Prepare for Joy: Opened Like Leaves

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I came to your door
with soup and bread.
I didn’t know you
but you were a neighbor
in pain: and a little soup and bread,
I reasoned, never hurt anyone.

I shouldn’t reason.
I appeared the day
your divorce was final:
a woman, flushed with cooking
and talk, and you watched,
fascinated,
coiled like a spring.

You seemed so brave and lonely
I wanted to comfort you like a child.
I couldn’t of course.
You wanted to ask me too far in.

It was then I knew
it had to be like prayer.
We can’t ask
for what we know we want:
we have to ask to be led
someplace we never dreamed of going,
a place we don’t want to be.

We’ll find ourselves there
one morning,
opened like leaves,
and it will be all right.
~Kathleen Norris “Answered Prayer”

 

When I struggle with how to pray
I fall back to asking for strength
to cope with whatever is to come,
rather than pray for what I hope,
a prayer of the terrified,
the worried and the weak.

How is it with God, all things are possible,
He asked for the cup to be taken,
knowing it would remain in His Hands.
His will
will be done,
even when terrified,
worried, and weary.
So instead of closing off,
as I would have done,
not wanting to go somewhere
I don’t want to be,
He opened up Himself
like a leaf,
the earth becoming His flesh,
His flesh one with the tree.

And it was all right.
It will always be
all right.

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Prepare for Joy: Dissolve My Hard Heart

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My love is weak,
my heart imperfect,
so I have great need of You.
I need your strengthening and your comfort,
your instruction and your freedom.
Let your love dissolve my hard heart.
Let your love lift me up.
Let your love reveal to me joy beyond imagination.
Let my soul exhaust itself in singing praises of your love.
~Thomas Kempis “A Prayer of Need”

As we gently transition here in the northwest to spring, with backlit sky and buds opening to the new light, there are plenty of places around the country still deep and frozen under feet of snow.  The hardness it takes to outlast winter can weaken the the most enduring loving and warm heart.

And too there is a hardness in the hearts of people of faith when we watch our brothers slaughtered while singing praises of their love for God, captured children placed in cages, women sold into slavery.  We want to somehow rise above such senseless violence and not resort to it, not become one with extremism yet feeling helpless to stop it.

For this our God died, carrying man’s terrible burden of sin and selfishness to the grave, burying it deep and leaving it there.  We still weep and lament, we still suffer and groan, whether near the rolled-away stone, or for the 21 kneeling Christians on a far-off beach several weeks ago.  We can respond with joy that we recognize Him when He calls our name.  He knows us, each and every one.

We may be exhausted, but lifted up and dissolved by the gentle softness of His love.

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Prepare for Joy: Easter Up

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There is a fragrance in the air,
a certain passage of a song,
an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book,
the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall
that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears.
Who can say when or how it will be
that something easters up out of the dimness
to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?

God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale

 

The wild plum trees have been blooming now for a couple weeks and the flowering cherries are about to burst.  This despite 20 degree nights after nearly 60 degree days.  It is winter at night and the perfumed air of spring permeates the day. Such extreme variability is disorienting, like standing in a spotlight in a dark room.

Yet this is what eastering is like.  It is the awakening out of a restless sleep, the opening of a door to let in fresh air, the rolling back of the stone that has locked us in.

He is not only risen.  He is given.

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Prepare for Joy: Breathed On

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And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Genesis 2:7

We are, as breathed on dust, called into the service and company of another, called to do work other than our own. This creature, formed of dust, is entrusted with the garden, with all the animals, and with all living things. Our creatureliness binds us to the role of steward, friend, and companion of all other creatures who share our fragility.
~Walter Brueggemann from “Remember You Are Dust”

 

As a farmer, I feel pretty close to the dust I’m entrusted to steward.  I carry it around under my fingernails, on my boots, my skin smudged in unexpected ways and places.  It clings to me, not wanting to let go of one of its own as I return indoors.  Sunbeams in our house swirl with released dust motes given new life through solar energy, each mote a source of fragile strength, plain beauty, complex simplicity.  Such joyful dust dance makes me reluctant to get out the dust rags and cleaning solutions.

Even so,  I know all about the cleansing needed in this grimy world.  The dustiest parts of me lie far deeper than my shedding skin — the breathed-on dust that innervates, circulates and motivates me.

Christ has come to be the dust rag;  I will cling to Him as He comes to clean house.

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Prepare for Joy: Laid Bare

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A cross and nails are not always necessary. 
There are a thousand ways to kill him,
some of them as obvious as choosing where you will stand
when the showdown between the weak and the strong comes along,
others of them as subtle as keeping your mouth shut
when someone asks if you know him.

Today, while he dies, do not turn away. 
Make yourself look in the mirror. 
Today no one gets away
without being shamed by his beauty. 
Today no one flees
without being laid bare by his light.
~Barbara Brown Taylor

 

Shame is considered old-fashioned these days;
too erosive to self-esteem,
a drag on our self-worth,
an inconvenient truth.

Yet how else do we see ourselves
through the glass darkly
than to see our shame convicted,
to be known in our guilt,
our darkness reflected
by a Light that reveals all shadows
and forgives as it illuminates.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1Corinthians 13:12

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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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Prepare for Joy: Unshaken

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I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish;
but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road.
A sum can be put right:
but only by going back til you find the error
and working it afresh from that point,
never by simply going on.

There are only two kinds of people in the end:
those who say to God,
“Thy will be done,”
and those to whom God says, in the end,
“Thy will be done.”
All that are in Hell, choose it.
Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.
No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.
Those who seek find.
To those who knock
it is opened.

Everything becomes more and more itself.
Here is joy that cannot be shaken.
Our light can swallow up your darkness;
but your darkness cannot now infect our light.

~C.S. Lewis excerpts from A Great Divorce

 

So much value is placed on choice — our country thrives on it: the choice to abort or let live, the choice to vaccinate or let nature take its course, the choice to recycle or overwhelm landfills, the choice to marry whom you wish or not at all, the choice to believe or decide there is nothing worth believing in.

Each fork in the road forces a choice.  Which is the “right” road? How can we ever know?

Each time I’ve chosen a road that ends up darkening to the point of invisibility or covered in brambles, potholes or muddy mire, I must choose again: keep going deeper into the darkness, or turn around and choose again.  I backtrack, rethink, make mistakes, get lost, try again.   When I finally come to my senses and whisper to God, “Thy will be done,” only then does His light lead the way and swallow up my darkness.

My joy at seeking the light remains unshaken:  He is God and always has been, and I am not and never will be.

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