Striking the Balance

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Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride.
Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair.
Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance
because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.
~Blaise Pascal

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We yearn for perfection,
to be flawless and faultless,
unblemished,
aiming for symmetry,
straight and smooth.

Life serves up something
far different
and our eye searches
for what is broken like us:
to find the cracks,
scratches and damage,
whether it is in
a master’s still life portrait
replete with crawling flying insects
and broken blossoms,
or in the not so still life
of those around us.

Somehow Christ bridges
Himself between God and us,
becoming a walkway for the wretched.

In the beginning we were created
unblemished,
image bearers of perfection.
No longer.
We bear witness to brokenness
with our shattered lives,
fragile minds and weakening bodies.
It is our leaks and warts
that stand out now.

To restore
our lost relationship with Him,
Christ strikes the balance;
He hung broken to mend us,
to lift and carry us across the gap,
binding us to Him
forever.

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Still Life With Flowers–Jan Huysum

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An Invisible Cloak

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On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
~John O’Donohue “Beannacht

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We all stumble, bearing the bruises and scars of our fall.
We all waken to gray days when there seems no point in going on.
We all are sucked into the darkest thoughts, tunneling ever more deeply.

In those moments, those days, those months, wrapped tight in love’s cloak of invisibility:
the darkness can swallow us no longer~
we follow a lightening path of contentment and encouragement,
our failing feet are steadied, the bland becomes kaleidoscope,
the way to go illuminated with hope.

May our brokenness be forever covered in such blessings.

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What Man has Made of Man

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The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
~William Wordsworth from “Lines Written in Early Spring”
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As shy spring emerges from this morning’s haze,
I can’t let go the fog of lament
about what we’ve become
and the mess we’ve made of things:
man cannot fix man.

We are irretrievably lost
if repair was up to us.
We need our
heaven-sent rescue
~divinity clothed inside
a human soul~
fixed to bloom fully
in our broken hearts.

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Broken to be Given

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And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Luke 22:19

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…
Luke 24: 30-31

 

God uses broken things.
It takes broken soil to produce a crop,
broken clouds to give rain,
broken grain to give bread,
broken bread to give strength.
It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume.
~Vance Havner

 

Just as bread needs to be broken
in order to be given,
so, too, do our lives.
~Henri Nouwen

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Jan Davidsz de Heem. Vase of Flowers, 1660 National Gallery of ARt

We yearn for perfection,
for flawless and faultless,
unblemished,
aiming for symmetry,
straight and smooth.

Life serves up something
far different
and our eye searches
to find the cracks,
scratches and damage,
whether it is in
a master’s still life portrait
replete with snails,
crawling flying insects
and broken blossoms,
or in the not so still life
of our next door neighbor.

In the beginning we were created
unblemished,
image bearers of perfection.
No longer.
We bear witness to brokenness
with shattered lives,
fragile minds and weakening bodies.
It is our leaks and warts
that stand out now.

To restore
the lost relationship with Him,
God provides the glue
needed to heal the broken.

He broke Himself
to mend us,
binding us to Him
forever.

And I might add:
a lonely snail wandering into sidewalk foot traffic,
crushed, cracked and dying, clinging to the pavement,
its broken shell a gift of metaphor
of our own leaking brokenness.

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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

The Work of Christmas Begins

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When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
~Howard Thurman from The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations

 

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All the Advent anticipation is spent, Christmas and New Years are past and I find my energy waning just as the work of Christmas is beginning.

Instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas it should be the Twelve Weeks, or better yet, Twelve Months– maybe the lights should stay up until St. Patrick’s Day at least, just to keep us out of the shadows, inertia and doldrums of winter.

As I sweep up the last of the fir needles that dropped to the floor from this lovely tree that I watered faithfully in the house for over two weeks, I too have been drying up, parts of me left behind for others to sweep up.   There has been the excitement of family brought together from far away,  friends gathering for meals and games,  special church services, but now, some quiet time is sorely needed.   The party simply can’t be sustained.  The lights have to go off and be pulled down, and the eyes have to close.

The real work of Christmas lasts year-long — often very hard intensive work, not always the fun stuff of the last month, but badly needed in this broken world with its homelessness, hunger, disease, conflict, addictions, depression and pain.

I walk into a winter replete with the startling splash of orange red that paints the skies in the evenings, the stark and gorgeous snow covered peaks surrounding us during the day,  the grace of bald eagles and trumpeter swans flying overhead,  the heavenly lights that twinkle every night,  the shining globe that circles full above us, and the loving support of the Hand that rocks us to sleep when we are wailing loud and need it.

And I am readied to do the real work of Christmas, acknowledging the stark reality of the labor to salvage this world begun by an infant in a manger.

We don’t need full stockings on the hearth, Christmas villages on the side table, or a blinking star on the top of the tree to know the comfort of His care and the astounding beauty of His creation, available for us without batteries, electrical plug ins, or the need of a ladder.

As I take down lights and ornaments, the memory of Christmas pulls me up from the doldrums, alive to the possibility that even I can make a difference, in His name, all year.

Every day. Twelve months. Life long.

And I’m ready.

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God Among Us: The Wonder of All Wonders

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The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy.
Psalm 65:8

 

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
~Madeleine L’Engle  “The Winter is Cold, is Cold”

 

Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

 

My weakness does not separate me from God,
but brokenness and weariness
is His invitation to draw closer to Him.
I lift my eyes to hills; my help has come.
Wonder of all wonders.
EPG

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Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by Thee;
Joyless is the day’s return
Till Thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago

God, heaven cannot hold Him nor the earth sustain
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ

Angels and archangels may have gathered there
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air
But His mother only in her maiden bliss
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man I would do my part
Yet what I can, I give Him, give my heart

Balanced Upon a Broken World

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This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.
~Amy Lowell “September 1918”
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