Whatever is Lovely

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
– Philippians 4:8
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I prefer to live my life in double-speed. My long legs are well-suited to covering twice as much ground in half as much time. My planner is generally full of meticulously-crafted schedules. I frequently book work back-to-back because the rush of being busy thrills me. Now, regular readers will recall that my need for speed (efficiency, rather, but that doesn’t rhyme) is problematic as a pianist: my propensity to rush often leads to decreased musicality. I do not tend to let myself linger in loveliness when demanding technical passages beckon me onwards. 
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IMG_3060Suddenly, though, my schedule is wide open: my work is shut-down and my social calendar is much less eventful. I still run to stretch my legs, but they no longer have to carry me anywhere beyond my front door. I am not alone in feeling that I’ll surely descend into stir-crazy madness, however, I am beginning to wonder if the sudden decrease in busyness may be liberating rather than limiting. 
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The other day while cleaning up, I discovered anew the wonder of blowing soap bubbles: such delicate, buoyant things! I spent a few minutes—which would previously have been wasted minutes—playing with them, marveling that such a simple thing has gone unnoticed in my life since childhood. Today, while stretching after a long run, I saw the world upside down. How much greener the trees suddenly looked! And how detailed the dust of the path which was at once beneath my feet and above my head.
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I have the time to just be, something I pridefully disdained before in my desire to stay busy. Madeleine L’Engle beautifully expresses the value and delight of this quiet, still, wondering time in the following:
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“When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. I will never understand the silent dying of the green pie-apple tree if I do not slow down and listen to what the Spirit is telling me, telling me of the death of trees, the death of planets, of people, and what all these deaths mean in the light of love of the Creator, who brought them all into being, who brought me into being, and you.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
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If we embrace this slower time as being time, we may notice once more the small, lovely things that give life its color and order even in the midst of pain and confusion. Maybe our afternoon coffees will seem more flavorful, running errands more interesting, speaking with friends more precious. Maybe we will learn to be comfortable in silence again, to enjoy our own solitary company, and to find fulfillment even in apparent inactivity.
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I am reminded of Philippians 4:8, particularly the phrase “whatever is lovely.” Perhaps now we are given the gift of relative freedom from distractions and demands so that we can rediscover the lovely things we so easily overlook. More so, in noticing loveliness, perhaps we will rediscover how to love well.
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IMG_2909We love our lives and surroundings best when we notice small things with joy. I used to keep a running list of ordinary, lovely things in my journal. Perhaps it is time to resurrect this habit. After all, if you read poetry and stories by writers who deeply love their homes, you will find that they love them particularly: in the broken stair-rail, the sound of a parent coming home, the smell of lemons from a neighbor’s tree. We love well when we notice well.
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In the same way, we can use this time to notice each other, for the best lovers are the best noticers. I don’t mean lovers in a necessarily romantic sense; I simply refer to anyone and everyone who actively loves another person, be it friend, neighbor, family, or partner. The friend who is suddenly incredibly active on Facebook? Check on her, regardless of politics. The family member struggling in isolation? Do what you can, even if it means sitting six feet apart for a masked chat. The neighbor who sets out a “sharing table” and seems to have plenty? Add what you can and commend their kindness. 
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As you learn to notice lovely things and to recognize opportunities for love, take the time to notice yourself as well. These last months have forced me to recognize the good things I’ve allowed to become idols as, suddenly, they have been removed. Noticing this is hard—painful even—but it is allowing me to genuinely check in with myself spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. Notice how you are doing and what it is you are desiring. I realize this is easier said than done, but I entreat you to join me in the effort. And remember that noticing ourselves goes beyond self-care; it involves confronting the reality of our lives and loves and seeking to reorient them toward what is truly lovely, that is, worth loving.
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04276F07-9D93-4829-B0B5-429F78724B8CTo conclude, I leave you simply with the following words from my “About” Page: 
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“It’s the little things, after all, that make life so lovely. And that’s really what this blog is all about: finding the small, lovely things which testify to the enduring delight of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.”
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May we use this time not to avoid the ugliness of reality, but to also rejoice in truer loveliness with gratitude and hope.

Question and Answer: Anticipating Christ in the Book of Job

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In rereading the Book of Job, I once more find it both wonderful and troubling. Job is, at its core, a terrifying book: a man is selected for the worst trials imaginable (loss of family, livelihood, and health) not because he is wicked but, indeed, because he is faithful.

The Book of Job is, in this sense, a 40-chapter refutation of “prosperity preaching.” However unfair this seems, it reveals the justice of God; as supreme in goodness and the Creator of all, even apparently righteous men are unworthy of His favor. In recognizing this, Job reveals the true source of his righteousness as his faith in a Redeemer and Mediator.

Before declaring this faith, though, Job first presents a case in his own defense. It is important to note that, while Job does question God, he never curses Him. To engage authentically in prayer and lamentation is a marvelous privilege of God’s people and, throughout, Job seeks to “speak to the Almighty” and to “argue [his] case with God.” (13:3). While God does respond to Job’s cries, the ultimate answer to his charges and the resolution of his suffering is ultimately found in the Incarnation of Christ. If Job is an agonizing question regarding God’s justice, Jesus is the final answer proving God’s grace. 

In the ninth chapter, Job laments that due to God’s infinite perfection and power, not even the righteous can justly stand before Him and, in the tenth chapter, Job asks the following of God:

“Does it seem good to you to oppress
to despise the work of your hands
and favor the designs of the wicked?
Have you eyes of flesh?
Do you see as man sees?
Are your days as the days of man,
or your years as a man’s years,
that you seek out my iniquity
and search for my sin,
although you know that I am not guilty,
and there is none to deliver out of your hand?
Your hands fashioned and made me,
and now you have destroyed me altogether.”

– Job 10:3-8

Job asks what anyone would in such a situation: How can you—You who are immortal, and all-powerful—understand what it is to be human? To suffer? To submit to the will of another? And yet, while God does not directly answer these questions in this book, He responds conclusively in His Word become Flesh: the Incarnation of Christ.

Job continues on to describe the care with which God brought him into being, which seems contradictory to his current suffering:

“You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.”

– Job 10:11-13

This parallels Psalm 139, in which David writes of the Lord’s constant care from the moment of his conception and both Job and David declare this a mystery “too wonderful” to truly comprehend, although both also question God in lamentation. These descriptions of God’s personal care for His creations also foreshadow the incarnation, in which Christ—the fullness of God knit together with human flesh—is miraculously conceived of the Virgin Mary. Like Job and David and every other human being, Jesus is clothed in skin, flesh, and bones. When Job asks, then, whether God has “eyes of flesh,” the initial answer is that God, as the creator of flesh, has proper authority over it. However, Job’s question foreshadows and is fulfilled in the Son of God made flesh: human eyes born of divine sight. 

Job does not stop there, though, but further qualifies his question, asking whether God’s time is as that of man. This, too, receives the answer of the Creator, who reminds Job that He created the days of man and holds them under His proper power. Again, the Psalms provide further insight:

“For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.”

