Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What child is this? (The double season of Advent)

You stand in an art gallery, pondering two paintings.  On your left in a gold frame is a large painting of the last judgement.  On the right is a small painting of the nativity.

In many ways that is what Advent season has felt like for me.  On the one hand we look forward to his second coming: glorious king, coming judge.  On the other we contemplate his first: Word become flesh - a screaming baby born in a dirty animal pen, God taking on our sin.

The hymns we sing take up these themes.  We feel the longing of the people of Israel, who waited for a promised king who would set things right:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
We sing of the mystery of the incarnation (O Come, All Ye Faithful):
God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;
Very God,
Begotten, not created
and the majesty of his return (Let all Mortal Flesh):
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
Both are found in the same verse of Angels from the Realms of Glory:
Though an infant now we view him,
He shall fill his Father's throne,
Gather all the nations to him,
Every knee shall then bow down:
The contrast between incarnation and second coming is almost as stark as the light-in-darkness metaphor of his coming, which we symbolize with candles.

It is this very duality of Advent for which I am thankful.  Contemplating only the incarnation, we are thankful that he came and that he knows our suffering, but we are still longing.  Considering only the return, we fear his judgement.  Only in light of his second coming do we fully understand the first; only because of his first can we bear -and hope for- his second.

Michelangelo, The Last Judgement

Sunday, November 18, 2012



"How long, O Lord?"
cry time-garbed prophets
of dusty days
waiting waiting waiting -
for judgement of judges, 
for heart-graven laws -
waiting working waiting.

"How long, O Lord?"
weeping over Jerusalem.
For forty coins, O innocent Lamb
lifted up to be looked upon
by tearless blind and 
sorrow-blinded seeing.
Forgive us, Judge of all.

"How long, O Lord?"
cries the waiting church,
wallowing spotless bride 
hearing the mockers speak
their oft-merited scorn,
holding firstfruits of one Adam
still eating that fruit of another.

"How long, O Lord?"
as false expectations hang,
a fragile shining cloud
above us who feel not their weight
until shattered they descend
piercing trust and pride and most of all
the hearts of those who hope.

"How long, O Lord?"
will the gift of discernment,
of vision,
be not a thwarted burden
but a treasure of seeing
free from maligned motives,
truly serving.

"How long, O Lord?"
as we bow in thankfulness and awe 
to our rescuer and consuming fire.
We fear to ask for justice we 
fear not to
knowing that beauty will not save the world
but only You, Beautiful Christ.

"How long, O Lord?"
We've hung our harps
on poplar trees 
we groan in certain hope
of resurrection, restoration, re-creation.
waiting working waiting
O Lord, keep us in hope.

for reference: Heb12:28-29, 1 Cor 15, and Psalm 137

Monday, November 12, 2012

sunset shutters

This past week I was out on the pier enjoying the sunset, and experimented with different shutter speeds for capturing the water.  There is a serenity and smoothness to the long exposures that I like.

ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/50 s

ISO 200, f/18, 5.0 s

Thursday, November 1, 2012

the power of Sandy and the Wings of God

Save me, O God,
     for the waters have come up to my neck. [...]
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
     or the depths swallow me up
 (Psalm 69:1,15 NIV)

Language like this is all over the psalms.  Much of it is metaphorical, and as such we can relate to it.  But I believe there is a level of dependance on God's active, physical, work for protection and salvation that we often miss.

This week as the hurricane raged around us, shaking the house, reading from the psalms and Genesis took on new significance (see this post).  The very physical, tangible and even dangerous presence of the storm around us gave us a new perspective on God's power and God's care.

Awe.  What does that word mean to you?  I would argue that very often the writers of scripture understood God's power in very literal ways.  Even thunderstorms are impressive and even frightening when you live in a tent.  Perhaps their fear and awe of nature gave them a richer understanding of the fear and worship of God.

Helplessness.  For those of you on the East coast this past week, did you feel helpless to do anything about the storm's possible destruction?  I can only imagine the feelings of those in the Caribbean who face larger storms from within much weaker structures.

Because you are my help,
     I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
     your right hand upholds me.
 (Psalm 63:7)
Yesterday in the relative calm after the storm, I pondered this verse.  What is "the shadow of your wings"?  It is place of protection, of warmth and freedom from terror.  It is only as much a cause for rejoicing as the dangers outside are cause for fear.  Only in understanding the danger do we see how remarkable it is that he can sing in the strength of that shelter.

shelter from the storm
How do you pray these verses?  Do experiences of the might of nature or of other physical peril color your prayers?  What do you believe God has the power to save you from?
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matt 8:27)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday, September 29, 2012

sky-scapes (a photoblog)

It's been a while.  I have been busy reading and writing for other (non-blogging) reasons.  Frankly, I have enjoyed a bit of a break from blogging.  I think I will continue a bit of a break from all the writing by posting photos.

