Christianity, life

The Beauty behind

Thus says Yahweh: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. — Jeremiah 6:16a

When I went to Tennessee I was tired. Worn out, soul-weary tired. We have such a vast, such a broken, bleeding world. Heart change, radical life transformation from the inside out, is the only thing that will ultimately bring the peace and justice, mercy and love so many of us are craving, whether we recognize where that craving comes from or not. But so many people also don’t seem to want to hear and taste and see and know the Truth that will set them free. It’s hard to love people sometimes and keep on loving them when they only want to set their own definitions and boundaries of love. And it’s hard to keep trying to speak the truth (in love) … maybe especially when you know what the ultimate Truth is, but aren’t quite sure where the point of starkly clear truth is on issue after issue after issue our country and world wrestle with.

When I went to Tennessee I was also reading Jeremiah. I read the verse above one of the mornings I was there, and it came up again a day or two later during morning devotions at Hutchmoot. One of the things I had been praying leading up to Hutchmoot, and one of the things I prayed while I sat in a rocking chair on the balcony of my charming bed and breakfast, reading scripture and journaling and just being, was “Help me see the Beauty behind.” This idea of the Beauty behind all things, the Reality that exists underneath everything we see and perceive, is one that has rolled around in my mind probably since the first time I read N.D. Wilson’s Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, but it’s been especially strong this year as I’ve often struggled to see beauty in the circumstances in which I find myself. “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face.” Oh God, help me see! It’s hard sometimes, isn’t it, when all we can see are the shadows of things, and through a mysterious process that is confusing and often painful to us, we are being made into the image of Christ — in a very real sense we both are and are not yet complete.

and the Beauty behind is what you can’t see
like the wind in the branches that talks for the tree
or the Word that split the shore from the sea

I went to Hutchmoot knowing I would probably cry a lot. Not because I expected to be sad, but because tears just come when I encounter beauty … when, I think, I internally see His Beauty, when I hear echoes of the past and the future. The first time I nearly started crying was when my friends and I were looking around the church hosting Hutchmoot and saw a sign for the session rooms. They were named things like Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, Buechner, Berry. “Even the room signs make me want to cry,” I joked to Hannah. “I know!” she replied.

And I probably just kept crying most of the time from there. I cried when John Cal, our master chef for the weekend, introduced each meal. Tears rolled down my face during Rabbit Room Live when Jennifer Trafton spoke and pretty much proved she knew the inside of my soul (or at least my mind, maybe) though she had no idea who I was and all I knew about her was that she wrote Henry and the Chalk Dragon (which I have not yet read). I cried during A Liturgy for the Planting of Flowers. I cried from doubled-over laughter when Jonathan Rogers talked about childhood poetry, writing, and fake vampire blood. I cried when Andrew Peterson talked about pushing on the Wailing Wall like he was Lucy at the back of the wardrobe, longing to get into Narnia again. Oh, you too, I thought.

I cried in the session Sleuths and Spaceships when Jen Yokel talked about sci-fi space stories and Wall-E and lots of other heart-rendingly beautiful truths that I’d have to consult my notes about in order to recount. And I probably cried in the same talk when Carrie Givens said her cats were named Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane and that her favorite Sayers novel was Gaudy Night. Huzzah! I thought. Twenty-three years’ worth of reading mystery stories has not been in vain after all! 

But it wasn’t all tears (albeit happy tears). One feature of Hutchmoot that I (surprisingly) found myself loving was the fact that, because meals were taken at long rows of feasting tables, you never really knew who you would end up sitting next to during dinner. But it was marvelous, because everyone was so nice. And both interesting themselves and interested in you. We three ladies from Kansas City and Chicago probably told the sweetly bizarre story of how we all happened to be there together 20 or so times, and I’m sure everyone else told the story of how they got to Hutchmoot multiple times as well, but it never seemed to get tiresome to anybody. Maybe we were all just introverts who finally felt safe together. Or maybe, because we all loved a good God Who imagined into existence such things as good food and good stories, it was one big constant What, you too? I thought I was the only one! moment of instant friendship.

Somebody somewhere — probably multiple people in multiple times and places — said, in essence, that the skill with which you create is not the most important thing. Whether you get published or get commissions or make an album or do anything that gets you public recognition for your work is not the most important thing. What’s important is that you create — that you express the truths God has placed it on your heart to tell, through the medium He has given you, with the skill you have, to and for the people in community with you. I’ve had some minor disappointments this year of rejections for poems or stories I’ve submitted various places. I’ve been tempted to think I need to change my style or subject matter in order to be acceptable to the main stream of poetic persons, to the popular idea of what poetry should be about and how it should be written. It was affirming, therefore, to be reminded that God has given me truth to tell, and a way in which to tell it, and I don’t need to water it down or angst it up for anyone.

