This poem ensnared me when I read it in the January edition of First Things. It recounts the incredible moment when you lock eyes with your child for the first time:
You know what I remember first about my daughter being born?
Weirdly, not the miracle of it, or the bruised tender extraordinary
Courage of my wife, or the eerie alien glare of the birthing room,
Or the cheerful doctor chatting amiably as she hauled out our girl,
But my daughter staring at me, from the first instant she emerged.
She saw me and just stared and I was staring too, and we did that
For quite a long time, as I remember. The nurse hustled her off to
Be washed and I hustled over to keep our stares locked. I thought
Somehow that if our stares broke a crucial thing would be broken
And I couldn’t stand that thought. I kept thinking we’d never met,
Formally, but we just could not stop staring. God knows what she
Thought. Me, I thought that she looked shockingly self-possessed
For someone who had just gone through a birth canal. That surely
Must have been a strenuous experience but she seemed essentially
Calm about the whole project. I couldn’t read her expression at all.
She didn’t appear rattled, or curious, or startled, or upset, or angry;
She just stared, like she was coolly examining me. Huge dark eyes.
Believe me I have seen that stare untold times since, and just about
Every time she fixed it on me, even when matters were tumultuous
Or worse, the obscure part of me that remembers everything woke
And shouted o my god there it is again, just as it was the first time!
-Brian Doyle, First Things
I came across this gem in my reading and wanted to share it with you all. I hope it challenges you to quit praying and do something.
An elderly nun came to see a spiritual director. She shared with him the story of a young nun who had just left their community. The elderly nun had very much liked this young nun and appreciated the spark and vigor she brought to the community. For a year, though, she’d noticed that the young nun was obviously in distress, agonizing as to whether or not she should leave the community and as to whether, indeed, the community even wanted her. So the elderly nun prayed for the young nun, prayed that she might stay, prayed that she might realize that she was wanted and valued, prayed that God might give her the strength to see beyond her doubts. But she never went, at any time, and talked to the young nun. She never told her how much the community appreciated the gift that she, the young nun, was. Now she was upset that the young nun had left.
The point is obvious. The elderly nun prayed as a theist and not as a Christian. She never put skin to her prayer. She never concretely involved herself in trying to bring about what she was asking God to do. She left things up to God. But how was God to let the young nun know that she was appreciated inside the community when the community itself would never tell her that? When we pray “through Christ” more is involved than merely asking God in heaven to make some kind of intervention. The community too, and we ourselves, must be involved not just in the petition but also in trying to bring about what the petition pleads for.
The Holy Longing p 83-84
Do you ever find yourself praying as a theist?
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
Because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you
when you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making
sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter,
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.
–Johann Wolfgang van Goethe, The Holy Longing
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
II Corinthians 5:18-21
In light of so many stories on racial tensions in the news, I was struck by the words Paul wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth. He reminded his Corinthian friends that they were called to the ministry of reconciliation, since they were reconciled to God in Christ.
The questions I was confronted with in this passage were this:
What role am I taking as a reconciler? How am I living as an ambassador and seeking to reconcile broken people in a broken world? How do I love my neighbor who might have more or less zeros on their paycheck and might have a different skin color from myself?
Most important: If I self identify as a follower of Jesus, do I actually live as one?
In the spirit of reflective 2014 posts on the borders of 2015, I wanted to submit to you, dear reader, a list of books that I found to be quite excellent. Here are my top reads of the past year:
Working with youth in a prep school setting has raised a lot of questions in my mind within the ministry context. Fortunately, this work has been a tremendous eye opener. Written by a therapist in Marin County (where I live), the Price of Privilege explores adolescents in the privileged community.
This was by and large my favorite fiction book I read this year. GoT is an incredibly deep novel full of character development, intrigue, and intricate details (down to the family tree). Not for the faint of heart, this book series is a pretty lengthy one.
I was challenged and encouraged in Mark Labberton’s (Fuller Seminary’s new president, which makes him even more cooler) work. In his book, Labberton reminds followers of Jesus to live boldly within their calling. This is not just about our vocation, but instead it goes much deeper into the core of our identity.
One of my mentors (from afar, of course) Dave Ramsey reminds his readers that life can be found outside of the credit driven buy more and save less. He calls his readers back to common sense and discovering that a life lived within our means is a good step to discovering more than enough.
For the creative types, this book is a must read. Creating art can be difficult, it can be a fight. But it’s a fight worth having. A Short but gut punching read by Steven Pressfield.
It seems as if the question surrounding God and the relationship of faith with science will always be in the forefront of those wrestling with Christianity. The Adam Quest seeks and succeeds to draw out key scientists who believe that science and faith go together like a shirt and tie. Drawing on the interviews with young earth creationists, intelligent design proponents, and evolutionary creationists, Stafford allows the scientists to speak for themselves and let the reader decide. (My review of the book can be found here)
Many people have called J.I. Packer’s classic as a formative reading for their own faith journey. I would add this work up there with my own journey too. Packer succeeds in this engaging overview of the Christian faith, expounding on the major beliefs that run throughout it. Packer’s wisdom and clarity is certainly on display.
