I’ve been thinking on what it means to have a whole body, full self experience of Jesus. I want to integrate faith into every part of who God made me to be – every sense, every emotion, every movement, every thought. I’m praying that I will learn how to truly love Jesus with my heart, mind, soul, and strength. The hope is that as I grow in my ability and desire to love Jesus with my whole self, I will be better equipped to love the whole selves that Jesus has put in my life. Who’s coming with me?!?
For a number of years Zephaniah 3:17 has been a go to verse for me.“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” I’ve wrestled over it, longed for it to feel true, fought with God when it didn’t, found comfort in the words it contains when it did, and returned to it in times of joy and sorrow. The truths of this verse concerning the Lord’s presence, His love, His saving power, His delight have been working within me to bring the quiet and hope promised within.
If I’m honest, the bit about the Lord singing loudly over His people, – over me – is one of the hardest parts for me to believe. It just feels too intimate to grasp. Something within me sees singing in the presence of others as a window into the soul that needs to be carefully guarded. I know. I’ve got issues. But it’s true that singing to and with others is an emotional superconductor. Which is to say, singing sometimes makes me uncomfortable. I love to sing, really, just not so much when you can hear me. Some of it is a self conscious awareness of the very narrow range in which I sound ok. But more so, there is an acute awareness of the vulnerability and intimacy involved when singing in the presence of another.
Think of it, softly cooing a lullaby over your children. Excited and full-volumed echos of your favorite lines of your favorite song from your favorite band with thousands of your closest friends. Wind whipped melodies belted out over many miles traveled together. Heart felt joining together of words of worship harmonizing with souls seeking a common Savior. Singing connects us in deep and mysterious ways. And the thought of Jesus singing over me, when I stop striving to trust this truth, undoes me. It seems to me that this is a laying open of Himself, a deep revelation of His heart, that is a humble free flowing connection of emotion. That type of connection always feels risky to me, but I crave it with all of my being. Trusting that Jesus loves that way is everything – it is a humbling reminder of the significance I have in the heart of Jesus, a significance that gives me purpose and moves me.
I’m listening to Wendell Berry’s book The Unsettling of America: Cumture & Agriculture (the narrator btw is Nick Offerman, aka Ron Swanson, 14/10 recommend). In this book, Berry speaks to how the decline of culture is connected to the rise of what he terms agribusiness. He talks about how people, whether we like it or not, are meant to be connected to each other and the land. Our health and the health of our culture and the health of the world is found in interdependence. He speaks of health equaling wholeness, not lack of disease, and that wholeness is being destroyed by the isolation we are working ourselves into. Isolation in the way we work and live. Berry discusses how we have reduced the value of work to an exchange of time for money, instead of care for each other and the world as originally intended. He points out that we started this downward decline of devaluing work and workers by using and viewing fellow creatures as beasts or machines. At first treating animals as such, then progressing to treating our fellow humans as dispensable machines.
One example he gives in explaining that we haven’t always lived this way, was from a book by George Evans called The Horse in the Furrow. It seems that in some ancient cultures, oxen, used to plow a field, were treated not as machines or beasts to be used up without regard or kindness. When placed in the yoke to work they were accompanied of course by humans to guide them. One walked beside the animals as the driver, giving direction and guidance. But another person walked before the oxen, leading the way. This person leading the way, walked backwards, with eyes on the creatures doing the work, and he sang to them. Can you imagine? Such an emotional connection between two creatures, a deep valuing of a life that we view today as little more than a beast of burden.
I heard this example and immediately my mind went to Zephaniah 3:17. Jesus is with us like this. Yes, we often think of Him being with us, walking beside us. Oh, but this idea of Him caring for us in our work, in our taking on His yoke, in this way. Picture Jesus, with deep love and care and delight for you, walking backward before you, eyes of encouragement on you as you go, and hear him sing to you. What an emotional connection, an affirmation of significance, a superconductor of love. His desire is to be connected to us, so much so that He opens Himself up to us in deeply personal ways. He does not view us as tools to be used, but fellow workers that are to be cared for in the work of caring for all creation. And His desire is for us to reflect His care and love in the way we care for and love all of the creation around us. This connection between Creator and creature and creation brings wholeness and health.