-Psalm 90:4

In short, then, the eternal God is beyond the temporality to which mankind is subject. However, the Incarnation serves again as the consolation and answer to this cry. Christ’s life on earth marks the intersection not only of divinity and humanity but of eternity and temporality. Luke writes in the second chapter of his account that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” In this, we find that the Gospels not only proclaim Christ’s birth but mark his growth according to normal human physicality and aging. In being born, Christ consents to live according to human time, including its mundanity, growth, suffering, and—ultimately—its end.

Continuing to contemplate death, Job laments in the fifteenth chapter, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Now, this appears to be a rhetorical question and its answer is obvious to Job; nobody who dies lives again. And yet, a completely opposite answer is also obvious to those of us living today: Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, was buried, and yet rose again on the third day. More so, Christ’s followers are promised future resurrection as well. Although Job is caught in a seemingly hopeless situation and has not yet been provided the full answer to his suffering—the Incarnation of Christ—he yet anticipates this resolution by faith:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shal see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!”

– Job 19:25-27

Job knows and hopes in a Redeemer who has yet to be born on earth and yet is the Word that spoke from the beginning. Job, crying and questioning from the depths of his suffering, yet looks toward the redemption and resurrection that will ultimately be realized in Christ.

When God speaks in the later chapters, He responds in questions that parallel those posited by Job. When Job asks how God can empathize with man, God demands that Job rightly express what it is to be God.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—
surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

-Job 38:4-7

Of course, in the face of such enormous questions of authority, Job can do nothing but declare God’s supremity as Creator and his own lowliness as creature. However, Job looks in hope toward a “witness in heaven” who “testifies for [him] on hight.” (16:19). Again, we find glimmers of anticipation, of hope in an intercessor who will speak for both man and God. We find then, that both Job’s questions of God and God’s questions of Job are answered and fulfilled definitively in Christ the Mediator.

Even these apparently rhetorical questions find their solution in the person of Jesus Christ. Only Christ, the Son of God, can answer that He was not only there with God in the beginning, but He was the Word that sang the stars into being. Indeed, He is the Morning Star and Cornerstone Himself, the Mediator through whom all that is made was made. Christ can truthfully answer that He not only took on flesh and endured the hardships of time and suffering but that He was and is and will ever be, for He is One with the Creator.

“But he knows the way I take;
when he has tried me,
I shall come out as gold.”

– Job 23:10

A Lesson in Time

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I posed for this picture without really putting much thought into the words on the wall. Right now, I am where I want to be: at home, writing in my favorite spot with snickerdoodles in the oven. At the same time, though, I am still caught in the in-between. This weekend, I will visit a dear person and place in California. Two days later, I’ll return home to Arizona for a day. Then, I’ll turn right back around and fly to the UK for another semester. I am everywhere and nowhere, yet the words “You are right where you are supposed to be” ring true in my ears. 

“How can this discontent in-between be where I am supposed to be?” I wondered (not for the first time) as I sat down at the piano this evening. I struck the opening chords of Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60, and let muscle memory take over. As I played this familiar piece, I found myself struggling as always with timing; despite grueling hours with a metronome, I still slow down in the bits I really love and skim over the more treacherous passages.

My life (as is so often the case) parallels my musical practice. Before returning to the United States for Christmas, I remember praying that my month at home would feel at least as long as my grueling month of final papers and exams. I hoped so desperately that the unpleasant days before my departure would speed by and that my equal time at home would somehow slow down. Yet, predictably, my final month of the semester felt like an eternity and now—although I feel like I’ve barely touched down—I am preparing to leave once more. Try as I might, I cannot alter time.

Similarly, a superficial manipulation of speed does not improve the music I produce. While it might allow me to linger in lovely passages and rush through nasty technical bits, my inability to keep time destroys the beauty of balance. In his Barcarolle, Chopin writes gorgeous lines that my hasty fingers destroy in their race to the finish. He also includes glorious melodies that my romantic soul savors in excess. Unchecked, I easily make a lopsided, sentimental mess of one of the greatest works of piano literature.

The mantra that “music is in the silence between the notes” is attributed to Mozart, Debussy, and Miles Davis. While its origins might be murky, the quote itself—much like the literal writing on the wall in my photograph—rings true. Without the proper placement of sound and silence, there can only randomness and noise. Music, then, is made by ordering these contrasting elements within time.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
– Ecclesiastes 3:1

Music, like earthly life, is a temporal art. Both are worked out and made beautiful in time. Although I grew to despise the metronome that revealed my faulty counting, it taught me to work through difficult passages and to not cling to smooth phrases beyond their allotted pages. Whether playing an exquisite harmony or a grating dissonance, I was right where I needed to be within the piece and in time. Only by realizing that time is the basis for musical movement and beauty could I begin to submit to the metronome, the composer’s writing, and—ultimately—to the proper engagement of sound and silence, dissonance and harmony, ease and struggle.

In the same way, though I resent the travel schedule that hastens my departure from home, I am thankful, for it is one of the beams that measure my days. In the dissonance of not only being in my early twenties but also moving between continents, I too-often fear that I am not where I am supposed to be. However, while the place may not always be ideal, the timing is perfect.

“O LORD, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!”
– Psalm 39:4 (ESV)

As in a well-composed piece of music, I may struggle with technique or indulge in romanticism, but I cannot skip ahead or return to before. Instead, the order and beauty of the music depend upon recognizing that the present is always moving yet always where it is meant to be in time. In this musical, mysterious way, I am always exactly where I am supposed to be. 

Consumption

I fear we are dying of consumption…

It’s 2019 and it seems that everyone seems has some sort of food sensitivity. (Someone recently suggested that I cut gluten, which nearly made me cry as I reached for another slice of bread.) Our nutritional awareness is becoming more and more acute and, on the whole, I’d consider this a generally good thing. The fact that we have the information and ability to choose what will best nourish our bodies is a blessing we ought not take for granted.

However, it is sadly ironic that this nutritional awareness only extends so far; what we choose to eat is important, but our discernment must not stop at physical consumption. Mankind, created in the Image of God, is rational, imaginative, and decisive. We are more than mere flesh. While it is vital that we steward our physical wellbeing, our consumptive wisdom cannot cease there.

In the Gospel of Matthew, when the Pharisees saw that Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands, they were flabbergasted. (Finally, I get to use the word ‘flabbergasted!’) Calling the people together, Jesus says:

“Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:10-11, ESV)

And when his well-meaning but thick-headed disciples (sound familiar?) do not understand the meaning of these words, He continues to explain:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:17-20, ESV)

There is obviously a wisdom to washing one’s hands before eating, just as it is advisable to pursue bodily health. However, the greater weight of morality lies in what pours from our lips, revealing what is digesting in our hearts. What and how we eat is a minor issue; what we contemplate and communicate is much more dire. 

Due to one fateful bite of fruit (ironic, since we are discussing nutrition…), our hearts have a great propensity for evil all on their own. However, as with dietary choices, what we choose to feed upon has an incredible impact on what we crave. After all, I cannot have a cookie or cup of coffee without immediately wanting another.

