A Bright Sadness: Leave the Light On




What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.

It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind.

Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

It is easy to lose faith: one bad outcome, one prayer seemingly unanswered, one loss leaving a gaping hole.

It can feel like God has up and left.

Much harder to sustain is faith that keeps an open mind in the darkness of the deep pit, in the midst of interminable waiting, or while facing the disappointment of lost hopes and dreams.

When belief is elusive, the worst possible reaction is to abandon it, to close the door and shutter the windows and remain in the dark. Prayer for faith in the middle of the struggle is to leave the light on even if you aren’t sure God will come back anytime soon.

He knows you’ve left the light on for Him.
He’ll be back.
Because He never left.




Help Me Push Myself Aside

moontree

 

crescentmoon

 

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to.
You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see
and my self is the earth’s shadow
that keeps me from seeing all the moon.
The crescent is very beautiful
and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see;
but what I am afraid of, dear God,
is that my self shadow will grow so large
that it blocks the whole moon,
and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

I do not know You God
because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.
~Flannery O’Connor from her journals

 

octobermoon

 

crescentvenus

 

I get in the way all the time — like a photobomb of a shadow casting darkness on all that is light and beauty.  With my human “blinders” on,  I can’t see beyond where I stand, where I move, what I feel, what I fear, what I see and hear.

And I certainly get in the way of my knowing God. I think this is all about me.

It’s not.

He’s there, though partially hidden in my need to be front and center.
He’s there, His glory and truth manifest behind me, if only I would turn to see.
He’s there, gently instructing me to get out of my own way.

He’s there, fully radiant, once I step back in awe.

 

621009_10151819760231119_1901306403_o

 

1097754_10151819760756119_811672979_o

 

The Blessing of Hairy Toes

hairytoes

 

“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
— J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)

 

homer81014

 

It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to a blessing.   But I like the idea of being blest starting from the bottom up,  encompassing my most humble and homely parts first.

The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves.   They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought.   Benedictions can extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings;  wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.

But let’s start at the very beginning: let’s bless our hairy toes.

That is a very good place to start…

 

homer818

 

“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.” 
— Flannery O’Connor

 

toes

 

May you always have…
Walls for the winds
A roof for the rain
Tea beside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
Those you love near you
And all your heart might desire

May those who love us, love us;
and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles
so we’ll know them by their limping.
Traditional Irish Blessing

 

homerroller

Here Be Dragons

kai

 

But a dragon lies in ambush for the traveler;
take care he does not bite you and inject you his poison of unbelief.
Seeing this numerous company winning salvation,
he selects and stalks his prey.
In your journey to the Father of souls,
your way lies past that dragon. |
How shall you pass him?
You must have “your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace,”
so that, even if he does bite you,
he may not hurt you.
~St. Cyril of Jerusalem

 

snakeskin1

 

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote:
“The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass.
Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls,
but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”
No matter what form the dragon may take,
it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws,
that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell,
and this being the case, it requires considerable courage
at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.

~Flannery O’Connor from “Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose”

 

snakeskin9

<Here be dragons>
was any place on the ancient maps
that was unknown and unexplored-
a place to avoid at all costs,
or for the daring and carefree,
exactly the place to explore.

Here be dragons
marks the remainder of our days
that dwell at the edge of life’s roadmap
~ unknown and unexplored ~
and full of peril.

So many dragons to pass
ready to swallow us whole if we make a wrong turn,
or singe our britches if we stray off the map.

So many dark valleys to pass through
so many mysteries unsolved,
so many stories of fateful journey are told,
and above all,
we must listen to what all have to teach us
to not stray from the well-worn path of the faithful
who have stayed out of the jaws of the dragons
to tell the story.

 

 

crescentmoon

 

 

 

Support for the Barnstorming Blog

Your financial support keeps this blog a daily offering and ad-free. A one-time contribution helps greatly.

$10.00

The Pearl of Great Price

sunrise82414

 

ladybug1

 

The secret of seeing is, then the pearl of great price. 
If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever 
I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all. 
But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought.

The literature of illumination reveals this above all: 
although it comes to those who wait for it, 
it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, 
a gift and a total surprise.

I return from one walk 
knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek and the hour the laurel blooms. 
I return from the same walk a day later scarcely knowing my own name.

Litanies hum in my ears; 
my tongue flaps in my mouth. 
Ailinon, alleluia!
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

thistledown824142

 

dill8916

 

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to.
You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see
and my self is the earth’s shadow
that keeps me from seeing all the moon.
The crescent is very beautiful
and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see;
but what I am afraid of, dear God,
is that my self shadow will grow so large
that it blocks the whole moon,
and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

I do not know You God
because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.
~Flannery O’Connor from A Prayer Journal

 

morningmoon11815

 

qal81917

 

Sometimes the hardest thing is to step out of the way so that my own shadow no longer obscures what provides illumination.  I am regularly so blinded by busyness and distraction that I lose sight of God Himself.

Surprise me, dear Lord.  Though I regularly lament in the shadows, help me lift my voice in praise and gratitude for your gift, the pearl of great price you hold out for me to take each day.

 

sunrise824142

How Incomprehensible

cloudangel

eveninghilllight

redhawk

 

Where you have absolute solutions,
you have no need of faith.
Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge.
The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer
is because I have got, over the years,
a sense of the immense sweep of creation,
of the evolutionary process in everything,
of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be
to be the God of heaven and earth.
You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being

 

spitbug1

 

cacti7

 

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.
~Denise Levertov “The Mystery of the Incarnation”

 

sunsetpurple

We want God to fit into the holes of our comprehension exactly like a puzzle piece falls into place in the space meant just for it.

But He doesn’t.  He won’t.  The holes aren’t God-shaped.  They are ragged and changing moment by moment.

The holes of our understanding gape so large that only God knows it takes the glue of faith to bridge the gap.

Perhaps that is what “holy” is all about.

 

eveninglighthill3

 

rollingfield

Turn Aside and Look: Leave the Rest to God

japanpine2

I think there is no suffering greater than
what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. 

I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, 
in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. 
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. 
They think faith is a big electric blanket, 
when of course it is the cross. 
It is much harder to believe than not to believe. 
If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: 
keep an open mind. 
Keep it open toward faith, 
keep wanting it, 
keep asking for it, 
and leave the rest to God.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

japanpod

And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted.  Nothing that comes from God, even the greatest miracle, can be proven like 2 x 2 = 4. It touches one; it is only seen and grasped when the heart is open and the spirit purged of self. Then it awakens faith.  … the heart is not overcome by faith, there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes.  What comes from God touches gently, comes quietly; does not disturb freedom; leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.
~Romano Guardini from The Living God

japanweed

On my doubting days, days too frequent and tormenting,
I remember the risen Christ
reaching out to place Thomas’s hand in His wounds,
gently guiding Thomas to His reality,
so it becomes Thomas’s reality.
His open wounds called
to Thomas’s mind and heart,
His flesh and blood
awakening a hidden faith
by a simple touch