Since my last poem, “October Fire,” I encountered “The Bright Field” by R. S. Thomas, a Welsh poet and Anglican priest of the last century. It’s theme of illumination is so allied to mine (though its poetic genius far eclipses mine) that I’d like to share it with you, that it might enflame and brighten your heart with hope. We are living in times that make us distrust the very leaders and experts that vie for our trust, and suspect the motives of those who claim to speak for the general welfare, for the sick, the poor and the oppressed. Our hopes have been misplaced if they have been placed on men and women. In the days leading up to our national election, let us pray that many will turn to the only true source of hope, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reach out again to their neighbor on every street and every corner with grace and love.
The newly sprung Black-Eyed Susans, the weighty towers of St. Paul’s,
Touch the sky equally, centuried grandiose the one, the other idly,
Like the newborn in her pram reaching talcumed arms to a light blue
Or the redoubtable keen-eyed woman, confined within, searching clouds,
Hope-stretched each, bodies strung diversely, each her own,
Stalwart with suffering and age, supple green in yearning:
My God, not to touch the sky, but that You would touch our faces
And by that material touch, transfigure space and time to glory, joy unspeakable.
2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Father of the trumpeting air and the setting sun
the purple skies and rainbow grasses
flapping ears and ardent eyes
grasshoppers dancing with the breezes
thunder of my feet
singing of the stars
beating of my heart,
I thank You whose hands have made
whose breath gives life
God of the aurora glorious
invisible Light of lights towering, blazing
across glacial mountains and hearts
over blue ice, silver melts,
resounding majesty of fiery life
bursting, joyous song of sky and sea
in solitary havens of the northern vasts,
I thank You whose hands have made
whose breath gives life
Ah, God of the waters, You who laughs
into the inky darkness of the sea
across floors of the cavernous deep
to arms that embrace liquid melodies
as anemones sway and the fishes race
currents that play as tentacles trace
buried landscapes, coral castles
rising to unbroken nights
where moonlight shimmers across my eyes,
I thank You whose hands have made
whose breath gives life
Master of the universal grains of sand,
where wrinkled feet that plod in burning heat
find cactus bread and succulent juice
treasures raining immeasurable
mottled lee of rock and flowers that fade then rise
like fallen sun and distant moon
reappearing wondrous from spacious shell,
I thank You whose hands have made
whose breath gives life
Great Lord and King, hidden Wanderer
painting forests of pale brook-riven beech
shades that ripple in gray-patched play
on bark and grass, lantern-lit, daylight falling
through canopied sky of quick-silver leaves
whisper, break and bend the golden light
to clothe supple burnt-orange strides
of an elemental frame,
I thank You whose hands have made
whose breath gives life
Psalm 98: 4-6 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!
Genesis 2: 4-7 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground– then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Originally posted April 22, 2016 on JollyBeggar.com Images from Google for Earth Day, 4/22/2016
Some of the happiest moments in my life have been spent in church. Some of the dullest too, thanks to a sluggish spiritual frame. But nothing can withstand the sheer love of God shed abroad in our heart by His Spirit.
Those moments are intensely personal and intensely communal: my union with Christ paralleling my union with His church.
How can I explain, but by likening them to the sweet psalmist’s when he exclaimed to the Lord: “you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23: 5-6).
Since March, millions of us around the world have been restricted from going to church because of COVID-19, either because of regional restrictions or because our health and/or our age puts us in a high-risk category.
The scene opens on the ancient grounds of Camp Pragmatics where newly arrived recruits stand uniformed and ready before Drill Sargeant Joe Lamech Skull, now in the middle of Company 666‘s morning drill.
There are so many cliches about love, the word, perhaps, has lost its power, but not the notion, not the need, not the knowledge that love’s very presence makes life worth living. In one of his most famous poems (“In My Craft or Sullen Art”), Welsh poet Dylan Thomas speaks of lovers with “their arms round the griefs of the ages” which is curious, as if in embracing one another, they embrace grief, and not just each other’s but those universal.
Ack! What kind of love is this? you might ask.
Anyone who’s been married longer than a decade (or three, in my case) knows that this expresses the height of love. The willingness to bear another’s griefs rather than turn and walk away is love’s absolute zenith, its most precious characteristic. You don’t run away from the pain of those you truly love. Instead, you embrace it with them, faithfully, day after day after day.
And because no one’s life is without its griefs, we often say that we shouldn’t judge a person until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Sorrow and pain are universals. Beyond any happiness, we can readily sympathize with suffering. Each of us carries our pain within us. There are voiceless cries and unshed tears behind every smile we see. And apprehending the universality of our hidden hurts binds us more completely to one another than anything that divides us.