These habitual cravings have potential for benefit or detriment. For instance, when I am daily in the Word and worshipping weekly with the people of God, I find that I am more prone to speak and live in truth and grace than when I forgo devotions for sitcoms and skip church on account of some other occupation. Not to be nasty, but anyone with a food allergy knows that eating that offending ingredient will lead to quite terrible, pungent results…on the other end… and it’s the same with our hearts as it is with our stomachs.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 1914, ESV)

How we speak and act is determined by what we hold in our hearts. Therefore, if we desire to proclaim the wonders of our Lord, serving as instruments tuned to His most glorious song, we must be cautious about what we choose to consume and contemplate. A devoted athlete will eat only what aids his ability. Just so, if we are to “press on toward the goal…of God in Christ Jesus,” as Philippians reads, we must be discerning about what we feed our souls. We must, like John the Baptist, be “filled with the Holy Spirit” above all else (Luke 1:15, ESV).

Philippians not only offers the charge to pursue Christ as an athlete pursues a prize, but a list of ingredients, if you will, to help in this aim. To best glorify our Lord in word and deed, we must train our hearts to crave whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8, ESV).

My brother is allergic to nuts and, as such, my family has become hyper-sensitive to ingredients. Even seemingly harmless dishes such as a green bean casserole have been subject to scrutiny— and for good measure, as that dish nearly sent him into shock! As Christians, we are liberated from the law, but called to live in accordance with our recreation in Christ. That said, while it is not inherently wrong to enjoy aspects of culture, media, etc., we are expected to engage with heightened discernment.

Ultimately, the deciding factor for anything is: does this hinder or help my heart in its relationship with Christ? 

I recently saw an article about a celebrity who claimed something along the lines of: “My faith in Jesus is not a religion, but a relationship, so I can do whatever I want and He will still love me.” But, in actuality, the fact that the Christian faith is relational elevates it to an even higher standard.

The church and its members, as the bride of Christ, are united in the exemplar of marriage, and, as the only one worthy of complete and utter devotion, Christ has every right to be a jealous husband. While a Christian’s relationship with Christ is not a marriage of legalism, neither is it one of licentiousness. If we truly love and know Him, we will earnestly desire to keep His commandments. This is not because we must earn our salvation, but because, having experienced His love, we realize that He is deserving of our fullest affection. Being in love with Christ necessitates forsaking all hinderances. 

We love my brother, so we watch for foods that could be his undoing. If we love Christ, we must be constantly vigilant, ensuring that what we consume will pour forth in witness rather than worldliness. In all areas, what we choose to consume must not become a stumbling block to our devotion or to the consciouses of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is so easy to become complacent, to pursue relevance rather than righteousness. However, if we truly love our Savior, we must dwell on that which is glorifying to Him and will prepare us as His witnesses. In a culture ironically fixated on physical consumption while ignoring spiritual malnourishment, we must actively choose to satisfy our hearts in the Lord and to desire that which is pleasing to Him.

Cross Training: A Lenten Reflection

I am a runner and, although I’m not going to win for speed any time soon, I am satisfied in my steadily-increasing pace. As odd as it sounds, I credit much of this consistency to my shoes. A devout patron of Brooks, I am more than a little happy with my pairs of their “Ghost” model, follow the Brooks hashtag #RunHappy, and always feel the itch to hit the track when I see their logo.

Of course, I was a runner before I converted to Brooks, but now I feel like part of a team. (Seriously, props to the Brooks PR folk for fostering such a remarkable community of runners.) The logo on my shoes not only inspires me to run, but almost convicts me. My shoes were a gift from my parents and Brooks are not cheap… When I look at them, I am motivated to run when I remember the cost as well as the benefit; I want to train so as to be justified in this gift, as well as to reap the joy that comes with finishing a race well.

Running in itself is a good thing and I desire to do it for my own health. However, a logo for a company I support and a community I am eager to be a member of are, on a low-motivation day, more compelling reasons to continue training.

Often when I run, the following passage comes to mind:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Perhaps it’s corny to think of running the race of faith as I jog a few miles around the park, but I cannot ignore that the Christian faith is often expounded and experienced through physical representations of spiritual realities. Running around the park is not a race of cosmic endurance, but it can certainly be a reminder. Indeed, if we sharpen our perception, there is an edifying theology to be found in all things…but that is a much longer, later article.

As I ran today, I wrestled within myself— does that count as an extra workout? You see, yesterday, I provided music for my church’s Ash Wednesday service. Having grown up nondenominational, I never much considered the importance of Ash Wednesday or the church calendar aside from Christmas and Easter. However, as the pastor drew the sign of the cross on my forehead and said the following, something moved within my soul.

Ryanne, you are dust and to dust you will return.

I had heard the “dust to dust” phrase before, but when my name was added, I was convicted. Lent is not just a time of extra church services and trying (and failing) to give up chocolate or Netflix; Lent is a time to remember my identity as dust created and recreated in the likeness of my Savior.

But what was I to give up for Lent? The sign of the cross on my forehead was an emblem more powerful than any shoe logo. If I am encouraged to run because of the cost of my shoes and my desire to represent as a Brooks runner, how much more ought I to be compelled by the sign of the cross on my face and — when the ashes have faded — my heart? Did not that emblem come at a price much dearer than any other? Shouldn’t I constantly be considering how I am representing Christ’s name above all else?

As I lapped the park this morning, I was unsure what to do as I did not feel called to give up or change any one thing in particular for Lent. It feels trite to give up something as trivial as dessert and, admittedly, I doubt I have the self-control or will to do so. With each step, I debated what (if anything) I should do and, ultimately, realized that just as a strong runner will implement multiple training techniques to achieve holistic health, I ought to have a cruciform approach to Lent:

I need to Cross train.

The Christian faith is holistic and the cross itself demonstrates this as yet another physical representation of a spiritual reality. Consider its very shape: it stretches up to heaven and down to earth, across lands and tongues and tribes, back through generations and testaments, forward to modern believers and posterity. The cross, so often a focal point in our lives as Christians, reminds us that in our Savior’s death and resurrection, all things are reconciled and we are to seek him in every age, area, and activity:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 1:7-10

Lent is a time of preparation and reorientation. I did not want to give something up during these forty days just for the sake of giving something up, for while my body might be grateful for a bit less sugar or my mind for a bit less television, these alone will not commend me to God, nor will they truly develop me as a person. When a runner is training, he or she must not focus just on good breath, stride, hydration, etc., although all of these are essential to a successful run. The difference between athlete and average is a holistic attitude.

Now, I do not pretend to be an athlete, but I aspire toward that mentality in my areas of calling. For instance, when I practice piano, I strive to consider technique, musicality, comprehension, and communication in equal temperament. A musician without imagination is a mechanic, but a musician without technique is a disaster; the whole person must be engaged to achieve a level of genuine artistry, just as the whole person must work to achieve true athleticism.

