the looming presences – great suffering, great fear –
withdraw only into peripheral vision:
but ineluctable this shimmering of wind in the blue leaves:
this flood of stillness widening the lake of sky:
this need to dance, this need to kneel:
this mystery… ~Denise Levertov “Of Being”
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw upon itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom.
Inundated by the overwhelmingly bad news of the world,
blasted 24/7 from cable TV,
highlighted in rapidly changing headlines online,
and tweeted real time from every nook and cranny,
we must cling to the mystery
of His magnetism for our weaknesses and flaws.
He willingly pulls our evil out of us
and onto Himself.
Hatred and pain,
shame and anger,
our bitterness disappears
into the vortex of His love and beauty,
the dusty corners of our hearts vacuumed spotless.
We are let in on this secret:
He is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives.
Instead, as we kneel forgiven,
He washes us forever clean.
To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
…every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long. ~Marilynne Robinson from Housekeeping
To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension in the Christian life.
It is hard not yet having what we know is to come.
But it is sweet to have certainty
because of what we have already been given
as foreshadowing of what will be everlasting.
Like the labor of childbirth,
we groan knowing what it will take to get there,
and we are full to brimming already.
The waiting won’t be easy;
it will often be painful to be patient,
staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted,
and barely able to function.
Others won’t understand why we wait in hope,
nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for.
Yet we persevere and wander this life together — craving for what we don’t yet have, longing for what we’ve lost. We groan together in expectation of what is to come in the morning.
…when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.
~Henri Nouwen from The Return of the Prodigal Son
Today is the 100th anniversary of Wiser Lake Chapel‘s building dedication ceremony and picnic — a special celebration is planned with information found here.
Back in the early days of Whatcom County, the little church on Wiser Lake had been constructed through “contributions of the people” in a rural neighborhood only a few miles from where we now live. $600 in lumber was provided by a local farmer whose trees were cut and milled and brought by horse drawn wagon to a building site adjacent to a one room school house along a corrugated plank road. The total property was “valued at $1800, but of even more value to the community.” The dedication ceremony was held on Sunday, August 27, 1916 followed by “a basket dinner—come with well filled baskets for a common table, under the direction of the Ladies Aid”. This was to be followed by a “Fellowship Meeting, special music and fraternal addresses” and the day ended at 8 PM with a Young People’s Meeting. So began the long history of the “Wiser Lake Church”.
For reasons unrecorded in the history of the church, the original denomination closed the doors thirty years later, and for awhile the building was empty and in need of a congregation. By the fifties, it became a mission church of the local Christian Reformed Churches and launched a Sunday School program for migrant farm and Native American children in the surrounding rural neighborhood. No formal church services started until the sixties. By the time the building was sixty years old, so many children were arriving for Sunday School, there was not enough room so the building was hoisted up on jacks to allow a hole to be dug underneath for a basement full of classrooms. Over the course of a summer, the floor space doubled, and the church settled back into place, allowed to rest again on its foundation.
Over seventy years after its dedication ceremony, our family drove past the boxy building countless times hurrying on our way to other places, barely giving it a second glance. It had a classic design, but showed its age with peeling paint, a few missing shingles, an old fashioned square flat roofed belfry, and arched windows. The hand lettered sign spelling out “Wiser Lake Chapel” by the road constituted a humble invitation of sorts, simply by listing the times of the services.
On a blustery December Sunday evening, we had no place else to be for a change. Instead of driving past, we stopped, welcomed by the yellow glow pouring from the windows and an almost full parking lot. Our young family climbed the steps to the big double doors, and inside were immediately greeted by a large balding man with a huge grin and encompassing handshake. He pointed us to one of the few open spots still available in the old wooden pews.
The sanctuary was a warm and open space with a high lofted ceiling, dark wood trim accents matching the ancient pews, and a plain wooden cross above the pulpit in front. There was a pungent smell from fir bough garlands strung along high wainscoting, and a circle of candles standing lit on a small altar table. Apple pie was baking in the kitchen oven, blending with the aroma of good coffee and hot cocoa.
