A Brighter Sadness: Trembling

The Holy Saturday of our life must be the preparation for Easter,
the persistent hope for the final glory of God. 


The virtue of our daily life is the hope which does what is possible
and expects God to do the impossible. 


To express it somewhat paradoxically, but nevertheless seriously: 
the worst has actually already happened; 
we exist, and even death cannot deprive us of this.

Now is the Holy Saturday of our ordinary life, 
but there will also be Easter, our true and eternal life. 
~Karl Rahner “Holy Saturday” in The Great Church Year

This in-between day
after all had gone so wrong:
the rejection, the denials,
the trumped-up charges,
the beatings, the burden,
the jeering, the thorns,
the nails, the thirst,
the despair of being forsaken.

This in-between day
before all will go so right:
the forgiveness and compassion,
the grace and sacrifice,
the debt paid in full,
the stone rolled away,
our name on His lips,
our hearts burning
to hear His words.

We cannot imagine what is to come
in the dawn tomorrow as
the stone lifted and rolled,
giving way so
our separation is bridged,
our sadness relieved,
darkness overwhelmed by light,
the crushed and broken rising to dance,
and inexplicably,
from the waiting stillness He stirs
and we, trembling,
having found death emptied,
greet Him.


The Brightest Sadness: Waiting for the Door to Open

In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, 
God takes the worse we can do to Him
and turns it into the very best He can do for us.
~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness

photo by Nate Gibson

Sam does barn chores with me, always has.  He runs up and down the aisles as I fill buckets, throw hay, and he’ll explore the manure pile out back and the compost pile and check out the dove house and have stand offs with the barn cats (which he always loses).  We have our routine.  When I get done with chores, I whistle for him and we head to the house. 

We always return home together.

Except this morning.  I whistled when I was done and his furry little fox face didn’t appear as usual.  I walked back through both barns calling his name, whistling, no signs of Sam.  I walked to the fields, I walked back to the dog yard, I walked the road (where he never ever goes), I scanned the pond (yikes), I went back to the barn and glanced inside every stall, I went in the hay barn where he likes to jump up and down on stacked bales, looking for a bale avalanche he might be trapped under, or a hole he couldn’t climb out of.  Nothing.

I’m really anxious about him at this point, fearing the worst. He was nowhere to be found, utterly lost.

Passing through the barn again, I heard a little faint scratching inside one Haflinger’s stall, which I had just glanced in 10 minutes before.  The mare was peacefully eating hay.  Sure enough, there was Sam standing with his feet up against the door as if asking what took me so long.  He must have scooted in when I filled up her water bucket, and I closed the door not knowing he was inside, and it was dark enough that I didn’t see him when I checked.  He and his good horse friend kept it their secret.

Making not a whimper or a bark when I called out his name, passing that stall at least 10 times looking for him, he just patiently waited for me to open the door and set him free.

It’s a Good Friday.

The lost is found even when he never felt lost to begin with.  

Yet he was lost to me.  And that is all that matters. We have no idea how lost we are until someone comes looking for us, doing whatever it takes to bring us home.

Sam was just waiting for a closed door to be opened.  And today, of all days, that door is thrown wide open.



Though you are homeless
Though you’re alone
I will be your home
Whatever’s the matter
Whatever’s been done
I will be your home
I will be your home
I will be your home
In this fearful fallen place
I will be your home
When time reaches fullness
When I move my hand
I will bring you home
Home to your own place
In a beautiful land
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
From this fearful fallen place
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
~Michael Cardh

A Bright Sadness: She Did What She Could

From Meyers’ studio Munich 1899

She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:8-9

Rubens’ Mary Anointing of Jesus


We naturally wonder if our actions on this earth are pleasing to God, though we understand our faith, rather than good works we do, is the key to salvation.   Jesus’ response to Mary of Bethany’s anointing of His feet the day before He enters Jerusalem is provocative on a number of levels.  However, her story parallels the passion of this Passion week:

Mary acts out of faith even when she confronts a painful reality. She acknowledges Jesus’ predictions of His death and burial. Mary believes what His disciples refuse to hear.

Jesus prays a few days later to have the reality of suffering lifted from Him, but in obedience, He perseveres out of faith and love for the Father.

Mary acts out of her steadfast love for the Master–she is showing single-minded devotion in the face of criticism from the disciples.

Jesus, on the cross,  shows forgiveness and love even to the men who deride and execute Him.

Mary acts out of significant personal sacrifice–pouring costly perfume worth a full year’s wages–showing her commitment to Christ.

Jesus willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice of Himself–there is no higher price to pay.

Mary responds to His need–she recognizes that this moment is her opportunity to anoint the living Christ, and His response clearly shows He is deeply moved by her action.

