Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jesus in Disguise

"The old shoemaker was snoring gently. Suddenly he heard a voice in the room."

In a little known tale by Leo Tolstoy, a lonely shoemaker prays for a visit from Jesus, so that he, like the Wise Men, might offer to the King the best of his gifts.  In a strange nightly vision, his prayer is answered.  

"Dear old shoemaster, you were wondering what you could give Me. Tonight I am going to visit your village. Look out for Me. I shall not say who I am."  

As with most Christmas tales, Tolstoy's story could be criticized as being thoroughly fanciful, a fireside story to amuse starry-eyed children.  Peace on Earth?  Goodwill to Men?  Show me, if you can, where peace lies.  What, oh man, is goodwill on a sin-saturated planet so torn by strife, greed, deception, anger, sickness, loneliness, and pain?  And where oh where is love in a world that appears to be just plain falling apart at the seams?

Ebeneazer Scrooge in Dickens' famous story would certainly agree when asked for alms for the poor.    
"Are there no prisons?  No workhouses?"
"Sir, many cannot go.  And many would rather die."  
"Well...they had better do it then, and decrease the surplus population!"  

And yet--despite all the chaos, the political conundrums, and the ever-present news stations heralding sorrow, what is it about Christmas? What makes us feel as though we might be capable of setting aside our toil and self gain in looking down on our fellow man?  Try as we might, we cannot escape the compulsive tug of Christmastime which whispers, "Behold, Love Himself has come!"  For that is the very meaning of Advent.  Advent is "the coming," the greatly anticipated arrival.  A lion prowling through the icy depth of Winter's heart.  Aslan on the move.

"No sooner had he gone back to his work than the old shoemaster heard a different set of footsteps. It must be Jesus! He rushed out into the street. But as the footsteps came closer, the old shoemaster recognized the figure of a poor widow and her children. How hungry they looked. "Come in and have some of my soup," said the kind old shoemaker, "I was saving it for a special guest, but I'm sure He won't mind. I still have another gift for Him."

In the midst of the darkness of the American Civil War, a Christmas hymn was penned: 
"In despair I bowed my head.  There is no peace on earth, I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of Peace on earth Goodwill to men."  Yet the story does not end there.

 Triumphantly the song proclaims:  "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.  God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on earth Goodwill to men."   The God whose hands kindled the stars knelt to become a stranger in a dominion of the dark.  The Prince of Light died a traitor's death to reconcile mankind to Himself.  The Advent at Christmas means nothing without the victory of the Cross at Easter. He came to earth, and behold He is coming again.  While we wait, we are to shine His light among men.  

As Dickens writes, "Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”   Despite it all, and against all odds, Christmas remains, obstinantely standing in the path of Satan's total dominion, barring His path!  Like Scrooge we must honor Christmas in our hearts and learn to keep it alive all year 'round.  For in doing so, we keep our eyes and ears wide open, looking to sow the seeds of Heaven in the Real World.  At Christmas, we strain to see Him, Jesus in disguise.  He is always there, but are we looking?

In meeting the needs of our neighbors, friends, and people halfway around the globe, there we shall meet with Jesus.  God became Emmanuel, God with Us, and now He continues to walk among us, hidden behind the forlorn faces of the bruised, the broken, and the hurting.  Jesus in disguise.  As Steven Curtis Chapman writes, "I saw the face of Jesus in a little orphan girl.  She was standing in a corner on the other side of the world.  I saw the face of Jesus down on sixteenth avenue.  He was sleeping in an old car, while his mom went looking for food."    

Rejoice in the beauty of a God who came to earth, a baby who was called Savior, a man who was seen by the blind and heard by the deaf, and a Christ who bled his life, drop by drop, for this shadowed land.  A Christmas story, the greatest story ever told, and one that is not only true, but goes on until Christ comes back, and we may play a small part in it.  Every other Christmas tale merely echoes this one, resounds bell-like with its truth.  Let it also be said of us that we know how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possesses the knowledge, though not with Santa Claus jingles, anxiety, and self centered thought that so often threatens the holidays (Dickens).   

"The old shoemaster stared out of his window. Tears streamed down his face. Jesus had promised to visit him, but Jesus had not come. What would he do with all the shoes he had made?

