Come and see…

come and see

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…”

There is a beauty in Isaiah’s words – but it is also dangerous. For when your eyes are used to darkness, the light can burn. And when darkness is what you have known, the light can be frightening, burning, scalding…

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…”

I read Frederick Buechner’s words – an essay he wrote called “Come and See” – and there is a terrifying, challenging beauty to the truth that he proclaims.

Listen.

“The prophecy of Isaiah is that into this darkness a great light will shine, and of course the proclamation of the gospel, especially the wild and joy-drunk proclamation of Christmas, is that into this darkness there has already shone a light to dazzle the world with its glory and its terror, for if there is a terror about the darkness because we cannot see, there is also a terror about light because we can see. There is a terror about light because much of what we see in the light about ourselves and our world we would rather not see, would rather not have be seen. The first thing that the angel said to the shepherds was, “Be not afraid,” and he said it with the glory of the Lord shining round about them there in the fields, because there was terror as well as splendor in the light of the glory of the Lord.”

This is the promise of Christmas – that no matter how dark the days, no matter how dark our hearts, the light has come – and when the light has come, we see things as they are. We see ourselves for who we really are – in our beauty and our ugliness, in our joys and our sorrows. All is revealed. And if I’m honest, I am the first to run and hide… I am the one that hides from the light that burns, because it will burn… the light clarifies, and shines, it purifies and it warms, and it lets us see this new thing that is breaking loose. What is it?

“As the Gospels picture it, all heaven broke loose.

The darkness was shattered like glass, and the glory flooded through with the light of a thousand suns. A new star blazed forth where there had never been a star before,  and the air was filled with the bright wings of angels, the night sky came alive with the glittering armies of God, and a great hymn of victory rose up from them – “Glory to God in the highest” – and strange kings arrived out of the East to lay kingly gifts at the feet of this even stranger and more kingly child. This is how, after all the weary centuries of waiting, the light is said finally to have come into the world…”

A scintillating light shines in the darkness – a new light that was not there before – and somehow, the darkness is not strong enough to overcome this light – the beauty and fragility and promise that is one moment a glimmering flicker, and the next super-nova searing itself into the soul.

But what really happened? What did Joseph and Mary and the shepherds actually see? Was there something unexplainable, inexplicable, ineffable? Or was it just another night, like any other night – quiet, dark, lonely, cold? What was different about this child? Why was he special? Him alone, out of the billions born before and after? What was it about him?

“The birth of the child into the darkness of the world made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living life. Ever since the child was born, there have been people who have gotten drunk on him no less than they can get drunk on hard liquor… people who have been grasped by him, caught up into his life, who have found themselves in deep and private ways healed and transformed by their relationships with him… That in this child, in the man he grew up to be, there is the power of God to bring light into our darkness, to make us whole, to give a new kind of life to anybody who turns toward him in faith, even to such as you and me.”

And I see how this life has transformed countless people throughout the centuries: Saul who killed and persecuted in defense of the purity of his faith and people is now Paul, who gives his life for this truth, this person, this light; Oscar Romero who turned from a life of privilege and books and power to defend the common people of El Salvador, and paid with his life, murdered while proclaiming the good news for the poor, and forgiveness for those who were plotting his death; the power to forgive, to redeem, to reconcile, to bring life and wholeness where there should not be any good thing – this is the beauty and the promise that the baby Jesus came to give.

It seems to good to be true. How can it be?

“How do we find out for ourselves whether in this child born so long ago there really is the power to give us a new kind of life in which both suffering and joy are immeasurably deepened, a new kind of life in which little by little we begin to be able to love even our friends, at moments maybe even our enemies, maybe at last even ourselves, even God?”

