Restoration

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The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something undone.
~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”

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What is it that goes on within the soul,
that it takes greater delight if things it loves are found
or restored to it than if it had always possessed them?

…The storm tosses seafarers about and threatens them with shipwreck:
they all grow pale at their coming death.
Then the sky and the sea become calm, and they exult exceedingly,
just as they had feared exceedingly.

Or a dear friend is ill.…
All those who long to see him in good health are in mind sick along with him.
He gets well again, and although he does not yet walk with his former vigor,
there is joy such as did not obtain before when he walked well and strong.…

Everywhere a great joy is preceded by a greater suffering.
~Augustine of Hippo from Confessions

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(written 15 years ago today)
Tonight was a moment of epiphany in my life as a mother and farmer. This world suddenly feels so uncertain after the horrific and tragic events today, yet simple moments of grace-filled routine offer themselves up unexpectedly.  I know the Lord is beside us no matter what has happened.

For me, the routine is tucking the horses into bed, almost as important to me as tucking our children into bed. In fact, my family knows I cannot sit down to dinner until the job is done out in the barn–so human dinner waits until the horses are fed and their beds prepared.

My work schedule is usually such that I must take the horses out to their paddocks from their cozy box stalls while the sky is still dark, and then bring them back in later in the day after the sun goes down. We have quite a long driveway from barn to the paddocks which are strategically placed by the road so the horses are exposed to all manner of road noise, vehicles, logging, milk and hay trucks, school buses, and never blink when these zip past their noses. They must learn from weanling stage on to walk politely and respectfully alongside me as I make that trek from the barn in the morning and back to the barn in the evening.

Bringing the horses in tonight was a particular joy because I was a little earlier than usual and not needing to rush: the sun was setting golden orange, the world had a glow, the poplar and maple leaves carpeting the driveway and each horse walked with me without challenge,  no rushing, pushing, or pulling–just walking alongside me like the partner they have been taught to be.

I enjoy putting each into their own box stall bed at night, with fresh fluffed shavings, a pile of sweet smelling hay and fresh water. I see them breathe a big sigh of relief that they have their own space for the night–no jostling for position or feed, no hierarchy for 12 hours, and then it is back out the next morning to the herd, with all the conflict that can come from coping with other individuals in the same space.  My horses love their stalls, because that is their safe sanctuary where peace and calm is restored, that is where they get special scratching and hugs, and visits from a little red haired girl who loves them and sings them songs.

Then comes my own restoration of returning to the sanctuary of our house, feeding my human family and tucking three precious children into bed, even though two are now taller than me. The world feels momentarily predictable within our walls, comforting us in the midst of devastation and tragedy elsewhere.   Hugging a favorite pillow and wrapping up in a familiar soft blanket, there is warmth and safety in being tucked in.

I’ll continue to search for these moments of restoration whenever I’m frightened, hurting and unable to cope.  I need a quiet routine to help remind me how blessed we are to be here to wake each morning to regroup, renew and restore when it seems the ground has given way.

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Floodlit

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It is not physical beauty,
nor temporal glory,
nor the brightness of light so dear to earthly eyes,
nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs,
nor the gentle odor of flowers or ointments or perfumes,
nor manna, nor honey,
nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh.
It is not these things I love when I love my God.

Yet there is a light I love,
and a food,
and a kind of embrace when I love my God.
A light, voice, odor, food,
embrace of my innerness,
where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain,
where there is sound that time cannot seize,
where there is perfume which no breeze disperses,
where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can satisfy,
where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part.
That is what I love, when I love my God.
~Augustine of Hippo

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God designed His creation as a reflection of His Being. We and everything around us are the image bearers — even in our heart of darkness we are floodlit by a goodness overflowing our soul’s capacity.

We are in His spotlight; we are floodlit.

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Unchangeable Harmony

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“Spend your life trying to understand it, and you will lose your mind; but deny it and you will lose your soul.”
Augustine in his work “On the Trinity”

A story has been told that Augustine of Hippo was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity.  Then he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole.
Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.”
“That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said Augustine.
The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.”

I accept that my tiny brain, ever so much tinier than St. Augustine’s,  cannot possibly absorb or explain the Trinity–I will not try to put the entire ocean in that small hole.  The many analogies used to help human understanding of the Trinity are dangerously limited in scope:
three candles, one light
vapor, water, ice
shell, yolk, albumin
height, width, depth
apple peel, flesh, core
past, present, future.

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It is sufficient for me to know, as expressed by the 19th century Anglican pastor J.C. Ryle:

“It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, ‘Let us make man’. It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, ‘Let us save man'”.