Christ, man and God, is the epitome of this completeness. In this season of Lent as I prepare my heart for Holy Week, I cannot in good conscience forsake a cruciform, comprehensive contemplation in favor of giving up something trivial. Just as in running, I desire that gradual, steady change of heart and health, both physically and spiritually.

But what does this look like practically?

Well, it is no accident that the sign of the cross in ashes is visible. Yes, it washed away with the aid of baptismal waters (and some makeup remover), but it still burns in my mind and heart. It reminds me of my membership in the church, the body of Christ, and influences even my tiniest decisions. This morning, I was tempted not to go for a run because it was oh-so-nice to sit on the couch with a second cup of coffee, but I purposely had left out my Brooks the night before, knowing that if I saw them, I would be reminded of the value of a good run.

In the same way, for Lent (and beyond), I am committed to keeping the sign of the cross ever before my conscience. In doing so, I am finding that those little things I might have given up (certain foods, TV shows, etc.) are no longer appealing. And those things I might have added (longer daily devotions, more prayer time, service for others), are more attractive than ever. When I opened my phone to find something to listen to on my run, I instinctively swiped to a pop workout playlist. But something gave me pause. Would listening to these songs honor the Lord who died for me? It would not necessarily be wrong, but would it be edifying?

Knowing I might not run as fast, I chose to listen to a sermon instead, only to find that I ran farther and better than I expected. This is not because the sermon had a catchy beat, but because it engaged my soul and I felt the reality of this spiritual race as I set forth on an earthly one. I found that even in this simple choice, I was practicing “laying aside every weight” so that I might “run with endurance.”

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Hebrews 12:3

The reasons I’ve never stuck to Lenten resolutions is because they did not genuinely force me to consider Christ crucified. This year, I am actively considering “him who endured” that I might endure and grow. This is not a burden, believers! This is a resolution we might count all joy, for it is training us as active followers of Christ as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

As a runner, sometimes what keeps me moving is keeping the end goal in sight. Let us in this season of Lent keep our most glorious End ever before us, that we might rightly sing:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Irish tune and text

Radical: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 10-11

“Radical” is a risky word to apply to scripture; it often signals controversy, anticipates antagonism, and puts hearers on edge as they consider the violence associated with many forms of radicalism.

But to be radical is not necessarily to be selfish, violent, and angry. In fact, in this turbulent age, it might just be to be the opposite. By definition, “radical” means simply:

“Advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change”

Lately I have been dwelling in 1 Corinthians and I realized as I read chapters 10-11 that the only word I could think of to properly describe this passage was, simply: radical. However, the lifestyle expounded by Paul to the Corinthians is hardly a demanding or individualistic radicalism. Neither is it fanatic or aggressive. Rather, it is a radical humility, deference, and submission such that this culture can only — Nietzsche-like — mock. And yet, this great humility leads to glory… What wondrous mystery is this, that glory would shine from quiet deference! And yet how simple this truth and calling, for it reflects the Redeemer and redeemed nature of the Christian faith.

The final verses of chapter 10 feature one of the most commonly-quoted passages in the Bible and one that is dear to my heart as well: 

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10:31, ESV)

Often this verse is used to inspire believers in their various vocations: Whether you manage finances or play music, do all to the glory of God. Whether you teach high school or run marathons, do all to the glory of God. I do not think, considering that this is both an edifying and encouraging use of this verse, that it is a wrong application. However, I do wonder if this is the correct interpretation. Yes, scripture elsewhere certainly supports seeking God’s glory in all of our pursuits. Here, however, something more nuanced is at stake. 

The passage which this verse concludes is not discussing vocation at all. Rather, chapters 8-10 address something much more controversial, both in the Corinthian church and our modern age. The church in Corinth was suffering conflicts of all kinds; indeed, the racial, moral, and financial divisions were severely hindering the body of Christ. Sound familiar?

What Paul addresses here concerns both moral and even dietary divisions in the church. The question before the church members is: How are they do deal with meat that has been offered to idols? To eat or not to eat? It is important to note that this is a doctrinal grey area; freed from the dietary restrictions of the law, Paul wants believers to know the following comforting truth: 

“Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” (8:8)

However, Paul does not reassure the church in Corinth of its freedom without providing the following warning: 

“But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”  (8:9) 

In this particular instance (which we will continue to refer to as a “grey” area because there is not a command one way or another) believers are freed to eat or not eat as their own conscious dictates. However, if one member (perhaps a younger Christian) is uncomfortable with eating meat previously offered to idols, those who dine with him ought to abstain as well so that he is not led to dwell on old sins or confronted by associations which he is not yet mature enough to overcome. It is not wrong for this brother to not eat the meat before him; whichever choice will best keep his heart focused on Christ and the service of his fellow members is the correct choice. Should one person at a gathering decide not to eat for reasons of personal conscious, history, temptations, etc., the other believers are called to an active fellowship with this sibling in Christ, abstaining in solidarity so that this weaker member might not be hurt. 

Paul discusses the parallels between membership in the church and the members of the body in the following chapters, but the analogy expresses the same idea. If one part of the physical body is hurting, the other members must compensate and work to prevent or alleviate the pain. The eye cannot say, “Well it’s too bad that you’re broken, foot, but I can carry on quite well with my business.” Rather, the eye must work harder to support the foot, looking ahead so that the it might avoid treacherous roads. In this way, the weakened foot is saved from further damage and the whole body is upheld as it grows stronger.

In a culture of liberal autonomy, this is a radical thought, but one that the church must ever seek to uphold. The secular person is quick to ask the same question Paul presents: 

“Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (10:29)

However, Paul answers this question with simply: the Glory of God. As Christians, “little Christs,” we are to emulate our Redeemer and the head of our church body in all that we do. Christ, the Lord of the Law, fulfilled the law that we might be freed. He was under no obligation but his own and yet, we know from the gospel that he who had and has the right to rule all things yet came in injury-prone flesh that he might serve and save us. And the marvelous mystery revealed in this is that in this greatest humility achieved the greatest glory. 

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (11:1)

So too, we are no longer are under the obligation to the law, but as new creations and grafted members of the body of Christ, we are to live according to the wisdom of our Lord. As “imitators” of Christ and his servant Paul, we are called to glorify him not by parading our freedom, but by submitting it before the consciences of others to build them up. It is true that we have a “right” bought and given through Christ, but it is a right won by a divine humility and ought to be exercised with such. 

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (10:23-24)

We might be quick, as the Corinthians were, to claim that “All things are lawful,” for especially in our current age of individualism, we are tempted to value our autonomy and opportunity to the point of idolatry. However, we will grow stronger together not when we realize our freedom, but when we realize our helpfulness. It is by this countercultural submission and service that we best build up our fellow believers, whatever their backgrounds and struggles. And it is in this counterintuitive way that we glorify the God who became as one of us. 

