A Strong Enough Bridge

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The bridge of grace will bear your weight…
~Charles Spurgeon

 

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

 

What God would birth Himself into something as dark as this world?
Into this place of meanness, tribal conflicts and hatred?

This God would.

He labors in our dark hearts for good reason, becoming a bridge strong enough to bear us into the light and heal the cracks and fissures within.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts, afraid to walk the plank as our weight of sin is so heavy, our need so great.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us. The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again, bearing us up, no matter how heavy the burden we bring to Him.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, even where we were sure we would break the bridge we tread. The broken heart is healed and sealed by grace for which no weight is too great.

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Crowded With God

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We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.
The world is crowded with Him.
He walks everywhere incognito.
And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate.
The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake.

~C.S.Lewis

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The older I get, the more I recognize the need to be alert and awake to the presence of God in the crowded world around me.

It doesn’t come naturally.

We humans have an attention deficit, choosing to focus inwardly on self and ignoring the rest.  If it isn’t for me, or like me, or about me, it somehow is not worthy of my consideration.

We wear blinders, asleep.

We need help to recognize the presence of God, to peel the layers off the ordinary and find Him at the extraordinary core, incognito.  He reveals Himself to us, invisible, yet right in plain sight.

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Crossing the Threshold

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John O’Donohue gave voice to the connection between beauty and those edges of life—
thresholds was the word he loved—
where the fullness of reality becomes more stark and more clear.

If you go back to the etymology of the word “threshold,” it comes from “threshing,” which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.

There are huge thresholds in every life.

You know that, for instance, if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, fifty things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love is suddenly dying, it takes ten seconds to communicate that information.

But when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this.

So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative.
And a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and very often how we cross is the key thing.

When we cross a new threshold worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition
that were in us that had us caught somewhere.

~John O’Donohue from an “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett on “Becoming Wise”

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I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?
~R.S. Thomas “Threshold”

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These past few months of mass shootings, tragic deaths and never-ending conflict have forced us all to a threshold needing to be crossed. Yet we stand stubborn, immobilized, frozen and dying on the spot, peering out in fear but never peering inward for self-examination.

Instead of submitting to the crushing winnowing that must happen to blow away the chaff of our lives, to get down to the kernel of truth that sustains us, we cling to the old and familiar. It is we who have delivered ourselves a non-choice between two deeply flawed individuals for president. They represent what evils we tolerate as a people: celebrating entitlements, tolerating their legal, moral and financial shenanigans simply because they are rich and famous.

Unwilling to change attitude or perspective, reluctant to move forward into largely uncharted territory, mired in a tribalism only skin deep, we wonder why history repeats itself, why we are dying every day, by our own hand or by others’.

How to cross worthily? How to cross together, arm in arm, united in the need to move forward beyond this mess we have made for ourselves?

We need a good threshing, badly. We need to be worthy. We need to reach out our hands into the unknown that lies ahead, hoping and praying Someone is there to grab hold and lead us across to a better day.

 

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A Sprung Metronome

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“A devout but highly imaginative Jesuit,”
Untermeyer says in my yellowed
college omnibus of modern poets,
perhaps intending an oxymoron, but is it?
Shook foil, sharp rivers start to flow.
Landscape plotted and pieced, gray-blue, snow-pocked
begins to show its margins. Speeding back
down the interstate into my own hills
I see them fickle, freckled, mounded fully
and softened by millennia into pillows.
The priest’s sprung metronome tick-tocks,
repeating how old winter is. It asks
each mile, snow fog battening the valleys,
what is all this juice and all this joy?
~Maxine Kumin “Almost Spring, Driving Home, Reciting Hopkins”

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These summer mornings I awake in a Hopkins landscape~
the priest who died too young at 44
would have created even more beauty
if he had lived twice as long,
combining words in suspended rhythm,
recreating the world outside our windows
entirely in our minds.

What is this joy I feel when witnessing
what must have moved him to write?
What could be more powerful
than words that awaken in us dawn’s redeeming light?

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Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
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A Hard Time

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photo by Nate Gibson

It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple as well.
~Ellen Bass from “The World Has Need of You”

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God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.  No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from “Book of Hours”

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For too much of my life I have focused on the future, bypassing the present.  There is always a goal to achieve,  a conclusion becoming commencement of the next phase, a sunset turning right around in a few hours to become sunrise.

When the present is so hard, so overwhelming, so riveting, so tenderly full of life or achingly full of death, I grab hold with all my strength to try and secret it away and keep it forever.   Even if it slips away from me, elusive and evasive, torn to bits by the unrelenting and devastating movement of time, I have felt the earth move, ever so slightly, toward me.

So, whether out of joy or pain, I must write to harvest those times to make them last a little bit longer.  Maybe not forever; they will be lost downstream into the ether of unread words.

Even if unread, I am learning that words, which had the power in the beginning to create all life, can bring tenderness and meaning back to my life.  I embody Him.

How blessed to live the gift twice: not just in the moment itself but in writing words that preserve and treasure it all up.

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Time-bound and Time-ravaged

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It is easy enough to write and talk about God
while remaining comfortable
within the contemporary intellectual climate.
Even people who would call themselves unbelievers
often use the word gesturally,
as a ready-made synonym for mystery.
But if nature abhors a vacuum,
Christ abhors a vagueness.
If God is love,
Christ is love
for this one person,
this one place,
this one time-bound and
time-ravaged self.

~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

 

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Well aware of all I am not,
my shortcomings and failings,
my temptation to deny self-denial,
my inability to see beyond my own troubles,
forgetting this life is not all about me:

~neglecting to witness first hand
all that God through Christ is:

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 my 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:
He loves me,
this time-bound and time-ravaged me,
no matter what.

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Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw on to itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means, chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom.
~N.T. Wright

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God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.
C.S. Lewis

 

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Another Day’s Chalking

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Life is grace.
Sleep is forgiveness.
The night absolves.
Darkness wipes the slate clean,
not spotless to be sure,
but clean enough for another day’s chalking.
~Frederick Buechner

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Today
is the tomorrow
hoped for last night,
a clean slate on which to
leave a mark on a new day
after night’s erasing rest.

No matter what took place the day before,
no matter the misgivings,
no matter what should have been left unsaid,
no matter how hard the heart,
there is another day to make it right.

Forgiveness finds a foothold in the dark,
when eyelids close and leak,
thoughts quietly crack open,
voices hush in prayers
of praise, petition and gratitude.

And so now
sleep on it
knowing his grace
abounds in blameless dreams.

Morning will come
awash in new light,
another chance
freely given.

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