A Soul Set Free

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We know when we are following our vocation
when our soul is set free from preoccupation with itself
and is able to seek God and even to find Him,
even though it may not appear to find Him.

Gratitude and confidence and freedom from ourselves:
these are signs that we have found our vocation
and are living up to it
even though everything else
may seem to have gone wrong. 

They give us peace in any suffering.
They teach us to laugh at despair.
And we may have to.

— Thomas Merton from No Man is an Island

 

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For three decades I have worked in a public setting,
my faith checked at the threshold as I walk in the door.

Preoccupied with the needs of the day,
my prayers for patients and co-workers
stay silent but not unheard
as God knows how to find His way in
through the cracks, under the door.

Even where He is deemed unnecessary
He is present, incognito.

I’ll turn a corner and find Him there,
in streaming rays through the window
illuminating a polished tile floor.
He’s streaming down the face of a patient,
or behind the smile of a co-worker.

He will not be turned away
even when we bar the door to keep Him out.

Knowing this helps me laugh
when I need it most.
Knowing this sets my soul free
from worries;
Knowing this, I shall look to find Him
wherever He may be,
even where He is unwelcome.

 

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The Sun Has Begun to Rise

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Made for spirituality,
we wallow in introspection.
Made for joy,
we settle for pleasure.
Made for justice, 
we clamor for vengeance.
Made for relationship,
we insist on our own way.
Made for beauty,
we are satisfied with sentiment.

But new creation has already begun.
The sun has begun to rise.

Christians are called to leave behind,
in the tomb of Jesus Christ,
all that belongs to the brokenness
and incompleteness of the present world.  
It is time, in the power of the Spirit,
to take up our proper role, 
our fully human role, 
as agents, heralds and stewards 
of the new day that is dawning.

That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian,
to follow Jesus Christ into the new world,
God’s new world,
which he has thrown open before us.
~N.T. Wright from Simply Christian

 

 

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I was made for better than I am.

I was given a voice,
to give thanks, not complain.
I was given two strong legs,
to stand not sit, walk not rest, climb stairs not ride.
I was given two good hands,
to build up not tear down.
I was given eyes,
to see and acknowledge,
not avert and hide behind.
I was given ears,
to listen to your Words,
not my own.
I was asked to follow wherever you may take me:
even in this darkened world
even as the sun begins to rise
even as you make all things new again~
including me.

 

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Mere Mist

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Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4:14

 

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…Noticing
a spider’s web under the olive trees
splendidly hung with early drops, already
vanishing up the vortex of the air
…a heaven-sent refreshment? or a curtain
cutting out the light?
And I must ask it now

(small moisture that I am) under the sun of God’s great grace on me:
Which am I–dew, or fog?
~Luci Shaw from “…for you are a mist“

 

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To be mere mist that clarifies
rather than opacifies,
that reflects new worlds
rather than absorbs,
that replenishes grace
rather than depletes~

at once evaporating heaven-ward within His warmth
while glistening from His descended touch.

 

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So Absolutely Clear

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Don’t surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.
~Hafez, 14th century Persian poet

 

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photo by Nate Gibson

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When my heart clenches with sadness,
when my thinking is muddled with stress and doubting,
when I can’t focus on what is right before me because tears cloud my vision,
I remember one thing remains absolutely clear in the mist and midst of the fog:

I have need for God and I too am softened in my neediness.

 

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the Face of God Shine Through

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photo by Joel DeWaard
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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

 

All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line 
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from; 
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
 
Over these things I could not see;
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.
 
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by. 
~Edna St. Vincent Millay – the first two and last stanzas of “Renascence”, written when she was twenty
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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen approaching Puerto Rico in this NASA GOES-16 satellite image taken at about 3:15 p.m. Eastern on September 6, 2017.

 

 

Millions of people have left their homes and possessions behind this weekend to find safe haven – a churning swirling monster hurricane closes in, mowing down whatever it touches, rendering sea and land indistinguishable, pinching East and West together and flattening hearts and souls as the sky caves in.  As with any natural disaster – the earthquake, the tsunami, the wildfire, the flood – we are reminded of our sheer helplessness before power that existed before us and will persist beyond us.

We are bounded and limited.
God is unbound and unlimited.

Our only hope is reviving our dormant faith, our renascence – cracking open heart and soul to let the face of God shine through us.
We are lifted up, not flattened.
We reach out to Him, grab hold and hang on.

 

 

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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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Nothing Left to Do

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Toward the end of August I begin to dream about fall, how
this place will empty of people, the air will get cold and
leaves begin to turn. Everything will quiet down, everything
will become a skeleton of its summer self. Toward

the end of August I get nostalgic for what’s to come, for
that quiet time, time alone, peace and stillness, calm, all
those things the summer doesn’t have. The woodshed is
already full, the kindling’s in, the last of the garden soon

will be harvested, and then there will be nothing left to do
but watch fall play itself out, the earth freeze, winter come.
~David Budbill “Toward the End of August” from Tumbling Toward the End.

 

 

 

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I dream now of fall, wanting this stubborn summer to flame out, to leave its bare bones behind.  The last few weeks have been particularly cruel with wildfires, hurricanes, drought, sweltering heat, and flooding rains.  As if nature is not damaging enough, humanity continues to threaten humanity with local and global violence and threats of annihilation, while hundreds of thousands of refugees migrate from one poor country into even poorer countries in search of some semblance of hope and security for a safe future.

Anxiety and despair seem appropriate responses in the face of so much tragedy – they take root like weeds in a garden patch– overwhelming, crowding out and impairing all that is fruitful.  The result is nothing of value grows–only unchecked proliferation of more weeds. My worry and anguish help no one and changes nothing, serving only to hinder me from being fruitful.

It shouldn’t take bad news and disaster to remind me of what I already know:
I am not God and never will be.  He tends the garden and He pulls the weeds when the time is right.

His harvest is at hand.  Either I’m fruit or weed.

Acknowledging this is everything.  There is nothing left to do but watch as it plays itself out.

 

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The Pearl of Great Price

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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