On Friday afternoon during a time when there were workshops or the freedom to roam around and do whatever you wanted, I wandered out into a little gardenish spot where there were benches and trees, shade and sunlight, and a subtly burbling fountainish thing. At first I sat on the ground, looked around, enjoyed the sun and prepared to review my notes from the morning’s talks. But then I noticed the woodchips and leaves were starting to cling to my bright orange tights, so I moved up to a bench occupied on one end by a petite woman with curly blonde hair. We shared a few comments, then my attention was arrested by the men with pipes in their hands who were starting to congregate in the little garden. Out from the church came a man carrying a metal case, which he set carefully down on the wall of the fountainish thing and opened, revealing pipe after beautiful pipe. I had inadvertantly wandered into Pipemoot.

Well, I couldn’t not go over and look. “Do you want to try one?” somebody asked. I demurred shyly, remembering the disastrous results of my first (and thusly last, I thought) attempt at pipe smoking. “C’mon, I think they need some women in this thing!” my vivacious bench companion said. So we both went back over to the case of pipes, and their owner and maker guided us through selecting a pipe, selecting a tobacco, filling the pipe, tamping the tobacco down, lighting it and drawing to keep it lit. Learning how to draw correctly without actually inhaling was rather tricky. “Don’t inhale or you’ll turn green!” Art Peterson said, with a twinkle in his eye and a pipe clamped in his teeth. Somehow, despite the awkwardness of not being good at pipe smoking and trying to keep it lit and asking if it’d gone out and all the minutiae of what to do, I felt more at home there with that bunch of bearded men (and my bench friend and the other women who wandered through) than with the idea of the inaugural Teamoot, which I could see being enacted on the other side of the courtyard’s doors.

The blonde woman from the bench — whose name I have sadly and completely forgotten — and I talked for a while together of this and that, of her family’s journey from California to Nashville that summer on faith and prayer; of my journey as a single woman arriven at 30 and wondering what to do with myself. In the initial stages of our conversation she asked what I liked to do, creatively speaking, and I said, a little squirmingly, well, I like to write poetry, for fun. I gave her one of the little Christmas books I’d made of poems, pictures and stories, and she exclaimed over it with enthusiasm. Later, when our suddenly deep and heartfelt conversation was wrapping up, she said, “And next time someone asks what you do, tell them you’re a poet, and say it with conviction — because you are.”

Yes, I have absolutely forgotten that woman’s name, which is a little embarrassing. But I remember her story and the hope and faith in God’s guidance and provision that it demonstrated. And I remember the care and affirmation she showed me, though we had been complete strangers to each other half an hour before. I don’t believe in coincidence, so I believe it was God who guided my feet to wander out into that little courtyard into the midst of the love and kindness of strangers. Here, surrounded by people who loved God and longed to see the Beauty behind perhaps even more than I did, I felt, even in the midst of excitement and the slow busyness of a conference, rest for my soul.

Here endeth the second lesson.

Standard
Christianity, life

The adventure that Aslan gives

This year has been … where shall I begin? Silent, if you consider the post previous to this one, written in January when the only voice I had was a faint and whispery rasp. But it has not been a silent year; many times I’ve wished it could be more quiet. It has been challenging, stretching, humbling — humiliating, in some ways, if I’m honest with myself about the blows to my pride. I have wished so many times, for various reasons, that I could just run away somewhere (mostly to England or Ireland or Scotland or Guernsey) and escape the difficulties of the here and now. But, if I continue to be honest with myself, I know that’s no solution, because where I am, there my problems will be also.

But this year has also contained a good deal of joy, gladness, laughter, fun, excitement, growing, beautiful things, life-giving moments. It has held innumerable instances of unexpected blessing. It has been full of good meals, good conversations, shared lives.

And here is the story of one such unlooked-for blessing. Or the first chapter of the story.

In January or February my friend Kimberly texted me late at night with a link and said “You should go to this!” “This” was Hutchmoot. Hutchmoot is an event created by Andrew and Pete Peterson and their organization The Rabbit Room (rabbits … hutches … you know). I’d read about Hutchmoot before, but the thought of going had never really crossed my mind. This time, however, when I read the description of what Hutchmoot was and was about, I started crying, and my heart ached to experience the beauty there described. I thought, well … maybe … and I looked at the dates. October, starting three days after my birthday. My 30th birthday. October: a busy time of year family- and work-wise. Hmm. I prayed and asked God that, if it was His will I should go, to work out the details, including the necessary time off from work. The next morning, I checked to confirm the weeks in October during which I absolutely had to be at work. The week of Hutchmoot wasn’t one of them. I texted my mom … So, Kim sent me this link to a conference for Christian writers and artists in Nashville in October. It’s not a week I have to be at work. What do you think? In a couple of minutes came her reply: Go for it!