As the sun rose in the sky, he looked across the street at the orphanage and wiped his tears away. He had a wonderful idea! He gathered up the shoes into a sack. Then he tiptoed across the street and into the orphanage.

He placed a pair of his finest shoes by each child. Then he tiptoed back to his shop, sat in his comfortable chair, and closed his eyes. As he dozed, he heard the same voice he had heard the night before: "Thank you, kind shoemaster. I visited you last night and you gave Me warmth. I was thirsty and you gave Me a drink. I was hungry and you fed Me, and, kind shoemaster, I was in the orphanage and you came to visit Me. Thank you for giving Me the finest pair of your shoes. Whatever you did for all these people, you also did for Me."

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Going in Circles

What is a circle?  Most would instinctively picture a loop or a sphere, an eternal and unbroken line, which cannot be departed from without compromising the shape.  The path of a circle is an infinity, a road taken that always returns to itself whichever direction you choose to go.  Sometimes life feels a lot like a circle to me.

The children at The Barn, broken and battered by a fallen world, struggle to master simple tasks.  They engage in frightful battles of the body and of the mind, and all the while, they ride their therapy horses in circles.  Circles, endless circles.  I lead horses in eternal loops, bearing children upon infinite discs of hoof trodden earth, earth that could once have been touched by the hand of Adam, firstborn among men at the genesis of time itself.  The circles are indeed endless.


There have been times for me that resembled just such a journey. They are a quests of quiet despair, moments of enduring and of thinning patience.  Here I would plod, feeling less the fearless filly and more the weary plow horse, lifting endless leaden feet and dropping my nose to the tilled earth, as I trudge bearing my burden.  I lack the luster of life; I am wandering lost on a path of circular infinity.  I have come upon a frozen forest suffering a cruel enchantment.  This is the emptiness.  This is the Hollow Land.

My prayers to the Holy One have become a pale-lament, broken and bleak, like the tattered shreds of sail on a ship without a headwind.  They are a familiar song, lifted as daily incense at the evening sacrifice.  I beg the Lord to search me out.  I inquire after unknown sins.  I fight to choose joy in Him amidst great doubt.  But the Hollow Land is cold, a labyrinth of sorrow mingled with peace, confusion abiding with tentative trust in the Unseen.  Day by day, the familiar landscape goes by.  I greet each morning anew, and yet--somehow I have seen it all before.  The cycle goes on forever on this lonely quest, or so it often seems.  I rise, fall, and rise once more.  Circles.  Will I ever escape them?

 At times I may peer over the boundary-wall of the Hollow Land, yearning for the fullness of a life of purpose and meaning.  I long for answers to prayer, healing for pain, and for direction in this harsh and aimless land.  Yet the only reply is icy snow from a lonely sky.
At The Barn it is often difficult to see progress in a child day by day.  Their mouths struggle to form words, their limbs fight to walk, and I often wonder what good can come of endlessly riding the back of a steady horse.  And yet there are moments of painfully sharp clarity, in which the cycle is broken, the road diverges, and a huge step is taken.  A boy without a voice tells his father, "I love you."  A six year old girl takes her first steps.  Suddenly, I am able to look over my shoulder at the arena dirt full of circles, and the veil is torn.  I can fully perceive all the long way we have come.    

This I now realize, is the deception of the Hollow Land, this dark enchantment that has the entire forest under its spell.  The sights and sounds of this place are often a veil, one that shields us from seeing what a distance we too have come.  For the children at The Barn, the path to healing does not lie in a visible straight-arrow line.  Instead, it is a shadow-path and a circle that often conceals the truth.  Like them, the Father often allows us to sojourn in the Hollow Land, where we are forced to depend upon Him in all things, because our human eyes can see neither the direction nor the purpose.  Contrary to what I had thought at the time, my own time walking in circles was not wasted by Him who led me there.  The shortest distance between two points, from an eternal perspective, does not always lie in a straight line.  

