Time to Look Honestly

“The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of millstones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them” -G.K. Chesterton

Cheery thought to start Thursday.

The reading I am following for Lent with She Reads Truth comes from Isaiah. The words today made me think of Chesterton’s words.

The Lord of Hosts removing any security from the people of Judah. Ouch. God allowing them to fall to what they truly were in that moment…they had rejected God and were living for themselves. God was going to allow them to follow that through. The result, according to the word of God through Isaiah, was going to be devastating.

People oppressing one another, desperate for a leader. There would be no stability, no security. Fear…that underlies the verses.


Until God says that there will be a day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious.  There will be a refuge and a shelter
.

The people could not see what they had become. They were fooling themselves, and as long as God allowed them to prosper in that state, they would remain ignorant and rebellious. When they saw the fulfillment of their reality, they would see the deep need for God’s redemption.

When we see ourselves honestly through Lent, we realize the deep need for Jesus.

This morning as I sit, I reached for tea instead of coffee. Something different, something to awaken my senses this morning as I just felt numb to the taste of coffee. And I love coffee. It had become bland to me though…and so I reached for something different. And I drank it from a tea cup my grandmother used with a sugar spoon my  great grandmother used.

 

I read and looked around at my life, which is very good, and realized that it is easy to be complacent in honestly looking at myself. It is easy to doze in the sunlight even when there is so much turmoil all around.

 

I know there is so much to pray for and about all around us. There are so many dealing with enormous challenges. Sometimes, though, we need the season to look inward. It’s not healthy to naval gaze without end…but sometimes we need the season to quiet down and look honestly at ourselves.

 

There is something about tangibly changing things. Lent provides the opportunity to change things, tangibly. And sometimes just a simple change…like giving up being judgemental, even for one of the 40 days, helps us think differently. Helps us look differently at ourselves and at our God.
Give up something, something noticeable. 40 Days of changing the routine.

 

Before God has to remove the security to get our attention. Sometimes God getting our attention is uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like millstones rolling upon us. Because, the point is…we are fallen and marked by sin. We are in desperate need of salvation.
Sometimes that is not so easy see. Sometimes, though, we see true evil around us and are reminded there is a deeper reality. Ann Voskamp talked about that today:

And if I’m only dust — just my love alone in the world will not be enough.


If love is all we need in this world — I’ve got a problem.


Because, honest? Our love isn’t enough to absorb the evil that decapitates men’s heads, evil that rapes little girls, evil that steals and sells children as sex slaves.


There’s real active evil that’s not simply people acting — there’s real evil that’s more than a social construct, that’s more than someone’s bad choices, that’s not from any heart in this world, that’s not from any place in this world, that’s not from any mind in this world — there’s a supernatural evil that slithers into the corners of this world and pythons around hearts and minds until it strangles out the light and we scream against the dark.


At some point — in a broken world, your Love runs out, and You need a Love larger than your own to Love Larger than evil.

 

Looking honestly. Honestly like this takes some time to sink in. Some time to settle in our brains and then make its way to our hearts. That is one of the blessings of Lent…it takes its time. Time to understand the reality of sin, and of evil and of a love that is able to turn that all upside down.

 
A God who comes not overwhelming and not conquering, but instead comes unexpectedly and then dies unexpectedly. A God willing to suffer. A God willing to be in the desert and know what it is to be tempted and to suffer.

 
The reality of the Cross, the honesty of our need for that reality, Lent provides us the time and the space to remember.

 
Every. Year.

 
Lent is not just about giving up chocolate or FaceBook.

 
Lent is about changing our focus and about discipline, discipline in our thoughts.

 

Discipline in our spirits. We’ve just begun…find a book that helps you focus and helps you look honestly at the world and at yourself, and ultimately draws you back to Scripture to look honestly at the God who changes everything.

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The Lent Mirror

Is this a Fast to keep

The larder lean?

And clean

From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish

Of flesh, eat still

To fill

The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,

Or ragg’d to go,

Or show

A down-cast look and sour?

No: ’tis a Fast to dole

Thy sheaf of wheat

And meat

With the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife

And old debate,

And hate;

To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;

To starve thy sin,

Not bin,

And that’s to keep thy Lent.

-Robert Herrick

Ash Wednesday, today, the beginning of Lent. Another rhythm of the Church Calendar, drawing my attention away from news flashes and FaceBook notifications. This year it seems to come so early. That might owe simply to the intensity of the first two months of this year. I feel as though I have hardly taken a breath since toasting sparkling grape juice at midnight with the kids and Steve…

I have been looking forward to Lent this year, mostly because it provides an opportunity to lay aside some things and take up a focus my soul needs. I have ‘fasted’ from FaceBook before, and am doing so this year at least for the most part. I’ll post updates as I have a blog post, but the notifications are off and the apps are deleted. The season to settle down a little is settling upon me.

That does not mean, however, utter sadness or mortification. Lent has never meant that for me…it is more a narrowing of focus. A concentration for a season. It is difficult for me to concentrate on anything indefinitely…so this structure of 40 days brings borders I need. Lent brings this strange paradox of joy and hope with repentance and deep awareness of my sinfulness.

I am reading a study from She Reads Truth this year, along with a couple other books.