“…not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (10:33)

By choosing to eat or not to eat for the glory of God, we will not only build each other up as a unified body, but bear witness to the wondrous grace of our Lord. We are quick to think of what we can do for the glory of God, but so often slow to realize that restraint might be equally impactful.

One quick story and I’ll wrap up this post: 

I go to a rather conservative Christian college and, upon enrollment, students are expected to sign a code of conduct. This contract is not burdensome, but often I hear students complain about its restraints, especially when it comes to drinking. Yesterday, my boyfriend cooked me a lovely, late Valentine’s dinner at his house and, as we sat down to eat, one of his roommates commented:

“Aw, no wine tonight?”

“No, just La Croix in fancy glasses,” laughed my boyfriend, who proceeded to pray for our meal.

I didn’t say anything just then, but it meant a great deal to me. My boyfriend is a strong, faithful man, but his school does not have the same strict code that ours does and I know that he probably would have liked a glass of wine to complement the food he so thoughtfully prepared. However, he knows that I am committed to abiding by my contract and so he too abstained. This not only makes following the rules easier for me, but it is comforting to know that the man I care for so deeply is committed to caring for my conscience in even these seemingly little things. Indeed, isn’t this the essence of the Christlike love described only a page later in chapter thirteen? 

“Love is patient and kind…It does not insist on its own way.” (13:4-5)

So then, beloved reader, can we consider together what it might be like to love each other in this way? Not selfishly, but in quiet selflessness? As 1 Corinthians 10:30 implies, it is easy to “partake with thankfulness,” but there may be greater reward for deference; whether we eat or drink or — more powerfully, perhaps – abstain, our decision must be guided by a commitment to honoring our Lord by honoring the consciences of our brothers and sisters. Only by radical humility can we demonstrate the radical glory of the Christian gospel. 

On Prayer: 1 Peter 5:5-7

This is probably the first year since I could hold a pen that I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions. After recently taking the enneagram and discovering myself to be the “Reformer” (wing “Achiever”) this is rather surprising. I love goals and lists and plans and I work, practice, study, and exercise consistently. However, while I did not set any specific goals and am continuing along more or less as usual, I did realize a few areas in which I need greater consistency.

The first of these is prayer.

My morning devotions center on the reading and rereading of scripture. (I highly recommend picking an epistle or passage and reading it daily for a month.) Although I love digging into the Word and pondering its truth, I fear I sometimes err on the side of intellect rather than faith. Recently, I was accepted to pursue a master’s in “Theology and the Arts” at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, so I am thankful for my ability to read scripture as an academic. However, as I enter the final semester of my undergrad, new friendships and relationships, and look to a future that’s both terrifying and exciting, I’m confronted with things that go beyond academic analysis.

A week ago, as I tossed and turned at that dreaded hour (see “Three o’Clock in the Morning”), I realized that what I needed was (and is) prayer and, being at a loss for the words to properly express myself, I turned to the Psalms: the most honest, broken, beautiful, truth-bound poetry ever written.

I am not the best at expressing my emotions; as a generally happy person, I try to avoid showing any other side of myself. When I pray aloud with others and even in private prayer, I find myself trying to reason myself to happiness. While I am quick to worry within my own mind and heart, I am slow to present these anxieties to the One who will listen and heal. In reading the Psalms, it became so obvious that prayer, while so often comprised of and resolving in praise, is also manifested in lament.

Lamentation is a concept I’ve been turning over in my mind for several years, but ultimately it’s something that cannot be solely rationalized. It’s a deep expression of incomprehensible emotions, yet it is not all chaos. As an artist, the psalmist begins with broken materials but eventually shapes them into order through poetic exploration. Wrestling with terror and enemies and uncertainty, psalms of lamentation reorient to faith and praise, for they and their writer are upheld by truth.

Why, then, should I be afraid to pour forth even the most confusing feelings of my heart? After all, Romans 8:26 assures us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Expressing emotion is not separate from studying and living truth; when even the most anxious of feelings are anchored in truth, they may be safely explored when in conversation with God.

Recently, I purchased a new journal (see “New Year, New Journal…But how to choose?”) and am finding it the perfect place to express and explore in prayer. Immediately upon writing and praying over the words (some of which made very little sense at all when put down) I felt a rush of relief. Worries are overwhelming when swarming in a sleep-deprived brain, but often once they are written in bright-colored ink, they seem silly. And they seem even tinier when presented before a sovereign God who promises to hear and help.

Before I set to journalling, one verse presided in my thoughts, but I feared I was misapplying it like some cliché cross-stitch pillow. But when I looked it up, I was struck to find it more applicable to my situation than I could have imagined:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

– 1 Peter 5:5-7 (ESV)

“You who are younger.” 

Hey, that’s me! I’m 22 and I have to admit that Taylor Swift had it just about right when she sang that “we’re happy free, confused and lonely at the same time / it’s miserable and magical.” But here in 1 Peter are words written not only to capture how it feels to be young, but to hold my hand through it. Indeed, it promises that the might hand of God will uphold me and provide in his perfect timing.

“Humble yourselves.” 

I do not know everything. Part of my problem with prayer is that it requires me to admit this. It requires me to beg, to acknowledge that from God all blessings flow and that I can do nothing to earn them. As I journaled through this passage of scripture, I used this command to humility to write out my uncertainties and admit my limited vision in submission to the omniscience of God. It’s amazing how kneeling relieves one’s burdens. 

“The mighty hand of God.” 

Remember his providence. I love journaling because it allows me to read back through the arc of my life. Worries that once seemed insurmountable are now laughable. Hopes I once exalted were disappointed and replaced with much better things. Reader and Friend, praise God for his faithfulness. Admit your anxieties, but never forget that an authentic prayer is not only honest to your situation, but to that of a God who is constant and caring. Prayers without acknowledgement of God’s worthiness and faithfulness are sorely one-sided. The lament Psalms decry man’s state, but ever return to the power of the Lord’s hand.

“Casting all your anxieties on him.” 

I made a list as I contemplated this line. I dumped ever single “what-if-worry” that flapped about in my brain like moths. It was a bit like a game of “Worst-case scenario” where my hypothetical fears got progressively more and more ridiculous, but by the time I was finished, I was laughing instead of worrying. With my Savior carrying my burden, I felt able again to “laugh without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25).

“He cares for you.” 

This. This is blessed assurance. I’m a logical person and need to be rationally convinced of most things. I’m not sure how to respond to compliments sometimes because of this, let alone respond to a letter that speaks so plainly of God’s providential love for me. I am overwhelmed, no longer with fear, but with awe. 

What amazing, never-failing grace. How can I keep from praying?

I will fail (over and over and over again) to go to my knees. However, I have a God who cares for me so personally and perfectly, that I am responding to that love by committing to more regular prayer. It’s difficult: I have to humble myself, admitting that I am not always in control, not always perfectly happy, and don’t always know what’s going to happen. But, as my choir director so often says, “practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent.” 

That said, I am committing to practicing prayer, using study and scripture as a guide for expressing that which cannot be put into prose and turning it to praise.

