Vignette: Morning

I left early with the intention of sitting quietly in a back pew, going over my devotional reading for the day. Having been away from the church for the past month, I wanted to get back into the rhythm of morning mass. But more than that, I needed to be in the presence of strangers, to be alone in a community. To feel awed and small and protected. I needed the stone columns and arch ways, to see them holding it all up over us.

I needed to know that there is something larger, more solid than myself right now.

But the doors were locked: closed for construction this week.

Everything had shifted next door to the elementary school but I wouldn’t go in. Today, I needed to see to believe.

And that wasn’t going to happen in a gymnasium.

 

My favourite Franciscan writes that “[w]hen we are nothing we are in a fine position to receive everything from God.

The trick is to keep ourselves open, like cupped hands, ready to receive whatever He gives and when we want to close ourselves up tightly, to protect our vulnerable selves, we must pray that He will teach us how to unclench. To unfold, and allow ourselves to be filled: this is how we learn the habit of grace.

 

Instead, I walked home, taking the long way.

Down the busiest streets where the sound of traffic and tires on wet snow were almost enough drown out His voice in my prayers.

 

Not All, But Closer Than Before

Sitting on the floor of my parent’s living room, rummaging through shelves for something to read. I was looking for something light but found a bible instead.

It was something of a surprise to find a bible amidst old paperbacks, mostly sci-fi, and a few over-sized art books. A scrap of paper was tucked into the opening pages of Leviticus and I remembered that my father had been reading the Old Testament the year he began to convert to Judaism. Neither his conversion nor his reading progressed very far.

Regardless.

I took the bible upstairs, thumbed through it, and stopped at Philippians.

 

The anticipation of Advent had been palpable this year. There was an overwhelming sense of something about to change, a coming of sorts. Something both bigger and smaller than the child in the manger. Bigger because it felt immediate, like something about to enter my everyday life. Yet smaller because what is quite so large or extravagant as the Incarnation?

And then, as sometimes happens, everything began to unravel and all I could do was weep.

And complain. Bitterly.

 

There was no reason why I stopped at this particular letter. It seemed as good a place as any to stop and explore this translation.

Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ.

Oh.

How had I missed this before?

This short letter, written in Rome, has an honesty that makes me ashamed.

For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

Was my complaining, my whining, my seemingly relentless tears testifying to my lack of faith? Sometimes all you can do is lament and that is good and as it should be. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise: the pain is real, uniquely yours, and sacred because of this. Platitudes, like this too shall pass, can devalue what you’re experiencing. But the line between lamentation and whining is sometimes thin and vague.

I am still not all I should be…

Someone recently said they were amenable to the idea of purgatory because it is an opportunity for all that is contrary to what God wants us to be to finally be burned away.

I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are times when purgatory is here and now. What if those times when the hardships pile up are not tests of faith but moments pregnant with the possibility of transfiguration? Because none of us are all that we should be and why should we wait until we have shuffled out of our skin?

In His time here I see a life lived fully and a life given freely. And I am doing neither. I have closed myself off from the grace and peace here in the present moment. A grace and peace so powerful as to not only forgive but burn away all that you are and are not; all you have done and failed to do. And it’s not available later, or only later, but right now.

The letter writer knew it then and I know it now. 

This is the peace I am clinging to and the grace I am longing to be shaped by.

Lord, I am still not all I should be. Amen.

 

 

One

We are already one. We just think we are separate.
-Thomas Merton

 

The events of this week, as seen in the media, have left me feeling disappointed and deeply saddened.

And yet I find myself compelled to keep reading, to try to understand thoughts which don’t come naturally to me, beliefs so very different from my own. Because there will never be understanding when we confront hate with hate instead of compassion.

As long as we continue to see some people as Other, there will never be unity and there will never be peace.

The truth is that there is no “us” or “them” but only we.

We were created a little less than divine. We were made out of love and blessed with infinite, relentless grace. And we are commanded to extend that same love and grace to one another.

So let us start now.

Call and Response

It is only during the early days of winter moments such as these exist. When clouds hide what’s left of the afternoon light and snow falls like a sheet over a sleeping body.