Now I’m not necessarily advocating that we start walking around singing to each other, or maybe I am. But, I am advocating for deep connection, for allowing our hearts to be open, for the vulnerability that comes with treating each other with care. Our interdependence as Christians – dependence on Jesus that facilitates connection with each other – leads to health and wholeness.
My prayer is that we will be made more aware of the deep and intimate love of Jesus as we picture Him singing over us. And may that emotional connection, that humble condescension, that vulnerable care lead us into a greater realization of our purpose in the world as partakers of grace and participants in the spread of His Kingdom.
Driving along to our super remote Airbnb, kids faces glued to screens passing time, I spoke these incredibly profound words, in an effort to get them to notice. “Look at those mountains! Those are mountains!” My excitement about what I could see, wonder bubbling up made me exclaim. I didn’t feel the need to make it sound amazing with descriptors, it just was amazing. They didn’t need me to do anything but tell them to notice that thing. I just stated the very obvious. They laughed, as always, at how silly I am, and the running joke of the week was for me to say in essence look at that thing, it is that thing! Other hits from that week include but are not limited to : “Look at that sunset! That is a sunset” and “ Look at that jacuzzi! That is a jacuzzi!”
In some ways it’s good to make the beautiful things sound or seem more beautiful. As someone who aspires to write well, I want to say things beautifully. It would be helpful if I could use my words to help you picture and imagine what I’m trying to tell you.. But sometimes the best thing to do is just state the thing. There it is. Look at it. Its beauty and importance are obvious. My extra words are just that – extra.
When I share my words with y’all, I often feel like I’m exclaiming over and over, in slightly different ways “Look at those mountains! Those are mountains!” And maybe that’s ok. Just trying, time and again, to notice Jesus and then saying plainly “Look at Jesus! That is Jesus!” Sometimes all I need to do is be with my people and say: Look up! He’s right there.
It is also true that I get so bogged down in my own mess that I miss the evidence of who God is and what He’s doing in my life. I neglect looking up and seeing that He is right there. I’m too busy navel gazing or I’m consumed with a task or I’m trying to entertain or numb the painful and uncomfortable away. So I miss how Jesus is coming near to be my Hope and my Help and my Healer. I get into my little routines of comfort, head down, churning out what I think I need to accomplish, and I let my agenda distract me from seeing and joining in on being part of what God is obviously doing. As I become familiar with the beauty and wonder of Jesus’ character, I don’t even see it anymore. I forget to notice and name His faithfulness in pursuing me, His grace in forgiving me, His comfort in being near to my broken heart, His compassion in binding up my physical and spiritual wounds, His patience in walking with me and even carrying when I resist His ways. Sometimes I need someone to say Hey! Snap out of it! Look at Jesus! That is Jesus!
This walk of faith isn’t one we need to travel alone. We are called to live it in community. We need each other’s eyes and ears and hearts and minds. We are called to encourage and comfort one another (Hebrews 10:25, I Thess. 5:11, I Thess. 4:18) to stir each other up to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24), and one way we can do this is by pointing out the Lord in each other’s actual lives. We help and encourage one another by having our own minds set on whatever is true and right and honorable and lovely and commendable and excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8) and then we point it out to each other. Plainly.
My simple prayer is that when we notice Jesus in our day to day lives we will encourage and comfort and spur one another on by saying – even if it feels silly and painfully obvious – Look at Jesus! That is Jesus! May we let the wonder of who He is, of what He is doing here and now, move us to exclaim the simple yet profound beauty to each other.
So don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here trying to point out the obvious that I’m often too distracted to notice. Feel free to do the same!
