Several days ago Ben and I listened to a podcast which pointed to a fascinating concept that they called “unfallen suffering.” While acknowledging the reality of true suffering and evil in our world today, the speaker made the argument that there are certain aspects of our humanity in which suffering is actually creative and life-bringing: a return back to the selves we were intended to be before the Fall.Continue reading
Through the arched colonnade
Of brick and glass
The sky draped, a cotton sheet
Of Easter blue
Forgotten on some larger being’s
Shuddering in the silent breeze.
The light ran down the glass
In golden waterfalls
Pooled into a thick, caustic shadow
Beneath the greying elms
Hunched into their years
And whispering to their knees.
And where were you, reader,
When the first fingers of their minds
Crept up out of the wound of earth
And drank it in?Continue reading
In the past few months I’ve been experimenting with some new pieces that blur the lines a bit between prose and poetry. I’m calling them Meditations, and I want to offer them now as a companion for you this Lent.
This free ebook contains eight meditations centering around the accounts of Emmaus and the Transfiguration, two of my favorite pieces of Scripture. These two passages have similar, other-wordly qualities, and yet they different in several critical ways.
On one hand, we recognize that God is beyond us – that at his revelation, we will be flat-faced in awe, stunned into recognizing how meaningless our attempts at communication are in the face of glory. In the Transfiguration, we see Christ as we will one day see Him again in glory, in the coming of the Kingdom for which we long.
And yet, the Church has always maintained an emphasis that this very same God can be known and communicated with through the most ordinary, bodily details of life. It has insisted on sacrament. For those who have eyes to see, the very bread which we hold in our hands can be a moment of unveiling, a communication with Christ who has become the Bread of Life.
What these accounts both have in common is their telling of an unveiling. They reveal that there is a Reality that exists below the eye-level attention we generally give to the world. They point towards a coming day when we, too, will be transfigured – when we will become truly Real.
Whether these meditations walk you through the weeks of Lent, or any other season of your journey, my hope is that they can be a launching-off point, a beginning for your own thoughts and experience.
You can access the book and learn more here. Due to some Amazon regulations, it will only be available for free download for five days before they set it to .99 (for those without Kindle Unlimited) – but you can also access the pdf version here at any time. It would be a great delight to hear what you think when you are done! You can leave comments on Amazon or right here at the end of this post.
Candlemas is a church feast with a long history whose roots at a later point tangle with both Groundhog Day and the feast of St. Brigid. Officially it is called the Feast of the Presentation, commemorating Christ’s presentation in the temple with both Anna and Simeon as witness.
The guiding image of Candlemas, as Simeon so beautifully sings, is Light – Christ’s “light to lighten the nations.” My recent book contains two poems centered around Candlemas, and I though in honor of the feast today I would share the second one with you.
Flame-thrown light tells you
what to do with this,
a labyrinth of interiority.
It will guide you out of
the sharp edged shadows
the rotten boards hidden
under the rug of strangeness
the creeping vine of doubts.
You throw salt over the side
of a crumbling wall
and you allow your eyes to become two
clear bells in the dark.
And candlelight reaches up
towards the night
as instinct tells you to raise your eyes
as the evening dusks
as a wisp of sparrows curl like smoke
above the trees.
2020 was a wild ride, and it was a very interesting exercise to reflect back on all the books I read (and didn’t read) this year. I found myself much more drawn to poetry; to short reads with a lot of depth; and putting down any book that was just too stressful.
With our local library closed quite a few months of the year, my reading list was a bit shorter. But as I made a list of favorites, it was just as hard to choose as always. All of these books were a gift discovered at just the perfect moment, and truly carried me through this year.
Mother Maria: Essential Writings
The Divine Milieu, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Rose, by Li Young Lee
Evelyn Underhill – Worship, Concerning the Inner Life, The House of the Soul, and everything else
You Must Revise Your Life, by William Stafford
Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky
The Artist’s Rule, by Christine Valters Paintner
The Abundance, by Annie Dillard
Revelation of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich
Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!
The cry of the throne room of the Lord sums up the essential foundations of reality. Behind and beyond all the rising of empires, the crumbling of kingdoms, the turbulent sacrament of our time-bound world, stands the cry that never changes: holy, holy!
Caught up for a moment into a world beyond worlds, John hears these words resound with the timbre of eternity – assuring us all of the unchanging, untouchable, other-ness of God. He is the ocean floor on which our breakers rage; the atmosphere storms brew within and blow by.
And yet he stands as close as our very breath. For Isaiah too stood in this time beyond time, bearing witness to the great cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of his glory!
This is the great truth of the Unchangeable One, who stands beyond and remains near. Who stands as judge and life-bearer of the world; willing to receive our pain and yet impermeable in perfection.