And the house becomes quiet this time of day, this time of year. All warm and dimly lit with books stacked high and cats curled tight.

So when I read it, everything felt just as it should be. Like the words had been saved for this particular moment:

He will come in His own time, and when you least expect it. Hope in Him more than ever; thank Him with me for the favors He does you, particularly the fortitude and patience which He gives you in your afflictions. It is a plain mark of the care He takes of you. Comfort yourself, then, with Him, and give thanks for all. (Brother Lawrence)

I hovered over the words, read each one slowly, again and again.

Here, I thought, is the greatest blessing we could ever receive and perhaps our biggest challenge too. Because how do you respond to such steadfast love?

But God, I suspect, is more easily satisfied than us, for he knows how we were made, he remembers that we are dust.

 

And a few pages later, there is this:

Let us make way for grace; let us redeem the lost time, for perhaps we have but little left.

 

It comes to me fast and without any fuss and I hesitate at how simple it is:
We respond to grace by making room for grace, here, in the present moment, by giving thanks.
I almost wish I had more to add, an insight of my own but no, this is more than enough.   

 

 

 

 

 

Lifting the Fog

When Jesus said only one thing was necessary, I heard him but not really.

The words trickled in but only a few. It just couldn’t get past what I thought this one-fabric life should look like. And what I thought of as a life made of beautiful mismatched patchwork was something denser and colder. I had trapped myself in by what I thought a life of faith should be.

 

Grace at every meal. Church every Sunday. Scripture, daily.
And I would look at my own life and see little, if any, of this reflected back. So I would dwell  on someday, one day, later – it will all be different and better then.

 

But God isn’t experienced in some distant future or by comparing the now with a vague later.

God is in the present, right here with us, demanding that we be present also.

Being present to the Presence is the necessary thing.

 

Still. Being present is hard for the worriers of the world. The sense of guilt and urgency engulfs us like a thick fog. We cannot see what is before us or even where we stand.

Our saving grace is the knowledge that light burns off the fog. The darkness we shroud ourselves in is nothing compared to to the Light of the World and the Light is always with us because the darkness does not overcome it.

 

If I’m honest, the fog isn’t completely gone. Maybe it never will be.

But the life I am making for myself, I can see now how it’s less about doing and more about being.

The one-fabric life I so long for is not just made of moments and actions woven together; rather it is made with the knowledge that my life is already interlaced with the Holy. And here, in this, there is relief.

There is No Boundary

Yesterday, I tried to put into words what I have been feeling. I thought of it, was utterly distracted by it, and still just couldn’t get it together. Still, there is something happening.

It came together a bit more today as I sat in the empty house, books piled in front of me, pen waiting. There was a sharp flash as I read over the words about grace and faith and the lie we tell ourselves, that we are unloveable. I know this lie well and for so long I have watched it spread, like cracks up a wall, into all areas of my life -into my very being.

Only now can I see that something is very wrong with my foundation, the whole house threatening to shake and collapse.

Today, as I tried to imagine what this love looks like, I realized there’s no need to imagine. That eternal love shows up in gritty everyday living. Our relationships with others may very well be the most accurate reflection of God’s love and grace. But when you feel undeserving of God’s love, you feel undeserving of all love. Even when it is freely given, day after day.

It’s misguided to think that the love of God and the love we experience here, person to person, are somehow different from each other. There is no boundary, all love is sacred.

But fear, that soul threat, too often makes me think there is nothing but boundaries. It tells me this unloveable self will be all that I am left with in the end.

So there it is, the fear that love will someday end.

It’s why when I look at my husband, who seems to live with his heart wide open to me, I turn away.
God lives like that, is that, all the time. Wide open. I close myself off and act as though it were all somehow separate.

And I see now that when I turn away from this earthy, human love I am really turning away from the eternal love of God. We are called to love each other but the lie that love is somehow conditional and will be snatched away from us -us, so undeserving anyway- renders us deaf.

These thoughts, they’re all a part of that larger something that is happening. What matters now is how I respond as I wait. With grace and love, I hope.

To Give Thanks

Here, somewhere just north of the 49th parallel, Thanksgiving approaches. One day set apart from many to give thanks and it seems not quite enough. Shouldn’t thanksgiving be the posture we ought to live in our lives in?

