Thursday, May 4, 2017

The glorification of humility

It would seem rather strange and even a little antithetical to glorify humility. I mean, isn't humility the exact opposite of  seeking glory? I would say yes. For me. But not for God. God is right to seek his own glory and he does this through humility. In fact, I find this on display in one of the most amazing scenes in the entire Bible:

And when he [the Son] had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

 And they sang a new song, saying: 

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Revelation 5:8-10, NIV (emphasis mine)

I find this to be such a remarkable passage because of why Jesus was worthy to receive the scroll which many believe is sort of like the deed to all of creation. He was worthy because he submitted himself to death. What? Shouldn't he have been so victorious that he would not have tasted it? No, the humiliation of Christ on the cross is one of the central tenants of the faith and is so complete that he is glorified through it. 

His humility brought him to the highest position in heaven next to that of the Father. Does anything or anyone of any repute point to an alternative for me? Should I escape my own, daily, hourly humiliation to achieve his desire for me: the full realization of my own creation; my ultimate conformity to the image of Christ?

It is through daily dying that I live. It is through humble submission that I am brought high.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

There is nothing that is ordinary

I have no idea how many breaths I have taken today. Now breathing is really quite normal to me. As is blinking and whole host of other voluntary and involuntary functions and activities. Most of these things I do every day: tooth brushing, lunch making, ear cleaning, coffee making.... There are classes of functions and activities that are not daily events: running, playing catch, reading, dinner making, blogging, volunteering, meditating.... 

Now, I tend to lump the non-daily events and functions into a special category and draw a particular strength from them. I anticipate them and cherish them because they are unique. They are so special that I may even prepare for them, order my life around them to the point that I accept and reject other opportunities that come my way so that I can engage in them. These are the things that bring particular meaning to me so much so that I can gauge my well-being against whether I have been able to engage in them to one degree or another. I can be in dismay at times as the "ordinary" things can be so voluminous that they can crowd out the non-ordinary. How often have I said, with mild sadness, that I have not had time to blog or meditate in a week or two? 

More difficult still is for me to see the extraordinary in the mundane. Now there are certain pieces of art that cause me to be still, to pause, and to reflect on what I thought was real. They are so profound that they cause me to re-define reality. Yet, these experiences are so few and far between. How much less is the art of the movement of my hands underneath the water of the faucet as I wash them? The cascade of the water splashing against them and into the sink as it swirls and dances down the drain? Does this need to be captured in slow motion video or in watercolor and hung on a wall in a gallery for it to ascend into the realm of the extraordinary or made into art?

Does the trace of my finger through my hair have less meaning than a Glass-Tharp ballet? Is the throbbing music more profound than the sound of the scratch that echoes through my skin and into my ears? Must it be relegated to a recording and available on iTunes or Vimeo for it to attain beauty? Must it be interpreted by a choreographer or realized by a composer for it to be recognized and contemplated?

The Artist has made nothing ordinary. The sound and stench of the wind as it touches my face is not vulgar. The rising and falling of my chest, as slight as it is, as I fuel my body brings me just as close to the nature of the Divine as any concerto. 

The spot I missed shaving today is pregnant with meaning. It is a living display. This is the live performance of a lifetime.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A friend's wounds

I have re-found my obsession with my friend death. 

This is due, largely, to my joining a writing group that meets on Thursday nights and the opportunity I have to really follow this journey that I began years ago. One of the challenges I have with befriending death is reconciling the invitation that Christ gives me to die with the inescapable reality that death has wounded me and, even more, has wounded others that I know and love. The staggering implications of the death of a loved one is inescapable as we try to mourn well. We really try. Clay that we are we don't often succeed when his unavoidable striking lands so close to our hearts.

I am not sure where it came from, but I thought of the wounds that friends of mine have inflicted upon me. Some have caught me off guard and have cut me so deeply I needed, literally, days to recover. Some so deep that I can still feel the warm blood on my hands as I breathlessly assessed the damage. These are my friends. These are their wounds. 

And each one of them saved me.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6 NASB)

And there it was. The wounds of death save me. As they shake and stagger they do not destroy. As they send me reeling they do not break. As they cover me they do not bury. Rather, faithful friend that he is, his blows sting but they awaken, warm, and aid. They allow me to enter into the suffering of Christ. They remind me of my one time separation from God. They humble me in front of Him. They make my longing for heaven more acute. They paint a true picture of this life and even the life to come. They allow me to see the process of re-creation. They give me the opportunity to serve. 

His cold breath, his furrowed brow, his "no more", his blisters and cuts; these piercings have but one thing for me: they bid me to take up but one of my many thousand salvations. My Love offers me life through them.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

This is what I want, this is what I get

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." - Job 1:21

This is what you want
This is what you get
This is what you want
This is what you get
This is what you want
This is what you get - Bad Life, PiL

Though I incessantly seek it, I am not allowed to rest in certainty. My "why" questions are rarely answered and so much so that I try to invent reasons why my affairs are ordered in this way or that. I ask God, "Is this the solution?" only to have it be not only not the solution, but fuel for the random, dancing fire that has taken me over. Should I find comfort in the "No, not that. Well, not that anymore..." or the "This is as far as you go..." or the "I'm sorry but we're not doing that right now, or ever..."? 