Buechner answers in beautiful, powerful, poetic language:

Adeste fidelis. That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true. Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light. Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves…

As far as I know, there is only one way to find out whether that is true, and that is to try it. Pray for him and see if he comes, in ways that only you will recognize. He says to follow him, to walk as he did into the world’s darkness, to throw yourself away as he threw himself away for love of the dark world. And he says that if you follow him, you will end up on some kind of cross, but that beyond your cross and even on your cross you will find your heart’s desire, the peace that passes all understanding… Follow him and see. And if the going gets too tough, you can always back out. Maybe you can always back out.

Adeste fidelis. Come and behold him, born the king of angels. Speak to him or be silent before him. In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, come to him with your empty hands. The great promise is that to come to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.”

May we come before him, behold him, and remember why it is that we celebrate, what it is that we wait for, and what it means for our lives, our futures, and our loves.

This is why we sing “joy to the world…”

Merry Christmas.

Gratitude

It’s time to watch this again:

It seemed appropriate – not just because it is Thanksgiving – but because the last few weeks of school, papers and projects are piling up for me, work and internship are reminding me both how broken people are and how broken this world is, and I find myself losing sight of the beauty and wonder around me as I am drowning in books and journal articles and case notes and reports. So much in this culture and society is pulling us towards wanting more – desire – consumption. “If you just had this, you’d be happy. If only you weren’t so ____, people would love you more. If you could just own that new toy, that new pretty thing… All you need is just a little bit more – more stuff, more status, more accomplishment, more happiness… And you deserve it.”  And on Black Friday, the high holy days of capitalism, we see this message over and over again.

This is the message we hear every day. And it is a lie. It will never be enough.

I know what is true. I see the things that push me towards life, towards abundance, towards joy: and among those things, three of the primary ones are contentment, gratitude, and wonder. So much in life is outside of our control. You can’t will yourself towards health when you’re sick. You can’t make someone love you. We all have limitations, barriers, and things that hinder us from accomplishing what we desire. And the tension that I wrestle with is how to balance that acceptance of my limitations and finiteness with the reality that there is much that I dream will come true – there are deep desires within me for beauty, for community, for redemption, for companionship, for love, for faithfulness, and those desires are there for a purpose. This battle between contentment and desire wages in my heart, but it is only be holding them in that tension that balance can be lived. Contentment reminds me that my desires are just that – desires. And while they point to something deeper, they should be held loosely. Yet those deep desires of my heart remind me that I was made for more, it keeps me moving God-ward, it guards me from complacency and passivity and laziness. Both are needed, in their appropriate place.

Gratitude and wonder work together to stop and remind me of how truly blessed I am – everything I have been given, and everything that gives color and laughter to my life. From the sun crawling up off the lake on my morning run, to the lights of the city as I drive home at night – the play of clouds, the sound of the breeze, the crisp cool air that burns and awakens and refreshes – these are gifts. The laughter of a friend’s daughter, the tears that spring from some unknown place when confronted by the beauty of friendship, of love, and of sacrifice – all are gifts. A glass of wine and a loaf of bread to welcome the Sabbath as an old friend, forgiveness growing slowly like a blade of grass in the sand, a heart that is melting, thawing, warming before the light of the son – this is gift and grace. When we truly stop and see, how can we not be grateful? When we truly stop and feel, how can our hearts not threaten to explode with wonder?

“Gratefulness can change our world in immensely important ways. If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. The grateful act out of a sense of enough, not scarcity, so they are willing to share.  Being grateful does no less than change the power balance of life.  It’s a nonviolent revolution that even revolutionizes the concept of revolution.  Grateful people are joyful people; the more joyful people are, the more we’ll have a joyful world.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

And in the midst of the tragedy, the brokenness, the unmet desires and unfulfilled dreams, and all that we don’t understand, we see glimmers of hope – catch the faintest whiff of grace – hear the whisper of peace and presence: it’s enough to make anyone thankful, if just for a moment… And sometimes, that moment is all we need to keep on.

