A Salt Water Cure

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…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

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The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears or the sea.
~Isak Dinesen

 

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

I grew up an easy crier.  Actually growing up hasn’t cured it, nor has middle age.  I’m still an easy crier – a hard thing to admit especially when my tears flow at an inopportune time in a public place.

It might have had something to do with being a middle child, bombarded from both directions by siblings who recognized how little aggravation it took to make me cry, or it may have been my hypersensitive feelings about …. everything.  I felt really alone in my tearful travails until my formidable grandmother, another easy weepy, explained that my strong/tall/tough/nothing-rocks-him former WWII Marine father had been a very weepy little boy.  She despaired that he would ever get past being awash in tears at every turn.  His alcoholic father tormented him about it, wondering if he would ever learn to “man up.”

So this is a congenital condition and that’s my excuse.

A few years ago I read a fascinating article about how different kinds of tears (tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of grief, tears of frustration, tears of irritated eyes, tears of onion cutting) all look different and remarkably apt, when dried and pictured under the microscope.  This is more than mere salt water leaking from our eyes — this is our heart and soul and hormonal barometer streaming down our faces – a visible litmus test of our deepest feelings.

I witness many tears every day in my office, and not tears of joy.  These are tears borne of pain and loss and rejection and failure, of hopelessness and helplessness, loneliness and anguish.  Often my patients will describe having a “break down” by which they mean uncontrollable crying.  It is one of the first-mentioned symptoms they want relief from.

Tears do come less frequently as depression lifts and anxiety lessens but I let my patients know (and remind myself) that tears are a transparent palette for painting the desires and concerns of our heart.  Dry up the tears and one dries up emotions that express who we are and who we strive to be.

When I’m able, I celebrate the salt water squeezing from my eyes, knowing it means I’m so fully human that I leak my humanity everywhere I go.  Even God wept while dwelling among us on earth, and what’s good enough for Him is certainly good enough for me.

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How Incomprehensible

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Where you have absolute solutions,
you have no need of faith.
Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge.
The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer
is because I have got, over the years,
a sense of the immense sweep of creation,
of the evolutionary process in everything,
of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be
to be the God of heaven and earth.
You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being

 

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It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.
~Denise Levertov “The Mystery of the Incarnation”

 

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We want God to fit into the holes of our comprehension exactly like a puzzle piece falls into place in the space meant just for it.

But He doesn’t.  He won’t.  The holes aren’t God-shaped.  They are ragged and changing moment by moment.

The holes of our understanding gape so large that only God knows it takes the glue of faith to bridge the gap.

Perhaps that is what “holy” is all about.

 

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Two Mysteries for the Price of One

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By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.

1Timothy 3:16

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Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. . . .
Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

~J. L. Packer from Knowing God

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The Christ is not just a reflection of the Father God onto earth,
no mere shadow projected from God’s image in heaven.No, our Savior is real flesh and blood,
sinew and tissue,
neurons and synapses,
exactly as we are.
A fantastic truth and endless mystery to ponder:
Jesus as mortal flesh gifts Himself to us
so that we may know the Three in One;
the powers of hell vanish
as the shadows are cleared away.
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Aiming High

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Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’:
aim at Earth and you will get neither.
~ C.S. Lewis from The Joyful Christian

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The night sky was still dim and pale. 
There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains,
Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. 
The beauty of it smote his heart,
as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. 
For like a shaft, clear and cold,
the thought pierced him that in the end
the Shadow was only a small and passing thing:
there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
~J.R.R. Tolikien, The Return of the King

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We long for a heaven that feels so elusive;
we who are so weary
and with so much need
seek out Light so seemingly
beyond our reach.

Yet by reaching beyond the here and now
we find heaven descended to us
in His incarnate earthliness.

No shadow cast in this worldly darkness,
and no iron nails
can quell the beauty
of His everlasting brilliance.

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Turn Aside and Look: Love Sits in His Eyelids

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His voice, as the sound of the dulcimer sweet,
is heard through the shadows of death;
The cedars of Lebanon bow at His feet,
the air is perfumed with His breath.
His lips as the fountain of righteousness flow,
that waters the garden of grace,
From which their salvation the Gentiles shall know,
and bask in the smile of His face.

Love sits in his eyelids and scatters delight,
through all the bright regions on high.
Their faces the cherubim veil in his sight,
and tremble with fullness of joy.
He looks and ten thousands of angels rejoice,
and myriads wait for His word.
He speaks and eternity filled with His voice
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.

He looks and ten thousands of angels rejoice,
and myriads wait for His word.
He speaks and eternity filled with His voice
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.
~ Southern Folk Hymn

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During these days of bright darkness
preparing us for next week,
I become absorbed in all I am not~
my shortcomings and failings,
my eroding patience and tolerance,
my temptation to turn away from self-denial,
my inability to see beyond my own troubles~

I forget this is not all about me:

I neglect to witness first hand,
as others did,
God through Christ:
the beauty in His becoming man,
the joy of His joining up with us,
the love in His gracious sacrifice,
the full promise of His Word that breathes
life back into every dying soul~

and so it becomes all about me

not because of
what I’ve done,
or who I am,
but because of
who He is and was and will be,
loving me,
loving all of us,
no matter what.

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Turn Aside and Look: The Truth Beyond All Truths

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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

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[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

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We are approaching the week of emptying that leads to the fullness of Easter morning.  It is impossible to approach this time without feeling hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces to be filled to the brim with grace.

More over, through commemoration of these historical events, 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 in us.  Through Him,  we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.

Hollowed, then hallowed.

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Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost.
~Czeslaw Milosz from “The Sun”

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Turn Aside and Look: A Kaleidoscope of Emotion

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The gospel writers paint their portraits of Jesus using a kaleidoscope of brilliant “emotional” colors.
Jesus felt compassion;
he was angry, indignant, and consumed with zeal;
he was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved, and grieved;
he sighed;
he wept and sobbed;
he groaned;
he was in agony;
he was surprised and amazed;
he rejoiced very greatly and was full of joy;
he greatly desired, and he loved.

~ G.Walter Hansen, The Emotions of Jesus

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God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves,
the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him.
Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities
who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.
Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson
that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad,
and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any im­portance.
We should also have missed the all-important help
of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face,
has shared not only the strength of our nature
but every weakness of it except sin.
If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage,
that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incar­nate at all.

― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis

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Lord, long expected,
needed and wanted
in rainbow colors of our emotions
and yours.

Your heart beat
like ours
breathing each breath
like ours
until a fearful fallen world
took Your
and our breath
away.

You shine a kaleidoscope of light
through the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
Your tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.

You express joy and amazement
and encourage our celebration of life.

You hear our cries
as You cry too.
You know our tears
as You weep too.
You know our mourning
as You mourned too.
You know our dying
as You died too.

Only You can glue together
what evil has shattered.
You just ask us to hand You
the pieces of our broken hearts.

We will know Your peace
when You come
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried;
we are glued together
forevermore.

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