Do not let your heart and eyes be deceived by the enchantment.  The void of emptiness on the circular road will not endure.  It cannot.  For the one who leads you onward bears for you the best of all Loves and the depth of all wisdom and power.  He lights a crackling fire to warm you in the many nights, as the scent of winter-smoke steals over you.  On mornings of stark-clear beauty, when a golden sun spills trembling across a sea of snow diamonds, He offers hope to sustain you.  In times of weeping and chest-heaving sobs, He surrounds you, warmer than wool. Here is where the hurt and the healing collide, and one day your road will tear through the enchantment, breaking the spell.  You may feel lost, but if the Lord is with you, then you are always lost in the right direction.    


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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It Didn't Have to Be

*Post dedicated to my dear mother-in-love, Jayne Neal, who poured her heart out to Jesus in breathtaking song during her solo performance on Sunday.  All who heard and saw felt the light of the King of Kings manifest in her voice and eyes. 

Martin Luther once said that, "Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise."  And I confess that I've rather had music on the brain for quite some time now.  At a UNM dance performance, I was greeted with a display of  frontal nudity set to a score whose beauty was said to lie in the ambiguity and absence of the meaning.  The dissonant and "experimental tones" of the music felt neither truly emotive nor evocative of any real or deep purpose.  I did not feel liberated by the invitation to create my own story as I watched the performance.  Instead I faced an onslaught of confusion and a wave of disharmony that was unsettling.       

But what truly wounded me was that this idea of discord, both visual and audible, was called the real vision of truth and goodness.  For, as I thought about it, that is what music in its essence is should be.  Music is humanity set to tones and notes that words may not always express.  Good music does precisely what it was created to do, it echos within the human soul, resounding in truth, in sorrow, in goodness, and in hope.  After all--it didn't have to be


Karl Barth is quoted to have said,"I even have to confess that if I ever get to heaven, I would first seek out Mozart, and only then inquire after Augustine, St. Thomas, Luther, Calvin, and Schleiermacher."  
Music, unlike other pursuits, is not something that was necessary and vital for the survival of mankind.  It didn't have to be, and yet--here it is.  Bach and Handel wrote Soli Deo Gloria on their sheets of music, because they were writing for the Great Composer, creating something that would not feed the body but the heart.  Should it surprise us that creators of some of the world's most lovely and passionate songs were writing to the glory of God, the Author of Truth?  After all, that is what music is--resounding and rising Truth.

For those who are wandering and looking, those who are earnestly questing and seeking after Heaven in the real world, the heart-wrenching note-cries of music are evidence that testifies not only to the existence of God but to His goodness.  Where many words fail and all 'round us human voices are raised in anger, disharmony, and selfish ambition, men will live, struggle, and die in the throes of their earthly existence for even the possibility of music.  

Good music edifies, cleanses, heals, and restores, because it is finds its origin in the author and perfecter of all goodness, mercy, truth, justice, and grace.  Music that rejects all form and structure and sacrifices meaning is the cry of the fallen creature, the wounds and scars of a broken world.  This music speaks the language of The Fall, the harmony of the darkness and of the void of the night.  But Creation is the theater of God's glory, and as deep calls out to deep, so the fierce cries that wrench the soul, and the soft strains of love that wrap around tendrils of laughter is humanity ever reaching out and stretching to touch the robe of the Star-Kindler.

 "At night I love to listen to the stars.  It is like five hundred million tiny bells."  (Antoine de Saint Exupery).  

The dissonance of our human lives, the mistakes, the sorrows, the labors, the pains--these too are notes on the staff of our life-song.  For in these discordant moments, the Great Composer blesses and transforms them into pieces of the symphony that create a longing for relief, for a return back to harmony.  As bits of a melody's wrongness are identified in a song, the human ear waits, longing for the indescribable redemption, for that reaching upwards to grasp grace once more.  And that is part of what makes music so universal, so evocative, welling up from the deepest of deep places in the imperfect human soul. Behold, God makes what once was broken whole.  

 Oh, who are we, that He should make beautiful things out of us? Alleluia! 

excerpt from "The Lay of Eanna"...

“But thou, oh maid of Rùaðhàn.   Oh child of men, their daughter.
The song you keep,
Is ancient and deep,
A pool of eternal water.
But higher still, you must now go, deeper still I call thee.
Song of the earth,
Harmony’s birth,
I give to you the key.

“The magic of the frozen stars, on a cold and moon-swept night,
Of lion’s mane,
The smell of the rain,
The morning crescendo of light.
The melodies of the meadow flowers; the language of trees, their ways
Rhythm and Rhyme,
The passage of time,
The hastening of all days.