I’m one of those people, and maybe you are too, that has a quote from a TV show or movie pop into my head in almost every circumstance I face. Right around 47% of those quotes are from the movie Tommy Boy, so don’t judge me. I’d say 39% are from SNL, Seinfeld, and Friends with the remaining 14% coming from other random shows and movies. All through High School and College I was obsessed with SNL. One super random skit from the early 90’s featuring Julia Sweeney, and Victoria Jackson was a satire of a Weight Watchers meeting. The group leader spouted off what were intended to be catchy self-help type phrases, but as the skit went on they became increasingly nonsensical. The first of these phrases lives in my head rent free, as the kids say these days. You’ve probably actually heard it before and maybe had someone use it around you in all seriousness. I can hear Julia Sweeney saying it now: “It’s not a diet, it’s a live-it. You live-it. You Live. It.” Words to live by, amiright?!?
A few weeks back I was listening to The Habit podcast with Jonathan Rogers interviewing Dane Ortlund. In this interview Ortlund mentioned something that I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around ever since. And then just this week as I was finishing Ortlund’s book Gentle And Lowly I got to read a little more about the idea. He said that as Christians we have an invitation to inhabit the truth instead of merely applying it. Did you get that? Inhabit not just apply truth. Ortlund, in a much more important and less self-helpish way than Sweeney’s character is telling us that truth isn’t a passing fad that we use in cheap and convenient ways, but it’s something that is meant to encompass all of who we are and how we encounter the world around us. Truth isn’t to be confined to a few line item lists we can tack onto life, we are made to inhabit truth.
Now, we Christians love our sermons with a handy application tagged on the end. We want a nice little solution to help us be better Christians. Application, for me, is often a half-hearted attempt at slapping a colorful bandaid on a broken situation to make a good outward show. When what I actually need is to live in the truth. Live in it. Inhale and exhale. Sink my roots in. Absorb it. Let every part of who I am experience and embrace it. I want to abide in the truth in such a way that it becomes integrated into my life. Or maybe, more precisely, I want to be integrated into the truth. I need to be so connected with truth and truth so woven into my life that there is no chance of it being separated out. Just as thread woven into a garment, when pulled out, causes the whole thing to unravel. In the same way that the Holy Spirit isn’t applied to us as merely an outward sign of the promise, but instead dwells within us as a power-filled, life changing guarantee of the promise, truth isn’t something we fasten on to a few carefully and comfortably chosen behaviors, our full selves are meant to become enmeshed in God’s Truth.
I don’t want the truth to be like a Jesus fish on the back of my car as I selfishly and angrily weave my way through traffic, flipping people off as I go. Thinking it’s all good ‘cause I got that outward sign telling everyone that I’m a serious Christian. No. I want who Jesus is – The Truth – to be an integral and integrated part of every bit of who I am. I want to make my habitation in Christ Jesus, so that all of life is lived in Him. The gift of faith is an invitation from Jesus to inhabit the Truth that He is.
Now, I’m not saying that application is totally useless or should never be a part of a sermon, or a book, or heaven forbid a blog post. But application of truth is often very narrow, and can lead to compartmentalization of our faith. On the other hand a movement towards inhabiting truth facilitates flourishing of the same. It is an embodied effort, it requires relationship, it takes context and circumstances into account. Inhabiting is a whole body, full self, all encompassing experience. No compartmentalization allowed.
So, at the risk of trying to apply this invitation to Inhabit the Truth, what might this look like? It seems to me that inhabiting truth requires imagination and creativity. How this gets played out in our lives will be as numerous and varied as each of our own circumstances and histories and personalities and relationships. Let’s imagine what an embodied response to the gospel looks like. How do we breathe in and out this resurrection life we’ve entered into? In what ways can we encourage one another to abide in the atmosphere of grace that is our standing with Jesus.?
Maybe inhabiting truth means we own this beautiful story of Redemption that Jesus has accomplished. So we enter into the truth and believe that it belongs to us, involves us, affects us. Somehow inhabiting the truth can involve all of who we are – heart, mind, soul and strength. So then we can learn to have an embodied experience of all that Jesus did and all of who He is. I’m wondering if inhabiting the truth is relational at its core and flourishing in the truth can’t happen in isolation. So truth is best experienced in relation to Jesus and then towards others.