Emily Dickinson realizes this in her poem “I measure every Grief I meet” and while reading it, it struck me that our Lord Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves begins with this understanding, to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).”May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other,” St. Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians.
Christ Himself, of course, set the example. He was, as the prophet Isaiah described him, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53: 3, 4). “Blessed be the Lord,” the psalmist writes, “who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation” (Ps. 68:19, NASB). Because he does, He is where our hearts find their rest.
It’s not easy to help shoulder someone’s grief, not simply in the context of marriage and family, but also those of our friends and neighbors, even our enemies. Yet God commands us to love (Matt. 5:44), even as He loves us, and the way is the way of the Cross, our own and each other’s.
Emily Dickinson, “I measure every Grief I meet” (1830-1886)
I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes —
I wonder if It weighs like Mine —
Or has an Easier size.
I wonder if They bore it long —
Or did it just begin —
I could not tell the Date of Mine —
It feels so old a pain —
I wonder if it hurts to live —
And if They have to try —
And whether — could They choose between —
It would not be — to die —
I note that Some — gone patient long —
At length, renew their smile —
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil —
I wonder if when Years have piled —
Some Thousands — on the Harm —
That hurt them early — such a lapse
Could give them any Balm —
Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve —
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love —
The Grieved — are many — I am told —
There is the various Cause —
Death — is but one — and comes but once —
And only nails the eyes —
There’s Grief of Want — and Grief of Cold —
A sort they call “Despair” —
There’s Banishment from native Eyes —
In sight of Native Air —
And though I may not guess the kind —
Correctly — yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary —
To note the fashions — of the Cross —
And how they’re mostly worn —
Still fascinated to presume
That Some — are like My Own —
Isaiah 53: 2-5
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 (NIV)
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
I’ve been reading David R. Helm’s Commentary¹ on Jude while finishing up Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy. She’s a gifted writer is Mantel. Her incisive yet poetic imagination will send chills up your spine. And Helm unfolds his commentary with a literary feel that many theologians sadly lack.
Everyone knows that both Dante and Petrarch were haunted by their visions of ideal love, Dante had his Beatrice, and Petrarch his Laura. And as political exiles, each poet knew the terror of death. Writing was a way of easing the pain of both.
But did you know that these two titans of the Renaissance might have met in a quirk of circumstance?
Mark 14: 66-72
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.
“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.
But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.
When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.
After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”
He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
I had the unexpected experience of receiving two sermons this past Lord’s Day, one at my home church and one in another. From the pulpit of my home church, the sermon on Psalm 145 was deeply rooted in the gospel, biblically & doctrinally sound, encouraging believers to persevere in faith secure in the love of God, looking always to “Christ Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
At the second church, the real sermon was not from the pulpit. Somehow, the reading from Jeremiah had managed to become a springboard for a political screed. Then maudlin lyrics in support of the political issue were sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace”!
See my sisters’ blood and my brothers’
in my church in Egypt, in Sri Lanka, India,
and Pakistan, in South Sudan, in Nashville,
and Indonesia, China, Iraq and Louisiana,
Nigeria, North Korea, Iran, Syria
Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea.
Children dead for their faith
in One who died upon the cross
and rose on Easter morn.
In my lifetime of walking with the Lord, I have met many weak Christians and a few mature ones. The latter always catch me off guard, so humble are they that it’s sometimes easy to miss them. I would like to think of myself among the latter but I have to live with myself and know better. So I keep praying for wisdom.
In general weak Christians fall somewhere between two extremes: those who carry their doctrine into the world in order to preach it or those who leave their doctrine at home in order to conceal it. The first group tend to be legalists and the second group antinomians.
The legalists take their doctrine and shove it in people’s faces, much like the Pharisees. So the biology professor who is a legalist will continually enter into disputations about creationism versus evolution, and make sure that everyone knows how doctrinally pure he is. He professes his doctrine but notably fails to live it. He keeps to the letter of the law and doesn’t live up to its spirit.
The antinomians take their doctrine and keep it closeted in the private sphere, so that their dealings in the world are indistinguishable from those of non-Christians. They compartmentalize their lives to such an extent that they freely transgress and justify their worldly-mindedness by claiming freedom from the law.
What both categories of weak Christians share is a distrust of God and a high degree of trust in themselves. The legalists are performance-based, trusting in their own works not God’s work on the cross and through the Spirit in them. The antinomians rely on their own partaking of the grace of God through the cross to complacently forego their reverence of His law in every aspect of their lives.