The Maker of all earthly things, the King of Heaven high,
The Highest One,
El Elyon,
Lord of the Sapphire sky.
He grants gifts to sons of men; all blessings flow from He,
Thy glorious song,
To Him belongs,
Hold fast to the Heavenly!”

The lark then taught the maiden well, she learned of hidden things,
Tongue of the Brook,
Dance of the Rook,
Of heather, of bells, of wings.
And the wellspring of her heart, flowed a worship silver-pearled,
For the [i]Dream of the Rood
Matchless it stood
Above all that is the world.

She learned to sing in pitch of night, when a frozen world lay dead,
The Song, her shield,
Bright sword to wield,
By the Light, she still was led.
She sang of joy amidst great pain, with a suffering spirit weak,
When floods would rage,
Notes filled her page,
The Bridge Builder she would seek.

[i] A reference to the famous Old English poem called “Dream of Rood” in which the cross, upon which Christ hung, speaks.  

      Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Things My Heart Remembers

"I'm so glad we live in a world where there are Octobers."  

So says one of my literary dopplegangers, Anne, in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables.  And as the winds cool, the leaves gather in drifts of gold, and the last of the dandelion-wishes are breathed away, I couldn't agree more.  Easily, do I drift on the tide of memory that draws back the years, and I wander, wonderfully lost in time.

I've always held a special love for autumn, and it is likely my favorite season of all.  Perhaps spending my formative years in the beautiful oak and maple forests of Illinois has influenced me unfairly, or maybe it is because I possess such an obsession for giant sweaters to burrow into, or it might even be my childhood love of hot chocolate, apple cider, and tea.  But whatever the reason, the beginning of Autumn has long cast a special spell over my heart, and perhaps over my soul as well.

Arrow of farwell-geese on a fall evening, crying in chorus
Dad's old warm sweaters, sleeves far hanging over little fingertips
Delicious smell of oak leaves burning in crisp Autumn air

For as each season ends in its turn and another begins, my memories crowd, my heart swells, and I remember all the little reasons why I love (insert season here).  These are my forget-me-nots, the good things, the treasured snapshots, the familiar voices, the magic of home smells, and the bottles of laughter carefully stored to bless the keeper.

Kaleidescope of shifting sunlight and red maple leaves, a cathedral window of color
Crunch of the oak blanket underfoot, and flying into piles of acorn and crackling and giggles
Sharp taste of pumpkin and cinammon spice in a warm kitchen
Rosy cheeked children with straw in their hair, and red faced apples in an orchard basket

I've often struggled and wrestled with living too much in the past.  Sometimes I allow my gaze to stay too far behind me, missing the here of the moment.  But a memory, as it was intended, creates in us, a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude.  Jean Baptiste Massieu writes, "Gratitude is the memory of the heart."  These little gifts that form some of our best memories, should be recalled with thanks.  Ann Voskamp writes, "Remembering is an act of thanksgiving, a way of thanksgiving, this turn of the heart over time's shoulder to see all the long way His arms have carried."

Drip of honey and stickiness of melted caramel
Playing at Robing Hood, and picking cattails at Wagner's Pond
Blazing stars, treading the dance of the upper skies, sharp and clear on cold Autumn nights

But what, you ask, about the other half of this great memory sea chest?  What about the things that seem best to be forgotten, the nasty things, painful things, the wounds, the scars, the fear, the emptiness, and the jars and jars of mournful tears?  What of the moments in life when great was the darkness, and all in the world seemed thoroughly and completely busted?  These are the difficult things, the hard things, the ones we can't bear to be thankful for.

And yet, if we trust in in the one who leads us on.  If we believe what the Word says, and that God, who did not even withhold His own son from us, will not cease to give us what we need.  The beauty of the fair times, when we dance with El Roi, the God who sees and loves us, is grace.  And the pain of the shadow lands, where we wander clinging to the promise He gave, to never leave us alone; this too is grace.  Christ before He went to death and unspeakable pain on the cross, broke bread and gave thanks (Luke 22: 7-23).  He told them to do so in "remembrance of me."  Remembrance and thankfulness.

