Getting Warmer, but Still a Chill

Today is good Friday. I’m off work and my kids are home from school. We’ve had a lazy morning and I’ve been slowly chipping away at my to-do list. My children are binging on television.

I was going to go on run but couldn’t find my fleece. There’s still a little chill in the air, and by the time I found a sweatshirt, it started raining quite hard. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to sit back down on my couch. Now I’m here, writing this post, looking out my window.

The tree on our front lawn has yielded angelic blossoms. I try to find words to describe the scene, but language and photographs fall short. I can hear jet noise of Navy fighters flying in the distance, the birds chirping, the rain still falling. As if overnight, spring is here.

Spring always seems to creep up slowly, and once it arrives, I’m amazed we made it through winter. It’s like the arrival of spring allows me to reflect and take stock of what happened in the darkness.

I’m going through a strange time in my faith, which feels more pronounced today, on Good Friday, knowing I won’t be attending a church service today or on Easter. What had been our church for five years has grown into a mega-church and the services feel overstimulating and so distant from the intimate space they once were.

I wonder if worship can be as simple as sitting on a couch, daydreaming and looking out the window, wondering about God, and trying to put the complexity of human emotion and existence into the medium of language. After all, it’s my favorite thing to do! It’s what I keep coming back to, the place where I feel God’s presence most closely.

Good Friday is a day of grief but also a day of feeling the discomfort of polarizing emotions. We dread the death and believe in the resurrection. We lose religion and gain faith. The air is warmer with still a slight chill. The tension makes us crazy but it’s also the energy that drives any good story forward. It’s the fabric of our humanity. It seems like this is what Jesus’s life is all about…entering our world…helping us to embrace it as well…leading us back to God in the midst of it.

So, this weekend I’m taking stock. Not from a church pew, not in a fancy easter outfit, not by eating Cadbury eggs. I have done and bought nothing to prepare for Easter, but I’m looking at this tree outside my window and I’m bearing witness to the realization that it didn’t do anything either, yet somehow, after a winter of bare and brittle limbs it has these indescribable blossoms that are blessing the sky before they blow away in the wind again.

I’ll close with a poem I wrote about the month of March, a month of tension and in-between spaces. The poem first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Relief Journal.

March

The morning the distant
sound

of a leaf blower
jolts me

from a resigned winter
slumber.

How dare he! I curse
my neighbor

and his revving motor,
ridding

the flower beds of last year’s
leaves.

The sun, too, is on the run,
winding

the final curve of its orbit,
rising earlier,

staying out later. But wait–the sun
doesn’t move–

it hangs unwavering in the black
blanket of space!

We are the sphere in constant
rotation,

caught in our constant craving
for light.

Do you feel it? The vacillation
of the earth,

always spinning yet never
arriving

like a revolving door
with no exit,

like a man fleeing the stories
of his past

only to relive them again
and again.

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Sunday Quotation: Pay Attention

“Literature, painting, music–the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things…

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is the love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for Him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.”

Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary

Poetry Just Keeps Opening

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When I started to study poetry about eight years ago, I wasn’t thinking about the implications it would have on my Christian faith. I was clumsily writing along, trying new things with words that felt stupid and frivolous and unproductive, trusting some vague impulse that I was learning a language that was somehow already inside of me.

Over the past year, I’ve started to realize that the socially-disadvantaged genre of poetry is actually everywhere around us. It isn’t wearing knee-high socks, sitting the bench. It’s in our popular song lyrics, our slang, political speeches, and Netflix TV shows. It isn’t usually recognized as poetry, so we often miss it.

In the same vein, it’s easy to miss the breadth and depth of poetry in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets spoke almost exclusively in poetry, because it was perhaps the only way of writing that allowed them to describe the world according to the way they saw it–a world ridden by judgement and hope–a world that was ending and beginning. In essence, they saw a world full of complexity and tension, a world whose mysteries could not be easily pinned down.

Further, in looking more at the gospels, it recently struck me that Jesus spoke in parables, which are like little poems. He used the power of images to do the work that words alone cannot: a mustard seed planted in a field, yeast permeating the dough, the narrow gate, a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls.

I find it fascinating that God, the creator of language and the entire universe, chose for His official book to be highly permeated with poetry. One could potentially conclude that poetry is God’s language, that poetry is the language of the Kingdom. Jesus said, I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world. It’s like He knew that poetic language was the only way to communicate the hidden things, which happen to be the big things in God’s economy.

In light of this, I find it so weird that the churchy-world and the artsy-world seem almost diabolically opposed. Sure, poetry is a wild animal with an affinity for ripping open new realities and new ways of looking at things. The church, the political world, or any other structured institution is perhaps scared of that wildness. But, isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Challenging the current structures, speaking in new ways, seeing the world through new eyes?

What would happen if we were to bring poetry back into the modern evangelical church? It might get real gritty and interesting! It might get as scandalous and inappropriate as Jesus!

I was recently listening to a wonderful podcast with Walter Brueggemann–theologian, professor, and prolific author–about his book The Poetic Imagination and the connection between prophets and poets. He says,

What the church does with its creeds and its doctrinal tradition, is it flattens out all the images and metaphors to make it fit into a nice little formulation, and then it’s deathly. So, we have to communicate to people, if you want a God that’s healthier than that, you’re gonna have to take time to sit with these images and relish them, and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame, otherwise you’re just gonna be left with these dead formulations, which again, is why the poetry is so important, because the poetry just keeps opening and opening and opening, whereas the doctrinal practice of the church is always to close and close and close, until you’re left with nothing that has any transformative power. So, more metaphors give more access to God…and it’s amazing how in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, there are just endless metaphors. What a metaphor or an image does, is to invite you to keep walking around it, and looking at it another way, and noticing something else. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

So, what does this mean? Well, maybe the way we experience the transformative power of God on a personal and global level is as basic as reading poems and trying to write them. Geez. It’s so simple and so small, kind of like that mustard seed Jesus was talking about.

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not
perceive it?
I am making a way in the 
wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
-Isaiah 43:19

lyrics/love

Image

It’s a cold, rainy, December morning. The house is quiet except for a new album I bought last week that plays quietly in the background. Winter is the perfect time for new music. I find that it helps fight off the drab and darkening weather–it makes life feel new and fresh and inspiring again.

I bought the album “Strict Joy” by The Swell Season. You may have seen this pair of talented musicians (Irish musician Glen Hansard and Czech singer/pianist Marketa Irglova) star in the movie “Once.” They also created this beautiful album together back in 2009. If you are looking for new music to combat, or perhaps embrace, the winter blues, I recommend this one.

As I was listening through the tracks this past week, this lyric hit me…

GIVE YOURSELF TO A LOVE THAT CONQUERS.

It’s a beautiful image and one that feels so central to what we celebrate this time of year as we anticipate the birth of Jesus, the One whose Love conquers all, today and forever. I wrote the lyric on our chalkboard so I can think about it for the next few days.

How do I give myself to His Love…on a daily and tangible level? What struggles does His Love conquer in my life? Where do I still need some conquering? Good questions to think about during this advent season.

Today I’m thankful for little inspirations, for colored lights, new music, moody gray skies and hot coffee.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” — James 1:17

His love conquers. His love is permanent.