Neither one places her full confidence in God. And by so doing they fail to trust in Him at all. The Gospel is a tool or a plaything, to be used at will, not a way of life. One eye is on Christ Jesus, the other on circumstances.
A mature Christian is not so double-minded. She has relaxed her claim to herself, and committed herself wholly as a “living sacrifice” to her God and Savior. There is no holding back of anything. And she brings nothing but herself to the Cross to which she clings. And in her life “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
The world tells us that our identity is always in flux and applauds those celebrities that “reinvent” themselves to achieve greater success. Someone who is “evolving” into whatever is touted to be accepted modes of thought and behavior can expect to be embraced by her peers in the workplace and rewarded by society.
But is this relativized approach to identity of ultimate benefit? Even humanists can see the pitfalls involved for the individual. As Jung put it, “The world asks you every day who you are, and if you don’t know, it will tell you who you are.” One of the most famous maxims the ancient Greeks gave us is “Know thyself.” Continue reading “Whom Do You Serve?”
Take a moment to enjoy a little Blender-created movie for the young and young at heart on this merry Christmas Eve as I wish all my beloved readers a blessed season of hope and renewal and joy.
If you happen to have a little one around who likes dragons, here’s a little Christmas present they might enjoy. “Happy Bubbles,” a fantasy (very) short movie. Hope you enjoy it. …
Source: “Happy Bubbles”
If you live in the world long enough, you will go through hard and painful times when, as the Psalmist writes, darkness seems your closest friend. The atheist and the Christian alike cry out, “Why?” Yet even when you know the answer is the fallen world in which we live, there is no satisfaction but what we most desire: help, release, escape from our anguish and circumstance, those things easily cried out for but often bitterly delayed.
As with Job, there seems no shortage of counsel to be got from trusted sources. “Offer your sufferings to God,” says one. But what does that mean? “Our hope lies in heaven, think on that,” says another. But does God then deny us help on this side of heaven? “The real miracle today is faith; the miracles of the New Testament have ceased and were for the early church.” But is that scriptural? Then the counsel most often given: “Pray and believe in the promises of the Bible.” But which ones, whose interpretation, and to what extent?
It’s the last piece of wisdom that troubles the most. If you are one of those least prone to truncate scriptural promises by rationalization, prepared to be as a child looking to the father, this one should give unmitigated hope:
The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. — James 5:15-16 (CSB)
But prayer, when uttered in the darkness, feels hopeless after many a cry and many a month or year has gone by:
I am like a man without strength,
abandoned among the dead.
I am like the slain lying in the grave,
whom you no longer remember,
and who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths.
… But I call to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer meets you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?
— Psalms 88:4-6, 13-14 (CSB)
Faith, even as it’s being tested, seems too feeble to do the job. The very struggle seems designed to undermine what little there is so that, like the man who came to Jesus pleading for his son’s deliverance, we are even inclined to doubt out Lord’s willingness or even power. We judge His resources, His compassion, by ours which lag behind to an infinite degree.
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”
Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief! ”
— Mark 9:22-24 (CSB)
So where does that leave us? Not with the unwise words of comforters who say “yes & no” to the imperishable faith in God’s very present help. Not with words at all. After all, the last words of that most bleak psalm are, “Darkness is my only friend” (88:18). Yet the sense of hopelessness, even in the psalmist, is deceiving. There is hope. A glorious one.
The man who cried, “Help my unbelief!” was helped because he was looking straight into the face of Jesus. So too must we look not at ourselves or at the unwise words of our counselors who muddy up the waters of scripture according to their own doubts and fears, but to One who is the Light in our darkness.
As God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes and no.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you … did not become “Yes and no.” On the contrary, in him it is always “Yes.” For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in him. Therefore, through him we also say “Amen” to the glory of God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:18-20 (CSB)
Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
— James 1:12 (CSB)
Here’s a retelling of the story of Job imagined in today’s context that will make your hair stand on end. For one thing, it’s not the way you would expect Job’s trials to go when instead of Job losing all he’s got, he gets all he wants. A tale retold, it may be, but make no mistake, it’s all strangely familiar. But not in the ways you may be expecting.
JOB: A FAIRY TALE OF GOD, SATAN, AND US
by K.D. Azariah-Kribbs
Once upon a time, there was a man called Job. And one day, Job bought a lottery ticket.
Now, Job did not do this thing because he was a lazy or a greedy man. Job simply felt, as many do, that he should be provided for without having to labor and earn his bread by the sweat of his brow when there are so many who have so much more than they need.