 

This morning I woke early anticipating some time to read and pray and think about Lent…only to find myself instead tracking storms and Steve’s progress to work. 80 mph winds. Tornado warnings. Garbage bins flying across the driveway. Little girls waking hours early…thankfully only to fall asleep again on the couch.

 

 

Somehow that seemed appropriate this morning: Lent calls us to look honestly at ourselves, to “Circumcise thy life” as Herrick says above. We cannot do that in isolation from the reality of our lives, though. The storms will still blow through, even as we turn our attention toward the salvation of our souls. Even as we discipline ourselves to look honestly at who we are, and then…thankfully…at who God is and what Easter is all about. We cannot think on these things without being touched by the storms all around us. This year probably more than most.
The storms are done here now. The cats are looking wet and irritated after being outside.

 

The youngest boy is playing piano.

 

    

 

Underneath all of that, at least for today, though, is the refrain from G.K. Chesterton:

 

“I have found only one religion that dares to go down with me into the depth of myself.”
I need the discipline of looking honestly at myself, of holding that awareness of my sin, and then of walking in the mercy and grace of God. In the midst of storms, and life…we need this season of pause, of directing our thoughts to the reality of God Incarnate crucified. Then, we can walk in the reality of Lent…meaning “spring”…and the joy and hope which comes.
Walt Wangerin said this in my reading this morning:

 

We have to see ourselves honestly in order to see the offer of forgiveness and redemption Christ offers as honestly.

I most likely will not post daily through this season, but will be posting some poems and thoughts from the readings. Take some time today…even if you do not feel the call to fast through the whole season…but take some time to look honestly at yourself in light of Christ. Oh, and if we could fast from “Strife and old debate and hate…” that would be lovely.

There is a Light that Heals

Sitting down with my good cup of coffee this morning, held in a mug which holds memories along with caffeine, I began to read. The world opened before me in the form of Facebook posts and Twitter comments. Instagram photos and news headlines.

Fear. Anger. Outrage. Concern.

A few with encouraging words, with hope of things deeper.

I have not written here in months. There are things I would like to write about, yet they do not seem to come together clearly yet. So I wait. More thoughts about Mom and the toll of Dementia. More thoughts about homeschool and the joys and challenges of that life. More thoughts about kids and faith and creativity and wonder….but they all seem overshadowed now.

In the past I have daily posted poems as we have moved through the Lenten Season. I have fasted from Facebook and other things, sharing the reasons and the results.

This year, Lent has seem swept aside by all the noise and debate and discussion of politics. There is so much there to parse and think about. I have no desire to add my voice to that debate, unless you want to sit with me over a cup of coffee and talk at length. There is not much I could say in 140 characters or a Facebook post that would clarify a candidate or a policy. Plus there are so many already saying so much, I just don’t want to add to the mix.

Instead…can I encourage you?

I needed it this morning. I turned to Malcolm Guite  who faithfully leads us through the seasons of the Church with poetry and insights. I needed this this morning. I needed to be reminded of the rhythm and the truth of a reality beyond politics. Don’t get me wrong…I understand the importance and participate in the responsibility of our elections.

Today though, I needed to be reminded “There is a light that heals, and, where it falls, transfigures and redeems the darkest stain into translucent colour.”

Possibly you needed a reminder as well.  If you click the link you can hear Malcolm read the poem as well.

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

The Grasping of Palm Sunday….

Palm Sunday

 

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart,

The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune. I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple. Jesus come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

This poem is from Malcolm Guite, part of his book Sounding the Seasons. This was just what I needed to hear this morning.

I said the other day that I felt unprepared for the Lenten Season this year. In the past I have been more intentional about giving something up, even just FaceBook, in an attempt to focus on the season. The intentional abstaining is not an attempt to gain the merit of God, it is instead an attempt to discipline this flesh of mine to focus on the reality of a God who became man, who conquered all through the ultimate humbling and sacrifice. The God who redeemed. Redeemed all…but also me.

Sometimes that is still difficult to contain in this brain of mine.

This hardness of heart and fickleness that mark me, more than faithfulness and tender heartedness. These barriers that I continue to let stand.

I needed to hear a soft word today that recognizes that following Jesus is not simple, although there are moments of great praise and worship…there is also the moment of confusion and of reversal. The moment when God does the unexpected and does not simply ride in and conquer all the enemies.

The moment when we wonder what God is doing.

Palm Sunday is that day when we grasp hold of the idea of a Messiah who rides in and understands all our pain and suffering and fears and hopes…and we cling to the idea that He will change everything. We cheer and we hope and grasp.

He does change everything, but it won’t be the way we expect. He broke all the expectations in His death and in His Resurrection…and He continues to break my expectations.

It is good to grasp hold of Him and to cheer and to hope….but to do so with caution and with understanding that His plan may completely reverse what we think should happen. His plan, though….it will utterly change everything.

I have not had an intentional season of Lent…but my focus is clearing this week. Even this morning as I wait to attend church tonight…my heart is longing for the reality of the Incarnation to take deeper root. Waiting anew for Jesus to break my resistance and make me His home. Waiting with an awareness that the darkness of Good Friday, the confusion of God surprising us in His path to victory, will come before the celebration of Easter. Thankful for poets and musicians to lead us in this week through the culmination of Lent…