O Lord, who was and is and is to come: in each human life you initiate a generous and creative interplay with the world you made. Every breath we draw is a whiff of glory rising in smoke about us. Now we see that no pain can thwart the culmination of your purpose but only sweeten its joy.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Like many of you, this year has been full of cancelled plans, shifting emotions, anxiety and grief. But as we look back on this year, we also want to celebrate all the moments of joy and grace that have been present right through the midst of it.
2020 was a hard year. But it was also…
- The year we explored our own neighborhood and discovered all sorts of hidden treasures
- The year we leveled up on our brunch making and homemade pizza baking and tried so many new recipes (we’re looking at you, eclairs!)
- The year we bought a radio and started planning parts of our weeks around programs on the classical station
- The year we reconnected with many friends around the world
- The year we saw people having new and fresh conversations around community justice and flourishing
- The year we walked and biked everywhere and turned every social event into a picnic
- The year we made new international friends by staying put
- The year we encountered Mother Maria of Paris
- The year we started buying more of our groceries at the farmer’s market
- The year Jenna had enough time to finish writing and publish a book, which she never thought she would do.
- The year Ben learned how to carry a two-week supply of groceries home by bicycle
- The year we picked up new craft hobbies, from calligraphy to textile design
- The year we leaned to pray the words of Mary: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me as you have said.”
We pray that as you look back on this past year, you too can discover new seeds that were planted in the deep furrows and rocky soil. May you find yourself accompanied by a God who is as close as our very breath, who gives us these very current and ordinary circumstances as our school of life and love.
“Of course it does no good to recognize this in a merely intellectual way. Knowing Christ loves us may not save us from fear, nor will it save us from death. And so it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.
“This sounds grandiose, but it really is very simple. It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of others. It means choosing generosity over greed. It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power. Finally it means being ready to die again and again – to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion and agenda.”Johann Christoph Arnold
He lies on a simple mat, surrounded by the grandeur of cedar and gold. It is a chamber of whispers, silences pregnant with the sacred breath of centuries. Even the chance echoes hush their tones in reverence.
In daytime, the temple is filled with crowds of people, priests, rabbis, singers, living and dying animals, ash and ember. Here, in the dark of night, nothing moves but the dancing flame of the Lamp of the Lord. He could not have known that one day this same Fire would descend in tongues upon his heart.
One echo, louder than the rest, coming from such distance that it carries mountains and ravines and the cool breath of waters.
In her brave surrender, body forms. Flesh and bone knit together, fearfully and wonderfully, the perfect Sum of all humanity. Within her womb the cosmos and the cell are One.
And she becomes the mother of the Church—for just so are we, strange mixtures of star and sinew, knit together across centuries into the Body of the living Christ.
We are joined by water and blood into his own birth, passing through death and into his own life. And now we each raise our lives, dripping and screaming from their baptism, and pronounce them pathways to glory.
Now we undergo this act of slow and hidden creation. Invisible threads are knotting corners of our hearts to the souls of long-gone years. It seems unthinkable that from these clusters of carbon and cell, growing in fits and starts and in seemingly opposite directions, will come a revelation of the Resurrection and the Life in full.
In this dimly-lit surrender, the Body of our Lord still forms.
Within the womb of centuries, the Cosmos and the cell are one.
Lately, I have begun reflecting on portions of scripture and the way they interweave with the whole. Centered around all of them is the essential question: What does it mean for humans to respond to the initiation of God?
Advent is the beginning of the Church calendar, and I think this tells us something beautiful about the Christian life. We begin not by going out to find God, but by preparing for God’s arrival. We begin by recognizing his coming; by seeking Him where he may be found.
This Advent, I’ll be sharing a short meditation each week exploring this idea. My hope is that these words become a doorway of sorts, that lead you into your own reflection. Think of them as “word icons,” if you like; a guide more than a teaching; a beginning more than an end.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.
Perhaps the wind of Gabriel carried a whiff of incense trailing behind it. Like the seraph in Isaiah’s vision, he comes to her carrying the offer of a Burning Coal: a Fire to place within her self, an offer to tabernacle the Holy of Holies.
Tug this thread, and you run all the way back through the first strands of humanity.
Will Abraham follow?
Will Jacob bow?
Will Moses stop to listen?
Here I am, Lord.
An open door. A whisper on the wind. A blaze of fire, offering itself to us.
This is the story of man and God, the call and response haunting the ancient memories of humankind. It is the yearning in the very heart of man to offer itself fully to that which it adores. It reveals the tragedy not of passion but of hardened hearts.
And it is Life, coaxing us into a love that looks like death. But like the three young men, once we give ourselves into the fire of self-offering, we find no hair of our head is truly harmed. For He is there to greet us, transfiguring what seemed like death into a fire of union and of light.
Here I am, Lord. Send me.
I am the handmaid of the Lord.
Let it be to me as you have said.