Jesus, as man Himself, recognizes humanity’s need to be saved, and places Himself in our place. We must respond, incredulous,  with gratitude.

Jesus tells Mary of Bethany (and us),  in response to the disciples’ rebukes, that it is her action that will be told and remembered.   She did what she could at that moment to ease His distress at what He would soon confront.  She did what she could for Him–humbly, beautifully, simply, sacrificially–and He is so grateful that He Himself washes the feet of His disciples a few days later in a personal act of devotion and servanthood.

And today we remember this Mary as the harbinger of His suffering and death, just as He said we would. 

She did what she could — as should we.

James Tissot

A Bright Sadness: The Anguish of Earth

The pain and tears of all the years were met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation.
~N.T. Wright from Simply Jesus

To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life
in the presence of God,
under the authority of God,
to the glory of God.

To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God.


To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity.


It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God.


It is a life that is open before God.
It is a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord.
It is a life lived by principle, not expediency;

by humility before God, not defiance.
It is a life lived under the tutelage of conscience that is held captive by the Word of God.
~R.C. Sproul

As millions watched and wept over the burning of a venerated cathedral built to the glory of God, we must remember even this anguish happened under the gaze of God. Our sorrow over a building destroyed is trivial compared to the loss felt during Christ’s suffering and death.

The temporal ashes of the Notre Dame Cathedral mix now with our own mortal ashes. We have been redeemed through no action of our own. Our debt has been paid out of Christ’s sheer grace and love.

As we walk together with our Christian brothers and sisters through Holy Week and beyond into the holiness of every day, may we remain under the gaze of God, under the authority of God, open before God, captivated by the Word of God.

We see the gaping hole in the ceiling of a great cathedral just as we witness the open hole of Christ’s tomb: whatever we do, wherever we do it, it is to be in His name, to His glory, under His Holy gaze.

Coram Deo.


A Bright Sadness: Taking Aim at all the Sky


I
Here something stubborn comes,
Dislodging the earth crumbs
And making crusty rubble.
It comes up bending double
And looks like a green staple.
It could be seedling maple,
Or artichoke, or bean;
That remains to be seen.

II
Forced to make choice of ends,
The stalk in time unbends,
Shakes off the seedcase, heaves
Aloft, and spreads two leaves
Which still display no sure
And special signature.
Toothless and fat, they keep
The oval form of sleep.

III
This plant would like to grow
And yet be embryo;
Increase, and yet escape
The doom of taking shape;
Be vaguely vast, and climb
To the tip end of time
With all of space to fill,
Like boundless Yggdrasill
That has the stars for fruit.
But something at the root
More urgent than that urge
Bids two true leaves emerge,
And now the plant, resigned
To being self-defined
Before it can commerce
With the great universe,
Takes aim at all the sky
And starts to ramify.

~Richard Wilbur “Seed Leaves

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
~John Crum from The Oxford Book of Carols

Over the last several weeks, roots have become shoots and their green blades have risen chaotically, uneven and awkward like a bad haircut.  And like a bad haircut, a few days of further growth will make all the difference — renewal will cover all the bare earth, breaking through crusty rubble to reach up, heaving and healing, aiming for the sky.

There is nothing more hopeful than the barren made fruitful, the ugly made beautiful, the devastated restored, the dead made alive.

The fields of our broken hearts recover; love is come again.


A Bright Sadness: Take Your Shoes Off

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Over the next eight days, the body of Christian believers will be traversing once again the holy ground of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

Indeed, our children, happy to be barefoot most of the time, are more apt than the grown ups to follow the instruction of the Lord when He told Moses:

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

There have long been cultures where shoes are to be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple in an intentional act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

Yet we as Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week. We try our best to clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews. Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky. That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all, and that is exactly why we  need to worship together as a church family in need of cleansing, whether indoors or outdoors.

Jesus Himself demonstrated our need for a wash-up on the last night of His life, soaking the dusty feet of His disciples.

And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of our sandals. We must remove any barrier that prevents us from entering fully into His presence, whether it be our attitude, our stubbornness, our unbelief, or our constant centering on self rather than other.

No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

We trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where our feet land and the impact they leave behind. Perhaps by shedding the covering of our eyes, our minds, and our feet, we would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart.

So we may see.
So we may listen.
So we may feast together.
So we may weep at what we have done, yet stand forgiven.
So we may celebrate as our Risen Lord startles us by calling our name.
So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.

A Bright Sadness: The Corpse Light of April

Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.

In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.

Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.

Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.
~May Swenson “April Light”

In April we wait for the corpse light~
a mysterious illumination which comes alive
on a bright Sabbath Easter morning,
taking bare stubs of people,
hardly alive,
begetting them green,
bursting them into blossom,
their cheeks pink with life,
in promise of faithful fruitfulness.