In the letter I read this, “… grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” (2 Cor 4:15)

So this is how I will glorify Him.

 

I receive what you give, Lord, and in turn I give thanks.
I give thanks for a God who denies us nothing, for a God who permits all, even our falling and failing.
I give thanks for a God of grace, a God of peace, a God of love.
I give thank for a God who creates bridges so that we are always coming out the other side, always being renewed, bridges that inevitably draw us closer to Him.
I give thanks for a God who fills the empty broken spaces with His whole being.
I give thanks for a God who is always present.
I give thanks for a God who can be experienced through the Christ.

 

If there is but one thing to be thankful for then joy is always possible, or so I’ve heard. And indeed there is much to be thankful for, perennially thankful.

 

New Growth

Weeks can go by, sometimes even months, with nothing but ease and calm breezes.

And then, like the changing of a season, you suddenly notice how cold and dark it has become. The days are shorter and the nights are longer and it’s all happening so quickly. This is the season I am in right now. Trying to find my footing, not sure where the ground is exactly.

But isn’t that it, the living by faith? You trust in what you cannot see because it is eternal.

 

It’s not just the walking that can be all trepidation and unease. The pain, the tearing away, is unsettling too.

What will come next or be left after all this? I wonder.

Sitting in the emergency room, watching the woman with her arm cradled close in a sling and the bloom of a bruise around her eye. Police, just down the hall, standing outside someone’s room. My stomach tightens.She walks out beyond the sliding doors and onto the street.

I look away, down at my own hand, all bloodied and swollen and turning darker shades. What will come next for us after all this? What comes from such pain? Where is grace?

 

I wasn’t looking for it but things have a way of coming to you when you need to hear it most.

On the screen and the page, such simple words:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The resurrection didn’t just happen once, it is always happening, God is always working in us. Our outer nature, as Paul called it, wastes away but inside there is new life. Our whole being is a testament to resurrection, to the life of Jesus.

So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 

Maybe this is where we are to see grace. Seemingly endless opportunities to die and be reborn, transformed, into something new. Endless, radical grace. 

 

I don’t know when this season will end or what it will bring. But the work of faith is the living itself, so I get down to laying new seeds and pulling up old growth. Deep in the holes, I know, something new and delicious will grow.

 

 

 

Making Room for Grace

In summer heat and light and abundant life, in the passing of time, I found I had died. Or so it felt then. A milestone birthday, they say, but I remember only the loss and pain. A sense of separation so deep I was adrift outside myself and everything and everyone.

I think of it still. How can I not? What good is such pain?

Finding meaning in the hurt only comes with time because we need space to experience God’s radical grace.

What I was living before was shallow. No living waters, nothing to dive deeply into. It was a faith worth losing. And the pain was about losing the familiar, losing who I thought I was.

Because before we can be a part of God’s transformative work, we must first be transformed and redeemed.

God makes space for us to kneel and be humbled and become something like new. But not just once, always. For at the heart of Christianity is death and resurrection.

So the pain is never without purpose. You haven’t wrecked your life yet. Because it is through our brokenness that we come to know God.

And we don’t go it alone. His love is always extending out towards us. He is always working in us and through us for his glory.

Everything Starts Out Small

It’s not that I want more time to do more things or see more places, foreign lands or salty seas. To struggle with maps and words or run till I am breathless and sore and bleeding.

What I want is to dig in deeply. Thick, ropey roots here and now.

But years of neglect left me feeling dead and hollow.

Sure, there were prayers in the delicate time between wakefulness and sleep. But to who was I offering my petitions? Who would care about such pathetic blanket gratitude?

Faith is just a word when your actions say “I don’t believe.”
But there is never nothing; there is always something. And we are never alone.

Right here where I am, the small is being made enough. With God’s grace I’ve been given the space to grow. This space, here in the midst of everything – place to hear what I need to hear most.

With time real gratitude has emerged and the small, the ordinary, is elevated by thanksgiving and faith.

This is how you truly live. This is how you make a life. All the small details are worth noting because this is life with God. And what you have is grace unending.