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.

Salt and light

MATTHEW THE TAX-COLLECTOR and Thomas the doubter.  Peter the Rock and Judas the traitor.  Mary Magdalene and Lazarus’s sister Martha.  And the popcorn-eating old woman.  And the fat man in the pick-up.  They are all our family, and you and I are their family and each other’s family, because that is what Jesus has called us as the Church to be.  Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace.  Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace.  Jesus calls us to show this truth forth, live this truth forth.  Be the light of the world, he says.  Where there are dark places, be the light especially there.  Be the salt of the earth.  Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly.  Be truly alive.  Be life-givers to others.  That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be.  That is what Jesus tells his Church, tells us, to be and do.  Love each other.  Heal the sick, he says.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse lepers.  Cast out demons.  That is what loving each other means.  If the Church is doing things like that, then it is being what Jesus told it to be.  If it is not doing things like that—no matter how many other good and useful things it may be doing instead— then it is not being what Jesus told it to be.  It is as simple as that.

~ Frederick Buechner, Listening to your Life

———-

Thinking about salt and light as they pertain to a life of faith…  Jesus told his followers that they were “the salt of the earth”, “the light of the world.”

But the point of salt isn’t to eat it by the heaping spoonful.  (“Mmm.  This salt is delicious.  Could I have another spoonful please?”)  It is to enhance the flavor, bring taste to food, and allow us to appreciate and delight in what we eat (even if it’s brussel sprouts.)

The point of light isn’t to dazzle and blind.  (“Gosh it’s dark out here.  Can you shine that spotlight in my eyes?  Thank you!  I’m so glad you brought a light on this camping trip…”)  It is to show us the world around us – to allow other’s eyes to see the world as it is.

———-

“If you salt the water, you won’t taste the salt. But if you don’t, you’ll know something’s not quite right.”

———-

Ipsissimia Verba?

You are the salt of the earth.
Gather it together in heaps lest it be polluted;
keep it in the jar.
Let society rot in its sin and be redolent in its putrefaction
the saints pristine in their whiteness shall be gathered together as a memorial pillar to me.

You are the light of the world.
Guard it carefully lest the darkness put it out.
Build a beautiful shrine for the lamp of God
where it may be kept safe for you to admire.
Do not take it out into the storm to look for the lost:
the wind might blow it out.
Let the lost look out for themselves
– if they are lucky they will see the chinks of light through the shutters and try to come in.

You shall be my witnesses,
so witness faithfully, on Sundays, come what may, and at as many meetings as you can
give money, make long prayers, sing hymns, and listen to sound sermons.
Teach my lambs, in particular, to get their priorities right
and keep the fold nice and tidy:
then it will be easy to find you when I come back, already gathered
from the rest
and glorifying God in your holiness.

You are my body.
Treat it gently, keep it warm,
make sure it gets enough to eat and lives respectably.
Keep it out of politics of course and the crush of the common people.
Avoid confrontation with the realities of evil.
One crucifixion was enough.

~ Muriel McNair (via ~ Prayers and Creeds)

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.

Bleeding daylight

Something about Tuesday nights makes me want to sit down and write… (that’s not entirely true. I may not want to write, but it’s times like that I need to sit down and make myself tell stories and share life, thoughts, and ideas.)

That said, I manage to put it off to super-late, and am falling asleep… so, in light of that, quick vignette for the day…

Dang it. No vignettes for now… I think my problem is that lately I have been seeing connections everywhere – I haven’t been able to take things in isolation – and the individual instances of the day to day aren’t representative of the whole – of what moves my heart, excites me, challenges me, relaxes me, makes me angry…

I was reading recently that writing is about making choices – beginning with a blank page (or screen) and filling it – choosing which words go where, what stories to tell or not tell, what details to fill in or leave blank… and my choices have been paralyzing me lately.

—–

I’ve been re-reading Gary Haugen’s “The Good News about Injustice” with this Servant Team who’s now here – this morning we say down and discussed the first part – I forget how good it is, and the hunger for justice that it wakes in me… Since then, a couple of songs by different Bruces have been resonating with me…

Bruce Springsteen singing a classic from the great depression – sung again shortly after Hurricane Katrina… the chorus is simple, poignant, and true “How can a poor man stand such times and live…” – and at the end the Boss sings “gonna be a judgement that’s a fact, a righteous train rolling down this track…”

Bruce Cockburn (a favorite, and proof that good things can come from Canada) has some great songs – two in particular have played over and over in my head today. In one (called “If I had a rocket launcher“), he sings “I don’t believe in guarded borders and I don’t believe in hate. I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states… I wanna raise every voice. At least I’ve go to try. Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes. Situation desperate, echoes of the victim’s cry…”

“Water rises to my eyes…” When I walk the streets of the favelas, and truly see what is going on like I did tonight, water rises to my eyes. Longing for hope, longing for change. And we do what we can. It is so little, and the need is so great. Many refuse what we do offer – an evening off the street, some food, talking, medical care, prayer… and yet, we keep offering.

Ran into a young boy named Tiago* who used to be on the streets downtown. I hadn’t seen him for almost a year – he’d graduated from the downtown streets to the favela streets. That means more drug abuse, more violence, closer ties to traffickers… I stopped and talked to him this evening amidst the smells, smoke wafting, crack, coke, and marijuana mingling as pushers yell out and offer free samples to 10-year olds… My heart burns. When I call him by name, he smiles, and is shocked. “You remember me. You remember…” it’s not enough to pull him away from the crack, but for a second, he is touched.

Bruce Cockburn has another song (“Lovers in a dangerous time…”) – in it, perhaps my favorite line in any song, ever…

– “When you’re lovers in a dangerous time, sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime. But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.” –

That’s what I’m still doing here in Brazil. Kicking at the darkness…

Beauty all around

Today we took a group of favela kids on a passeio to an island in the bay. Rather, today we helped some friends of ours who run a ministry in a neighboring favela by being extra bodies to hold on to the kids as we visited this island. There was much food for thought and reflection, and I have a few things to say – but right now, I’m too tired.

I would like to say that few things here bring me as much joy as taking these little ones who have so much pain and brokenness in their lives and celebrating life with them – having fun, joking around, laughing, running and playing in the midst of beauty… There are fun pictures, and more thoughts to come – but for now, it’s late, and I’m wiped out. 12 hours with these kids will do you in…

And the best part is that tonight, I get to sleep for my third night in a row without a fan. I haven’t had a chance to buy a new one yet… And it’s freakishly hot here in Rio right now. Last night I woke up around 4 AM because my bed was soaked with sweat – so I put my feet at the head of the bed, and my head at the foot, and slept for a few more hours before I soaked through the rest of the bed… It’s not a good feeling… Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to get a fan… I can only hope…