The service was a Sunday School Christmas program, with thirty some children of all ages and skin colors standing up front in bathrobes and white sheet angel gowns, wearing gold foil halos, tinfoil crowns and dish towels wrapped with string around their heads. They were prompted by their teachers through carols and readings of the Christmas story. The final song was Silent Night, sung by candle light, with each child and member of the congregation holding a lit candle. There was a moment of excitement when one girl’s long hair briefly caught fire, but after that was quickly extinguished, the evening ended in darkness, with the soft glow of candlelight illuminating faces of the young and old, some in tears streaming over their smiles.
It felt like home. We had found our church.
We’ve never left.
Over the past one hundred years this old building has seen a few thousand people come and go, has had peeling paint and missing shingles, a basement that floods when the rain comes down hard, toilets that don’t always flush, and though it smells heavenly on potluck days, there are times when it can be just a bit out of sorts and musty. It really isn’t anything to boast about.
It is humble and unpretentious yet envelops its people in its loving and imperfect embrace, with warmth, character and a uniqueness that is unforgettable.
It really is not so different from the folks who have gathered there over the years.
We know we belong,
such as we are,
just as we are,
blessed by God with a place to join together.
Faith steals upon you like dew: some days you wake and it is there. And like dew, it gets burned off in the rising sun of anxieties, ambitions, distractions. ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss
refreshed in the light of morning,
can evaporate in the dry stress of the day.
May we turn our faces up
each night, asking to be washed
in the mist of God’s dew,
our anxiety settled like dust.
We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.
The world is crowded with Him.
He walks everywhere incognito.
And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate.
The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake. ~C.S.Lewis
The older I get, the more I recognize the need to be alert and awake to the presence of God in the crowded world around me.
It doesn’t come naturally.
We humans have an attention deficit, choosing to focus inwardly on self and ignoring the rest. If it isn’t for me, or like me, or about me, it somehow is not worthy of my consideration.
We wear blinders, asleep.
We need help to recognize the presence of God, to peel the layers off the ordinary and find Him at the extraordinary core, incognito. He reveals Himself to us, invisible, yet right in plain sight.
“A devout but highly imaginative Jesuit,”
Untermeyer says in my yellowed
college omnibus of modern poets,
perhaps intending an oxymoron, but is it? Shook foil, sharp rivers start to flow. Landscape plotted and pieced, gray-blue, snow-pocked
begins to show its margins. Speeding back
down the interstate into my own hills
I see them fickle, freckled, mounded fully
and softened by millennia into pillows.
The priest’s sprung metronome tick-tocks,
repeating how old winter is. It asks
each mile, snow fog battening the valleys, what is all this juice and all this joy?
~Maxine Kumin “Almost Spring, Driving Home, Reciting Hopkins”
These summer mornings I awake in a Hopkins landscape~
the priest who died too young at 44
would have created even more beauty
if he had lived twice as long,
combining words in suspended rhythm,
recreating the world outside our windows
entirely in our minds.
What is this joy I feel when witnessing
what must have moved him to write?
What could be more powerful
than words that awaken in us dawn’s redeeming light?
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
It is easy enough to write and talk about God
while remaining comfortable
within the contemporary intellectual climate.
Even people who would call themselves unbelievers
often use the word gesturally,
as a ready-made synonym for mystery.
But if nature abhors a vacuum,
Christ abhors a vagueness.
If God is love,
Christ is love
for this one person,
this one place,
this one time-bound and
time-ravaged self. ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss
Well aware of all I am not,
my shortcomings and failings,
my temptation to deny self-denial,
my inability to see beyond my own troubles,
forgetting this life is not all about me:
~neglecting to witness first hand
all that God through Christ is:
the beauty in His becoming man,
the joy of His joining up with us,
the love in His gracious sacrifice,
the full promise of His Word that breathes
life back into my dying soul~
and so it becomes all about me
not because of
what I’ve done,
or who I am,
but because of
who He is and was and will be:
He loves me,
this time-bound and time-ravaged me,
no matter what.
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw on to itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means, chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom. ~N.T. Wright
God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense. C.S. Lewis