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When the Powerful is the Powerless


Frederick Buechner quote

How can something be the most powerful … and yet the most powerless? Strange dichotomy. It would make no sense in philosophies or perspectives or a political stance on life. It would sound wishy-washy or archaic or plain old stupid. But it makes sense if the strange dichotomy is a person.

And it is.

The most powerful. Creator who spoke the universe into existence with words of life. Who blew breath into the lungs of a man and a woman, and of every man and woman, boy and girl, baby … who has entered the world since that time.

Who then entered the world as one of those babies. With breath and flesh and blood and bones. And little more than a fool’s promise and a few hundred prophecies to fulfill.

The most powerful calming storms of the seas and storms of the heart. Calling a girl to rise from the dead and a woman to rise from her shame. Speaking words of truth mingled with the strangest blend of grace.

The most powerless strung on a cross between two other crosses, grasping for every tortured breath until he breathed his last.

And then, upon rising, once again the most powerful … yet still the most powerless. For He waits on the consent of every human heart.

Such mystifying polarity. Such majestic poetry. The love of the Son of God. The Son of Man. The one called Jesus.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Hide and Seek with God


Ralph Waldo Emerson quote

 

I love reading stories. I love writing them. Stories reveal so much about people. So much about ourselves. It’s why we read, why we engage in a page-turner, why we stay up far past bedtime to finish a riveting book. Because of the characters. What choices are they going to make? Will they transform because of the challenges they face? Will they make the right decisions? Will he finally reveal his love? Will she confess that she loves him too?

What motivates these characters, we ask, as if in realizing it we can somehow, hopefully, understand what motivates us. We love the characters we read about on the page. We love the characters we carefully craft in our minds, and that come to life and develop personalities of their own as we write about them.

But in doing so, in reading and writing, we must be careful of one thing. The poet Emerson hints at it in the quote above: “God hides things by putting them near us.”

Author Ken Gire reflects on it more clearly in his book, Seeing What is Sacred:

To better love God and other people is the goal of the reflective life. But before we can love them, we must see them. And we must see them not as we would like to see them or as they would like to be soon. We must see them as they are. … Jesus looked beyond appearances. He saw the hurt inside. And He touched it, ever so gently, to bring healing and wholeness.

What is that one thing we must be careful of? We writers? We readers? Me? That I do not admire and align our hearts with characters on paper so completely that I fail to see with eyes of wonder the beautiful characters God has “hidden” in plain sight.

My husband, who always responds with heart and hands and mind whenever a problem presents itself, so willing to take on more to lessen the burden of others.

My daughter, whose eagerness to tell me about everything in her day can reveal to me so much of who she is and what she cares about … but only if I listen.

My older son, who listens and observes rather than rushes and speaks. He reminds me of myself when I was young in that sense. And I know how deep those “still” waters run. But how often do I draw them out?

My younger son, who responds with passion so many times throughout the day. Excitement. Indignation. Anger. Jumping-up-and-down joy. So what if his exuberance in facing a weekend morning gets him (and me) up far earlier than I would have hoped?

My siblings, near and far, living their lives and fighting their set of battles. My parents, still as dedicated to their family and faith as ever. My friends, my classmates, my students, my coworkers.

Not characters on a page, but breathing, dreaming, hurting … living creations of God. Souls He loves and fashioned in His image. Walking and interacting in this world we all call home for so short a time … but for so long in that it is all we see and know and all that so many believe in.

So easily hidden by their very proximity. So easy to overlook or forget about or fail to love.

But He gives us reminders. In His own story of stopping for one.

  • A widow who had also lost her son. Just one. But Jesus brought the son back to life.
  • A woman caught in sin and slandered. Just one. But Jesus spoke words that set her free.
  • A rash follower who denied Him at His lowest moment. Just one. But Jesus called him to His side again and set him on an unparalleled path of service and ministry.

He gives us hints in those moments we feel, for an instant, that we are looking at someone with new eyes. With wonder. With grace. As though some veil is lifted or shifted aside and we see the essence of an immortal, God-created soul. Scholar Abraham Heschel wrote, “The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence.”

The likeness of God. Surrounding us. Walking beside us. Sleeping next to us. (Sometimes crawling into bed because of a bad dream and then tossing and turning most of the night.) Sitting in class. (Sometimes making side comments rather loudly when we’re trying to hear the instructor.) In the car behind us at a stop light. (Or ahead of us because they swerved right in front of us without using their turning signals.)

Many times throughout the day, these little inconveniences caused by “other people” get to me. I grow frustrated and impatient far more quickly than I should. I imagine I’m not alone in these reactions. But they’re not characters. They’re immortal beings, cased in frail flesh, loved passionately by a God who died so that every soul might be transformed by His sacrifice.

