Prepare for Joy: More Than a Cottage

 

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Be a womb.
Be a dwelling for God.
Be surprised.
~Loretta Ross-Gotta

Imagine yourself as a living house.
God comes in to rebuild that house.
At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.
He is getting the drains right
and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on;

you knew that those jobs needed doing
and so you are not surprised.

But presently He starts
knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably

and does not seem to make any sense.
What on earth is He up to?
The explanation is that He is building
quite a different house from the one you thought of –

throwing out a new wing here,
putting on an extra floor there,
running up towers,
making courtyards.
You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage:
but He is building a palace.
He intends to come and live in it Himself.
~C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

Whenever there is the temptation to hunker down
in retreat from
the rest of the world,
and God Himself,
content with the status quo
and reluctant to stretch beyond
clear boundaries I’ve carefully constructed
for my one weary life~

I am surprised.

Whether in bunker or cottage,
when I seek safety or simplicity,
it is not enough.
I am not a dwelling for God
until His remodel project is finished~

He puts down His chisel, hammer and saw,
looks me over
and declares it good.

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Prepare for Joy: A Terrible Clarity

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photo by Jim Randall burmachronicle.com

 

Romantic love is blind to everything
except what is lovable and lovely,

but Christ’s love sees us
with terrible clarity and sees us whole.

Christ’s love so wishes our joy
that it is ruthless against everything in us
that diminishes our joy.

The worst sentence Love can pass
is that we behold the suffering
which Love has endured for our sake,

and that is also our acquittal.
The justice and mercy of the judge
are ultimately one.

~Frederick Buechner

 

To see with terrible clarity
the Love we are shown,
the Love given freely to the undeserving,
the Love paying our ransom in full,
the Love enduring all for us~

this Judge convicts,
metes out justice upon His own head,
serves the whole sentence Himself,
sets us free
to see and share
the Love we are shown.

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Prepare for Joy: Blind-Hearted

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What is the crying at Jordan?
Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark
our hearts and shut to mystery.

Who then shall stir in this darkness
prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal in darkness we
lie down, blind-hearted, seeing no light.

Lord, give us grace to awake us,
to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility
is hid all heaven in a little room.

Now comes the day of salvation,
in joy and terror the Word is born!
God gives himself into our lives;
Oh, let salvation dawn!
~Carol Christopher Drake

A beautiful version of this hymn can be found at http://www.last.fm/music/The+Miserable+Offenders/+tracks and click to listen to What is the Crying at Jordan”

 

The road that took Him from wooden manger to wooden cross is one we walk in joy and terror through His Word.
He is given to us; He gives Himself to bring joy to our miserable and dark existence; He dies for us; He rises to give us eternal hope of salvation; He calls us by name and we recognize Him.

This mystery is too much for too many unwilling to accept that such sacrifice is possible, His sacrifice and the many parts of His body who continue to be oppressed and persecuted every day.  We are blind-hearted to the possibility that this Spirit that cannot be measured, touched, weighed or tracked can stir and overwhelm darkness.  We prefer the safety of remaining tight in the bud, hid in the little room of our hearts rather than risk the joy and terror of full blossom and fruitfulness.

Lord, give us grace in our blindness, having given us Yourself.  Prepare us for embracing your mystery.  Prepare us for joy. Prepare us to bloom.

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Prepare for Joy: Sit Beside Me

bench…we all suffer.
For we all prize and love;
and in this present existence of ours,
prizing and loving yield suffering.
Love in our world is suffering love.
Some do not suffer much, though,
for they do not love much.
Suffering is for the loving.
This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

Over there, you are of no help.
What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is.
I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation.
To comfort me, you have to come close.
Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
~Nicholas Wolterstorff from Lament for a Son

I wondered if 7:30 AM was too early to call Margy. As a sleep-deprived fourth year medical student, I selfishly needed to hear her voice.   I wanted to know how she was doing; she was not sleeping well either these days. She was wearing a new halo brace—a metal contraption that wrapped around her head like a scaffolding to secure her degenerating cervical spine from collapsing from tumor growths. When she was fitted into the brace, she named the two large screw-like fasteners anchored into her frontal skull her “Frankenstein bolts”.   I had reassured her that with a proper white veil draped around the metal halo, she would be more suited to be Frankenstein’s bride.