Unarmed Battle: Insights on Ephesians 6:10-18

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. (NKJV)

I have read this passage (Ephesians 6:10-18) probably over 50 times in the past couple of months and numerous more throughout my life (sword drill and memory verse, anyone?). However, this time I felt as if the Sword of the Spirit had hit me with the flat of the blade. Hard.

Reading these verses this morning, I realized with sorrow and fear that many Christians in my generation- myself included- are entering a battle unarmed.

Every morning when I check the news, another tragedy has erupted. Another disaster has left devastation in its wake. Another evil person has taken the lives of innocents. More leaders have turned to threats instead of negotiation.

And switching to social media leaves no relief. Where once I saw memes and birthday wishes, I overwhelmingly see more and more cries for help. 

This network of anxiety, insecurity, and frustration is what the world has become. Our world was created with so much beauty and remains overflowing with blessings, but sin left its mark and we are living in the fallout (no pun intended…)

This is a world at war: physical war as well as spiritual…indeed, physical war because of spiritual warfare.

This brings me to my point.

Christians, especially those of my young generation, we are in the midst of the greatest war ever fought and, although our victory is sure in Christ, we cannot enter this conflict unarmed. My goal now is to provide insight (humble as it may be) into how we may live out the strengthening command of Ephesians: to put on the full armor of God.

How do we arm ourselves spiritually? 

  1. “Know thine enemy”– Our ultimate enemy is not our neighbor with opposing views, nor the man whose words strike like daggers, nor the one who inflicts physical wounds. Certainly these are fleshly enemies, but our principle enemy is “not flesh and blood, but the…spiritual forces of evil.”  When we recognize that our enemy is much more terrible than any single human being and is the force behind the evil we experience, we are better able to love our earthly enemies in prayer and deed, as well as to prepare ourselves to defend all against the evil powers at work in this world and in the hearts of mankind.
  2. Know Who holds the Power- We must “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” indicating that we must don our armor and face our battles with confidence, knowing that they are “a light, momentary affliction…preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our King has already won the battle and our End is sure; bearing this constantly in mind will give us the strength to withstand any attack of the enemy.
  3. Tighten Truth- It is no coincidence that Paul describes Biblical truth as a belt, for it is what holds us together as individuals and as the body of the church. We are bound by this truth as we might be bound by a well-made belt. However, we must not allow ourselves to feed on the lies of the world, growing so full on deceptions that we loosen the belt of truth in favor of comfort. Rather, Christians, we must fasten it still tighter, binding our hearts to the Word of the Lord and committing ourselves to discernment in all things.
  4. Perform Spiritual Cardio-  A breastplate protects the heart, thus the “breastplate of righteousness” is a safeguard for Believer’s hearts. In practicing righteousness in a world that has abandoned definitive morality, we exercise and strengthen our hearts; imitating Christ in unwavering righteousness is the greatest heart exercise, for it teaches us to sacrifice our own desires for the love of God and others, as well as prepares us to shine as lights unto the world and to stand before the throne of our Lord.  None of us will do this perfectly, but as honorable soldiers we must continue to “press on toward the goal…for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
  5. Come in Peace- We are instructed to fit our feet to bring the Gospel of Peace. Perhaps this means listening to others with the intention of understanding rather than replying. Or maybe this means voicing our convictions with firmness but gentleness. The cliche “What Would Jesus Do/ WWJD” saying applies quite nicely here, for Jesus used strong speech when necessary and was never hesitant to proclaim the truth, even when it made people uncomfortable. However, we must also be winsome and kind. Finding this balance is difficult, but it is the key to fighting a spiritual battle while preaching peace to others.
  6. Take Refuge- Ducking behind a shield in the midst of battle is not retreat, but reasonable refuge. In the same way, amidst the turmoil of this spiritual war and the conflicts on earth, we must seek refuge in our faith. There are two sides to this shield of faith. The first is that we have a certain hope for future victory, that is, we have faith. The second is that we must live faithfully (loyally, earnestly) in light of this hope. We uphold faith as we look toward our End, but we also must maintain integrity and perseverance through the present struggles, thus living faithfully. This twofold faith hems us before and behind, protecting us against the enemy’s onslaught of doubts and despair.
  7. Keep your Head- A mind set upon God is a helmet of salvation. Christians, our salvation is assured, but we must keep our minds focused on it, rejoicing yet always striving forward. A clear-headed soldier is a more courageous warrior and a focused fighter will win. However, just as a soldier must put on his helmet again each day, we must continually remind ourselves of our salvation and hope in Christ, ceaselessly renewing our focus and resolve.
  8. Draw your Sword- Time in the Word and in spiritual development is not optional. The enemy loves to persuade us that we do not have time to pray or study scripture and is strongest when he convinces us that the Holy Spirit is no longer active. But these are the very lies we combat when we choose to focus on spiritual growth. Throughout my personal battle, I have found that any time I give to the Lord in studying His Word and praying or praising, He redeems in some other way. After all, He who made time surely can make enough for us to spend with Him. Our time in study and meditation on God and His precepts is as crucial as sword training for a knight. Without it, what pitiful tin soldiers we will turn out to be.

 

Beloved Reader, I am writing this for myself as much as for you. I confess that I neglect my armor, allowing it to rust in patches and loosening my grip on the Sword. But I beseech you and am dedicating myself to continue training for this ongoing war. Our victory is won in Christ, but we have a duty to fulfill in this fallen world, which is the battleground. We must be faithful soldiers, living in love but firm in conviction, prepared to withstand the fiercest attacks of the enemy and strengthened by our secure future as redeemed Believers.

 

In Christ,

Ryanne

T.G.I.M.- Some thoughts on Rest

Okay real talk. I hate Fridays.

A lot.

And, to be even more honest, I am not a huge fan of Saturdays either.

But I do LOVE Mondays! Fresh start, strict schedule, etc. I often possess more of a “Thank Goodness It’s Monday” (hence the title of this post) mentality than the more normal “TGIF.”

You see, I love to be constantly working; being busy holds me together. Too much down time and I become frustrated. Relaxing is not restful for me because I literally feel guilt when I am not being productive. It is a problem and I know this is not healthy.

A year or so ago I published an article titled “Rest and Laziness: They are Different!” (https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/rest-and-laziness-they-are-different/) Well I am guilty of, as they might have said a decade ago, “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”

I am quick to encourage others to take breaks, but I do not easily take them myself. I work so hard and constantly throughout the week that by the time the weekend comes around, I am physically unable to keep up with my pace. I still try and work, but because I am so exhausted I end up not accomplishing what I wanted to and becoming angry at myself.

This is unhealthy and I know it. This messed up workaholic mentality  has been my biggest struggle for a long time and I am finally having to confront it.

My ever-wise dad, who has long fought with the same tendency as me, offered these words:

“Sis, you are me. We are the same in this. And you are learning the hard way that you need to take down time. You have to introvert. You need to say no to doing more and just schedule rest time into your day. Find Bible verses on rest and dwell on them; God rested on the seventh day as an example for people like us. Now let me pray for you.”

