

Jesus tells Mary of Bethany (and us),  in response to the disciples’ rebukes, that it is her action that will be told and remembered.   She did what she could at that moment to ease His distress at what He would soon confront.  She did what she could for Him–humbly, beautifully, simply, sacrificially–and He is so grateful that He Himself washes the feet of His disciples a few days later in a personal act of devotion and servanthood.

And today we remember this Mary as the harbinger of His suffering and death, just as He said we would. 

She did what she could — as should we.

James Tissot

A Bright Sadness: The Anguish of Earth

The pain and tears of all the years were met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation.
~N.T. Wright from Simply Jesus

To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life
in the presence of God,
under the authority of God,
to the glory of God.

To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God.


To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity.


It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God.


It is a life that is open before God.
It is a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord.
It is a life lived by principle, not expediency;

by humility before God, not defiance.
It is a life lived under the tutelage of conscience that is held captive by the Word of God.
~R.C. Sproul

As millions watched and wept over the burning of a venerated cathedral built to the glory of God, we must remember even this anguish happened under the gaze of God. Our sorrow over a building destroyed is trivial compared to the loss felt during Christ’s suffering and death.

The temporal ashes of the Notre Dame Cathedral mix now with our own mortal ashes. We have been redeemed through no action of our own. Our debt has been paid out of Christ’s sheer grace and love.

As we walk together with our Christian brothers and sisters through Holy Week and beyond into the holiness of every day, may we remain under the gaze of God, under the authority of God, open before God, captivated by the Word of God.

We see the gaping hole in the ceiling of a great cathedral just as we witness the open hole of Christ’s tomb: whatever we do, wherever we do it, it is to be in His name, to His glory, under His Holy gaze.

Coram Deo.


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.