What a wonder that you and I are given the privilege to walk the world with people created in the very image of God. What a wonder that we, too, are fashioned and loved and called His own.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Searching for a Hidden Aroma


Frederick Buechner quoteMy photography class, a few semesters ago, was on the far side of the college campus, a quieter spot with trees scattered nearby and outside benches. I rarely had time to sit down outside though, because I was often running late from the previous class. I always sat in the back of the classroom, on the right side. It was a normal classroom, with normal sights and smells, but in every class, I caught a whiff of pine. Not a single pine, but like a pine forest. A single pine tree doesn’t have that rich smell.

It wasn’t a pine-tree scented car decoration. Those don’t have a natural smell. This was the real thing, an aroma of pine. Because pine forests are one of my favorite scents, I wanted to search out that smell, find out where it was coming from. A window letting in air from the roof where a carpet of pine needles had fallen? Why would such a pungent, lovely aroma be in the middle of an every classroom?

Frederick Buechner said we are like that … or should be. An unexpected whiff of a pine forest in the middle of a city. Or as he put it, “…the fragrance of a rose on the other side of the street with all the world in between.” But still, it is a scent of the real thing. Not a sample. Not a man-made concoction that smells somewhat like it, but the real thing. That makes someone sit up and say, “Hey, I know that smell. I know that fragrance. I need to find it.”

All of us know that fragrance deep inside even if we have never seen it before, never heard it, barely felt it. Still, deep inside, we desire the real thing that only one thing can fill. Just like we catch glimpses of that great and overarching Story in the myriad of stories we see lived around us. Stories that we ourselves live or try to live as best we can.

And maybe even the greatest story we write will only serve as a parody … just as the greatest words we speak or greatest life we live is still only nothing more than a moment’s glance, a fleeting touch, an aroma in the air one second and gone the next. Yet still, those who sense that transitory essence will seek, by God’s grace. They will catch that scent of wonder and search for the real thing.

And they will find it. They will find Him. He will be waiting with arms wide open.

“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-17).

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Swept up in Glory


At some point in each of our lives, we were deeply touched by a profound encounter with Jesus Christ. It was a mountaintop experience, a moment of immense consolation. We were swept up in peace, joy, certitude, love. Quite simply, we were overcome. Our minds and hearts resonated with awe and wonder.

We … eventually returned to the routine occupations of our daily existence. … Slowly we got caught up in the demands of ministry or career and the distractions our busy world offers. … We had become preoccupied with something else, even though it was far less life-giving and captivating. It is possible we may never love anyone as much as we loved him, but even the memory has grown dim.

… The presence of Jesus grows more and more remote. “Thorns and thistles choke the unused path.” A verdant heart becomes a devastated vineyard. … The paltriness of our lives is mute testimony to the shabby furniture of our souls. – Brennan Manning “The Ragamuffin Gospel”

No one can live swept up in wonder. Not for the long term. It’s too taxing. Too time-consuming. We simply do not have time. … or do we? Perhaps that perceived lack of time is the problem.

Two mornings in a row, as I drove the kids to school, we headed east on the usual street we travel. But this past week has been rainy, unusual for the Central Valley. We crested a small overpass to the sight of snow-capped mountains shining against the horizon. Clouds misted the sky gray and blue, except for the eastern edge where mountains shone gold beneath the rising sun. It was beautiful. Awe-inspiring. I oohed and awed along with the kids.

Then our minivan descended the hill, I swung a right, and we drove to school. To work. To the real world. If I could have, I would have stopped on the side of the road and feasted on the sight. Better yet, if I could have, I would have continued driving east until we were out of the city, with no buildings to block our view of the glorious morning. Maybe straight on into those snowy mountains for a day of fun and wonder.

But I couldn’t. The kids had school. I had work. Then classes. The day swept along until it was over. The next moment I had to take a breath was on the bus returning from university after dark that evening. I was tired. Looked forward to getting home, eating dinner, and getting to bed.

It seems there is so little time for awe. For wonder. Even for beauty.

Even so, it beckons. It waits. It is always there. In a glorious sunrise or a peaceful sunset. In a blossom-laden tree or a brilliant rosebud. In a clear view to snowy peaks or the sound of waves washing clean a distant beach. If we look, if we listen, wonder is everywhere in nature.

As though a God of beauty and passion and forgiveness, a God of love, lines the path of our days with invitations to wonder. As though, beyond and within each of the creations He sets along the path, He is there, asking us to stop, to look, to enjoy and appreciate. To see Him and be swept up in the glory of His presence.

“Without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). He brings light and life, meaning and purpose to every moment. If only to behold the splendor of life … and see His glory within all things.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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The Marvels of Love


Marjorie Holmes quotes

“How can we worship without being grateful? Giving thanks in all our beings for the sheer privilege of being here to witness the marvels of creation–from the magnificence of stars and mountains to the frailest blue harebell or humblest mouse. How can we worship God without rejoicing and being grateful for the greatest marvel of all–self? One’s own precious, sentient self, and every circumstance of its life experience.