All one, equal, harmonious, unchangeable, to our rescue.
“It is not easy to find a name that will suitably express so great an excellence, unless it is better to speak in this way:
the Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things. 
Thus the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and each of these by Himself, is God,
and at the same time they are all one God;
and each of them by Himself is a complete substance, and yet they are all one substance.

The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Spirit;
the Son is not the Father nor the Holy Spirit;
the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son:
but the Father is only Father,
the Son is only Son,
and the Holy Spirit is only Holy Spirit.

To all three belong the same eternity,
the same unchangeableness, the same majesty, the same power.

In the Father is unity, in the Son equality, in the Holy Spirit the harmony of unity and equality.

And these three attributes are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all harmonious because of the Holy Spirit.”
–Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, I.V.5.

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Taking Us On

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But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 
so that, just as sin reigned in death,
so also grace might reign through righteousness
to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:20-21
Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
~Martin Luther

The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.
G.K. Chesterton

 

This is not like choosing sides on teams in grade school, numbering off one-two-one-two until everyone knows where they stand, the weak and the strong all thrown together by random chance.

This is not like an explosive election year where choosing sides means being aligned with a political candidate with whom I vehemently disagree, simply to avoid supporting an even worse option.

This is not like a Lincoln-Douglas debate tournament where I might represent one viewpoint for the first round, and then be asked to represent the opposite viewpoint in the second half.

This is more like being chosen for one side or the other, even if, klutz that I am, it means always being the last to be chosen for any sports team with all my limitations, my poor coordination, my weakness and my flaws.

This choice is not for an hour or a day or a year, but for eternity; whether to stand in the light as it shines on my dark, glum, sullen head or to stay unexposed and hidden in the shadows.

It isn’t just about choosing,
but being chosen, my flaws being taken on by Christ,
just as I am,
so that I might become what I was not before.

Though the light shines on things unclean, yet it is not thereby defiled.
Augustine

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Between Midnight and Dawn: Man Became Less

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Christ must increase and I must decrease.
~John 3:30

 

By craving to be more, man became less; and by aspiring to be self-sufficing, he fell away from him who truly suffices him.
~Augustine of Hippo, The City of God

Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.
~St. Francis of Assisi

***********************

Humans don’t come by selflessness naturally.  We are survival-programmed to seek what we need from others from the very get-go, whether it is filling up our hunger, having a wet diaper changed, or cuddling for comfort.

And for some, that demand to be first in our tiny universe never changes. Certain presidential candidates seem to suffer from this affliction more than others.

How do we reconcile the paradox of first becomes last and the least becomes first?  We accept the gift of grace from Christ to become less rather than seek more, to give up the all-important self to sacrifice for the life and well-being of the other.

We are overcome.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

God Among Us: The Paradox

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Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:6, 7

For since death came through a human being,
the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;
for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

1Corinthians 15: 21

 

Man’s maker was made man
that He, Ruler of the stars,
might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that Truth might be accused of false witnesses,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

~Augustine of Hippo

 

We too are born
as a King is delivered,
poor and homeless, in a barn:
we,
the meek, the mourning,
the weak, the persecuted,
the poor, the hungry,
the merciful and peacemakers
are given eternity
for the price of faith.
We can’t earn it, can never pay for it;
we just reach out our hearts
to grasp it tightly
as it is offered.
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You, Lord, are both lamb and shepherd.
You, Lord, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and sword-bringer
Of the way you took and gave.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, whom we both scorn and crave.

Clothed in light upon the mountain,
Stripped of might upon the cross,
Shining in eternal glory,
Beggar’d by a soldier’s toss,
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are both gift and cost.

You, who walk each day beside us,
Sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow,
Have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our pilgrim guide.

Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and vict’ry.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our death and life.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
You, who are our death and our life.
~Sylvia Dunstan (1955-1993)

 

 

Come, thou Redeemer of the earth,
Come testify thy virgin birth:
All lands admire, all times applaud:
Such is the birth that fits our God.

Forth from his chamber goeth he,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now his course to run.

The Virgin’s womb that glory gained,
Its virgin honor is still unstained.
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in his temple dwells below.

From God the Father he proceeds,
To God the Father back he speeds;
Runs out his course to death and hell,
Returns on God’s high throne to dwell.

O Equal to thy Father, thou!
Gird on thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

 Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.
All laud, eternal Son, to thee
Whose advent sets thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore.

 

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What Does Love Look Like?

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What does love look like?
It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
That is what love looks like.
~St. Augustine

So many sighs and sorrows and tears today
for the martyring of Your people in South Carolina
for the color of their skin,
for their faith in You.

When will the hatred end?
When will we all be one people,
united in Your arms?

Only when our love looks like Your Love,
Love that sacrifices Himself for the good of others,
rather than sacrificing others for no good at all.

Lord, come quickly.

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