Turn Aside and Look: Lead On, Kindly Light

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Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,–
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene,–one step enough for me.

O lux aeterna, lead thou me on
O lux beata, lead, kindly light, lead me on
So long thy power has blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on:
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish days, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on;
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
~John Henry Newman

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Lead, kindly light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead–one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

I was not ever willing to be led
I could have stayed, but I ran instead
In spite of fear, I followed my pride
My eyes could see, but my heart was blind
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

And in the night, when I was afraid
Your feet beside my own on the way
Each stumbling step where other men have trod
shortens the road leading home to my God
Lead on, lead on,
my God, my God,
lead on, lead on, kindly light.
~Audrey Assad
inspired by Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s poem of the same name

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There are high winds predicted today;
I may awake in a storm-tossed night,
in pitch blackness
and the bedside flashlight not where it should be~

the familiar path to bathroom and kitchen
becomes obstacle course,
full of places to trip
and stub toes
and bump heads.

Illumination for only the next step
is all I will need.
A small circle of light that shows
where to safely put my foot.

You, Lord, step alongside me
You, Lord, make the dark less fearsome
You, Lord, are that safe and kindly light
that shows me the next step and
never goes out.

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Turn Aside and Look: Love Sits in His Eyelids

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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

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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 me,
loving all of us,
no matter what.

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Turn Aside and Look: The Truth Beyond All Truths

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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

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[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

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We are approaching the week of emptying that leads to the fullness of Easter morning.  It is impossible to approach this time without feeling hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces to be filled to the brim with grace.

More over, through commemoration of these historical events, 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 in us.  Through Him,  we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.

Hollowed, then hallowed.

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Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost.
~Czeslaw Milosz from “The Sun”

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Turn Aside and Look: That Steep Dark Path

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photo by Josh Scholten

 

The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross. All alone – with not one illusion or self-delusion to prop one up.

Yet not alone, for the Spirit of Holiness, who is also the Spirit of Helpfulness, is beside you and me. Indeed, this Spirit has helped to maneuver you and me down that dark, steep path to this crucial spot.
~Edna Hong from Bread and Wine

 

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Christ … is a thorn in the brain.
Christ is God crying I am here,
and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you,
but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you,
here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.
To walk through the fog of God
toward the clarity of Christ is difficult
because of how unlovely,
how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be.
~Christian Wiman from Image Journal “Varieties of Quiet”

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Turn Aside and Look: A Kaleidoscope of Emotion

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The gospel writers paint their portraits of Jesus using a kaleidoscope of brilliant “emotional” colors.
Jesus felt compassion;
he was angry, indignant, and consumed with zeal;
he was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved, and grieved;
he sighed;
he wept and sobbed;
he groaned;
he was in agony;
he was surprised and amazed;
he rejoiced very greatly and was full of joy;
he greatly desired, and he loved.

~ G.Walter Hansen, The Emotions of Jesus

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God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves,
the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him.
Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities
who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.
Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson
that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad,
and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any im­portance.
We should also have missed the all-important help
of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face,
has shared not only the strength of our nature
but every weakness of it except sin.
If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage,
that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incar­nate at all.

― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis

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Lord, long expected,
needed and wanted
in rainbow colors of our emotions
and yours.

Your heart beat
like ours
breathing each breath
like ours
until a fearful fallen world
took Your
and our breath
away.

You shine a kaleidoscope of light
through the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
Your tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.

You express joy and amazement
and encourage our celebration of life.

You hear our cries
as You cry too.
You know our tears
as You weep too.
You know our mourning
as You mourned too.
You know our dying
as You died too.

Only You can glue together
what evil has shattered.
You just ask us to hand You
the pieces of our broken hearts.

We will know Your peace
when You come
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried;
we are glued together
forevermore.

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Turn Aside and Look: A God Within

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God is within all things, but not enclosed;
outside all things, but not excluded;
above all things but not aloof;
below all things but not debased.

~St. Bonaventure, 14th C. philosopher and theologian 

 

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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

 

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fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

 

…we are shown so clearly the full import of Jesus’ humanity and His empathy and compassion in His willingness to weep, to shed tears, to empty Himself and to stand naked before us:
(using poetic license here to imagine what Jesus might have said.)

[‘See, my precious ones, I AM like you in your humanness. That is why my Father
has sent me to you to show you the depth of His love for you and to acknowledge
that He knows and understands your pain wrought from your brokenness.’]

The act of weeping, sobbing, crying IS the letting go of our pent up hidden sorrow and our woundedness, held back behind a retaining wall by the sheer force of our willpower and by our reticence to show our true self, our vulnerability. Once released, and emptied of the dross behind the dam, we are washed clean by the cleansing waters of our tears. It is only then, and with the help of Jesus who experienced heart-rending sorrows, that the healing can begin. He demonstrated that to us by His promised Resurrection!
~Alice F. LaChapelle

 

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fallen sakura blossoms in Tokyo, photo by Nate Gibson

Turn Aside and Look: Where Our Hearts Are

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So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? 
— Matthew 6:25-27

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Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with worldly affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live quiet, restful lives removed from the struggles of the world.

Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.” It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these other things will be given you as well.” What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place.
— Henri Nouwen from Making All Things New

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I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.
— Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

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I appreciate this group of readings found on this Lenten blog post on In Silence Waits: https://insilencewaits.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/desert-day-15-stop-worrying/

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We’ve returned from two weeks in Japan to visit a brand new granddaughter and though our physical selves may be back in the U.S.,  our hearts and minds are lagging and have not yet arrived.  Our aging bodies also don’t quite know what to do with the International Dateline and the 16 hour time difference. After being awake for 36 hours straight for travel and then heading from the airport to urgent meetings at work, I thought I would sleep at least seven hours last night but after three hours I was wide awake and wondering why it was still the middle of the night. Like the adjustment that took days (and nights) after traveling to the Far East, it will take time to realign back to a Western Hemisphere schedule.

I must confess I am a skilled and well-practiced worrier. In my jet-lagged wakefulness, I can find plenty to keep me awake once my eyes fly open.  Yet I know my worry is nothing but wasted energy, and worse than that, it pulls me away from the center of all I really need to know:

Jesus just wants my heart, not my worry.

If He provides for an array of beautiful birds living happily in the middle of one of the largest cities on earth in Tokyo, then how much more will He care for you and for me.

And now, acknowledging that in my time-addled brain,  it’s back to bed.

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