Some of you know I am now in Maryland.  Here are some pictures from the past few weeks.
dawn. driving in Western New York 

rainbow after a flood 
sunset after the rainbow

moon and clouds and someone to enjoy them

sunset on the point

gulls and clouds

dawn on the pier

the rising sun pierces the mist

dawn hues


a river of lights on the Bay Bridge

vesper light

Friday, August 17, 2012

experiencing God in our lives

I have been asked why I believe in God, and what my personal experience of God is like.  While it may be hard to understand for some, my experience of God is not limited to those things for which I have no other explanation: God is the explanation for all things, encompassing every part of my life - if only I had the eyes to see it.

Frederick Buechner puts it so beautifully that I must share it with you, though it is a longish passage:
The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God's things because, of course, they are both at once.  There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak -- even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere.  He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys.  We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fulness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement.  But be not affeared, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it.  "Be not afraid," says another, "for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."  He says he is with us on our journeys.  He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began.  Listen for him.  Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him.  (from The Sacred Journey)
Poetic and wise.  Does it resonate with you, too?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

work and calling

You may have noticed that my posts have been few and far between lately.  Hopefully this will not last, but at the moment I am in the midst of a move and life is very full (good, but full).  So this evening I thought I'd share with you a snippet out of what I've been reading for you to ponder.

In  The Call, Os Guinness talkes about the importance of understanding (and reclaiming!) the meaning of calling:
"Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ," [Oswald Chambers] wrote.  "The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.... The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him." 
Do we enjoy our work, love our work, virtually worship our work so that our devotion to Jesus is off-center?  Do we put our emphasis on service, or usefulness, or being productive in working for God - at his expense? [...] 
We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone.
This is a good reminder to me.  Of course in some ways it puts me more out of control, but that is a good thing I think.  How do you think your view of "calling" affects your work?  Your relationship with God?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Personality Type and Sin

Where to begin on this one?  I've wanted to write this post for a while, but I am beginning to think it needs to be more of a discussion than a single post.  Here's a start.

Have you ever done the Myers-Briggs personality test, or something like it?  For me reading the description of my personality type was uncanny.  While I found it helpful for understanding myself better and gaining insight into how others perceive my behavior (apparently people of my type are frequently misunderstood!), the more negative aspects of the description raised some questions for me.

How do I separate 'who I was made to be' and my sinful nature?  The answer is probably that I can't - not now at least and certainly not on my own.  (As a side note: isn't it beautiful that Christ loves us and died for us even when our disgusting sin is such a part of who we are?  He doesn't separate us from our sin and love the lovely part; he loves all of us) 

Partly because the two cannot be fully separated, I am concerned that too much focus on personality types could lead to self-justification of sin.

For example, one description states that someone of my personality type "may have little interest in other people's thoughts or feelings".  This tendency doesn't sound very righteous to me - doesn't Christ call us to love one another, and doesn't that involve being interested in other people's thoughts and feelings?  Not only that, but this could easily lead to other sins.  And if I walk all over somebody, and then justify it by saying "oops!  I guess that was just my personality type not to realize that I was hurting them," I have still sinned.

What do you think?  Is the Myers-Briggs test helpful?  Do you think it can be misused to justify sin?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Apologist’s Evening Prayer

The Apologist’s Evening Prayer

Justin Taylor posted this poem/prayer by C.S. Lewis on his blog, and I thought I'd share it too.  Christ alone can free us from our own thoughts and pride.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jesus in a doorway

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34)

Can you see him, standing there in the door?  Warm light and conversation come from inside, where Simon's mother-in-law rejoices with family and neighbors and tells again the story of her miraculous healing.

Outside darkness has fallen, and with it have come the crowds.  They press in, letting the night hide their disfigurements of body and of soul.  Keenly they feel their pain and their shame, and yet they move toward that man in the doorway, toward the light.

In this hour of darkness the King of Light yet is glorious.  He speaks with authority.  He reaches out his hand in compassion.  The demons shriek, the darkness flees.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the butterfly's summer

It swooped, it glided, it soared -
it lived out its brief life
landing on leaves 
     on flowers
                         on air,
and it was enough.

photo credit: http://juliesmagiclightshow.com/?limit=40&startPoint=0&nrecs=0&keysPlus=&keyP=&cols=1&specific=2082&x=12&y=45

Monday, June 18, 2012


Where have I been?  Mostly enjoying the long, warm days of summer, and the extra freedom of schedule I have this time of year.

Here's a taste of what I've been up to:
 Enjoying beautiful NY parks..

 Eating with friends in my backyard (including a little kitty friend)!

 Going to the Public Market every week for great deals and good food, ...

 ... flowers, and LOTS of people..
 .. and guitar music...
... and a European cheese shop!

 I visited a rose garden or two,

biked along the Genesee with a friend,

and walked the pier at Ontario Beach Park - twice so far.

Pretty good for halfway through June, I'd say.  What about you?  What wonderful summer adventures have you had, or do you have planned?  Any recommendations of great things to do in Western NY?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

I just finished reading A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.  I have to say I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.  I have a new appreciation for Dicken's writing, which combines humour and wonderful descriptions with a good story and a thoughtful portrayal of human life.

A Tale of Two Cities presents a chiaroscuro of human character; loving and gracious characters shine brightly against a deeply dark background.  On it's own, that backdrop would be a disturbing, even frightening, picture of humanity.  The vengeful, blood-lusting crowds of Paris in the heyday of the guillotine are sobering in the caricature that Dickens presents.

