Swaddling Shroud

Magi by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Magi by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

…the scent of frankincense
and myrrh
arrives on the wind,
and I long
to breathe deeply,
to divine its trail.
But I know their uses
and cannot bring myself
to breathe deeply enough
to know
whether what comes
is the fragrant welcoming
of birth
or simply covers the stench of death.
These hands
coming toward me,
is it swaddling they carry
or shroud?

And yet you remind us
that the wisdom
of the womb
points toward the truth
of the tomb:
that what contains us
for a moment
or a season
with your touch
will finally give way
to freedom.
~Jan Richardson from Night Visions –searching the shadows of Advent and Christmas

The Christmas season is a wrap, put away for another year.
However, our hearts are not so easily boxed up and stored as the decorations and ornaments of the season.
Our troubles and concerns go on; our frailty a daily reality.
We can be distracted with holidays for a few weeks, but our time here slips away ever more quickly.

The Christmas story is not just about light and birth and joy to the world.
It is about how swaddling clothes became a shroud that wrapped Him tight.
There is not one without the other.
God came to be with us;  delivered so He could deliver.
Born so He could die in our place
To leave the linen strips behind, neatly folded.

Christmas:  the unwrapping that frees us forever.

sunset1513

A Canticle for Advent: All is Well

canadianrockies2

All is well, all is well
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell
Into the dawn of love’s light
Sing A-le, sing Alleluia

All is well, all is well
Let there be peace on Earth
Christ has come go and tell
That He is in the manger
Sing A-le, sing Alleluia

All is well, all is well
Lift up your voice and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia, sing Alleluia, all is well
~ Michael Farren/Sue Smith/Kenna Turner West

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
~Julian of Norwich

The Mystery Bones of Landscape

 
photo by Josh Scholten

photo by Josh Scholten

 

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
~Andrew Wyeth, artist

How endlessly beautiful is woodland in winter!  Today there is a thin mist; just enough to make a background of tender blue mystery three hundred yards away, and to show any defect in the grouping of the near trees.
~ Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist

There is a stumbling reluctance transitioning from a month of advent expectancy to three months of winter dormancy.  Inevitably there is let-down: the watching and waiting is not over after all.  There is profound loneliness knowing the story continues, hidden from view.

We have been stripped naked as the bare trees right now; our bones, like the trees of the landscape, raising up broken branches and healed fractures of previous winter windstorms.  We no longer have anything to hide behind or among,  our defects are plain to see,  our whole story a mystery as yet untold but impossible to conceal.

Here I am, abundantly flawed with pocks and scars, yet renewed once again.  There are hints of new growth to come when the frost abates and the sap thaws.   I am  prepared to wait an eternity if necessary, for the rest of the story.

photo by Josh Scholten

photo by Josh Scholten

 

Christmas Sings: Joy Bursts Us Open

Altodorfer Nativity painted in 1511

Altdorfer Nativity painted in 1513

Joy abides with God
and it comes down from God
and embraces spirit, soul, and body;
and where this joy has seized a person,
there it spreads,
there it carries one away,
there it bursts closed doors.

A sort of joy exists
that knows nothing at all
of the heart’s pain, anguish, and dread;
it does not last,
it can only numb a person for the moment.

The joy of God
the poverty of the manger
and the agony of the cross;
that is why it is invincible,
irrefutable.

Excerpted from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s final circular letter
to his friends in November 1942, before his imprisonment and execution by the Nazis

Bonhoeffer also wrote about this particular nativity painting by Albrecht Altdorfer:
The Altdorfer Nativity, which portrays the Holy Family at the manger amidst the ruins of a dilapidated house – whatever made him do that 400 years ago, against all tradition? – is especially on my mind these days. Perhaps Altdorfer meant to tell us, “Christmas can, and should, be celebrated in this way too.”


There is nothing attractive or sweet about Altdorfer’s 500 year old portrayal of the nativity scene.  It expresses the stark truth of the Savior’s coming to us: we are in ruins and He was born within our shattered shell.   We cannot be more broken, more fragile than we are in this moment.  He is born into that unwelcoming falling down mess, bringing to us irrefutable joy.

This is joy that bursts outside the boundaries of our misery.
This is incomparable invincible joy to rebuild us from the inside.

