A Bright Sadness: Ephemeral Tears

Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.

For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.

Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life.
~Makoto Fujimura

fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

3When Jesus saw her weeping,
and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping,
he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 
John 11:33-36


Daily I see patients in my clinic who are struggling with depression, who are contemplating whether living another day is worth the pain and effort.  Most describe their feelings completely dry-eyed, unwilling to let their emotions flow from inside and flood their outsides.  Others sit soaking in tears of hopelessness and despair.

This weeping moves and reassures me — it is a raw and honest spilling over when the internal dam is breaking.  It is so deeply and plainly a visceral display of humanity.

When I read that Jesus weeps as He witnesses the tears of grief of His dear friends, I am comforted.  He understands and feels what we feel, His tears just as plentiful and salty, His feelings of love brimming so fully they must be let go and cannot be held back. He too is overwhelmed by the pathos of His vulnerable and visceral humanity.

Our Jesus who wept with us becomes a promise of ultimate joy.

There is beauty in this: His rain of ephemeral tears.




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

You Shall Be a Peculiar Treasure

3B5BC7A2-5E58-4D79-8D37-9322235F23C1

 

Imagine yourself in a big city in a crowd of people.  What it would be like to see all the people in the crowd like Jesus does — an anonymous crowd with old ones and young one, fat ones and thin ones, attractive ones and ugly ones—think what it would be like to love them.  If our faith is true, if there is a God, and if God loves, he loves each one of those.  Try to see them as loved.  And then try to see them, these faces, as loved by you.  What would it be like to love these people, to love these faces — the lovable faces, the kind faces, gentle compassionate faces?  That’s not so hard.  But there are lots of other faces — disagreeable faces, frightening faces, frightened faces, cruel faces, closed faces. …they are all peculiar treasures.  In Exodus, God said to Israel, “You shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.”  God meant it for all of us.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary

 

12D508F1-7975-4753-9C06-0C545E012C84

 

E852F198-4188-4A20-8CDC-9CE3C15DEEC4

 

It doesn’t take long for us to be overwhelmed by humanity when we visit our family in Tokyo.  The airport is a shock of weaving lines of weary people and crying children, the trains are packed with people standing like sardines for an hour or more on their commute, the stations are a sea of bobbing heads flowing out onto the streets where the cross walks become a mass hive of activity whenever the light changes.

Yet we’ve been struck by the effort some locals make to help us foreigners who look lost, or who simply look different.  There is outreach at times that is spontaneous, genuine and completely unexpected.  Those are easy faces to love and we do.  What is much much harder to is love those hundreds of thousands who pass by us on their way to work, to shop, to return home.  How can I even begin to have the capacity?

What greeted Jesus as he entered the city in that final week was not friendly faces.  He loved them all any way, every single one of them peculiar treasures to him, forgiven and redeemed.

I realize I’m not very friendly too much of the time.  Yet he still loves me too, flaws and all, as his redeeming grace is meant for one such as me.  Because of his love, I can become the real thing, not just a reflection of what I think I should be.

 

96FA8FEE-F5A7-4DFF-8064-73211591068A

 

F18EC6DB-F629-4B0D-80A2-DDA6451DD95B

God Among Us: Brothers of All Mankind

evening1119152

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity for this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Hebrews 2: 14, 17

 

And in the Incarnation
the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God.
Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men
is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man,
and in his own Person restored the image of God
in all that bears a human form.
Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord,
we recover our true humanity,
and at the same time we are delivered
from that individualism which is the consequence of sin,
and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race.
By being partakers of Christ incarnate,
we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore.
We now know that we have been taken up
and borne in the humanity of Jesus,
and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means
that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others.
The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

_________________

I’m reminded after every long day in my clinic, weighted down by the sorrows of the people I am asked to help — how much greater was the weight borne by God as mere baby delivered by woman to become humanity with us and for us.

His incarnate presence unites us all as brothers and sisters to each other, whether or not we speak the same language, whether or not our skin color is the same, whether or not we have great riches or dire need.

This is the truth of the God of love, that we should love one another, even after a week such as this — we are delivered by Him who was delivered.
EPG

 

All poor men and humble,
All lame men who stumble,
Come haste ye, nor feel ye afraid;

For Jesus, our treasure,
With love past all measure,
In lowly poor manger was laid.

Though wise men who found him
Laid rich gifts around him,
yet oxen they gave him their hay;
And Jesus in beauty
Accepted their duty,
Contented in manger he lay.
Then haste we to show him
The praises we owe him;
Our service he ne’er can despise;
Whose love still is able
To show us that stable
Where softly in manger he lies.
Poverty Carol (Welsh)

 

 

  • This is the truth sent from above
    The truth of God, the God of love
    Therefore don’t turn me from your door
    But hearken will both rich and poor
  • The first thing that I do relate
    Is that God did man create
    The next thing which to you I’ll tell
    Woman was made with man to dwell
  • And after that, ’twas God’s own choice
    To place them both in Paradise,
    There to remain of evil free
    Except they ate of such a tree.
  • But they did eat, which was a sin,
    And so their ruin did begin,
    Ruined themselves, both you and me,
    And all of their posterity.
  • Thus we were heirs to endless woes
    Till God and Lord did interpose
    And so a promise soon did run
    That He would redeem us by His Son
  • And at that season of the year
    Our blessed redeemer did appear
    He here did live and here did preach
    And many thousands he did teach
  • Thus He in love to us behaved
    To show us how we must be saved
    And if you want to know the way
    Be pleased to hear what He did say
    ~The Truth from Above — Traditional English Carol

 

fencepostssunset

When August Burning Low

sunset82215

sunset823153

Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now
~Emily Dickinson

“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.  The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others.  The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words

 

On the first day of his class in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this poem on the blackboard and told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written.  In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a New England recluse  — someone as culturally distant from him as possible.

But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences.  What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song, doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our appreciation of nature. Just as the fires in our state are incinerating everything, even the insects of the fields, in its path, we still find grace and meaning in the destruction.  There is no one as lonely as the fire fighter facing the flame and no one as lonely as the poet facing the empty page, in search of words.

Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone.  The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man.

There is no furrow on the glow.  There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already planted and yielding a fruited plain.

sunsetgrass810151

sunset823152