And yet there is light.  We read of the strength of love, willing to sacrifice all.  Of the redemptive power of Christ's sacrifice which transforms even the most repulsive person into a hero.  Of the hope of resurrection.

Like the book of Esther, God is hardly mentioned, if at all.  One might even be tempted to believe he has abandoned France to its suffering.  Yet he is there.  And as the story builds to its climax, we read the oft-repeated refrain:
I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
Have you read this book, or other books by Dickens?  What did you think?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Starting to Believe

How does one become a "Christian"  - one who is committed to following Christ? Is there some point between not being a Christian and being one, a space of time where the crossover is made?  For some perhaps this happens rapidly, for others more slowly.  But how does it happen?  (Isn't that what we'd really like to know?)

I found something Piper said regarding how one comes to trust in the truth of the Bible to be helpful.    He distinguishes between God "'telling us' that the Bible is true" and "enabling us to see what is really there."  He writes,
The practical effect of this path is that I do not ask you to pray for a special whisper from God to decide if Jesus is real.  Rather I ask you to look at the Jesus of the Bible.  Look at him.  Don't close your eyes and hope for a word of confirmation.  Keep your eyes open and fill them with the full portrait of Jesus provided in the Bible.  If you come to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and God, it will be because you see in him a divine glory ad excellence that simply is what it is - true. (Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, p.121)
This does not diminish the work of the Holy Spirit, who helps us see this truth.  It does speak against the idea that we should pray for some sign or magical change in ourselves that will make us all of a sudden believe in something that a logical person would find unbelievable.  You don't trust and follow someone unless you know them; you don't know them unless you take the opportunities to do so.

art credit:http://www.omsc.org/art-at-omsc/huibing/jesus-opens-eyes-slide.html
This applies to those of us who already profess to follow Christ.  Are we truly looking at Christ, and expecting to see ever more?  The Holy Spirit does the work of helping us see, but do we allow Him to do so?  This is a challenge to me to really hunger to know Christ more.

Does this resonate with you?  Is what Piper says helpful?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jesus of no generation and all time

"The glory of Jesus Christ is that he is always out of sync with the world and therefore always relevant for the world.  If he fit nicely, he would be of little use. The effort to remake the Jesus of the Bibles so that he fits the spirit of one generation makes him feeble in another.  Better to let him be what he his, because it is often the offensive side of Jesus that we need most."

So writes John Piper in his little book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.  Isn't that a relief?  We don't need to try to find and interpret a 'Jesus for this generation'.  We just need to find Jesus.  A real person.  Our Savior.  Our God.

Jesus Today
I find that sometimes I get so busy making connections between what Jesus says and my generation and culture that I forget that he is a real, living person.  He will never fit into my box and I am so thankful for that.

Is this true to your experience as well? What practical steps do you think we can take to know and listen to this Jesus - magnificent and loving and sometimes offensive - who lives today?

Monday, April 30, 2012

How can I keep from singing?

 Today I'd simply like to share with you a hymn that has been meaningful to me of late. I hope it is encouraging to you too.

  My Life Flows On 
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation
I catch the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging;
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth --
How can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul-
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging;
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth --
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging;
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth --
How can I keep from singing?

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His--
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging;
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth --
How can I keep from singing?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Daily Office

I don't mean the place where you may happen to work.  No, I'm talking about that ancient practice of daily prayer, in which we pause at specified times of the day to focus our attention on God.  I did a post about these prayers, often called the Divine Hours, a few years ago called Time is our Currency, in which you can read a bit about the history of this tradition.

Recently, while driving a long distance by myself, I listed to a series of conference talks on prayer put on by HTB, called Wisdom of the Ages.  (the one I refer to in this post can be found here.)  One speaker, Roy Seale, talked about his experience in the Northumbria Community and their practice of praying the daily office.

What intrigued me particularly was the noon office.  Many people set their cell phone alarms for noon every day and pray, often something as simple as the Lord's Prayer.  As he pointed out, it is wonderful to think of every hour starting with prayer, as people in every time zone pray this way.  In the Northumbria community, they have their own set of prayers (which always include the Lord's prayer).  The noon office is designed to be prayed in the middle of the day, "in the time it takes the kettle to boil."  The book of common prayer has a simliar short office, but I find the midday prayer of the Northumbrian community particularly helpful and beautiful.

I love the opening sentences:
Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. 
Establish Thou the work of our hands; 
establish Thou the work of our hands.
(The entire office can be found here.)

What a wonderful way to invite God into the midst of our day and remind ourselves that our life in Christ encompasses our entire life!

What do you think?  Will you add your voice to the chorus of voices lifted up in prayer each day at noon?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

grace & housecleaning [of your life]

IThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, James Martin writes:
God can [...] meet you at any time, no matter how crazy things may seem.  You don't have to have a perfectly organized daily life to experience God.  Your spiritual house does not need to be tidy for God to enter.
It is a good reminder to me, so I thought I'd share it as some encouragement to you.  It's funny how easy it is understand the concept of God's grace in a literal, definition-sort of way and yet not apply it to our own personal spiritual lives.