A Soul Set Free

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We know when we are following our vocation
when our soul is set free from preoccupation with itself
and is able to seek God and even to find Him,
even though it may not appear to find Him.

Gratitude and confidence and freedom from ourselves:
these are signs that we have found our vocation
and are living up to it
even though everything else
may seem to have gone wrong. 

They give us peace in any suffering.
They teach us to laugh at despair.
And we may have to.

— Thomas Merton from No Man is an Island

 

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For three decades I have worked in a public setting,
my faith checked at the threshold as I walk in the door.

Preoccupied with the needs of the day,
my prayers for patients and co-workers
stay silent but not unheard
as God knows how to find His way in
through the cracks, under the door.

Even where He is deemed unnecessary
He is present, incognito.

I’ll turn a corner and find Him there,
in streaming rays through the window
illuminating a polished tile floor.
He’s streaming down the face of a patient,
or behind the smile of a co-worker.

He will not be turned away
even when we bar the door to keep Him out.

Knowing this helps me laugh
when I need it most.
Knowing this sets my soul free
from worries;
Knowing this, I shall look to find Him
wherever He may be,
even where He is unwelcome.

 

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Preparing the Heart: Bend Our Angers

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…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;
Romans 13:12

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Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church;
we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

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Unexpected God,
your advent alarms us.
Wake us from drowsy worship,
from the sleep that neglects love,
and the sedative of misdirected frenzy.
Awaken us now to your coming,
and bend our angers into your peace.
Amen.
~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent

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photo by Nate Gibson

During Advent there are times when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle story of that silent night, the sleeping infant away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.

The reality, I’m confident, was far different.

There was nothing gentle about a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver.
There was nothing gentle about the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets.
There was nothing gentle about Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered.
There was nothing gentle about a family’s flight to Egypt to flee that fate for their only Son.
There was nothing gentle about the life Jesus eventually led during his ministry:  itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days,  owning nothing, rejected by his own people, betrayed by his disciples,  sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate.

Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth and would return him to heaven.  No signal flares needed there.

When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week as a desperate person who can never ever save oneself.   We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on.  It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the wrath of God.

It is not for the faint of heart.

There are times it is reasonable and necessary to be “sore afraid” and “bend our anger” into His peace.

And not forget our crash helmets.

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O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr.

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Mt. Baker at Sunrise

The Storm Within

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Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions,
beneath our religion or lack of it,
we are all vulnerable both to the storm without
and to the storm within.
~Frederick Buechner – from Telling the Truth

We are so complicit and compliant
in pleasant and peaceful appearance,
sitting in silence allowing
our inner storm to stay well hidden;
if called and compelled to face wrongs boldly,
the tempest can no longer be contained.
Silence in the face of evil
must itself be shattered,
even the rocks will cry out,
as our storm spills forth
speaking the truth.

 Silence in the face of evil is itself evil:
God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak.
Not to act is to act.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Advent Sings: Hidden Power

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.

His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Habakkuk 3 from Habakkuk’s Prayer

His hand
as a tiny newborn gripping his mother’s finger, clasping her mortality
His hand
as a toddler holding his father’s hand, following his every dusty footstep
His hand
as a child throwing and catching, dirty with work and play
His hand
as a teenager learning his craft, sanding and measuring
His hand
as a young man holding God’s Word and learning to keep it deep in his heart
His hand
as a itinerant teacher gesturing and flowing words with movement
His hand
as a healer touching feverish heads, driving out spirits, making the blind to see, raising the lame to walk
His hand
as a servant washing dusty feet, breaking bread, pouring wine, making breakfast
His hand
as a Son gripping tight His Father’s in fervent prayer for relief and release
His hand
as a sacrifice pierced by the nail aimed at us
His hand
as a risen Savior rolling away the stone at sunrise
His hand
as ascended King of Kings, His power no longer hidden.
His hand
holding heavens where flashes His glory upon our faces
Forever and Ever.

Grace and Gratitude

photo by Josh Scholten

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.
Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo.
Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightening.
~Karl Barth

Nothing separates our thankfulness
from the gifts we’ve been granted.
We have been given life, certainly.
But that is not all,
though more than plenty.

Beyond imagining,
we are given forgiveness.
Offered a new life,
undeserved.
An opportunity to
make things right again
by forgiving
the unforgivable.

It is possible to be grateful every day
without knowing grace.
Many voices raised today
speak of thankfulness.

But to know the gift of grace–
experience its resounding clarifying brightness,
its gentle, compassionate merciful touch
every day, every hour, every moment
every breath,

we must respond, thundering
our gratitude at the spark of God,
echoing unending thanks
in our every breath.

photo by Josh Scholten

If There Were No God

photo by Josh Scholten

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”
—G.K. Chesterton

I heard the same message
from several patients:
they would
commit suicide,
but not believing
in God
would mean
jumping from
the pain of living
into

…nothing at all…

 

I thought
feeling nothing
was the
point
of ceasing
to be

 

Perhaps they can’t imagine
a God
who created
doubters
sore afraid
of His caring

enough to die
so no one
becomes
nothing.

Hole in the Heart

photo by Josh Scholten

There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.
~ Blaise Pascal 

Everyone is created with a hole in their heart that has no murmur, doesn’t show up on scans or xrays nor is it visible in surgery.  Yet we feel it, absolutely know it is there, and are constantly reminded of being incomplete.  Billions of dollars and millions of hours are spent trying to fill that empty spot in every imaginable and unimaginable way.  Nothing we try fills it wholly.  Nothing we find fits it perfectly.  Nothing on earth can ever be sufficient.

We are born wanting, yearning and searching; we exist hungry, thirsty and needy.

Created with a hankering heart for God, we discover only He fits, fills and is sufficient.  Only a beating heart like ours can know our hollow heart’s emptiness.  His bleeding stops us from hemorrhaging all we have in futile pursuits.

The mystery if the vacuum is this:
how our desperation resolves
and misery comforted
by being made complete and whole
through His woundedness.

How is it possible that
through His pierced limbs and broken heart,
we are made holy,
our emptiness filled forever.

photo by Josh Scholten