God knows we need help to understand and do this inhabiting the truth thing, and so in His kindness He gave His people ways to integrate truth into everyday life. He gave instructions – in both the Old and New Testaments – encouragements to make His promises and His ways near and dear to our hearts. Signs that point to Him. Feasts that celebrate His wonders. Fasts that remind us of our truest needs. Practices that delightfully engrain His words into our minds. Sacraments that are conduits of His grace. People we can encourage, and walk with, and with whom we are being built together in the Truth
So right here and right now, as God’s beloved people we can live in His truth together. I would love it if we could help each other creatively and imaginatively figure out this way of life. We are grafted in by His grace so let’s celebrate together the truth of our forgiveness, through confession and repentance, and being quick to forgive others. As we embrace our own redemption and reconciliation, let’s practice becoming participants and ambassadors in the same for others as our arms reach out with the compassion we experienced as God pursued us. As we live life noticing the goodness of God through our senses, as we see and hear and taste and smell and touch the world around us, let’s turn in wonder and say to the ones we love, the people nearby, taste and see – The Lord is good! With the renewed joy of His Salvation, fanned into a flame by the work of the Spirit, let’s celebrate with each other, not just on Sunday mornings but in the ordinary, grace-filled moments of everyday life. As we encounter the comfort of the One who carries our burdens and is acquainted with grief, let’s approach with empathy the lonely and hurting and broken-hearted with that same comfort and truth. As Jesus draws us close with His unfailing, everlasting love – in that security – let’s move towards the outcast with hearts of understanding and hope. Again, it’s going to take creativity and imagination for us to do this in real life, to move from knowing about truth to living in it. It will take relationally and intentionally paying attention to Jesus and the world around us. But I truly believe we have been re-made for this.
Just as the Israelites of old were instructed to inhabit the land of their exile, to build homes, plant vineyards, marry and have kids – they were to continue (or begin) to live and move and have their being in the Lord, right where they were. Their purpose was to inhabit their true identity as God’s people. The same is true for us today, we are invited to inhabit the truth of our identity in, our union with, and our belonging to Jesus. While we are here on this earth, until Jesus returns, every part of our lives finds its flourishing in this way. The Truth that is our Life is where we need to be living.
I recently finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which got me thinking in all kinds of ways. One of the many things bouncing around in my head stems from one character referencing, multiple times, a line from a poem by Emily Dickenson: ‘tell all the truth but tell it slant’. I had heard the phrase ‘tell it slant’ numerous times before and Eugene Peterson has a book by that name that is on my ever-lengthening To Be Read list, but I was unaware the phrase came from a poem. Once I read that it originated in a poem, I consulted the all knowing interwebs.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind
Honestly, the phrase tell it slant has always made me wonder. I mean, I never took the time to investigate its meaning, and so it felt…off? Like, dishonest? Man, am I glad I looked up the poem. It brought such clarity. It excited and encouraged me that what I do with this somewhat inconsistent habit of writing might actually matter. Maybe, even in the smallest of ways, I can labor to share Truth in ways that dazzle but do not blind, easing the shocking brightness with kind, careful, relatable words.
We love to read and listen to good stories, they are powerful. The narratives we pay attention to move us and change us. And I’m learning that poetry is the same – but different – in its ability to convey a truth in subtle, open ended, meaningful ways. They provide more than mere entertainment, they bring hope, facilitate healing, and point to redemption. We learn about and connect the dots of life through story and verse. We gain understanding as we encounter our own narrative and verse and then enter into the prose and rhyme of the lives of others.
Jesus knew this well, and so did the prophets and psalmists of old. The Bible as a whole is one grand narrative arc, but also the Bible is full of parable and story and song and poetry. Jesus taught hard truths to hard hearted people through short, relatable narratives. Nathan the prophet steered the heart of King David toward repentance with a story of a stolen precious lamb. The Psalms are full of poetic imagery that points us to God’s character and purposes. The Bible is bursting forth with all the Truth told slant.