As always, Dad was right. My hands feel weird not practicing piano right now and my mind is fretting as I write this blog post instead of a homework assignment. But I need to follow the steps my dad suggested.

  1. Introvert: I realized last night as I zipped out of my dorm for an event that I have not really had any time to myself this year. I love my friends, but I finally am at the point where I know that some time to myself is going to help me recharge. So I cancelled some plans and curled up with a book.
  2. Say No: I overcommitted myself this weekend, as usual. But another way of “saying no” is to say no to myself and my consuming perfectionism. This morning, I woke up later than I planned and was determined to go practice extra hard to make up for it…but then I said no. Instead, I called my mom and did some quiet time and feel much better for it.
  3. Schedule Rest Time: One of my friends schedules an hour into her day for chill time. I need to do this. I forget that doing honors institute reading is not down time, even though I enjoy it. As weird as it sounds, I think I might need to make Netflix more of a priority!
  4. Dwell on Truth: I love verses that encourage hearty work. I write them down in my notes and highlight them in my Bible. However, God mandates rest as well and I need to meditate on these passages in my heart. My faith encourages physical rest and, by pondering these truths, I will also find spiritual rest! I have found Psalm 116 to be especially comforting.
  5. Pray: Having my dad pray for me over the phone was wonderful; I was filled with such a peace. I often forget to pray, but this is a spiritual self-harm. Prayer leads me to lean on God rather than myself, granting rest to my soul and direction to my outer life; in short, I need to stop overlooking it.

“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” – Psalm 116:7

Before I conclude and have hot chocolate and introvert time with my amazing roommate, I am going to jot down two final thoughts:

  1. My favorite animal is a sloth. I could learn a few things from their chillness.

Image result for sloth
2. One of my favorite Bible stories is of Mary and Martha, but I have always sympathized more with Martha, who is always bustling about preparing her household. Jesus says to this hardworking woman:

“Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed…or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:41-42

Mary knew when to rest, taking a break to listen to truth with her whole heart. I am naturally a Martha, but I am committing now to following the steps above so that I may learn to be a Mary…

…and also a little bit of a sloth. I mean, come on, look how adorable they are!!!

Image result for sloth

Immediately: Eight Poems Based on the Gospel of Mark

In reading through Mark, I was struck by the recurring use of the word “immediately.” It is used to characterize many aspects of Christ’s ministry on Earth, but I was especially drawn to its use in relation to instances of healing. As I pondered this motif and these stories, I found myself understanding them with new clarity. In order to delve deeper into this idea of immediacy in Jesus’ miracles, I wrote a set of eight free verse poems exploring what the experiences of the individuals affected may have been like based on the details gleaned from the Gospel According to Mark.

Jesus Healing the Bleeding Woman, Roman Catacombs 300-350

Immediately

I. The Woman (Mark 5:21-34)

The crowd is throbbing

As my pain is

throbbing.

I have not come this far in years.

Twelve years.

Tears-

I cannot help them-

Begin to flow…

Flow as blood has

For twelve years.

I am so close.

But still feel so far and fears

Overcome me

As the people surround me.

They know.

They all know.

I see their glances:

Quick, horrified, averted.

I want to scream:

“Yes! See! See my shame!

Tell me, you proud, healthy,

Is it my fault?”

But instead I fall.

To my knees I am bent.

Beneath the weight of despair

I am kept.

But my eyes remain fixed

Before me, ahead.

I am fallen

And aching

But I am not yet dead.

My eyes catch

On a figure weaving

Through this throbbing, living sea.

As I rise to walk,

My vision fades.

I stretch my hand and fumble feebly forward…

A hem.

All I seek.

A hem to hem me behind and before

In healing safety.

My finger brushes

The rough cloth,

Not even for a breath,

But mine returns.

Immediately,

Blood dries and sight clears.

Love and hope and peace

Are all that flow

Not from, but over me.

Immediately,

I am again on my knees,

Not for lack of strength

But faith.

I tremble.

Yet this fear is new,

As I am made new

Immediately.

I cannot help

But want to sing,

“Oh, see! See! My shame undone!

See and know!

The saving One!”

Immediately.

.

II. The Man with the Withered Hand(3:1-6)

My bones lament

With hunger.

My eyes grow dim

From waiting.

Waiting for nothing,

Since who would help me today?

The sad irony of the Lord’s Day.

Synagogues and pockets full,

But hearts empty.

Even more empty than my hand.

At least I would to fill mine.

Another sad irony.

For I cannot.

I cannot even reach out

To work or to beg.

Why bother anyway?

You cannot pour from empty jars

And a broken pot like me-

A withered hand like mine-

Holds nothing.

Yet here I am,

Still waiting.

Waiting for someone

To heal and fill

And then,

“Come here.”

I lift my head.

A hand, not mine, reaches

As I cannot.

An order next:

“Stretch out your hand.”

Will the cruelty ever end?

Why does he mock me?

But then,

Immediately.

I watch fingers uncurl, lengthen.

Nails harden.

Palm fattens.

Muscles strengthen.

And it is my hand,

Yet not my hand

That is,

Immediately,

Opened and held out

For me.

The skin is softened,

Like my heart.

Immediately,

As limb is healed,

I am no longer empty.

Hardened hearts are whole jars,

Yet easily shattered.

Mine bends as my knuckles,

To take in life.

Immediately,

Hand restored, hope fulfilled.

I am sustained

And can sustain.

Oh, happy day!

Oh, sad irony cured

Immediately.

.

III. Jairus’s Daughter(5:35-43)

“Daughter, your faith has made you well,”

I hear the man say

To a woman kneeling.

Dealing with these commoners

Must be tiresome.

Some are calling him Teacher, after all.

He could be as me,

Lofty, a ruler.

I turn away,

But hear it again,

The word I hold dear.

“Daughter.”

Someone clutches my arm;

I am clutched by fear.

Dead.

In her bed.

Not sleeping?

No, nor breathing.

I stagger.

A gasp as one struck

Escapes my throat.

A wordless cry,

Yet I know he will hear.

Common or not,

I have to try.

My girl cannot just…die.

A man holds me back.

“Why trouble the Teacher?”

But I cannot just leave her.

And He heard,

And He knew

What had happened

And what I felt.

And He came.

“Do not fear.

Only believe.”

But can words alone dry

A father’s tears?

I know it is not sleep.

But then,

He spoke again.

His voice a lullaby.

“Talitha cumi,”

Commanding gently to rise.

Immediately,

Quicker even than on holiday mornings,

She did.

Eyes bright, arms outstretched

To wrap in embrace around

My once-stiff neck.

Immediately,

My daughter

Is born to me a second time

Of the water I wept.

Immediately,

She stands and,

Laughing and crying of joy,

We dance.

Immediately,

The Teacher, True Ruler,

Awakes daughter and father both

from death

And mourning dawns as morning

Immediately.

.

IV. The Leper(1:40-45)

Unclean,

I hide myself.