This is Christmas celebrated within our broken hearts:  joy amidst the ruins.

Advent Sings: Let the Light Shine

Adoration of the Child by Gerrit van Honthorst

Adoration of the Child by Gerrit van Honthorst

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4: 6

On this morning after the longest night of the year, I look out the window eagerly seeking a post-solstice reprieve from interminable darkness.  I seek that promise of being led back into the light, even if it will take months to get there.  It is a promise that keeps me going even if I can barely perceive the few minutes of extra daylight today.  It is from the simple knowledge that things are changing, getting lighter and brighter, that I harvest hope.

God made light through His Word, not once but twice.  In the beginning, He created the sun and the moon to penetrate and illuminate the creation of our hearts and our souls.  In the stable He came to light the world from below as well as from above so those hearts and souls could be saved from self-destruction.

I am showered with His light even on the longest night of the year and forever more,  lit from the glory of God reflected in the many faces of Jesus: as newborn, child teacher, working carpenter, healer, itinerant preacher, unjustly condemned, dying and dead, raised and ascended Son of God.  Let the dark days come as they certainly will.  They cannot overwhelm me now,  lit from within no matter how deeply the darkness oppresses.

I know His promise.
I know His face.
He knows I know.

The Bridge of Grace

photo by Josh Scholten

The bridge of grace will bear your weight.
Charles Spurgeon

When considering the paradox of a holy infant born in a dingy barn, so weak and helpless, completely dependent on others for His care and safety, it seems impossible that such frailty was meant to hold the weight of a struggling drowning humanity in His hands.  No sin is too great and nothing too heavy a load for Him to bear.

Advent is a time to reflect on such mysteries,  deepening our understanding of the remarkable gift we were given the night God came to earth as one of us, to dwell among us, and now through the person of His Spirit, remains at home in our hearts.

The bridge built that night continues to bear the awful load that we alone could not manage without being lost forever.

A baby becomes our bridge to grace and we have been offered safe passage.

 

Longing for Longing

“It was when I was happiest that I longed most…
The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…
to find the place where all the beauty came from.”

~C.S. Lewis

Like children who long for Christmas,
anticipating for weeks
what that moment will be like
when they see gifts piled high under the tree–

we revel in our longing.

It is the sweetness
of “already but not yet”,
knowing with eager expectancy
there is more to come,
just a bit out of reach
but still intensely seen and felt,
something more wonderful,
a place more beautiful than we can ever imagine…

Doorway Between Two Worlds

Rate This

“I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.”
~Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk

Some doors in our lives remain forever closed and locked.  No key, no admittance, no way in, no way out.   There is clarity in a locked door with no choices to be made.  If there is a choice and I’m unsure of what I should decide, I tend to run scared.

The locked door is an invitation with the potential to change everything when the key is handed to me.  I now must make a choice, even if the choice is to do nothing.

Do I lose the key and stay put where things are at least familiar?
Do I  knock and politely wait for the door to be answered?
Do I simply wait for the moment it happens to open, take a peek and decide whether or not to enter?
Or do I boldly put the key in and walk through?

The choice to be made is as plain as the key resting in my trembling hand.
When I approach, drawn to the mystery, the door is already standing open.

Fear not.
For unto us a child is born, a son is given.

He is the threshold between two worlds, the unlocking love that allows us to throw away the key.

Straws as Sharp as Thorns

20120329-052504.jpg
“The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death.”
opening words by John Donne in his sermon on Christmas Day 1626

Called to Advent–following

photo by Josh Scholten

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

Luke 9:56-58


…we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on … to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.

C.S. Lewis–in The Grand Miracle, God in the Dock

A manger was at least a place for a newborn baby to lay His head, which was more than He had later in life. A stable was not first class accommodations by any means, but it was most fitting for God’s Son, come to live alongside us in grime and poverty. The cost of following Him is to dwell with Him to reach out to the fearful and anxious, the hungry and thirsty, the down and out, the sick and miserable, the homeless and helpless–at times we are all of those ourselves.

The corner from winter to spring is turned with the Incarnation and whether we stay or follow is up to us. At the very least, we should offer Him a place to lay His head instead of turning Him away with excuses of “no room”. There is plenty of empty space for Him to dwell, right within our hollow hearts.