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: 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

A Bright Sadness: Emptied and Hollow

Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; 
you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

waterfall by Josh Scholten

I am often unprepared for the rush of challenges each clinic day brings.  Each call, each message, each tug on my arm, each box of kleenex handed over, each look of desperate hopelessness  —  I empty out continuously throughout the day to try to fill the gaping holes I see. 

If I’m down and dry, hollowed to the core with no more left to give, I pray for more than I could possibly deserve.

And so it pours over me, torrential and flooding, and I only have a mere cup to hold out for filling.  There is far more cascading grace than I can even conceive of, far more love descending than this cup of mine could ever hold, far more hope ascending from the mist and mystery of doctoring,  over and over again.

I am never left empty for long,  grateful for hallowed hollows.

A Bright Sadness: The Branch That Begins to Bloom

What word informs the world,
and moves the worm along in his blind tunnel?

What secret purple wisdom tells the iris edges
to unfold in frills? What juiced and emerald thrill

urges the sap until the bud resolves
its tight riddle? What irresistible command

unfurls this cloud above this greening hill,
or one more wave — its spreading foam and foil —

across the flats of sand? What minor thrust
of energy issues up from humus in a froth

of ferns? Delicate as a laser, it filigrees
the snow, the stars. Listen close — What silver sound

thaws winter into spring? Speaks clamor into singing?
Gives love for loneliness? It is this

un-terrestrial pulse, deep as heaven, that folds you
in its tingling embrace, gongs in your echo heart.
~Luci Shaw “What Secret Purple Wisdom” from
The Green Earth: Poems of Creation 
~

The road that took Him from wooden manger to wooden cross is one we walk in joy and terror through His Word.

He is given to us;
He gives Himself to bring joy to our miserable and dark existence;

He dies for us;
He rises to give us eternal hope of salvation;
He calls us by name and we recognize Him.

This mystery is too much for too many unwilling to accept that such sacrifice is possible. His sacrifice and many parts of His body continue to be oppressed and persecuted every day.  We are blind-hearted to the possibility that this Spirit that cannot be measured, touched, weighed or tracked can stir and overwhelm darkness.  We prefer the safety of remaining tight in the bud, hid in the little room of our hearts rather than risk the joy and terror of full blossom and fruitfulness.

Lord, give us grace in our blindness, having given us Yourself.  Prepare us for embracing your mystery. 

Prepare us for joy.
Prepare us to bloom.

What is the crying at Jordan?
Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark
our hearts and shut to mystery.

Who then shall stir in this darkness
prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal in darkness we
lie down, blind-hearted, seeing no light.

Lord, give us grace to awake us,
to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility
is hid all heaven in a little room.

Now comes the day of salvation,
in joy and terror the Word is born!
God gives himself into our lives;
Oh, let salvation dawn!
~Carol Christopher Drake

A Bright Sadness: Merciful Dew


He hath abolished the old drought

and rivers run where all was dry,
The field is sopp’d with merciful dew
He hath put a new song in my mouth
the words are old, the purport new,
And taught my lips to quote this word
That I shall live, I shall not die,
But I shall when the shocks are stored
See the salvation of the Lord.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins




When I have no voice left,
He gives me a song I can still sing.
When I run dry, He replenishes.
When I wither, His merciful dew
restores and readies me for a new day.

I am stopped astonished,
sopped and mopping up,
spilling over in His grace.

Are you thirsty
Are you empty
Come and drink these Living Waters
Time unbroken
Peace unspoken
Rest beside these Living Waters
Christ is calling
Find refreshing
At the cross of Living Waters
Lay your life down
On Thee, all come
Rise up in these Living Waters

There’s a river that flows
With mercy and love
Bringing joy to the city of our God
There our hope is secure
Do not fear anymore
Praise the Lord of Living Waters

Spirit moving
Mercy washing
Healing in these living waters
Lead your children to the shore line
Life is in these Living Waters

There’s a river that flows
With mercy and love
Bringing joy to the city of our God
There our hope is secure
Do not fear anymore
Praise the Lord of Living Waters

A Bright Sadness: Abandoning Terrifying Divinity

Man was added to Him,
God not lost to Him;
He emptied Himself not by losing what He was,
but by taking to Him what He was not.
~Augustine

Look upon the baby Jesus.
Divinity may terrify us.
Inexpressible majesty will crush us.
That is why Christ took on our humanity…
that he should not terrify us
but rather that with love and favor
he should console and confirm.”
~Martin Luther

He was pushed out to take his first breath on earth, birth-bloodied, then cradled and held in human arms.

Three decades later, He was pulled down following His last breath, death-bloodied, cradled and held in human arms.

The symmetry of His birth and death mirrors the symmetry of our lives, a consolation that He belongs to us as much as we belong to Him.

The blood shed at birth is his mother’s alone.
The blood lost at death is God’s alone,
pumping through broken human heart and arteries,
soaking the wretched ground below.

He empties wholly because He is fully human;
He returns risen and whole because He is fully God.

We, who would be terrified, are deeply loved: cradled, consoled and comforted by such inexpressible divinity emptied into our humanity.

Van Gogh Pieta