Oh, and did I mention that registration opened that afternoon? Well, after confirming with my boss that I could take the necessary time off, I sat at the computer, every inch of my insides seemingly stuffed with excited butterflies, waiting for the clock to strike the magical hour for tickets to go on sale. After registration finally opened and I secured my ticket I sat at my desk quivering like a jelly who couldn’t stop smiling and sort of crying at the same time.

But it’s a while between February and October, so I had to wait to embark upon this glorious adventure. And I had to figure out things like lodging and how to get from the Nashville airport to Franklin, Tennessee, 20 miles away. Normal people who travel a lot by themselves are used to renting cars and navigating unfamiliar roads, right? Well, I’ve never been normal, most of my traveling has been done with other people, and I am terrible — terrible! — at geography. So there was another adventure awaiting me.

In June I had to write about Key limes for my job and I developed a strong and enduring hunger for Key lime pie, so I decided to have a Key lime pie and Key Largo movie night. The event got pushed into July, and, a week or so before, my mom said one day, “Did you see Hannah S. is back in town? You should get together — she likes doing the kind of things you like.” So I invited Hannah, who I had not seen since I was about 14 and she was 9, to my movie night. And she was an instant and marvelous kindred spirit. Since social media is a weird thing, we found out via Instagram that we were both going to Hutchmoot.

Now, isn’t that crazy? Here I haven’t laid eyes on someone for close to 16 years (though I did sleep in her bed one night last summer when her mother rescued me from Chicago’s Midway airport … but that is another story and will be told at another time), yet we meet again and now have myriad common interests (her eldest brother was one of my best friends when I was 3, incidentally) and are going to the same conference later in the year. I don’t believe in coincedence; I call that a Divine blessing.

Here endeth the first lesson.

Standard
Christianity, poetry

compline

Emmanuel — behold Him
the Meek and Mighty, child
the universe’s Maker come
to what we have defiled

Emmanuel — o praise Him
the righteous Warrior wise
He comes the fettered heart to free
and none will He despise

Emmanuel — adore Him
the Shepherd tender, true
He comes the broken to restore
and make all old things new

Emmanuel — hosanna
o, God-With-Us, save!
come sing Your song of triumph
from the manger past the grave

Standard
Christianity, poetry

vespers

strikingsunrise3

i thank Thee, uncreated Son
that Thou didst deign to shine
within the darkness of my soul
and warm my heart with Thine

i thank Thee, ever-endless One
Who left Thy holy throne
to take my evanescent frame
and wear it as Thine own

i thank Thee, Living Water sweet
Whose life Thou freely gave
that Thou didst stoop to wash my feet
and me from death didst save

i thank Thee, shatterer of night
Thou art eternal Day
when new life rises with the morn
the old shall flee away

Standard
Christianity, poetry

hours

field

go seek Him in the country
go find Him by the way
go see that in your night has dawned
the light of endless day

go seek Him in the village
go praise Him in the town
go tell the true and wild tale
of God to earth come down

go seek Him in the city
go paint Him on the streets
go sing the song of zion
and of triumph through defeat

go seek Him in the quiet
go dance amid the storm
go worship in the chaos
unto us a Child is born

Standard
Christianity, poetry

matins

img_0129

wake up, the sun is risen
wake up, the night is done
wake up, for sorrow’s ended
wake up, for joy is won

wake up, in love He suffered
wake up, in love He bled
wake up, the Hero conquered
wake up, the dragon’s dead

wake up, the sea is gleaming
wake up, the sky’s on fire
wake up and end your dreaming
wake up, He’ll never tire

wake up, you souls in prison
wake up, you hearts of stone
wake up, the Son is risen
wake up, the night is gone

Standard
Christianity, life, photography

the way things are

leaf

 

today marks one month until my birthday, which will mark one year from entering a new decade. last year, during a rambling late-evening discussion after my murder mystery birthday celebration had wound down, a friend asked me what i hoped would happen or what i would like to do in the next year. after gathering my wits and sorting through what i could share with an audience of two men, i came up with the following:

  1. share the gospel with someone, and
  2. submit some of my writing for publication.

in many ways, these have been an amazing 11 months. and in many ways, it’s been a tough old year.

