Turn Aside and Look: Trembling

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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

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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,
darkness overwhelmed by light,
the crushed and broken rising to dance,
and inexplicably,
from the waiting stillness He stirs
and we,
finding death emptied,
greet Him trembling
are so moved.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: That Steep Dark Path

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thorns
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: No Longer Your Own

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You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
1 Corinthians 6: 19b-20a

 

There is a well known story with a number of variations, all involving a scorpion that stings a good-souled frog/turtle/crocodile/person who tries to rescue it from drowning. Since the sting dooms the rescuer and as a result the scorpion as well, the scorpion explains “to sting is in my nature”. In one version, the rescuer tries again and again to help the scorpion, repeatedly getting stung, only to explain before he dies “it may be in your nature to sting but it is in my nature to save.”

This is actually a story originating from Eastern religion and thought, the purpose of which is to illustrate the “dharma”, or orderly nature of things. The story ends perfectly for the Eastern religions believer even though both scorpion and the rescuer die in the end, as the dharma of the scorpion and of the rescuer is realized, no matter what the outcome. Things are what they are, without judgment, and actualization of that nature is the whole point.

However, this story only resonates for the Christian if the nature of the scorpion is forever transformed by the sacrifice of the rescuer on its behalf. The scorpion is no longer its own so no longer slave to its “nature”. It is no longer just a scorpion with a need and desire to sting whatever it sees. It has been “bought” through the sacrifice of the Rescuer.

So we too are no longer our own,
no longer the stinger
no longer the stung:
no longer who we used to be before we were rescued.

We are bought at a price beyond imagining.

And our nature to hurt, to punish, to sting shall be no more.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15: 55

wetfeather

There at the table
With my head in my hands
A column of numbers
I just could not understand
You said “Add these together
Carry the two
Now you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

At a cold winter station
Breathing into our gloves
This would change me forever
Leaving for God knows what
You carried my bags
You said “I’ll wait
For you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

Late at night I called
And you answered the phone
The worst it had happened
And I did not want to be alone
You quietly listened
You said “We’ll see this thru.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

Here we stand breathless
And pressed in hard times
Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines
Impossible just takes
A little more time

From the muddy ground
Comes a green volunteer
In a place we thought barren
New life appears
Morning will come whistling
Some comforting tune
For you

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing
~Carrie Newcomer

 

A Terrible Clarity

mejierreflection

 

Romantic love is blind to everything
except what is lovable and lovely,

but Christ’s love sees us
with terrible clarity and sees us whole.

Christ’s love so wishes our joy
that it is ruthless against everything in us
that diminishes our joy.

The worst sentence Love can pass
is that we behold the suffering
which Love has endured for our sake,

and that is also our acquittal.
The justice and mercy of the judge
are ultimately one.

~Frederick Buechner

 

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photo by Jim Randall from burmachronicles.com

 

As we prepare for the season of Lent to begin this week:

We see with terrible clarity
the Love we are shown,
the Love given freely to the undeserving,
the Love paying our ransom in full,
the Love enduring all for us~

this Judge convicts,
metes out justice upon His own head,
serves the whole sentence Himself,
thus sets us free
to see and share
the Love we are shown.

 

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pinelight

To Feel the Hem of Heaven

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Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs.
And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place,
touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven.
You will go away with old, good friends.
And don’t forget when you leave why you came.

~Adlai Stevenson, to the Class of ’54 Princeton University

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I was eight years old in June 1963 when the Readers’ Digest arrived in the mail inside its little brown paper wrapper. As usual, I sat down in my favorite overstuffed chair with my skinny legs dangling over the side arm and started at the beginning,  reading the jokes, the short articles and stories on harrowing adventures and rescues, pets that had been lost and found their way home, and then toward the back came to the book excerpt: “The Triumph of Janis Babson” by Lawrence Elliott.

Something about the little girl’s picture at the start of the story captured me right away–she had such friendly eyes with a sunny smile that partially hid buck teeth.  This Canadian child, Janis Babson, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was only ten, and despite all efforts to stop the illness, she died in 1961.  The story was written about her determination to donate her eyes after her death, and her courage facing death was astounding.  Being nearly the same age, I was captivated and petrified at the story, amazed at Janis’ straight forward approach to her death, her family’s incredible support of her wishes, and especially her final moments, when (as I recall 54 years later) Janis looked as if she were beholding some splendor, her smile radiant.

”Is this Heaven?” she asked.   She looked directly at her father and mother and called to them:  “Mommy… Daddy !… come… quick !”

And then she was gone.  I cried buckets of tears, reading and rereading that death scene.  My mom finally had to take the magazine away from me and shooed me outside to go run off my grief.  How could I run and play when Janis no longer could?  It was a devastating realization that a child my age could get sick and die, and that God allowed it to happen.

Yet this story was more than just a tear-jerker for the readers.  Janis’ final wish was granted –those eyes that had seen the angels were donated after her death so that they would help another person see.  Janis  had hoped never to be forgotten.  Amazingly, she influenced thousands of people who read her story to consider and commit to organ donation, most of whom remember her vividly through that book excerpt in Readers’ Digest.  I know I could not sleep the night after I read her story and determined to do something significant with my life, no matter how long or short it was.  Her story influenced my eventual decision to become a physician.  She made me think about death at a very young age as that little girl’s tragic story could have been mine and I was certain I could never have been so brave and so confident in my dying moments.

Janis persevered with a unique sense of purpose and mission for one so young.  As a ten year old, she developed character that some people never develop in a much longer lifetime.  Her faith and her deep respect for the gift she was capable of giving through her death brought hope and light to scores of people who still remember her to this day.

Out of the recesses of my memory, I recalled Janis’ story a few years ago when I learned of a local child who had been diagnosed with a serious cancer.  I could not recall Janis’ name, but in googling “Readers’  Digest girl cancer story”,  by the miracle of the internet I rediscovered her name, the name of the book and a discussion forum that included posts of people who were children in the sixties, like me,  who had been incredibly touched by Janis when they read this same story as a child.  Many were inspired to become health care providers like myself and some became professionals working with organ donation.

Janis and family, may you know the gift you gave so many people through your courage in the midst of suffering, and the resulting hope in the glory of the Lord.  Your days were short here, but you touched the depth of truth and touched the hem of heaven.
~~the angels are coming indeed.

We who have been your old good friends,  because of your story,  have not forgotten how you left us and why you came in the first place.

For excerpts from “The Triumph of Janis Babson”, click here

silverthawwilted

Good to Melt

darkhedgesantique

 

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

–to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.
~Wendell Berry “The Cold”

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Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist,
and into them enters suffering,
in order that they may have existence.
~
Leon Bloy

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I watch new heart chambers form every day
too frozen solid, too overwhelmed
with hurt
and loss
and despair
to continue to pulse warm.
So I try
to help patients let go of
their suffering,
let it thaw to liquid, let the ice melt down,
allow it to pass through freely
forgiving, forgiven~
a heart changed
by winter transformed to spring,
flowing warm from new found grace.

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