We become like Moses, questing to seek after the face of the Holy One.  "In the dark, the bridge and my world shakes, cracking dreams.  But maybe this is true reality:  it is in the dark that God is passing by.  The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite:  God is passing by.  God is in the tremors.  Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by.  In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging his perfect and right will...and then we look back and see His back...God reveals himself in rearview mirrors" (Voskamp 2010).

With open palms, we accept the gift of days, of moments dark and light, and we may tell how both were grace.  With thanks we eat of our daily bread, remembering the aching joy of the good times and the scars that became tools in the hands of the Master, who loves us fiercely and tenderly.  We remember with gratitude, and it is in that recounting that we are blessed anew; the liquid gold of a rising Autumn sun is oil upon the head.  And after we have traveled some distance, though the way was dark and pouring bitter rain, behold, we glance over our shoulder and we see His back, the glory of God passing by.

Harvest moon rising over a corn field
Tire swing hanging from the old oak tree
Bike races through the forest, noble knights on mighty chargers
Scrambling over fences, climbing maples, and racing the sun with a child-strong heart, running and laughing with friends until dinnertime

What beautiful memories do you treasure and give thanks for?  If it is shadow and flame that you are passing through, do you trust that He is near, that His glory is passing by.        

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Child of Mud

I crouch in the mud and mire of the horse stall.  Eyes are red-swollen with pain, but my soul bears a burden greater still, the swelling and the overflow of sadness near to bursting.

I take shelter from the rain and listen to the drip drip drip of the cloud-fall on a barn roof.  My heart clings to the delicate and familiar sound of the crystal drops splashing against the sheet metal, and I fight to keep the  sobs from heaving up once more, deep and heavy.

 Heaven cries the rain-tears, and one by one they fall from a gray sky. I cry the sad-tears, the angry-tears, and the tears that spring up from the soul itself, that soul so filled to the brim with frustration and confusion too long shut inside.

Heaven rains, and I rain.  The downpour pools on the life-thirsty ground, as horses churn up muck and mire with flying hooves.  Mud mud everywhere.  I am surrounded by it from without and within.  I dwell in a world of mud.   As I sit on the rail of the stall, I feel a familiar damning voice, and I feel too weak, too drained of all life to resist.

"You are at home, oh child of mud.  From it you were formed, and to if you have returned.  You have fallen, failed.  How dare you call yourself a child anything less than the mud."  I picture myself slogging through the boot-sucking mire, slopping through the wet.  It feels fitting somehow.  For to a wounded heart so aching and so raw-wracked with pain, it is easy to see no further than where I sit, heart and chest heaving in the horse stall.

Wordlessly, I cry out.  I pray.  I dare to prostrate myself before the Holy One, filthy and empty as I am.  On my soul I have allowed the shadow, the void, the absence of light that poisons and eats away at all good things.

 I cry for my Father, my Savior, Jehovah Rapha.  The one who takes my dirt smudged face and my bleeding heart in two nail-scarred hands.  The eyes of the one whose love is perfect and whose suffering was the greatest holds me gently and simply says, "I know.  Sorrow too, have I known.  And I am with you."

I fight to overcome my confusion, my frustration, my sorrow.  The days of darkness and the dead hours of the night when all seems terrifyingly quiet--and cold.  I wage war against my own understanding, my sin and the sin of others.  The weight of a fallen world that threatens to crush me with it's heaviness.  I do battle against the numbness, the days within which one can simply endure.

As another author writes, "I endlessly wage war with Satan in this ferocious thrash for joy.  He sneers at all the things that seem to have gone hideously mad in this sin-drunk world, and I gasp to say God is good.  The liar defiantly scrawls his graffiti across God's glory, and I heave to enjoy God...and Satan struggles, and I whiten knuckles to grasp real Truth and fix that beast to the floor" (Voskamp, 2010).

Slowly, a paint horse joins me in the stall, faithful feet plodding carefully through the rain-muck to stand beside me.  He sniffs my hair with lowered head, and I feel the warm sweet horse-breath bathe my neck.  Gratitude, I remind myself.  Thankfulness is a gaze that pierces the darkness of the moment; it is eyes that see the Truth, and in return they are filled with light, as Matthew 6:22-23 describes.

