Preparing the Heart: Restless and Longing

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Everlasting God,
in whom we live and move and have our being:
You have made us for yourself,
so that our hearts are restless
until they rest in you.
—Augustine of Hippo

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Advent is a time when I feel an “inconsolable longing, almost like a heartbreak”, as C.S. Lewis writes in his memoir. He describes “the stab, the pang” accompanying the experience of Joy. I feel it too, in a powerfully visceral way, within my chest, within the rhythm of my heart.The restlessness drives me to seek rest, taking me right where I belong in the still sanctuary of a manger of hay, quieted and swaddled alongside the Son of God.

 

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You have got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth,
Sleep in feathers at their birth.

(But) Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You have got a manger bed.

Have you heard about our Jesus?
Have you heard about his fate?
How his mother came to the stable,
On that Christmas Eve so late?
Winds were blowing.
Cows were lowing.
Stars were glowing, glowing, glowing.

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You have got a manger bed.

~Appalachian Carol

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Drenched and Flooded

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“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Luke 7

 

God of our life,
there are days when the burdens we carry
chafe our shoulders and weigh us down;
when the road seems dreary and endless,
the skies grey and threatening;
when our lives have no music in them,
and our hearts are lonely,
and our souls have lost their courage.

Flood the path with light,
run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise;
tune our hearts to brave music;
give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age;
and so quicken our spirits
that we may be able to encourage the souls of all
who journey with us on the road of life,
to Your honour and glory.
~Augustine of Hippo

 

Those final few days of His life may have been like this:
the sky oppressive with storm clouds,
the shouldered burden too painful,
the soul weighed down, discouraged, disheartened.
Each step brought Him closer
to a desperate loneliness borne of betrayal and rejection.

But the end of that dark walk was just the beginning
of a journey into new covenant.

Instead of rain, those clouds bore light,
flooding the pathway so we can come together to lift the load.
Instead of loneliness, there arises community.
Instead of stillness, there is declaration of glory.
Instead of discouragement, He embodies hope for all hearts.
The promise fulfilled spills over our path.
We are drenched in gratitude, flooded with grace.

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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: Thirsting for God

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As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
~from Psalm 42

 

Empty and filled,
like the curling half-light of morning,
in which everything is still possible and so why not.

Filled and empty,
like the curling half-light of evening,
in which everything now is finished and so why not.

A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.
~Jane Hirschfield from “Standing Deer”

 

Most days, at some point, I start feeling thirsty.

Not for water, which, living in the northwest,  I’m fortunate to have close by at almost any moment.

Not for alcohol, which puts me to sleep and makes me too fuzzy to function after a couple of swallows.

Not for milk which was all I ever drank growing up on a farm with three Guernsey cows that produced more than a family of five could possibly consume in a day.

No, I’m ashamed to admit I thirst for a Starbucks mocha.  With whip.

No, I didn’t give it up for Lent.  I acknowledge it is not truly thirst I am feeling but only a desire. I’m not panting and dehydrated.  This is a want rather than a need.  I will not die without my mocha.

Like any psychological (or physical) addiction, it just feels as if I might.

Instead I should thirst daily for God with the same visceral fervor and singlemindedness.   If I could dive into His word daily and savor it like I do my mocha, I would be much less fluffy in stature, and much more solid in faith.

This psalm reminds me of my constant thirstiness and how no mocha, no glass of water, indeed nothing of this earth will truly slake it.  I must wait to meet the Lord to know what it feels like to no longer thirst and no longer want, and then all needs, indeed all desires, are fulfilled.

“You have made us for Yourself, and we cannot find rest until we find it in You.”  
~St. 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

Prepare for Joy: Opening Wide the Gate

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O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of Heaven to us below;
Our foes press hard on every side;
Your aid supply; Your strength bestow.
To your great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, One in Three.
O grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with thee.
Amen.
~translation of St. Thomas Acquinas’ Eucharist hymn “O Salutaris Hostia”
O salutaris Hostia,
Quae caeli pandis ostium:
Bella premunt hostilia,
Da robur, fer auxilium.
Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria,
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria.
Amen.

 

We stand outside the gate, incapable of opening it ourselves, watching as He throws it open wide.  We choose to enter into the endless length of days, or we choose to remain outside, lingering in the familiar confines of what we know, though it destroys us.

There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.
~Augustine of Hippo

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A Shudder of the Heart

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Follow Breanna and Jim Randall on burmachronicle.com

…you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you.  These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christ is always stronger in our brother’s heart than in our own, which is to say, first, that we depend on others for our faith, and second, that the love of Christ is not something you can ever hoard.  Human love catalyzes the love of Christ.  And this explains why that love seems at once so forceful and so fugitive, and why “while we speak of this, and yearn toward it,” as Augustine says, “we barely touch it in a quick shudder of the heart.”
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

This young couple and their unborn child leave for Asia today to serve as long term missionaries to strife-filled Myanmar.  I’ve known them both for over a decade and for the last several months they have stayed at our farm waiting for this day when they had enough funding and support to leave for a place few people visit, and where even fewer would choose to live and raise a family.  Yet off they go, with so many hugs and hopes accompanying them.

Breanna’s family had arrived at our church over ten years ago with three very blonde daughters in tow — Breanna the oldest.  I have watched her grow through her teens into a determined woman of faith, seeking where she might best serve and never leaving a doubt in any of our minds that God would direct her to where she was needed most, whether it was to use her writing or cooking skills, or to share her entrepreneurial spirit to help others plan and execute their own business.

Jim knows Myanmar well, having served as a missionary there for much of the last seven years, learning the language and working on an updated translation of the Burmese Bible.  He first came to our church as part of a small group of local university students who sought a worship home that was steeped in scripture and dedicated to mutual support of the church body, both here and abroad.  He sat at our kitchen table ten years ago and talked about his computer programming major and how he hoped somehow to make a difference in the world with the skills he was learning.   We (and he) could not have imagined his hope would lead him to a rural village in Burma and the challenging itinerant life of a missionary.   He would return to the States occasionally to report on what he was seeing and experiencing, and on his most recent visit home two years ago, there was Breanna in the front row, all grown up and full of questions for him about life in missions.

Ten years ago no one expected these two would find each other.   Yet God has plans for His people that we can never guess at, swerve from nor try to circumvent.  Their love for each other catalyzes the love of Christ in people they reach out to — never hoarding, never shrinking from a call to go to a place unlikely and unappealing.

For those of us they leave behind, it has been a time of farewells and tears and no few “shudders of the heart” as we bid them Godspeed to their new home far away.

For Jim and Breanna, the seemingly endless goodbyes now become hellos as they bring a love so yearned for to new brothers and sisters on the other side of the earth.

 

 

Listening to Lent — A Heart Enfolds

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  1. O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
    Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
    O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
    Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine. 
  2. What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
    Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
    Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
    Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace. 
  3. What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
    For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
    O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
    Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee. 
  4. Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
    Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
    Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
    My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.
    ~Bernard of Clairvaux

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.
Saint Augustine

When I am one of billions
there can be nothing special
to attract attention
or affection

When I blend into the background
among so many others
indistinct and plain,
common as grains of sand

There is nothing to hold me up
as rare, unique,
or exceptional,
worthy of extra effort
on a day such as today.

Yet it is not about my worth,
my work, my words;
it is about His infinite capacity
to love anything formed

by the touch of His vast hand,
the contraction of His immense heart,
the boundlessness of His breath reaching me
as if
as if
as if
I were the only one.