Each patient I had seen the previous 24 hours while working in the Emergency Room benefited from the interviewing skills Margy had taught each medical student in our class. She reminded us that each patient had an important story to tell, and no matter how pressured our time, we needed to ask questions that gave permission for that story to be told. As a former nun now married with two teenage children, Margy had become our de facto counselor, and insisted physicians-in-training remember the soul thriving inside the broken body.

“Just let the patient know with certainty, through your eyes, your body language, your words, that you want to hear what they have to say. You can heal so much hurt simply by sitting beside them and caring enough to listen…”

Now with a recent diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, Margy herself had become the broken vessel who needed the glue of a good listener.   She continued to teach, often from her bed at home. I felt compelled to visit her that day, maybe help out by cleaning her house, or take her for a drive as a diversion.

Her phone rang only once after I dialed her number. There was a long pause; I could hear a clearing of her throat. A deep dam of tears welled behind a muffled “Hello?”

“Margy?”

“Yes? Emily? ”

“Margy? What is it? What’s wrong?”

Her voice shattered like glass into fragments, strangling on words that struggled to form.

“It’s Gordy, Emily. He’s gone. He’s lost forever…”

“What? What are you saying?”

“A policeman just left. He told us our boy is dead.”

I sat in stunned silence, listening to her sobs, completely unequipped to know how to respond. None of this made sense. I knew her son was on college spring break, heading to Mexico for a missions trip.

“I’m here, Margy, I’m listening.”

“The doorbell rang about an hour ago. Larry got up to answer it. I heard him talking to someone downstairs, so I decided to try to get up and go see what was going on. There was a policeman sitting with Larry on the couch. I knew it had to be about Gordy.”

She paused and took in a shuddering breath.

“Gordy died last night as they were driving to Mexico. They think he was sleepwalking and walked right out of the back of the moving camper and was hit by another car. “

Silence.  Strangling choking silence.

“They’ll bring him home to me, won’t they?   I need to know I can see him again. I need to tell him how much I love him.”

“They’ll bring him home to you, Margy. He’ll come home.  And we will go see him together. ”

 

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Prepare for Joy: Immensity Cloistered

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Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
~John Donne “Annunciation”

Yesterday as I headed out to the barn underneath the pink glow of a glorious Sunday morning sunrise, there was something unusual forming in the horizon above the foothills.   It began as a solid gray streak across the rosy clouds, almost shadow-like, but then in a matter of a few minutes, at its origin,  it became a vortex of brilliance surrounded by clear skies.  It was, indeed, womb-like, as if something was imminently to be delivered from the heavens.  Instead, it dissipated as quickly as it arose.

No trumpets sounding, not today…

I found out later this was most likely a phenomenon called a “fallstreak hole” and photos were published from across the region, but none seemed to quite capture this perspective from our farm.

Still, it didn’t make me think of rapture.  It looked to me like John Donne’s “immensity cloistered” womb, His Light illuminating the internal darkness of this world, this Incarnation born of woman but heaven-sent.

He is no longer “shutst in little room” but continues to transform the wombs of our hearts.

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Prepare for Joy: A Handful of Dust

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…And I will show you something that is different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
~T.S.Eliot from “The Wasteland”

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This shadowland we live in
is not all there is
nor will ever be.We are tangible dust
arising from the ground
and settling back into it
when the soil reclaims us.
There need be no fear
moving beyond shadow to the light
that created it.
Morning, as always, sets fire to doubt.

By the sweat of your face You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.
Genesis 3:19

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Prepare for Joy: Repairer and Restorer

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Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Isaiah 58: 8-9, 11-12

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Medical science is realizing there is less benefit (and possible potential for harm) in healthy people requesting an “annual physical”  than previously believed.  Too many people hold off on very real problems, hoping they are insignificant, and expect the doctor might discover what’s wrong during a cursory physical exam.

As healers, we are tempted to look too hard for “something wrong” to fix, at the risk of creating illness where there is none, all at a hefty price tag.

Give us the sick and tired and we doctors feel right at home, with problems to solve and a job to do.

Jesus, as the Great Physician, understood there is “something wrong” with each of us needing His unique healing art.  He hangs out His shingle as the place to come, triaging the most troubled and distressed to move first in line.   When we cry out for help, He is on call full time, a certified, licensed and bonded Strengthener, Rebuilder, Restorer and Repairer.

No more waiting for the annual check up.  The time has come to cry out our brokenness, our desperate need of restoration.

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill.
Luke 5: 31