i have had so much fun these past 11 months, dreaming things, planning things, trying things, creating things, being a small part of big exciting new things, seeing hope planted and watered and new life slowly unfurling its leaves. there are moments of pure joy when the light hits just right and reminds me God is big and He’s beautiful and amazing! and so, so very good.

i have felt so tired and so old this past year. i spent the first three or so months of the year battling sleeplessness and despondency, and finding myself not wanting to fight very hard, because every morning when i woke up, there was this cloud that wouldn’t budge and this feeling i couldn’t get rid of that i’d already failed and ruined the day. if i said i was constantly depressed that would be a lie, fortunately. but still, things weren’t right. it took a short sunday morning audio sermon on justification and grace to break me down (and set me crying for the next three hours, at church, on the front row, on st. valentine’s day, of all days) and eventually send me to the doctor to learn i had seasonal affective disorder and very low vitamin d.

two years ago i received some kind of tiny cypress tree in a Christmas gift exchange. it didn’t come with any identifiers or care instructions, so, having the brown thumb i do, i eventually killed it. last december i was tired of looking at a sad little crispy tree, so i bought a maidenhair fern to replace it. i like my plants to be signs and reminders of things (like isaiah’s children), so i named it hope. keeping hope alive has come to be the theme of this year for me — i have very nearly killed this needy finicky fern several times and have had to mist it every morning and trim all the brown leaves off as soon as they appear. sometimes i let things go too long and have to lop off an entire branch. such, i feel, has been the case with the past year.

with spring (and vitamins and supplements) came misty new leaves on trees, warm breezes, sunshine, longer days … and hope … and dreams that i never thought could be possibilities were taking shape in my soul. again and again i found myself standing on a cliff, toes hanging over the edge, dreading or anticipating what was going to happen next. i have long feared heights and falling from them —and much of the time, it’s because i’ve feared i’ll jump.

i have been weary this year to the point of not caring (and the Lord God gave the man low blood sugar to remind him he was not invincible). i have learned to walk past the point of fear and explain what is inside my mind or heart, as best i can. i have walked and walked and learned and forgotten and learned and forgotten and learned again how to pray. i have tried to be an escapist and have rammed my nose into reality time and again (thank God Who hems me in behind and before). i have worked and worked and worked and wondered what it’s all for before being reminded that anything done for Jesus counts for eternity.

“give up yourself,” c.s. lewis says, “and you will find your real self. lose your life and you will save it. submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorites wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. keep back nothing. nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. but look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

“take up your cross and follow Me,” Jesus says. “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will find it.” 

every time i’ve had to face a fear or a frustration or have wrestled for control over something, i’ve thought i’ve learned what losing my life is, what letting go of my ambitions and favorite wishes looks like. what dying is. and every time i get to feeling worn down to a little wooden knot of a person and think, what, God, is this what You’ve called me to? He says and if it is, every day for the rest of your life, am I not enough in all of that? Who do you think I am?

i’ve learned (amid all the innumerable things i’ve learned this year) that i associate value with performance. if i’ve done well — if i’ve done what i was supposed to, when i was supposed to, and done it right — if i’ve lived up to my perception of others’ expectations for me as well as my own, then i have succeeded. then i have value.

i walked slowly down the steps of my empty office building this afternoon, past the darkened doors closed for the holiday weekend, trying to pull myself together and not cry from frustration and weariness (and lack of a proper lunch). i am a failure, i thought. i set lofty goals and never fulfill any of them. i haven’t gotten anywhere. and i complain about all of this and feel sorry for myself while widows in laos are being persecuted for their faith because Christianity is not convenient  for their relatives or their culture’s traditional religion. and here i am, with a good job and a great life, complaining and feeling sorry for myself because i’m tired.

when i have low blood sugar i get depressed. when i get depressed i can spiral down, down, down without realizing it because my will to care is so low at that point that i don’t want to make an effort to look up. but, i did. i remembered, God delights in you. He said, you are altogether beautiful, My darling. He completely approves of you, and it has nothing to do with what you’ve done. it’s because of what He’s done. you can’t earn His approval — and you don’t have to. that’s just the way things are.

the poems i submitted for publication earlier this year weren’t accepted. i haven’t shared the gospel with anyone, face to face, who didn’t already know it. if i look at my year, i have fallen back, back, back down this hill i’ve been climbing. but you know what? it’s going to be okay. and it’s going to be more than okay, because God doesn’t want my picking-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps approach to “success” or my wriggling self-loathing response to “failure.”

He wants me to hold His hand and walk with Him, trusting that He’s big enough to pick up the trees across the path and dig out the boulders in the way, and that He’s patient enough to match His strides to mine and pick me up and dust me off each time i fall down, even if it’s every other step.

and that’s just the way things are.

Standard