I believe if this were not the case it would be too much to bear. Gradual revelation and understanding through story and song, narrative and poetry is how the Lord teaches us best. He gives us the Truth of who He is and who we are over the long arc of the Redemptive Tale. He does not expect us to take it all in straight away and full on, in kindness the Holy Spirit gives it to us in condescending explanation. He brings understanding in ways that don’t overwhelm and push us away, but instead woo us with wonder or to borrow a phrase from L’Engle with “a light so lovely.”
Viewing the Gospel merely as a tool to be used can be a bit tricky, but let’s roll with it for now. The narrative of the Gospel can be like a flashlight. When used correctly and with the slant of care and kindness it illuminates the path we tread. Giving us a view of where we are headed, giving clarity in the darkness, or at least hope that the next step isn’t off a cliff. When used carelessly, when shone in the eyes of the lost or needy, it can blind and disorient, it can even cause a turning away. The way we share truth matters.
The truth is meant to build up what is crumbling, to make whole what is broken and so it must be told with love and care. The Lord in his mercy would not use the truth to crush in His people what is bruised and hurting. His truth is meant to bind up, bring healing, and give comfort. His goal, therefore our goal, isn’t to diminish the truth but enhance our ability to grasp and understand it. Do you respond well to facts being yelled at your face? I seriously doubt it. But to have someone come alongside with a narrative or a poem or a song conveying a deep truth can be utterly compelling. It touches our emotions and connects us to truth that otherwise may have seemed hard to reach, or softens us with truth that may have potentially hardened us.
I want to learn what it means, and practice what it looks like, to tell all the truth but tell it slant. My deep desire is to write in ways that convey beautiful truth with a love that draws people near. I long to weave sentences that blanket my readers with a hope the lingers despite the coldness of broken circumstances. I’m seeking to string together words that hook our hearts with conviction and turn us to the One who freely forgives. Because I care deeply for you, for the hearts of the people who read my words, I want the way that I write to be a dazzling reflection of the blindingly bright light of Jesus.
My underlying hope and prayer is that we all, as followers of Christ, will live in a way that tells all of His Truth slant. May our lives be shaped and molded by Jesus in such a way that we live out the story of redemption and reconciliation and renewal in hopeful and attractive and healing ways. May we enter into the broken stories around us and bring the prose and poetry of the gospel to light our way forward. May we walk along together, on this path of faithfulness to Jesus, sharing stories and verses of truth in a way that casts a light that dazzles but never blinds.
A long time ago, in what seems like a different lifetime, my circle of girl friends spent a lot of time with a group of guys that lived in a house nearby. It was fun, easy, comfortable. Then, along came another group of girls, and things changed. In a candid convo with one of those guys, the question was asked: “What happened? How come we don’t hang out as much?” The answer hurt more than I like to admit: “Y’all are old hat.” Ouch.
We remained friends, although, admittedly, I was a little less invested and possibly a tiny bit angry. Listen, I get it, new things are exciting, especially new relationships of the opposite sex variety. It’s hard to stay excited about something that is, well, old and super familiar. When the mystery and wonder is gone, the magic disappears with it.
I’ve been reading and listening to more books recently, especially since I’m not currently leading a Bible Study and I have more time and headspace. One of the books I’ve just finished is Brian Zahnd’s Beauty Will Save The World: Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity. Let me tell you, at the risk of over using a word in the title, it was beautiful. There is so much to this book that addresses where we find ourselves in the American Church in general, but also in the White Evangelical Church specifically.
One of the pictures Zahnd paints of Christianity is that the life of faith is at its best a Cathedral of Astonishment. Yet, we have lost it or maybe never had it, because we treat the gospel as some sort of utilitarian self help guide. In our effort to explain its usefulness and practicality, we no longer experience the beauty of our Crucified and Risen Savior. He quips that the gospel has become old hat. Ouch.