I'll forever be the child asking the parent if they can go here, or spend that, or watch this, or stay up until this time. I know I want to give my children what they ask for. I really do and hurt a bit even when I hand down a wise decision. Does He? I know that their disappointment is often mine and I feel the sadness in their downward gaze as they say, "OK..." Not that it is OK but who are they and what do they have that I have not given them? Soon they'll move on but I never will. He is my lung filler and my heart constrictor. He can take those too and He will. Just not yet. Well, not right now.

There is no higher picture of Him than the one that gives and takes. There is no resistance. There is not even a downward gaze and an "OK". There is none of that. Not even a "Huh..." for He has taken in the middle of sleep and of whom does He ask permission?  He is the righteous Judge, Jury, and Executioner and there is no division to be found in Him. And there is no protest in all of His creation. 

What have I ever brought forth? What have I ever truly taken? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The spiderman is always hungry Part 3

Searching out fear in the gathering gloom and suddenly
A movement in the corner of the room
And there is nothing I can do
When I realize with fright
That the spiderman is having me for dinner tonight - Lullaby, The Cure

And when will it end? When will God stop revealing the spidermen in my life? When will the struggle against them be over? When will I stop and warm myself in the "gathering gloom"? God has told me when. 

It is when I taste death. 

The struggles will be over. My rebellion will end. My weaknesses will be crushed. My eyes will be undimmed and my hearing unstopped. My tongue will build and my hands will form. My knees will bend low and my feet will be quick. I will have clear thoughts and a bright visage. I will be different; so much different than I am now. They will be vanquished for I will no longer give them room in my life to torment me or my family. Their candy stripe legs and poison will hold no sweetness for me and I will long for only One. Literally no one or nothing will sway me this way and that. It will be just me and Him.

The more I live here the less I desire this place. The more people I know in heaven the more I desire what they see. Death is my transport into rest. I will humbly wait for Him to bring my friend to me. Until then I know too well that the spiderman is always hungry. 

Remember that, Mark.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Save this one thing

A man in my shoes runs a light
And all the papers lie tonight
But falling over you is the news of the day... - Ghost in You, Psychedelic Furs

It wasn't the best of mornings. All in all I would have chalked it up as one that I would have rather not had. Relationships were strained in more than one way. I was distracted by this and that. Running out the door I didn't think to take care of something important. I was confronted with something that I would have rather not dealt with and I knew that a difficult conversation was to follow. 

But then the invitation to pray came. I would have continued down the path that I trod save this one thing: As we sat there with closed eyes I felt her hand on my knee.

Her hand. On my knee.

I placed mine on hers and we held on. We held on didn't we, Dad? 

Just us. No one else. Nothing else. 

You put us there didn't you? You did. And you know her hand, though rarely warm, is my not so secret security.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The spiderman is always hungry? Part 2

On candy stripe legs the spiderman comes
Softly through the shadow of the evening sun
Stealing past the windows of the blissfully dead
Looking for the victim shivering in bed - Lullaby, The Cure

This is the second post in a possible 3 or 4 part series. The first post is here.

But he was chasing after me. Not the spiderman. He knew where and when he could find me. Those candy stripe legs were both sweet and bitter to my taste. No, this was the one who could quell the spiderman's appetite. The one who could forbid him from approaching me ever again. And I was slowing down. By some miracle I was beginning to slow down long enough for him to embrace me as I lay a shivering dead boy in my bed.

I remember senior year in high school when, through the course of a Peer Ministry class, a core group of us gathered to deepen, find, or consider our relationship with God. We took our Catholic faith seriously and explored who we were in relation to God and who he could possibly be in our lives. I remember the room that we gathered in every Monday night and this night in particular. Our teacher had us relax and I encountered a tree where, when I descended into it, I found my place where I felt safe. It was my bedroom at home. It held everything that I held dear and was my place of isolation and comfort. I loved that room and probably spent way too much time in it. But I wasn't alone in the room this night. 

God was there. 

And my teacher, the guide, wanted me to ask something of God. He invited me to ask God the question that I always wanted to ask him. He wanted me to bare my soul to him and even if I was afraid of the answer he wanted me to ask. I cried, not knowing what to expect. I was afraid. But I asked God only this:

"Do you love me?"

Now mind you I had grown up in church. I knew all the stories and most of the Bible verses that proclaimed God's love for me. But none of that seemed to matter on that night. I don't know what possessed me to ask that question because I should have known the answer. I wondered, if I revealed the childishness of it, that I would be laughed at, dismissed, or chided. I wondered if I ever told anyone that they would roll their eyes and wonder aloud why I wasted such a marvelous opportunity on a drop dead stupid question such as that. But nothing else mattered at that marvelous moment.

To my surprise, I wasn't rejected. He assured me that he did, indeed, love me. I snapped out of the brief journey into his heart and felt different. I can't say that I was convicted of my sin at that point and my need for a savior, but I became more convinced of his love for me. Maybe, just maybe, the spiderman's hunger could be satisfied. Maybe the fear that he held over me could be swallowed by a magnificent love that was near me my whole life but that I knew little of. Maybe.