“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  Only never take your choice too easily, of course.  Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.  One choice is this.  It is to choose to believe that the truth of our story is contained in Jesus’s story, which is a love story.  Jesus’s story is the truth about who we are and who the God is who Jesus says loves us.  It is the truth about where we are going and how we are going to get there, if we get there at all, and what we are going to find if we finally do.  Only for once let us not betray the richness and depth and mystery of that truth by trying to explain it…” ~ Frederick Buechner

(Reposted, because I needed to be reminded of this today…)

Too much?

 

I grew up thinking that there were some things that should be left unsaid.  The truth could be too painful, or scary, or frightening.  We were supposed to tone it down, be nice, say the right thing.

A few years ago I came across Frederick Buechner, and a slim volume he wrote called “Speak what we feel: Not what we ought to say.”

It’s funny how the straw the breaks the camel’s back can be miniscule – a sunset over the ocean, the laugh of a child, four perfect chords, a few words folded into harmony and truth.  And once that straw drops, the walls come crashing down and captives are freed to speak what they feel, to argue and rage, to complain and debate, for this is relationship.  

Thankful tonight that there are people for whom we are not too much.  Thankful tonight that God is not surprised by us, and that even the act of wrestling with God is a way to relate deeper and more truthfully.  

 

You cannot shock Him with the things you want to say.
Let it go. Erupt into glass-shattered expression.
The hurt, regret, sorrow, frustration, bitterness . . . Rage.
Send the fragments of your broken soul showering down.
To the pavement. To the end of things.
Look how it glistens. Reflects light.
Little pieces.
And when you are done, you will feel better.
Let the silence clothe your nakedness.
Feel the breeze, how it swirls into your newly opened soul.
Tender as it caresses a raw, exposed heart.
Listen to the sounds of the sweeping. Broom and dustpan.
The shards being swept away. Splintered remnants and slivers.
Quietly going about His Father’s business.
You’ll be okay. You are loved.
Fiercely.
In a shocking sort of way.

~Heather Eure
via Burnside Writer’s Collective

1st day on the job

Heading in to new work, which I am super excited about…  Reflections on work and meaning and passion and stories are all brewing in my mind as I try to transition well into this new, exciting place.  So thankful to be in a place where my desire is meeting just a bit of the world’s deep need.  More soon.

Shalom.

light and shadow

Sometimes, words are not enough.

Sometimes, words confuse, weigh down…

But sometimes, words are all we have to give.  And so these words are written, knowing full well how inadequate and superficial they are.  And the hope is that through the words, love is shared – presence sent – courage grows – a candle is flickers – the darkness is kicked – and daylight spills out and overflows just a little bit more.

—–

I was 17 when I moved into the dorms at Taylor – fresh from the jungles of Peru, a little overwhelmed and confused by the United States, by the culture, by life.  I was heartsick and homesick and felt desperately alone, wanting to be with people who knew me – with my family & friends – for my mom’s cancer to be healed – for death to take a step back from our lives.

There was a community of international students, missionary kids, and other fun people who lived in a home off-campus called “the Souphouse.”  For that 17 year old kid, this home and these people were a lifeline.  They understood me, listened, and provided a safe place for me to adjust, acclimate, and begin to process what was going on in my life.  Dave and Rhys were a part of that community, and I am so thankful.

—–

This morning, I sat at my computer, reading about their daughter Lia, who is in a hospital in Seattle.  I read, and I prayed, and I wept.  She is fighting for life, for freedom from pain, and her family is with her in the midst of that.  This is Lia.  She’s three years old.

