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

Between Midnight and Dawn: Taking Us On

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But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 
so that, just as sin reigned in death,
so also grace might reign through righteousness
to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:20-21
Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
~Martin Luther

The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.
G.K. Chesterton

 

This is not like choosing sides on teams in grade school, numbering off one-two-one-two until everyone knows where they stand, the weak and the strong all thrown together by random chance.

This is not like an explosive election year where choosing sides means being aligned with a political candidate with whom I vehemently disagree, simply to avoid supporting an even worse option.

This is not like a Lincoln-Douglas debate tournament where I might represent one viewpoint for the first round, and then be asked to represent the opposite viewpoint in the second half.

This is more like being chosen for one side or the other, even if, klutz that I am, it means always being the last to be chosen for any sports team with all my limitations, my poor coordination, my weakness and my flaws.

This choice is not for an hour or a day or a year, but for eternity; whether to stand in the light as it shines on my dark, glum, sullen head or to stay unexposed and hidden in the shadows.

It isn’t just about choosing,
but being chosen, my flaws being taken on by Christ,
just as I am,
so that I might become what I was not before.

Though the light shines on things unclean, yet it is not thereby defiled.
Augustine

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Lenten Grace — Plunge into Deep Waters

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Discipleship is not limited to what you can understand – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own understanding, and I will help you to comprehend.

Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. In this way Abraham went forth from his father, not knowing where he was going. That is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man.

Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. It is to this path that I call you, and in this sense that you must be my disciple.

~Martin Luther, quoted in Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship

Plunging describes the leap of faith into unknown depths when we’d rather choose to remain safely on shore sitting on a comfortable bench. The water wraps around like a sheath and doesn’t let go. It is a shock to the system, it takes our breath away, it is immersion into completely unfamiliar territory.

We aren’t pushed into the deep, we are led. It isn’t where we choose to go, but where we must go, not knowing to where we go.

Bewildering.

Disorienting.

Incomprehensible.

Irresistible.

 

 


Shaking the Tree

First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.
~Martin Luther

Any election day in a free country can seem like a free-for-all, with the loudest citizens shouting their personal opinions far and wide.  Yet today every individual, even the smallest and meekest, has the opportunity to have their say, quietly and alone– a pas de deux between their ballot and them.

This particular free-for-all has lasted for months.  There is now nearly universal desire to just get it done, shaking the electoral apple tree so hard that ripe and bitter and green fall to the ground.  We then settle in and cope with whatever harvest we have reaped with our votes.  Sometimes we get near perfect fruit; other times we get rotten to the core.

Some citizens vote down party lines only; the quality of the candidate matters not as long as they have the right party affiliation.  Other citizens turn over every leaf in detailed scrutiny of each candidate’s history and qualifications.

I truly had to cover my eyes as I voted for some candidates.  Neither felt like a worthy choice to represent a country founded on the principles of religious freedom and escape from the tyranny of government in the lives of citizens.   We are indeed a confused and too angry people, divided and divisive, all shaking the tree for all its worth to see what’s in it for us, threatening the life of the tree itself.

May tomorrow be a day when we set the differences aside, working together to make applesauce, blending it together for the ultimate good of all.

That will be the day.

Even If

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
Martin Luther

As a child I was fascinated by the story of John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed who traveled on foot around the young United States creating nurseries of apple trees.  When our family traveled in Ohio and Pennsylvania in the 1960s, we visited places that claimed to have apple trees planted by John Chapman.  I marveled at how one little seed had the potential to produce decades of fruit (and hope) for generations of folk.

My two childhood farms had old apple trees–gravensteins and transparent varieties–good for climbing in and always great as scratching branches and shady snoozing spots for the horses and cows.  One had a platform fort where I spent hours sitting munching on apple cores, surveying the fields and enjoying watching the animals standing beneath me, relaxed, napping, chewing cud and swatting flies.

When we bought our farm here in Whatcom County over twenty years ago, there were left a few antique variety apple trees of a once vital orchard.  They were aging, with bent and broken branches and hollowed trunks, but still continued to produce fruit, great for baking, sauce, cider and winter storage. We’ve lost a few of the old trees over the years to the wind and elements,  though now nearly a century old, the survivors keep providing.

It seems I have followed an appleseed trail myself, a journey of knowing, no matter what may happen, if a seed is planted today, there will be fruit and hope for the future.

I’m determined to keep planting seeds and words in the midst of a world going to pieces.  It just might mean a kid sitting high up in the branches,  contemplating life and its meaning,  has an apple to munch on and words to chew on fifty years from now.

“O the Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need-
the sun, the rain, and my appleseeds-
the Lord is good to me!”

Lenten Reflection–The Cost of Humanity

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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 in those first moments on earth, birth-bloodied, then cradled and held in human arms. Three decades later, He was pulled down following  His last breath, death-bloodied, then cradled and held in human arms. The symmetry of His birth and death mirrors the symmetry of our lives, a consolation about how He belongs to us as much as we belong to Him.

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

He empties completely because He is fully human; He returns risen and complete because He is fully God.

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An Advent Tapestry–To Be Consoled and Confirmed

Gerrit van Honthorst "L'adoration des bergers"

”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

detail from Domenico Ghirlandaio's Adoration of the Shepherds