Lest I am seen

And sent away,

Purged from the city

While dogs and rats are allowed

To stay.

But they say

I am unclean.

I do not argue;

I am one of the unlucky ones

Who cannot hide his sins

Beneath a cloak of

Smooth, clear skin.

I am as unclean

Outside as others are within.

So I conceal my body,

But my spirit I’ll bear

An offering.

The sacrifice of Psalmist’s praise

Is not made up of lovely face

But a contrite heart,

Such a heart as mine.

Perhaps the only organ spared

But even it is broken.

Its pieces cry out

With my failing limbs.

Unclean,

But yearning.

I step out-

Painfully, timidly,

From where I’ve been

Hiding, waiting, dying…

Decaying though still living.

To my knees

I sink before You

To present my pitiful lot

Before You.

Its package fails, unclean.

But if you will…

You will?

Can it be?

At your word,

At your touch-

Ah, how long since I’ve been touched!

Oh fearful joy!

Immediately,

I am clean.

From that gentle press of the fingertips,

Life springs.

Immediately,

I feel it.

I feel it in nerves revived.

Shivering, pulsing,

Skin reforms before my eyes.

But even more,

Immediately,

My mangled heart

Laid at Your feet

Is touched too,

Molded and cradled

By hands invisible.

Immediately,

I stand humbled without shame,

Purified shell, Sanctified soul.

I am wonderfully remade

And run to present my whole self

Immediately.

.

V. The Paralytic (2:1-12)

People just keep going

Around, across, any way they can.

Stepping over me even.

But what can I do?

Nothing but what I am doing.

Lying here.

Still, in one piece

Yet shattered,

Feeling the full weight of despair

And at the same time

Feeling nothing.

Lying here, I can recall
When lying was pleasant

If it was with words to fool

Or women to love

In secrecy.

I fight the urge to laugh,

Bitterly.

Is it not funny how desires

So frequently

Turn to damnation

In a single, fateful

Instant?

The crowd is thick.
I watch as someone trips

Over the legs I no longer

Think of as my own.

As I am carried to the roof,

Still in my bed,

The thought crosses my mind

That maybe falling would not be so bad.

Yet even that end

Is not in my power.

They lower

Me down.

A face comes into view

Looking down but not in pride.

His eyes are sad

As if he sees

The past I wish to hide.

“Son,” he says,

Claiming me.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Immediately,

Though my body remains still,

My heart leaps

And my soul is moved.

Immediately,

Outrage erupts around,

But I hear only one voice:

The Authority

Who speaks again.

Immediately,

I obey.

Could I ignore

The One who says,

“Rise and walk”?

Immediately,

I stand and take my bed.

No more lying for me.

Walking even

Is not enough

If it is not with Thee.

In your movements

I will follow

Immediately.

.

VI. The Deaf Man(7:31-37)

I cannot tell

What these gestures mean.

Why do you all wave

Your hands at me?

I can only guess at

The words on your lips.

And can only make

Vain attempts

To do as you do,

To speak as you speak.

By your wrinkled brows

And worried looks,

I know I am failing.

Where are you taking me?

Who is this man?

Oh, do not leave me!

I cannot understand

Your mute tongues,

But do not forsake me!

Where is he taking me?

I try to shout

But fall into silence,

Not that I am ever not

In that painful, ringing

Silence.

We stop.

The crowd is out of sight.

The man reaches out.

I flinch,

Expecting a blow

As from the cruel youths

Who saw me as a game,

An object of fun for them,

Confused torment for me.

But no blow comes,

Just a soft warmth

As He covers the sides of my head

And the tip of my tongue

With His hands.

Eyes wide, bewildered,

I watch.

He sighs.

I feel His breath on my face

And see Him mouth a word.

No- more!

More than see!

Immediately,

before the word

Has flown from His lips,

I hear.

I heart it!

Immediately,

As He speaks,

“Ephphatha”

“Be opened,”

I hear!

And realize the crowd

Is out of earshot

As well as sight.

Immediately,

My newborn ears

Are tuned to one voice,

The voice of my Healer

And Master.

Immediately,

I do what is now natural,

Though moments ago,

Impossible.

I shout and proclaim

Of hearing and healing

Immediately.

.

VII. The Blind Man (8:22-26)

“Touch me, someone!

So I might know you are there!”

Greet me, anyone!

So I am not alone,

Isolated in my own darkness.

I’m begging,

Begging for more than food

Or loose coins you can spare.

It is light that I am starving for-

A light to show me out,

Out of this eternal, internal,

Personal night.

My heart yearns

Morning and evening,

Though both are to me

The same.

Oh, I shudder.

The chill of winter

And aches of hunger

Are nothing

To this ceaseless imprisonment

Within myself.

I cry out again…

Perhaps someone will reply.

“Oh, stranger friend,

Whoever among you, passersby,

Has any pity,

I entreat you

To touch me,

Hear me,

See me.

But what’s this?

I start suddenly

As a hand descends

And makes to guide me.

My pleading fades.

I follow in silence,

Trusting,

Though I know not

Who leads me.

Then a pressure

Against my eyes,

Those shutter windows

To my lonely soul.

Next a voice asks,

“Do you see?”

Immediately,

I am blinded

No longer by darkness,

But by light,

Dazzling and radiant.

Immediately,

I answer,

“I see, people?

Or are those trees?”

I blink and try again.

Immediately,

The man’s hands

Descend once more,

Unfogging the glass,

This time completely.

Immediately,

I see and am seen.

I am freed,

Released from my prison

Where I grieved

In midnight black.

The Son is shining and I see,

Immediately.

.

VIII. The Demon-Possessed Boy (9:14-29)

Horrors.

There is no other name

For the things I have seen,

And sat helplessly by…

Useless.

My son, ripped from my arms

By a force I could not fight.

I am his father!
Guilt stabs like a knife.
But how can I defend when

The enemy, invader

Makes war from within?
My own flesh and blood,

My beloved,

My son,

Cast into the flames

I was too slow to quench,

Then plunged into the water

Kept for the fire.

I am but man

And as such but dust.

How could I conquer a spirit

When my own is worn and weary

And losing hope?

Alas! Why do you come,
you crowd
, seeking spectacle?
You do not want to see

What daily seeks-

Through my son-

To destroy me:

Demon Doubt

Grapples for my soul

As the other strangles my son’s life

With his own fingers.

His demon casts him down,

Frothing, convulsing.

Mine pulls on me too,

But before it succeeds,

I cast myself down

In desperation

At Your feet.

Before the growing crowd,

Before You, my Lord.

“I believe, but oh!
Help my unbelief!”

Immediately,

Stillness falls.

Has death come?
Merciful relief?
Dare I hope for better?
It seems beyond belief and yet…

Immediately,

Quiet reigns

Where screams once were

And peace floods my soul,

Burning away fear

As two evils are expelled,

Far, far from here.

Immediately,

Your hand raises him.

The Son returns my son

Back to the arms

From which he was torn.

And in that moment,

Two faiths are born

Immediately.