Rhys wrote,

“…we’re not seeking a cure. we’re seeking to do as little harm, and hoping to introduce something good. the goal is to maintain, to hang on and get every bit of life from these moments…

…parts of lia dwell in God’s house already, her feet are dancing, and her mouth sings with the angels. her body runs without effort, and yet she is still tied to this earth. her body is ground-heavy, weighed with the brokenness of being alive. even as i treasure her, i know that her house is being built. it’s not brick and mortar, but a floor to ceiling windowed house that opens to jungles and oceans. giraffes run freely through the rooms, leaving behind little star shaped footprints. the ocean laps against her windows, and the dolphins come to speak with her. she holds a merry court with angels, and her body is strong.

 when i think about it like this, the promises don’t seem so hard. it’s just a deep measure of peace surrounding we two on the couch while we wait…”

—–

water in my eyes…

—–

As I was reading, I heard Gungor playing in the background:  ”

This is not the end
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider

This is not our last
This is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider

And you know you’ll be alright
Oh and you know you’ll be alright

This is not the end
This is not the end of us
We will shine like the stars bright, brighter

and once again, tears streamed down my face.  This is our hope, and our prayer.  For Lia.  And for the world.

—–

     “Praise, praise!” I croak.  Praise God for all that’s holy, cold, and dark…  I kneel down beside him till within his depths I see a star.

Sometimes this star is still.  Sometimes she dances…  Within that little pool of Wear she winks at me.  I wink at her.  The secret that we share I cannot tell in full.  But this much I will tell.  What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.

~Frederick Buechner (Godric)

As we wait, and hope, and pray, and mourn, and weep, and listen, and treasure, my mind keeps coming back to that last line.

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”  

So we pray peace, and rest, and love, and ringing peals of little girl laughter to fill and overflow that hospital room, for today, and each and every day that remains…  And through the tears, we wait.  And through the dark, we wait.  We wait for hope realized.  We wait for all things new.  We wait for Easter.  We wait for You.  We wait…  Be near us in the waiting.

—–

For those of you who pray, or just want to know more, you can go here for updates, prayer requests, etc…  Thank you.  And if you want to help friends travel to see Lia in March, go here.

Easter dreams and "the rest of the story…"

I’ve been reluctant to move on from Easter this year – wanting to slow down, to savor ever moment, to linger over the hope that is freely offered to all. And as I ponder what it means to be Easter people, to be captives of hope in a hopeless world, I am struck again and again by our vantage point in the middle of the story. No matter where we are in the story of our life, we are still a work in progress. Our dreams are growing, changing, coming to fruition in fits and starts, stalling and dying and being reborn in unexpected and unforeseen ways. We are unfinished, and cannot see where we will go, what we will become, or whose lives we will touch. And we never will, until we live out the rest of the story…

The disciples are a prime example of this. From our vantage point, the story unfolds with a certain inevitability and it’s easy to forget the roller-coaster of emotions that must have been present for those actually living it. From the ecstasy of vindication as they rode into Jerusalem with their Master on Palm Sunday to the cheer and acclaim of the crowds: “Surely,” they must have thought to themselves, “We are about to be rewarded for our service. Now is the day that the King has come to Jerusalem, and all things will be put to right – the Romans destroyed, the oppressors of their people cast down, and the restoration of David’s glorious kingdom.” Their dreams were coming true. They didn’t know the rest of the story.

Fast forward a few days – tension is rising in the temple courts as the teachers of the law and Temple establishment try to trap Jesus, tricking him into alienating either the people or the Roman authorities. Jesus manages to outmaneuver them time and time again. Fractures appear in the group of disciples, with Judas approaching the priests to betray Jesus and turn him over to them in the next few days, while the others stick close to him. This was the moment when things would fall one way or the other, and I’m sure the stress was incredible. Where was the story headed?

And I can hardly imagine the cycles the of the disciple’s emotions on Thursday night – the sacred tradition of the Passover meal, the washing of feet, the embarrassment and intimacy, the delight and the doubt… The last teaching of Jesus to the disciples as they hung on his every word, at some level grasping the momentousness of this occasion… Prayer in the garden, falling asleep while they waited, and finally terror and anguish as a crowd of thugs melted out of the darkness around them cutting off escape… One last surge of expectation that maybe NOW was when Jesus would act… That expectation evaporating as Jesus was swept off to a hasty trial and public lynching… And over the next day, the devastation of watching their hope be dismantled, degraded, dehumanized, destroyed… Deeper and deeper and deeper into despair as they ran, abandoned their Master, denied they knew him, and committed suicide… The story was crumbling around them.