It's often in the gaze, the looking, the earnestly reaching for something, anything other than a fistful of mud and a heart filled with an insatiable emptiness.

"I awaken to the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places, and hasn't it always been?" (Voskamp, 2010).  When we follow our Lord, we are tempered by the cross of suffering.  But we have one who has felt it all, and who whispers love into our hearts.  This is the God-Man, the one whose authority calls us not by our accused name, we children of mud.  But instead calls us his own children.  Children of light.  Children of love.  Children of Grace.

"Mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty" (Voskamp, 2010).  As a physician often cuts and pares away in order than he might bring healing to a body, so too is grief a tool in the hands of a God, who desires to make our hearts whole and who wants us to know Him.  He is close to the brokenhearted.  He binds up their wounds.  And behold, all things are being made new.    

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Towards Love and Good Deeds

It was a pleasantly warm evening in the mountains.  The golden sunlight was just beginning to dip behind the blue-green peaks, and I was astride Rose, my acrobat friend's Belgian horse, who weighs almost one ton.  I felt like a medieval princess, riding a knight's mighty charger.  To put it more succinctly--all was right with the world.
I let my hands fall from the handles of the surcingle in front of me and stretched them out to the side as if I were flying, and believe me, there are times when I ride that I almost believe I could.
"That looks really great," my friend said to me with a smile.  Now...stand up."
I can only imagine what you must be thinking, because some of those very thoughts were most likely racing across my mind. Stand up?  Are you off your rocker?!  I'm on a moving horse the size of a tank!  
Allow me, then, to back track a little.  My friend is a fantastic vaulter, having competed all over the world in the sport of dance and gymnastics on horseback.  I, as a lover of all things four footed and rhyming with "of course," practically jumped at the chance to try my hand, and foot, at vaulting.
With a few hops, and a 1-2-3, my friend helped vault me onto the horse's back, where I went through a series of movements.  I tried the candle, the prince, the lay, and many others, all the while wanting to burst with the sheer enjoyment of trying something new.  Yet with all these, I felt that my background both in dance and in horsemanship had granted me at least a fairly decent foundation for most of these moves, a fighting chance at the very least.  We even did work at the trot, which was thrilling all the more.  

The real moment of truth occurred when my friend gave me a knowing smile, and spoke those three words.  "Now, stand up."  
My friend's teaching style is perhaps one of the best that I  have ever encountered.  Throughout my every fumbled attempt at vaulting, she corrected gently, taught patiently, and above all displayed a confidence in my ability that bolstered my strength and filled me with a bold and fearless courage.  Not leaving me any room to protest or to uneasily wonder IF I could do it, she spoke with utmost calm and simply cheered me on.  
"Now an aerabesque," she said, and as I pointed my toe and lifted my leg slowly, I glanced worriedly to my side only to find her frank, direct, and completely unassuming gaze regarding me with a smile.  In that moment, both with and without words, she spoke encouragement directly into my heart, a thing not easy to do for someone else.  "That's it, relax.  You're doing fine, in fact, you're doing fantastic.  You CAN do this, and boy just wait to see what I've got for you next!  Don't look down, look forward!"    
With a pounding heart, I slowly stood, throwing out my arms to embrace the sky and the sun kissed mountains, to jump into the wild wind I was now dancing on, and to offer praise to the Maker of it all, who winked at me, and laughed along with my leaping heart.  Everything in me screamed to tense up, but I forced my trembling knees to relax, and boy was my friend right.  What a ride!  
I looked down at my friend, grinning not only from ear to ear, but around my entire head, I sure.  She simply grinned back with a look that said, "Of course you did it.  I already knew you could."  
I considered Hebrews the next day or so, and wondered about the phrase "spurring one another on towards love and good deeds."  I have no doubt that the reason I "conquered" vaulting with such excitement and courage, was because someone on the ground believed in me.  The woman walking next to me let strength and encouragement flow into me at such a rate that fear was driven out, there was no room for it to reside in me anymore.  And I often wonder if we do that with one another in our daily lives.  
Often the response of people lies on two spectrums.  These are the I-know-you're-happy-now-but-just-you-wait-people, who crush your joy with a constant "reality check," and the oh-just-count-it-all-joy- people, who make you feel guilty for admitting fear, struggle, or intense pain.  But if more of the time, I encouraged people the way my friend bolstered me, how different would the world be?  
If, when learning of a marriage or birth announcements, we rejoiced and encouraged and strengthened, instead of taking the opportunity to constantly remark on the terrible hardships ahead?  What if, when someone was suffering, we wept with them, prayed over them, and offered love and genuine encouragement? 
 I'm not saying that the road ahead is always easy, for it is not.  Some days you will want to fly away for the joy of riding the moment, and at others you may lie in dirt, wondering why life keeps bucking you off and bruising you terribly.  But let us not give up spurring one another on towards love and good deeds. Perhaps, with the support and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we may see less failed marriages, more broken hearts being comforted, and runners of the race who are able to keep on, aided by the people running right beside them.  If the power of life and death lie in the tongue, as Proverbs says, then let us give love and life to one another, lifting each other up.  We were not were not made to go it alone.  
To Rosie and my friend:  Thank you for those wings; I sure loved flying!
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Storm Rider