How can we as the body of Christ recapture the magic? How can we be affected by the wonder of it all? Can we live our lives in awe of the gospel, and not just explain it to people, but help them experience the beauty? I’m just beginning to think through this, but I believe part of the answer, as Zahnd beautifully argues, is for us to stop treating faith in Jesus as a pragmatic system of individualism. We might be better off if we experience, in community, not only the truth and goodness of the gospel as it relates to how we live, but also it’s beauty. And then, let the astonishment of it all affect us, let astonishment lead us to worship. Because life, the life of the church, is worship worked out in every single moment. Worship is entering mind body and soul into engagement with truth and goodness and beauty, together in community. Then we can let the combination of truth, goodness, and beauty elicit a response.
Think about that scene in Jurassic Park where Sam Neil and Laura Dern first see real live dinosaurs. Neil slowly stands up, mouth a gape, hands trembling as he fumbles to remove his sunglasses, to get a better look. He can’t even speak or explain what he’s seeing, and clearly can’t believe his eyes. He is utterly astounded by the reality in front of him. Dern is sitting in the front seat of the Jeep studying some information about the park and dinosaurs, maybe a map. It’s good and true information, and she’s jabbering on about it unaware of what’s actually going on. From his astounded stance Neil reaches a shaking hand to find her head and turns her face toward what he sees. He brings her into the experience of the thing she is studying, but is failing to notice. He turns her face toward the beauty and she is astonished by what she sees, in a way studying that information on paper will never bring about. The experience of the beauty is more important than it being explained.
As I stand in the world beholding the astounding reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ, my best and most helpful reaction might just be standing next to my people, eyes wide open and wild with wonder, jaw dropped in speechless joy and fear, hands trembling as I can barely elbow whoever is next to me to make sure they are seeing what I’m seeing. When I treat the Lord as information to be grasped instead of beauty to behold, I have lost the mystery, the astonishment, the wonder that leads to worship. When my first instinct is to explain instead of exclaim, I reduce Jesus to a tool to be utilized. When I treat the gospel that leads to redemption as a self help guide instead of good news that should drop me to my knees, I am treating Jesus as old hat.
So my prayer for us is that our hearts would be wowed and wooed by the astonishing beauty of Jesus. May our hearts be astounded as we stand in awe together, experiencing the wonder of who Jesus is and all He has done. May we live as a Cathedral of Astonishment in each other’s lives and in the world.
Who we are matters. Always. Not just who we are on Sunday mornings or in our church small groups or at Bible Study. Every aspect of life, every circumstance we face, every single interaction we have, online or in person, every bit of it should be affected by our identity. What we are like on the outside is a reflection of who we are on the inside, evidence of what fills us. But who are we, really?
I’ll be the first to admit it. I forget. All of the time. A large portion of my life I walk around with identity amnesia. I need a constant reminder of who I am, a reminder of what – or more accurately Who – forms me. I require something that is constantly and permanently emblazoned into my field of vision.
Now I’ve never really considered getting a tattoo before, for three reasons.
I suck at decisions, so the thought of making such a long term/permanent one causes me to shut down.
I’m not a fan of intentionally doing something to my body that causes sharp pain.
If I’m honest, I’m still afraid of disappointing my mother.
However, for the past year it’s been in the back of my mind. I have these two phrases or mantras or whatever you want to call them, that I try to remind myself of and live by as much as possible. And I have been tossing around the idea of having them tattooed onto the inside of my wrists so I can see them whenever I need to remember. One on each wrist. Here they are:
Accepted in the Beloved Belonging to the Lord
Partaker of Grace Participant in the Gospel
These are the general truths that I want to shape and form my identity. The things that I hope will affect how I view myself and how I should live in the world. It’s so hard to remember. So hard to be shaped by Jesus. But I want it desperately. I want to be formed by my identity in Christ. I want to let who Jesus is and what He has done be evident in how I live.