Then the burial, and the dark of night, and a long, quiet Saturday – disciples staring wide-eyed into space, some in numb shock, others beginning to feel the faint stirrings of anger and disappointment at Jesus, this man they had given up everything for, followed for years, who had abandoned them and betrayed them. Maybe some began to make plans for what their life would look like “post-Jesus.” Peter and Andrew mumbling together in a corner, wondering if their father would let them back into the family fishing business… Simon the Zealot ready to resume the rebellion against the empire that he had given up because JESUS had asked him to do so… Matthew wondering where he would go, what he would do – he couldn’t go back to tax collecting… Not after what he’d seen. But the money was so good. And if everyone was just going to die anyway, and the hope Jesus offered was a lie, then why not make the most of it while he could? John – asked to care for his dead friend’s mother – yet every time he saw her the pain of loss bubbled up anew…

Stories aren’t supposed to end like this – surrounded by blackness and consumed by the void. We know it deep in the core of our being, and we fight for it over and over in our lives despite all evidence to the contrary. Even in this world of death and destruction, of broken promises and disappointment, we fight for happy endings because we know, deep down, that we were made for fairy tales. Frederick Buechner explores this in my favorite book of his, “Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.” Our lives – our stories – are the stuff of tragedy. Brokenness and failure haunt our every decision, and even the most glorious moments of transcendence come to an end all too quickly. Yet in the midst of that tragedy is the ridiculous comedy that reaches in and declares that God loves us anyway – in spite of our lies, our failures, the way we hurt and betray and wound those we love the most. This fusion of tragedy and comedy declares that ultimately, life IS a fairy tale – that redemption is possible, that all hurts will be healed and every tear wiped away – that all things will be reconciled one day, and we will have life abundant and eternal, quenching our parched souls. This is the promise of the gospel.  This is the promise of the story we have been invited into.

Thankfully, the story of Easter didn’t end on Saturday. Looking back on it from a distance of 2000 years, we know what happens next. We can imagine the fear and bewilderment of the women who approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. We crinkle with anticipation as we watch them run back to tell the disciples that SOMETHING has happened. We know a surprise is waiting – more glorious than any Christmas surprise, more life-changing than any long awaited birth. And we see the slow dawning realization begin to spread among the disciples – ever so slowly, from one to another…

“What’s happened?”

“Have you heard?”

“I don’t believe it…”

“Do you really think…”

“No.”

“But…”

“What if?”

And then the appearance of Jesus in their midst. The one who was dead and now lives forever. The one they watched crucified. The one they had loved. The one they had abandoned. The one they had buried. The one they had mourned. This one was in their midst, and he laughed with them, and reassured them and said, “Do not be afraid… Mmm, that fish smells good. I think I’ll have some…”

He was alive. He defeated sin, and hell, and death. Sin could not conquer him. Hell could not hold him. Death could not contain him. He was back – and he was himself – gloriously, surprisingly, unbelievably present and alive!

He is alive!  And those who saw him, accepted him, believed in him – they were never the same.

2000 years later, the story goes on…

This is my challenge, and yours: How do we remember that the story is unfinished? How do we realize that we are living in the tension of the now, of the tragedy and comedy of life, with questions and uncertainties and incredulity much more common than answers, certainty, and understanding? Because we don’t see the end. Not yet. Not fully. We are living on Saturday. But Sunday is coming. Hope is real. God is good. And the end of the story will be more glorious and poetic and full of grace than we can imagine now. I know this is true. And on my best days, I sometimes can begin to live as if I actually believe it…

…until, one day, we can clearly see the rest of the story, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well…