This book is incredibly engrossing and reads like a novel. Based on the true story of Louis Zamperini, this is a story set in WWII that centers on the themes of survival, forgiveness, and hope. The message of forgiveness and peace is a remarkable find in this excellent biography.
For my complete reading list, visit me on Goodreads!
What books helped shape you this past year?
Lately, I have been feeling somewhat unsettled, and I was/am not quite certain where the feeling comes from.
Have you ever had that feeling?
Naturally enough for me, these thoughts actually led me down the rabbit trail of wondering if this unsettled feeling is a normal thing this side of the Kingdom of God.
I remember in seminary discussing about the fact that Christ followers are exiles and displaced people, waiting in eager expectation for the Kingdom of God to be fully manifested on earth. After all, during Advent we pray for the return of Jesus and for the full establishment of the Kingdom. For now, we wait in tents for the coming King and his Kingdom.
Remember the great Hallelujah chorus found in Handel’s Messiah? There is a wonderful line in there that rings,
The kingdom of this world is become, The kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and of his Christ, And he shall reign forever and ever, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Handel and the writer of the Revelation get it right in expressing this continued tension between the already arrival of the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of God is at hand!, Jesus said in Mark 1) and the not yet complete fulfillment. That is the tension we live in. We wait for the Kingdom of God and his reign. We live in the tension between two worlds– two kingdoms and we wait for the return of Jesus.
For now, we prayerfully sing, O Come, O come, Emmanuel!
I use a reader during the Advent season composed of various Christian authors called Watch for the Light. On one of the days, I was struck by a passage by J.B. Philips where he writes on our waiting for the second Advent, the Return of Jesus in all his glory,
The New Testament is indeed a book full of hope, but we may search it in vain for any vague humanist optimism. The second coming of Christ, the second irruption of eternity into time, will be immediate, violent and conclusive. The human experiment is to end, illusion will give way to reality, the temporary will disappear before the permanent, and the king will be seen for who he is. The thief in the night, the lightning flash, the sound of the last trumpet, the voice of God’s archangel—these may all be picture language, but they are pictures of something sudden, catastrophic, and decisive. By no stretch of the imagination do they describe a gradual process.
I believe that the athiestic-scientifc-humanist point of view is, despite its apparent humanitarianism, both misleading and cruel. In appearance it may resemble Christianity in that it would encourage tolerance, love, understanding, and the amelioration of human conditions. But at heart it is cruel, because it teaches that this life is the only life, that we have no place prepared for us in eternity, and that the only realities are those that we can appreciate in our present temporary habitations…
Have you ever wondered if your life mattered?
Think about it. There are billions of people on the planet and we’re spinning through the darkness of space, which simply seems unending. With this cosmic dance going on all around us, why on earth would our life count for something in a cosmos so immense?
Might I suggest that you matter because our Maker made you? As Mark Labberton puts it in his excellent book “Called,”
“We matter, and our calling matters, not because we’re the supreme test of anything but because we exist for the joy and satisfaction of our Maker, whose love alone enables us to flourish…we are ‘very good’ in God’s sigh because of bearing God’s image—not because we are fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) but just because we are.”
How joyous is this?
We matter because we’re God’s beloved. You matter because you are made by God and you are called to belong in a family.
Lately I have not had the urge to write on a regular basis. It’s not that my life is dull or I have suddenly lost all my opinions. No, it is because of something much simpler. I simply stopped.
To be honest though, I miss it.
I miss the creative outlet. I miss the consistency that resulted from it. I miss the ability to process what I’m going through on a regular basis. Most of all, writing brings me a good deal of comfort and I miss that.
I don’t know if I’ll ever aspire to the angst filled writing of Hemingway, seeking the one true word or sentence or chapter. That is simply too torturous for me. I find myself varying between the stream of consciousness posts, while other times I simply cut my finger and bleed on the page. Either way, I find a place of refuge in the written word.
I think that’s why I write.
I write for the same reason why I run—it brings freedom and a measure of hope. I write because it feels good after I have a completed a page (or mile) or two. I write because it brings joy and fullness. I write because it is a place I can inhale and exhale, working out frustrations with a mild dose of lucidity. To be dramatic, I write so that I can be free.
Why do you write?
This post really resonated with me from a blogger I really enjoy, Allison Vesterfelt. She centers the conversation around powerlessness and the work needed to change from that posture.
Allison specifically lived with powerlessness for many years and she discovered that there were four different byproducts from a sense of powerlessness (complaining, blaming, striving for acceptance, and disengaging or numbing). Fortunately, she learned to confront them through these tips:
I really love these steps of finding your voice and stepping into it. I highly recommend checking out her entire post: Some Things To Try When Life Feels Out of Control.