Gratefulness! Just being grateful–that, too, flings open even wider the door to God. One thing is sure, I can never hang on to God if I keep right on whining and complaining, blaming other people, the world, and sometimes even the weather, for what seems my dismal lot. In essence, blaming God! No, no, such ingratitude is an insult to my Creator. It’s like slamming the door on God.” – Marjorie Holmes

We can’t be grateful unless we notice. Unless we see reasons to be grateful. Unless our eyes are open. In the beginning of a romance, it’s easy to notice things. The lilt of a voice or the cute accent. The fine features or the curly hair. It’s easy to be grateful for every moment shared, no matter if all you’re doing is sitting side by side or looking into each other’s eyes. It’s natural to show gratitude to the loved one, in thoughts and words and deeds, because that person is all we’re thinking about.

But time passes and the beauty seems to fade. Our eyes seem to grow dull … or is it that we never saw clearly in the first place? They say that love grows cold … passion and romance so akin to fire, apathy to ice and frigidity.

But must love always fade into something colder and far less comfortable, something wintry and worn instead of springlike and new? Must our love for God do the same? God forbid. And help us to open our eyes. Because the wonder and the newness, the gratitude and the receiving of every perfect and beautiful gift, comes with seeing eyes.

So much love is sprinkled throughout the world. Awash in the light of every day are gifts bestowed from a God of perfect love. A goal or purpose to pursue. A sight that brings laughter or a feeling of at-home-ness. A worthwhile cause to promote. A son or daughter or husband or wife to love and rejoice with. A friend or a book that puts in words something you’ve always felt so you know you’re not alone. A crystal sky, a placid lake, a puddle reflecting pristine blue.

It is all love. And we see it and know it if we will only take the time to look. A writer, an artist, a lover, tries to take that time. It might come more natural for certain people. But there are moments for every one of us that it takes effort. Because our hours are brimming over with timely tasks and overdue projects.

Today, perhaps this moment, stop. Take that time. Make that time. Look. Listen. Let your heart and mind fill with wonder. Then write … or live … from a heart of gratitude.

 

God, it is a challenge, my days filled with so much to do and try to be. Help me to make the effort to stop, fill my heart and life with gratitude … so that I may truly see the wonder of all You are and have done.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Wonder for Writing – A New Year Resolution


Brennan Manning quote

“Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter – in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking a chocolate ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair. God intended for us to discover His loving presence in the world around us.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

The gift of writing is a certain grace, and it begins – in many ways – with a sense of wonder. A writer takes in the sweetness of the world, and the pain, the joy and the sorrow, the windblown moments of awe and the heart-catching times of silence. The task, the duty, the privilege of a writer is to see it all. To look upon the beauty and the shame of the world and of us who live within it, and write with wonder and fearlessness for the sake of that world. For the sake of us who live within it.

Writing, and those words written, are a dispensation of wonder … or they can be. When the words are riveted with grace, fastened with that ever-deepening sense of awe and gratitude, the result is beauty for the world. A ray of light. Of truth. But it begins with eyes open, and a heart seeking the sweet exchange of God and nature. Seeing His fingerprint, ever so lightly, tracing all things within the world. The opening and closing of a blue butterfly’s wings as it rests upon a daisy. A stone beneath the ripples of a stream, its colors brought to life by the waters. A child’s trusting smile at the promise of a loving parent. A writer is beckoned to move slowly enough through the world to see these things, to reflect on the story whispering beneath the sight, and to write of them.

A New Year begins. It begins when I feel as if the past year has charged past without me having taken stock of it. But it is gone. So many moments of raw beauty and wordless wonder passed by. How many did I miss with my eyes closed, or my gaze fastened upon the weight of my daily tasks and concerns? Too many. Too many for a writer who feels the beckoning of truth and light and wonder and grace … but only when I stop and take the time to truly look and listen and see.

A New Year begins, and it begins with the desire to see the world with wonder anew. For my sake and for the sake of my children and husband. For the sake of a God of love, who dispenses cupfuls of color and joy and laughter at every step of nature and asks us to behold His glory. And to measure it out freely to the world. The measure of a writer is her words.

 

God, this year, let my words, my thoughts, my writings and my deeds, whisper the weight of Your glory and love, and bring glory to You. It begins with a sense of wonder at all You do and all You are. Let me move slowly, breathlessly enough to see Your works with eyes of awe and gratefulness for all that You are. Amen.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Hope, Peace, Love … Christmas


Christmas quote

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2015 in Christmas, Love, Quotes, Written by Others

 

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