I believe it is true that I am formed by what fills me, so I want to enfold myself around The Lord. I want a life that experiences the wonder of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and is characterized by the character of the same. So much of the Christian life I’ve experienced thus far has been reduced to a get out of hell free card, and that just ain’t it. Jesus is so much more than that. A faithful life is more beautiful and good and all encompassing than I sometimes dare to dream. My prayer for myself and the people I love is for us to be people formed and re-formed around who The Great I Am is.
May we be like a skin stretched tight over the likeness of Jesus – who was the perfect and full embodiment of the Divine – arms outstretched, suffering with and for His people on the cross.
May we have lives formed around the prayer Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done – here on earth, here in my heart, in my family, in my church, in my community. (Matt 6:10)
May we walk around as image bearers that exhibit fruit in keeping with repentance, all the while abiding in the Spirit who causes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control to bloom and grow. (Matt 3:8, Gal 5:22,23)
May our hearts beat to the rhythm of the Love that puts others’ needs first, is humble and gentle, patient and kind, shows no partiality, is not rude or envious, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, and hopes and believes and endures to the end. (I Cor. 13)
May we be people of integrated faith, shaped by a God who says over and over ‘Do Not Fear, for I am with you’, and whose faithfulness has been proven without fail.
May our souls be aligned with the Savior who was intent on mourning the sins within the church and turning over the tables of the money changers inside the temple, but refused to cast the first stone at a sinner or storm the throne of the earthly kingdom of His time.
May our desires and actions, our words and deeds be reformed by the certain hope of redemption and restoration and renewal.
May we be transformed by having our minds fixed on Jesus, who alone is true, and honorable, and just, and pure, and lovely, and commendable, and excellent, and praise worthy. (Phil. 4:8)
May we be a people who are formed around both Truth and Love. As we partake of grace may we be shaped, in a myriad of ways, to interact faithfully with the world around us and thus participate in the Gospel. May we be people, individuals and a group, who because we are united to Christ and accepted in the Beloved, live as if we belong to the Lord. May our identity be made sure as Who and What fills us, forms us.
p. s. Who is going to help me design my tattoos?!?
p. p. s. Yes I am a nerd for wanting to tattoo sentences on my body instead of some cool picture or image.
p. p. p.s. Sorry Mom. But don’t worry number 1 & 2 in the above list are strong deterrents.
It almost feels hokey for this deeply Presbyterian girl to even type it, but slowly breathing these words in and out has become a practice for me each day. Centering prayer, with its focus on connecting the body to prayer and truth, is new for me. Sitting silently for five minutes, in meditative prayer is hard to do for my easily distracted and sometimes task oriented mind. The offer and hope of embodied, integrated faith is what brought me to this uncomfortable yet life giving place.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I struggle to experience God as tangible. I desperately long for Him to be near to me, I want to experience His presence in real ways. Yet, too often, He has felt so distant and cold. For years I have longed to hope and believe in the things I have preached to and prayed for the people I love. This unfathomable truth that the Creator of all things desires to be with His people, is so hard for me to grasp.
If I believe the Bible is true, and I do, there is no lack of evidence in this area. I know the cold hard facts of this case, they are undisputed. We are created in the image of a God whose essence is defined by fellowship. At the instance of ruptured relationship, the One offended moved toward the offenders and then promised reconciliation and repair. There is a Savior who came to be with us in the flesh, to experience what we experience with us, so that He can be with us to comfort, be with us in empathy, be with us in the care of our neediness. The transcendent became imminent in order to draw us into fellowship again. I know this, in my head, but struggle to connect this in my heart to the way I live.
Way back in the early spring of 2020, I became aware of Malcolm Guite, a poet and great thinker, who happens to love and follow Jesus. I heard him, in a the podcast On Being with Krista Tippet, quote a line from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
“Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends”
These lines have been shaping me ever since. This idea that imagination can help me reach for what I have trouble wrapping my mind around.
