A Bright Sadness: Truth Beyond All Truths

[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

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


Halfway through the weeks of Lent, we look forward to the fullness of Easter morning.  Many of us feel hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces waiting to be filled to the brim with grace.

More over, through commemoration of the historical events leading to the Resurrection, 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 into us.  Through Him,  we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.

From hollowed to hallowed.

Our Plodding Resistance



If that’s what he means,’ says the student to the poetry teacher, ‘why doesn’t he just say it?’ 

‘If God is real,’ says the parishioner to the preacher, ‘why doesn’t he simply storm into our lives and convince us?’ 

The questions are vastly different in scale and relative importance, 
but their answers are similar. 

A poem, if it’s a real one, in some fundamental sense 
means no more and no less than the moment of its singular music and lightning insight; it is its own code to its own absolute and irreducible clarity. 

A god, if it’s a living one, is not outside of reality but in it, of it, 
though in ways it takes patience and imagination to perceive. 

Thus the uses and necessities of metaphor, which can flash us past our plodding resistance and habits into strange new truths. 

Thus the very practical effects of music, myth, and image, which tease us not out of reality, but deeper and more completely into it.
~Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

We are an impatient and unimaginative people; we want proof of God and we want it now. Yet we plod through our days blind and deaf to His presence in our lives, with little awareness of Him walking beside us.

So each day I try to take the blinders off and look for Him, listen for Him and wait on Him to make His presence known.

I will call Him by Name.

Unanswerable Questions

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When I lay these questions before God I get no answer.
But a rather special sort of “No answer.”

It is not the locked door.
It is more like a silent,
certainly not uncompassionate,
gaze.

As though he shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question.

Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable?
Quite easily, I should think.
All nonsense questions are unanswerable.

How many hours are there in a mile?
Is yellow square or round?

Probably half the questions we ask –
half our great theological and metaphysical problems –
are like that.

~C.S. Lewis from  A Grief Observed

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I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. 
You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
~C.S. Lewis from Till We Have Faces

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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?
~Frederich Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat

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And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?
~Mary Oliver from Long Life

Some mornings it is impossible to stay a silent observer of the world.  I demand answers to the unanswerable.

Overnight, wind and rain have pulled down nearly every leaf, the ground carpeted with the dying evidence of last spring’s rebirth, dropping temperatures robing the surrounding foothills and peaks in a bright new snow covering.

There can be no complacency in witnessing life in progress.
It blusters, rips, drenches, encompasses, buries.
Nothing remains as it was.

And here I am, alive.
Awed.
A witness.
Called to comment.
Dying to hear a response.

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How Late I Came

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How late I came to love you,
O Beauty so ancient and so fresh,
how late I came to love you.

You were within me,
yet I had gone outside to seek you.

Unlovely myself,
I rushed toward all those lovely things you had made.
And always you were with me.
I was not with you.

All those beauties kept me far from you –
although they would not have existed at all
unless they had their being in you.

You called,
you cried,
you shattered my deafness.

You sparkled,
you blazed,
you drove away my blindness.

You shed your Fragrance,
and I drew in my breath and I pant for you,
I tasted and now I hunger and thirst.
You touched me, and now I burn with longing.

~St. Augustine 

 

 

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God spoke
but I didn’t listen.
God fed me
but I chose junk food.
God showed me beauty
but I couldn’t see Him.
God smelled like the finest rose
but I turned away.
God touched me
but I was numb.

So He sent His Son
as Word and food,
beauty and fragrance,
reaching out broken hands
so I would know
my hunger and thirst
is only and always
for Him alone.

 

 

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Alive to Happiness

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We hadn’t seen each other
for days, only three days, to be
exact, but when I came through
the door and she turned
her head, the way she smiled
changed me again from one
who passes from this world to the next,
back to one who falls
into his wife’s arms and rests
his head on her shoulder and feels
when they lie down together her warm heart
beating against his chest,
     her hands hungry for his holding,
     his hands alive to her happiness.
~Shann Ray, “Mountain Homecoming” from Balefire: Poems

 

 

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On this day,
this tragically public day
when lives shatter before cameras

it is important to remind myself
that not all couplings happen
in blinding drunkenness
in a power differential
in utter selfishness
in a way the truth can never be known
nor trusted.

I need to know
this travesty called investigation
has nothing to do with truth and justice
but is politically sanctioned assault
of two people.
I won’t give it my approval by watching.

I want to know
in our joining
there is joy,
there is sweetness
in need
and sacrifice,
in giving
and taking,
in loving
and staying steadfast,
still alive, always alive
to happiness.

 

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A Slender Cord

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The builder who first bridged Niagara’s gorge,
Before he swung his cable, shore to shore,   
Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite   
Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands   
To grasp upon the further cliff and draw
A greater cord, and then a greater yet;   
Till at the last across the chasm swung   
The cable then the mighty bridge in air!
So we may send our little timid thought   
Across the void, out to God’s reaching hands—
Send out our love and faith to thread the deep—
Thought after thought until the little cord
Has greatened to a chain no chance can break,
And we are anchored to the Infinite!
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We dangle from a slender thread,
twisting and turning, swinging to and fro
with the breezes.
This silken line connects us in ways we barely see
to hold on to us when buffeted
by storms and rain and drought.

We are anchored fast to eternity, and never let go.

From here to infinity.

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Heaven-Handling Flung

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Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
   Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Carrion Comfort”

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These mounting deaths by one’s own hand
make grim headlines and solemn statistics.

In my clinic, patient after patient says the same thing:

this struggle with life
makes one frantic to avoid the fight and flee
to feel no more bruising and bleed no more,
to become nothing but chaff and ashes.

they contemplate suicide as
they can not recognize the love of
a God who cares enough to
wrestle them relentlessly–
who heaven-handling flung them here by
breathing life into their nostrils

Perhaps they can’t imagine
a God
(who He Himself created
doubters
sore afraid
of His caring
enough to die for us)

so no one
is ever now,
nor ever will be

~nothing~

such darkness
now done
forever.

 

 

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