The Psalms have long been some of my favorite pieces of Scripture to meditate on.  The poetic verse, the prayers of long-suffering hearts, and the joy of the undismayed, call to my heart's depth as deep reaches out to deep.  Yet the other day I struck a chapter that I had evidently missed, or had since forgotten.  And considering the monstrosity and wrath of the hailstorm that recently swept through the Mountains, I was drawn, body and soul, into the Psalmist's description.
"The waters saw you and writhed; The very depths were convulsed.  The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; Your arrows flashed back and forth.  Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, Your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.  Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen." (Psalm 77:16-19)
More often than not, my earthly eyes miss the glory and raw power of the I AM in day to day life.  As a familiar hymn states, "Oh tell of God's might; Oh sing of His grace.  Whose robe is the light; Whose canopy, space.  His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form.  And dark is God's path on the wings of the storm."  I AM is is the creator and sustainer of all things, both in heaven above and the earth below.  He rides the four winds, wild and ancient creatures which cannot be mastered save by His hand alone.  He sends the rolling thunder and the mounting storm-clouds, colored purple for the majesty and authority of their maker, pulsing with shafts and branches of molten white, which light up the world.
As God challenged Job, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?...Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn it's place?"(Job 38:4,12).  And yet, in spite of it all, this is not the only face of the Father we see.  
Previously in Psalm 77, the speaker makes an urgent plea, laying it before the throne of his Lord.  
"I remembered my songs in the night.  My heart mused and my spirit inquired: Will the Lord reject forever?...Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has He in anger withheld compassion?  Then I thought, to this I will appeal:  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider your mighty deeds.  Your ways, O God, are holy.  What god is so great as our God?  You are the God who performs miracles." (Psalm 77:6-13)
I wonder if the Psalmist was considering not only the mighty justice of God, but His mercies, which are new every morning.  I think of Hagar, wandering the wilderness, alone and afraid.  Yet when the Lord showed tender compassion to her, she called Him El Roi, the God who sees me.  The Lord is not simply Master and Rider of the storm, for even in His greatness, He knelt to comfort broken ones.  He lifted up the dust and dirt of the earth, and called men friends.  Another verse describes God as a "hiding place," a refuge.  Because the heart of the Mightiest had been torn to reconcile his children to Himself, and because Christ offered healing balm to hearts and souls with palms that bled, we know that He is also a God of aching love, and passionate tenderness. 
As disciples of the King, we may be confident in this.  "Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and mountains fall into the heart of the sea" (Psalm 46:2).  If the storms of this life have cruelly shattered you, beaten and broken you upon the rocks, take heart in this at least:  that I AM is near, and that the merest breath of his mouth could cause the very roots of the world to shudder.  He has chosen to stand behind you, to guard your hindside.  He walks beside you, to bear you and encourage you.  He goes before you, as a shield and light with which to vanquish any evil you might face and set your path.
This we may know, our God is good, and though amidst the driving rain, the stinging hail, and the cracks of thunder, it may be difficult to see it, know that you walk with the Storm Rider.  And when the rain-veil fades, you will breathe the pure, wholesome, and the lulling sweetness in the air.  As the sun always rises to send the darkness fleeing, so shall the quiet and the green scented spell of earth be the place where God offers refuge and protection in His mighty yet gentle arms.
Do you walk with the Storm Rider in your suffering?  Do you know both the infinity of His power and the depth of His peace?                    

