Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither. ~ C.S. Lewis from The Joyful Christian
The night sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. ~J.R.R. Tolikien, The Return of the King
We long for a heaven that feels so elusive;
we who are so weary
and with so much need
seek out Light so seemingly
beyond our reach.
Yet by reaching beyond the here and now
we find heaven descended to us
in His incarnate earthliness.
No shadow cast in this worldly darkness,
and no iron nails
can quell the beauty
of His everlasting brilliance.
His voice, as the sound of the dulcimer sweet, is heard through the shadows of death; The cedars of Lebanon bow at His feet, the air is perfumed with His breath. His lips as the fountain of righteousness flow, that waters the garden of grace, From which their salvation the Gentiles shall know, and bask in the smile of His face.
Love sits in his eyelids and scatters delight, through all the bright regions on high. Their faces the cherubim veil in his sight, and tremble with fullness of joy. He looks and ten thousands of angels rejoice, and myriads wait for His word. He speaks and eternity filled with His voice Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.
He looks and ten thousands of angels rejoice, and myriads wait for His word. He speaks and eternity filled with His voice Re-echoes the praise of the Lord. Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.
~ Southern Folk Hymn
During these days of bright darkness
preparing us for next week,
I become absorbed in all I am not~
my shortcomings and failings,
my eroding patience and tolerance,
my temptation to turn away from self-denial,
my inability to see beyond my own troubles~
I forget this is not all about me:
I neglect to witness first hand,
as others did,
God through Christ:
the beauty in His becoming man,
the joy of His joining up with us,
the love in His gracious sacrifice,
the full promise of His Word that breathes
life back into every dying soul~
and so it becomes all about me
not because of
what I’ve done,
or who I am,
but because of
who He is and was and will be,
loving all of us,
no matter what.
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by his grace, he does not leave us as we are. ~Tim Keller
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood. ~George Herbert “Prayer”
Considering the distance between us and God,
seemingly insurmountable to overcome,
how amazing it only takes a few words to Him,
our gratitude and praise,
our pleas and pain,
our breath hot in His ear~
He plummets to us;
then we are lifted to Him.Heaven dwells in the ordinary,
in our plainness,
dresses us up,
prepares us to be loved,
prepares us to be accepted and understood
prepares us to be transformed
by no less than our very Creator.
This is why I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise.
…To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’
Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.
The spring comes slowly down the way, but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.
We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on…to which He is calling us.
It remains with us whether to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
~C. S. Lewis from “God in the Dock”
And in despair I bowed my head “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
You, who are beyond our understanding,
have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.
You, who are the uncreated God,
have made yourself a creature for us.
You, who are the untouchable One,
have made yourself touchable to us.
You, who are most high,
make us capable of understanding your amazing love
and the wonderful things you have done for us.
Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation,
the mystery of your life, example and doctrine,
the mystery of your cross and passion,
the mystery of your resurrection and ascension.
~Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)– prayer
The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion;
others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr.
He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified,
even in Bethlehem, where he was born;
for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after,
and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last.
His birth and his death were but one continual act,
and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but
the evening and the morning of one and the same day.
From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line.
Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter.
It can have no meaning apart from that,
where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death.
~John Donne –opening words in his sermon on Christmas Day 1626
It is easy to hear of a baby in a wooden manger laid there by overwhelmed first-time parents far from home, surrounded by soft-eyed farm animals and adoring raggedy shepherds who reported hearing glorious singing angels.
It is not at all easy to hear of the slaughter of innocent children by a paranoid king in response to that baby, knowing in our hearts and feeling in our guts the desperation of the wailing grieving mothers.
It is much harder to fathom this baby, three decades later, as a grown man, flogged and bleeding, hanging from a wooden cross surrounded by mocking soldiers, his weeping mother and friends, and two crucified criminals. This is much much more than we bargained for — this from a baby asleep in the hay.
Instead of the heavenly host declaring his glory, he himself spoke words of forgiveness and grace with his last breaths, making clear his death, as well as his birth, was no mistake, but one continual act of God’s glorious salvage of his children.
He makes clear a willingness to wear our skin and walk in our sandals, in order to die in our place. Our own birth and our death are no mistakes either.
He claims us; we shall know his voice when he calls our name.
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be? My God, no hymn for Thee? My soul’s a shepherd too; a flock it feeds Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace Enriching all the place. Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers Outsing the daylight hours. Then will we chide the sun for letting night Take up his place and right: We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should Himself the candle hold. I will go searching, till I find a sun Shall stay, till we have done; A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly, As frost-nipped suns look sadly. Then will we sing, and shine all our own day, And one another pay: His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine, Till ev’n His beams sing, and my music shine.
~George Herbert “Christmas II”
A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded…
I mean that all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now turned inward to the smallest…
It is true that the spiritual spiral henceforward works inwards instead of outwards, and in that sense is centripetal and not centrifugal. The faith becomes, in more ways than one, a religion of little things.
~ G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
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”
In time, the sons of men filled the earth with their evil deeds. And God beheld the desolate wastes the soiled streets the bitter brown of barren fields and the sin of the world cut him to the heart.
“I will blot from the earth the memory of these things. Behold, I will make all things new!” So he gathered up clouds from the four corners of the sky, billows pregnant with promise. He gathered them in great, dark piles on the horizon of hills while the weathermen watched grandmothers gazed schoolchildren pressed their noses against the glass.
And God said, “Let there be snow.”
First, small white flakes like lace, drifting.
Then—wind driving snow before it, a blizzard hiding hills from view (and the tops of church steeples and street lights, too).
For forty days the land was covered in white, the wretched lines of a wretched world blurred soft overnight— buried, forgotten as God birthed grace upon the earth. ~Sara Arthur “Advent in Michigan”
I wish one could press snowflakes in a book like flowers. ~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
…Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.
Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.
~Ted Hughes from “Snow and Snow”
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
The troubled sky reveals The grief it feels… ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “Snow-flakes”
I’m roused by faint glow
between closed slats
of window blinds
The bedroom suffused
in ethereal light
from a moonless sky
as a million tiny stars fall silent
The snow lights all that is broken,
settling gently while
tucking in the downy corners
of a snowflake comforter
as heaven comes down to
plump the pillows,
cushion the landscape,
soften the wretched,
illuminate the heart.