There was a time when anything felt possible.
When the world was enchanted, shot through with the presence and power of God.
When nothing was “just” bread, “just” water, “just” music.
Today, by contrast, we live much like the Apostle Thomas. Unless I can see it with my eyes, unless I can prove it with data or brain scans, unless I’ve come to this conclusion by studying chimpanzees, I won’t believe.
After all, it’s just words. Just bread. Just water.
But what if we’re wrong?
What if the two are not mutually exclusive? What if something as simple as water, or words, or even air is the doorway into the most real reality there is?
What if the physical world is the very place we were created to connect with God?
You see, our souls and brains have a body. It was never God’s intention to simply create a mind as much as to create a man. Yes, we must learn about God – we are called to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. But of we believe we can simply think our way to God, to holiness, then we have no idea what it means to be truly human.
Because we’ve been trained for several centuries now not to see the world as enchanted, trying to see it any other way can feel like putting on a pair of glasses you don’t really need – they may be cool, but they seriously distort reality and end up handicapping more than helping us.
But may I suggest that in reality, we are suffering from a severe case of near-sightedness? And because we can’t see all that we can’t see, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not really there?
It would take a long history lesson to go into the many ways the enlightenment period and the advance of technology has seriously shaped our society – including our Christianity. The sheer number of books and articles written to scientifically defend the faith is just one example of how much pressure we are under to produce facts and data in order to believe.
I’m not here to discount the importance of education, research, learning, or data. These things certainly have a good place and point us towards God. But I also can’t help but think of the many times God has defied the “laws” of nature in the past. How He confounds the wisdom of the wise and never, ever works like we would expect. How the literal definition of being God is being outside of “reality,” of our human definitions and limitations. God may have created data and science, but He also transcends it.
At the risk of getting in over my head, let me get to the point: For thousands of years, humans experienced the world as enchanted – that is, shot through with the spiritual world. (It’s also worth noting that I’m writing to a very Western audience here, as there are still plenty of places in the world where this is the case). We have lost something very precious by throwing this away with all of the superstitions and animism and idol worship that we (rightly) don’t endorse in the Church. We have flattened the world to our five senses and squinted so long in nearsightedness, we’re blind to all that we can no longer see.
But what if we could train ourselves to see the world with different eyes? What if we could step through the doorway and see everything in three dimensions again? That is exactly what we must habituate ourselves and our spirits to do. If you remember my blog on liturgies last year, this is also one of the reasons we have been drawn to liturgical and contemplative prayer.
A trembling membrane is all that separates us from the world beyond our sights. The problem is, we’ve been living another way so long, it isn’t easy to remember this. It takes intentional focus to “stop squinting” and see life with a new lens. But when we do, we live differently. We go through our days tangibly conscious of the loving presence of God – whether or not we “feel” it. A smell, a sound, a familiar touch – all of these become a way we not only appreciate the world, but commune with God.
This is why I started the Pilgrimage Poetry Project. I want to challenge myself to practice this way of seeing the world. I want to go through my day with an unbroken conversation with my God, and that means I need to show up and pay attention to the world and the people around me.
I want to notice my days, savor the gifts they bring, and learn from them. Mostly, I want to remain attentive to the whispers of the Spirit in my own heart. And maybe someday, I can be present with others in their questions and their search for wholeness, and I can help them listen to the whispers in their own heart as well.
But it starts with my own work, my own transformation.
It starts here. It starts today.
Am I paying attention?
I would like to make the case for beauty.
Here is my manifesto: Beauty inherently inspires us to live more beautifully. The truest things in the world are also the most beautiful. Beauty, truth, and goodness – these three are always inextricably linked together, or else each is incomplete.
The poet John O’Donohue speaks rightly that “an awful lot of urban planning, particularly in poor areas, has doubly impoverished the poor by the ugliness which surrounds them. And it’s understandable that it’s so difficult to reach and sustain gentleness there.” Unjust as it is, there is a reason nobody wants to live in certain areas of town. In fact, recent studies have shown that an increase in green space in cities statistically lowers crime. Continue reading
A conversation on the church, with Ben Myers’ book The Apostles Creed.
It is astonishing that for a movement that utterly changed the world, Christianity has such humble origins. As Myers writes:
Jesus wrote no books…He was the author not of ideas but of a way of life. Everything Jesus believed to be important was entrusted to his small circle of followers. What he handed on to them was simply life. He showed them his own unique way of being alive – his unique way of living, loving, feasting, forgiving, teaching, and dying – and he invited them to live the same way.