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Holy Endeavor

Anyone who has spent much time around me knows how much I value words.  From a chatter-box child would could not cease her verbage to a moody introspective teenager who once spent four hours day-dreaming, I have long possessed a fierce love for stories and for the beauty of the written word.  You can imagine, then, what a kindred spirit I found in John Keating, a school professor from the movie The Dead Poets Society.
But perhaps this post should be subtitled, "How to Irritate Your College Professor."  For the shock wave that then rocked my world, once I entered my college education, was that of the "cliche." My highly descriptive voice was attacked by red slashes on the paper and amused glances.    
"Too much here.  Too much there.  Cut, simplify, show don't tell.  Not enough profanity, not enough dark and deep adult content."
And while I am free and willing to admit that my overly verbose style can always be improved and tweaked, I was told that my love of old things, of good and beautiful things was wrong.   My desire to weave a rich tapestry of words was obsolete, boring, and far long out of date.  I was written off as one large and glaring cliche with no hopes of reaching a modern world with my writing.  
In Tolkien's essay concerning fairy stories, he explored and defended the nature of the fantastical story, claiming that the best of such tales do not obscure and or hide reality, but instead mirror it.  As G.K. Chesterson once mused, fairytales are important not because they tell us that dragons are real, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.  
  Jesus also, often used parables or stories to bring difficult and deep truths to His children.  By putting His message into the words of a recognizable story, the Kingdom of God was first laid at the World's feet.  To me, then, a pursuit of the lovely amidst a world that constantly attempts to drown out the strikingly beautiful voice of truth with harsh lies of reality, is not simply a hobby or a vain tenacity.  Instead, I choose to see it as a passion, a holy endeavor.  I create only because I was created, my ability only mirroring and imitating the author of true creativity and awesome perfection.
We need fantasy, and we need lovely language.  The King himself did not only create the world to be functional, but it is breathtaking in its seemingly infinite complexity and awe-inspiring glory.  True, the world is fallen.  There is great evil that constantly seeks to enslave the land with a hand of darkness.  But fairytales and fantasy are one of the tools we may use to bring the hope and healing of Christ's light to a broken and battered world.  For the truth of the matter is, we are in the midst of a real story, a battle with a dragon who seeks to devour us.  Society may inundate us with news media, pessimism, scientific truth, "reality checks," and pain pain pain.  But take heart, our Lord is good, He is the Beautiful One, and the greatest story written is no mere story after all.  He lives, and He is on move.
        "Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some
measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality 
of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it...The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?”... But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter." (J.R.R Tolkein)
In closing, here are the first few lines of a poem I composed for my dear sister-in-love on her 18th birthday.  It may be "wordy," but if you don't mind wading through "cliches" left and right, then perhaps you might get a glimpse of this beautiful place, which I long to show the World, so that it might, by God's grace, incline hearts to greater and perhaps holy things.  And there, perhaps, they shall meet the Savior.    
The Lay of Eanna
Long ago in [i]Days of Yore, when the world was young and green.
The glimmr’d stars,
In fiery gowns,
Winked silver, bright and clean
Where mountains standing resolute, Regal amethyst strong.
Capped with white,
And stern proud eyes,
Guarded the valleys long.

In [ii]Rùaðhàn there lived a lass, lovely of heart and face.
Her dun-gold hair,
Her smile so fair,
A melody of matchless grace.
And what a gift this maid possessed, a love of song, in part,
And a beautiful voice,
So charmed and choice,
T’would feign to break your heart.
On High Country paths, she wandered far, through fields in flower of June.
Soft roses sweet,
Blue violets meek,
Beneath a milk-glow moon.
A friend she was, to beasts and men.  The birds they loved her best,
To her they’d sing,
Upon branch and wing,
Oh, the harmony of the West!

[i] Borrowed from the first lines of the Old English epic Beowulf, originally written as “in geardagum.”
[ii] Combination of Irish word Ruadhàn, pronounced “ROO-awn” meaning Rowan Tree, and the Old English letter thorn or ð, pronounced “th”.  A fictional place that can be pronounced either ROO-ahd-ahn or ROO-ah-thawn.