So Job slipped some money from his wife’s purse, and before she could ask him where he was bound, he let himself quietly out the door, went to the store at the corner, and bought the ticket.
And immediately and quite strangely, the simple act of buying the lottery ticket made Job feel that things were now somehow changed. Of course, he did not know whether he had won the lottery or not. But somehow, the sun seemed brighter and warmer when he came out of the store.
Now, at this same time, the Heavenly host had assembled to present themselves before the Throne of God, or at least all those were gathered there who cared to come.
For there are always those who, given the choice, prefer to remain in Hell.
And Satan, who at this time still occasionally appeared before the Throne of God, came to call. Satan always made sure he arrived late to these gatherings so that he could make something of a grand entrance. He ignored the angels standing to attention on either side of the great golden archway and pushed open the massive doors of living arcwood bound in black iron and strode before the Heavenly Hosts in a great dark cloud of sooty flame and sulph’rous black smoke, the brazen light of his entrance reflecting in wavering sheets of fire from the golden pillars beside him and backlit by the magnificent lapis lazuli sky far behind, for he knew the beauty of gold and fire set against deep blue and utter black, and in Hell he never got to display himself in such a way, for there is no sky in Hell.
This morning I read chapters 12 through 14 in the book of Job, the words of a man alternately addressing God and his deluded comforters in the midst of his suffering. Immediately after, I read the first chapter of Luke. The juxtaposition of the two readings left a strange sensation, a net of chiaroscuro, light and shadow, the sunrise of salvation and the nihilism of pain.
Oddly, there came to my mind, Agatha Christie’s psychological novel, Absent in the Spring, and Shakespeare’s sonnet from which it drew its title.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
Caught in the pain of loss, the poet’s world is colored by it. What used to penetrate his senses with beauty now sharpens the knife’s edge of absence. Everything is a shadow of what it once was or ought to be and he is deeply aware of it.
Not so the narrator of the psychological Christie novel. She is absent to her own loss, that is, she doesn’t know what she’s missing. For a brief time an awareness of her loss, her failure to “be there” for those she claims to love, all of life that she’s failed to see and missed, cuts into her consciousness. Her grief is almost unendurable and she is overwhelmed by regret. She determines to change and make amends. But the moment passes like a mirage in the desert heat. She returns to her narcissistic life “absent” once again, oblivious to the misery of those who need her the most.
The pain of loss absorbs Job’s consciousness. But he engages with God through it all. While his “comforters” try to justify his suffering, Job goes straight to the One who can get him though it. He will not “curse God and die” as his wife advises. He will not absent himself to his suffering. He will neither deny it nor flee from it. Instead, in his suffering he looks for God. He remembers who God is. He knows that whatever the season, the summer of abundance or the winter of loss, God is unchanging, steadfast in love and faithfulness and sovereign in power. This knowledge emboldens Job and shores up his hope so that he doesn’t fall into the despair with which Satan tempts us during hard times.
It is the first chapter of Luke that puts it all in perspective. This is where Christ’s birth is announced. Zechariah breaks into a joyful song of expectation and Mary bursts into a paean of praise as her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. Jesus’s birth breaks into history, the history of the world and our own personal history. His birth is pivotal to our understanding of temporal loss because His birth is the moment in time when the eternal becomes more real, more true, more present than absence caused by loss, whether the loss of health or loss through death.
His presence overtakes the absence. His reality in history, in the flesh, through His death and resurrection, overshadows everything. Eternity trumps the temporal. And by the word of God through the Holy Spirit we glean it daily as God who suffered here on earth suffers yet with us, making more real to us the glory that awaits us when we see Him face to face.
Praise God for that day!
Job 19: 25 (NASB)
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Hebrews 2: 14-15 (ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darknesse nor dazling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but an equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings; but one equall eternity. Keepe us Lord so awake in the duties of our Callings, that we may thus sleepe in thy Peace, and wake in thy glory, and change that infallibility which thou affordest us here, to an Actuall and undeterminable possession of that Kingdome which thy Sonne our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible Blood. Amen.
John Donne, 1627
Yesterday I saw this on Twitter: I just wanna go home, wherever it is … The writer was a young Indian woman and an author with over 21K followers. But her age, background, and success at her vocation fades into irrelevancy beside the plaintive cry of her heart.
Those simple words struck through the heart of me because I remember as a child, sometimes, out of nowhere would come an inexplicable longing, and wherever I was, even if with my family at home, I too would say aloud to no one in particular: “I wanna go home.” And the moment I said it sadness would flood my soul and I would be reminded of the absence of something or someone vital to my well-being. But I couldn’t define what it was. Or who it was.