The more I get a taste of the global church, the greater the mystery it is to me. How can it be that when I’m in a remote village of Tanzania, or a small town in Sweden, I can feel so at home in a church so outside of my culture and context? How is it that we embrace or shake hands with each other in genuine love as brothers and sisters in the Gospel? The faithful existence of the global church, in all its unity and disunity, is a miracle. Continue reading
I have left my heart in so many places.
The grief of leaving behind a place you love, even for good reasons, is a complicated grief. In the midst of new beginnings there is the quiet reminder of loss. It can seem as if all the love, time, and effort you invested in a certain place and time, in a certain vision of your future, has become only a story you will tell, like a dream you’re afraid of forgetting. Besides the story, what really remains? Continue reading
Note: I wrote this letter to myself in much earlier days of this blog, but never published it. I just came across it again today and felt it was time to share it with the world. Although it emerged in the midst of much personal wrestling and prayer, I hope it strikes a chord of resonance with you as well.
Dear you –
The one who is tired,
the one who sits there staring out the bus window,
wondering if she’s the one who has it all wrong.
The one who recognizes in herself the same criticism
the same jumping to conclusions
the same line-in-the-sand mentality
that frustrates her in others
and wonders how we ever heal from it all. Continue reading
As the evenings get darker and the calendar flips to December, I’ve been thinking about the past year and all it has held for us. What words do I want to end the year with? What words do I want to hold on to into the new year?
This has been a year of many new beginnings and some endings, many moments of joy and some of grief, and in the midst of all of it, grace. Sometimes grace found me like a splash of cold water across the face, but sometimes in was the small shadow creeping up from behind, surprising me softly. Mostly I have found it in the quiet, glad moments that are hard to describe in any other way than a deep welling up of gratefulness.
What has been most surprising about this year is the way it has been exactly and yet nothing at all like I expected. I saw this as a year of growth and it has certainly been so. Yet the word I chose for this year was “beauty,” and this beauty has turned out to mostly come from places I wasn’t even looking for it. Continue reading
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wished to be part of a culture rich with tradition and weekly rituals like the Sabbath prayers or traditional dances. I was hungry for a way of living that felt more embodied and yet transcendent.
More than this, I craved holy words. When I looked out across the Alps, listened to a hurting friend, or walked in my neighborhood in the glory of a spring day, I longed for a prayer to rise to my lips that fit a moment like this.
I was looking for a liturgy. Continue reading
Lord, we confess to you that in this season of abundance, we are still often slaves to our mentality of scarcity.
We thank you for the generosity of our Native brothers and sisters so many years ago, and continuing to this day. We confess that we and our fathers did not faithfully reciprocate this generosity, but have rather subjected this land and many different peoples to violence for our own gain. We have sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind of hatred, division, and bloodshed.
We confess that we still often lack this generous spirit to the poor, the immigrant, and the minority. Our mentality of scarcity has tricked us into a false dichotomy that believes enough for me must mean less for you.
We ask that you touch our hearts anew with the story of Christ, who became poor that all might become rich, who became marginalized that all might be included, and who became an immigrant that all might find their true home.
Teach us to live in the abundance of your kingdom, that in humility we may find more than enough in you.
In autumn, death comes like a cinder paintbrush, lighting up the trees in flames of red, orange, and gold.
It’s as if the whole world has come together to celebrate the summer that was and the winter that will be. I think, when I’m honest, this is a challenge to me. How often do I find it easy to celebrate the summers in my life, and struggle to celebrate the seasons that feel more like death?
Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to commit to celebration in our lives, as a spiritual discipline that’s more than simply giving thanks. What would it look like to celebrate the stuff that’s keeping me up at night? What would it mean to throw a party not for the new job, the new house, or a new year, but for the things I’m not sure I want to claim, the things I’m afraid of or don’t understand?
“Suffering brings us to the end of ourselves–our strength, our resources, our comfort, our understanding and wisdom, our plans and control–but as it does so, it can drive us to the One whose very being is endless. We often despise our limitations because we want to be strong and self-sufficient, but our weaknesses fit perfectly into God’s gracious salvation plan. For it is only when we are bowed low before God in humility that we are exactly where he wants us to be, and, surprisingly, where we most need to be–powerless to help ourselves and totally dependent upon him.” -Sarah Walton
Paul said it like this:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I’m not sure I’ve learned yet what it means to rejoice in suffering, but I think it looks a lot like autumn. The leaves that blaze in piles of glory may die, but they know the true secret: that what seems like death is simply a preparing for spring.
Celebration in the midst of suffering is the truest way I know to speak of the truest thing I know: that redemption is coming, that in some mysterious way every death can be the preparing for a new kind of life. A hope that does not disappoint, like every tree aflame with a fire that does not consume.