A Rest Between Two Notes

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I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”

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photo by Josh Scholten

 

At the end of this past Sunday’s Easter worship, while playing a complicated version of the Doxology on the piano in our church, I hit some wrong notes.  Usually I can recover from such mistakes but I lost my way in the music on the page, struggling to recover in time to finish with the undaunted congregation, my fingers trembling to find the right keys.

Waking yesterday, I felt my usual Monday morning uneasiness but even more so: I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catching up from what was left undone through the weekend and on the other side the anticipated demands of the coming week.

Before I even arrive at work, I find myself uneasy in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known messiness I’ve left behind.

This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is a precious moment of reconciliation, my Sabbath extended. I must allow myself an instant of silence and reflection and forgiveness before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my continuing journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes.

But it can be beautiful nevertheless.

Even the least harmonious notes find reconciliation within the next chord. I move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life, renewed and forgiven.

But trembling, still trembling.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: To Laugh and To Cry

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It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment,
that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself,
mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner
quite unrecognized by the souls
who feel only weakness in bearing their cross…

~Jean Pierre du Caussade from The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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The past few mornings have been unveiled in snow flurries, mist and fog, tentative spring dawns of freezing air and warming soil trying to break loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter.

I am struggling under the load of 14 hour days working with despairing and suicidal people,  in addition to keeping a barn clean and animals and humans fed.  Even sleep is not restful when there is so little time to quiet myself in reflection and gratitude.

I am keenly reminded of my weakness as my strength wanes at the end of a long day, having slipped in the mud while trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow.  Landing on my backside, my pants soaking through,  I can choose to laugh or cry.

I choose to see the baptism of mud as a sacrament of the present moment,  reminding me of my need for a cleansing grace.

I laugh and cry.

Though obscured from view, God is nevertheless revealed in these moments of being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures.

He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.

He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward,
so need reminding by landing me amidst it.

He knows I need to laugh at myself,
so puts me right on my backside.

He knows I need to cry,
so sends me those with the saddest stories and greatest needs.

He knows I need Him, always and ever more,
to restore a sacrament of grace evident in the present moment
and every moment to come.

To be known for who I am
by a God who laughs with me,
weeps for me
and groans with pain I have caused~
I will know
no greater love.

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When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings

 

Preparing the Heart: To Wear Our Skin

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To wear our skin
is to know our frailty:
our bruises and callouses,
our sunburns and warts,
our tears and our bleeding,
our spasming backs,
and toothaches.

To pulse within our hearts
is to know our temptation
for self-promotion,
knowing our desire
to fill our own emptiness
rather than love and serve others first.

To inhabit our souls
you have humbled yourself
to pull together
our million broken pieces,
becoming the adhesive
to glue us back whole,
loving us by becoming us
as we crumble to dust.

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Humble and Human, willing to bend You are
Fashioned of flesh and the fire of life, You are
Not too proud to wear our skin
To know this weary world we’re in
Humble, humble Jesus

Humble in sorrow, You gladly carried Your cross
Never refusing Your life to the weakest of us
Not too proud to bear our sin
To feel this brokenness we’re in
Humble, humble Jesus

We bow our knees
We must decrease
You must increase
We lift You high

Humble in greatness, born in the likeness of man
Name above all names, holding our world in Your hands
Not too proud to dwell with us, to live in us, to die for us
Humble, humble Jesus

We bow our knees
We must decrease
You must increase
We lift You high

We bow our knees
We must decrease
You must increase
We lift You high

We lift you high

Humble
You are humble
Make me humble like You
We lift You high
~Audrey Assad

 

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God Among Us: Sharing Our Sadness

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A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.
Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Matthew 26: 38-39

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

 …as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.

Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.

As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful.
~Paul Tripp

 

Written for too many innocents who have died this year at the hands of others…

There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
and end.

He came to us
for times such as this,
born of
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in barn dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could terrify masses
and massacre innocents.

He became dust to be
like us
He began a mere speck in a womb
like us,
so easily washed away
as unexpected, unneeded, unwanted.

Lord, You are long expected.
You are needed
You are wanted.

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

You shine 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 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.

God weeps
as tragedy happens.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is a choice
we made from the beginning,
a choice we continue to make.

Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.

We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
just dust,
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
forevermore.
~EPG

the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79

 

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully, lullay.

1. O sisters too,
How may we do,
For to preserve this day?
This poor Youngling
For Whom we sing
By by, lully, lullay?

2. Herod the king,
In his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.

3. That woe is me,
Poor Child for Thee!
And ever morn and may,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny Child,
By by, lully, lullay.

 

Good people all, this Christmas time
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending His beloved Son

With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day
In Bethlehem upon that morn’
There was a blessed Messiah born

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear

“Arise and go”, the angels said
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you’ll find this happy morn’
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born”

With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went that Babe to find
And as God’s angel had foretold
They did our Savior Christ behold

Within a manger He was laid
And by his side the Virgin maid
As long foretold upon that morn’
There was a blessed Messiah born

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

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Copper into Brass

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The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernong;
All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all.

The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass
Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.
The misted early mornings will be cold;
The little puddles will be roofed with glass.
The sun, which burns from copper into brass,
Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold
Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold
Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.
~Elinor Wylie from “Wild Peaches”
Amber stretches from sky to ground.
The clouds key-holed in the chill
and below, the leaves suffer their own keyholes
as they slowly melt away.
I’m feeling holey myself,
punched and transparent,
pondering where holiness is found
when life wholly shows its holes.
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The Holiest Thing

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What God arranges for us to experience at each moment
is the holiest thing that could happen to us.
~Jean-Pierre Caussade

I know there are moments
when there is no holiness in sight,
and even God hides His face;
certainly His Son cried out in anguish too.
So we tread barefoot and bloodied on this holy ground,
whether rocky, muddy, crumbling or cushioned,
and He is there, walking before us,
ready to pick us up if we fall.

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Featherless Hope

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—

…And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
~Emily Dickinson from Poem 254

The end of the school year is the season of barely feathered hope in my world.  The academic nest is crowded, the competition fierce, the future uncertain.  Those who have struggled to survive in classes, in debt, in relationships, in a tenuous job market,  can find themselves ill equipped and unprepared to fly on their own.  Their lack of feathering becomes obvious the closer they get to the edge.  Bashed and abashed, they worry and panic, sleep little, self-medicate, cry easily, contemplate death.   Sometimes they tumble.

We try to catch them before they fall.

We remind them: it takes only one feather to have hope in a soaring future of grace and strength.  Only one.

The others will come.

And when they do, they will be beautiful.
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