A Bright Sadness – A Shadowless Light

I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed.

It is Hell until it is Heaven.

Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgment. And yet, in suffering that light’s awful clarity, in seeing themselves in it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty, and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and so are changed into what they could not have been but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.
― Wendell Berry, A World Lost

When the merciless light contains a rainbow, we know we will be all right.

Even if we deserve no mercy
Even if the heaven we have reached for feels unattainable
Even if it is unimaginable we can be changed to what we wish we could be

There is mercy, there is promise, there is grace.

We are loved completely.

A Bright Sadness: Truth Beyond All Truths

[The Incarnation is like] a wave of the sea which,
rushing up on the flat beach, 
runs out, even thinner and more transparent, 
and does not return to its source but sinks into the sand and disappears.
~Hans Urs von Balthasar from Origen: Spirit and Fire

And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life? 
~Frederick Buechner  from The Magnificent Defeat


Halfway through the weeks of Lent, we look forward to the fullness of Easter morning.  Many of us feel hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces waiting to be filled to the brim with grace.

More over, through commemoration of the historical events leading to the Resurrection, God on earth once again sinks deeply into our lives, pours Himself onto our earthly soil and into our fleshly souls.  He washes our dirty feet, feeds us at His table, and pleads on our behalf for forgiveness when we deserve none of it.

He loses Himself into us.  Through Him,  we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.

From hollowed to hallowed.

A Bright Sadness: Through a Glass Darkly

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

 

teahouseceiling

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,
and be convinced in our guilt:
our darkness exposed
by a Light that reveals all shadows,
forgiving as it illuminates all –
there is no place to hide,
nor should we want to.

 

window


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

 

graymirror

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.




A Bright Sadness: When My Feet Are Sore

Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne
You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.
~Irish saying translated by
poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama

We need strong feet to carry us through the hardest pathways of life, stumbling into holes, treading carefully over sharp rocks, scrambling up steep climbs and through the muddiest mire.

Our feet get sore: blistered and calloused, develop tendonitis and fasciitis, suffer bruised toes and fallen arches. When every step is a reminder of our failures and frailty, we beg for a soft landing with each stride.

But more than comfort, we need a stable place of trust to put our feet, to stand firm when standing feels impossible.

Lord, be our landing place when we hurt. May your gentle road rise to meet our sore feet.

A Bright Sadness: Fiery and Sweet as Honey

May the power of your love, Lord Christ, 
fiery and sweet as honey, 
so absorb our hearts 
as to withdraw them 
from all that is under heaven. 
Grant that we may be ready to die 
for love of your love, 
as you died for love of our love. 
~St. Francis of Assisi

Lent is a time of letting go while still holding on.

If I am to see Jesus and know the power of His love,
I must let go of this life and walk with Him with every step to the cross.
As Dan and I flew into Tokyo today, through two landing attempts at Narita Airport that had to be aborted at the last few seconds due to dangerously gusting winds, we felt the tenuous grip we have on our lives and our utter dependency on the Lord taking care of us, in this world and in His kingdom in the next.

Just in the evens of Holy Week, we learn a few basics:
No falling asleep.
No selling out.
No turning and running away.
No hiding my face in denial.
No looking back.
No clinging to the comforts of the world.

But of course I fail again and again.
My heart resists leaving behind what I know.

Plucked from the crowd,
I must grasp and carry the load, my load, alongside Him.
Now is my turn to hold on and not let go, as if life depends on it.
Which it does, requiring no nails.

The fire of His love leaves my sin in ashes.
From those ashes rises new life.
Love of His love of our love.

h


A Bright Sadness: The Wonderful Invitation We Leave Unopened

When he takes it all away,
will we love him more than things,
more than health,
more than family,
and more than life?

That’s the question.
That’s the warning.
That’s the wonderful invitation.
John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”

The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too:
everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued taken away.

If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left to us but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?

I know I fall far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.

When I’ve seen people lose almost everything, either in a disaster, or an accident, or devastating illness, I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God.

I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”

The invitation that I most don’t want to receive, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart. He invites me closer, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, more my own choosing that it not hurt so much.

The invitation to His plan for my life has been written, personally carried to me by His Son, and lies ready in my hands, although it has remained untouched for years. It is now up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude that I am even included, respond with an RSVP that says emphatically, “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away.”

Or I could leave it untouched, fearing it is too scary to open. Or even toss it away altogether, thinking it really wasn’t meant for me.

Even if, in my heart, I knew it was.

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.’
~C. S. Lewis