In lots of different ways I have begun to practice the withness of Jesus. My inability to take cold hard facts about Him and make them seem real, in many ways, has been impeded by a lack of imagination. For much of my life I have divorced learning about Jesus from story and metaphor and poetry, which are in so many ways the language of the Bible. I need imagination to make the intangible tangible. To help me reach for what my head knowledge cannot possibly comprehend. The work of making what is most real, real in my life involves putting myself in the story and creatively thinking about what it might look like to have Jesus in the room with me. To put flesh on the bones of the narrative arc of scripture and reach with my heart for what feels distant. To experience, by connecting the truth of the Word to embodied practices, brings the hope of the withness of it all.
In His presence there is fullness of joy – Ps. 16:11
His nearness is my good a Ps 73:28
The Lord your God is in your midst – Zeph. 3:17
In the shadow of His wings I sing for joy – Ps 63:7
Do Not Fear for I am with you – Isaiah 41:10
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – John 1:14
Nothing can separate us from the love of God – Rom. 8:39
These truths are hard to wrap our brains around when we think of them with the cool reason of intellect, but when we think of them, meditate on them, breathe in the poetic beauty that they embody they become and help us become. The imaginative, poetic aspects of walking in faith have brought my soul more peace, more assurance, and greater ability to rest, than straight up intellectualism and cold doctrine ever have. Through a newfound appreciation for poetry and imagination and the like over the past year I’ve begun to imagine into reality the Truths that are hard for my heart and head to grasp.
I am aiming to be formed holistically – mind, body, and soul – by what I can apprehend about Jesus with me, through more than merely factual knowledge. I’m trying to shift away from seeking God’s presence to get things, and towards seeking His withness because I just want Him.
I am praying for each of us, that we would be able to imagine into our existence the reality of a Savior who is truly with us. I pray we would be able to connect the reality of Immanuel to our hearts through embodied imagination.
The other day my youngest daughter and I were driving home on a busy street at dusk. The darkness of 5:45 was swallowing us up, you know, minus the neon glow of fast food joints. As we crested a hill, I saw a giant, orange tinted orb peeking over the tops of all those signs and roof tops. I only caught a quick glimpse before we went down the hill and it was gone from view. It was so big and orange and beautiful, but we couldn’t find it again before we arrived home.
As we traveled the tree and house lined streets leading to our neighborhood, straining our necks to find that orb again, we began to doubt what we had seen. Maybe it wasn’t the moon after all. Maybe it was just another artificially glowing beacon of mediocre food. I had the girl check the interwebs, and she confirmed there was indeed a full moon that night. But still it was hard to believe my eyes, it was such a quick and uncertain sighting. Thirty minutes later I was in the car again, and that full moon had risen high enough for me to catch a complete view, though now it appeared much smaller and less orange. That second view confirmed the first in my mind.
You may know this already, but I’m a big fan of Advent readings. I have a small collection that I’ve read through in years past and I seem to add to that collection with the passing of each Christmas. My newest addition is a book put together by the poet Malcolm Guite called Waiting on The Word. The format is a poem each day through Epiphany, written by a handful of poets including Malcolm, accompanied by a short but beautifully in-depth essay thinking through the poem’s meaning and how it can apply to the season of Advent.
This new book has been a fresh and touching look at the coming of Jesus. I love how intentional Guite is about pointing us not only to the First Advent of Jesus being born into this world, and the Second Advent of His guaranteed return, but also showing how Jesus comes to us now. He is helping me to have a heart during the Christmas season, and all of life really, open to all the ways Jesus comes to His people continually. I’m slowly learning that as we celebrate and as we wait, we can have eyes searching for the small sightings of Jesus, we can have necks straining to catch a glimpse of the Light of the World.
This is no easy task. Our view of Jesus is easily obscured by circumstances if we aren’t careful. Sometimes the hard and sad keep us from looking up, and often the ease and comfort steal our gaze away. Still, He comes again and again. His light breaks through the darkness. His love comes near to comfort. His kindness moves toward us for good. His faithfulness holds us when we have lost our footing. His arms are underneath it all to sustain. His life is our life, every minute of every day.
Sometimes we catch a glimpse and then lose sight. We begin to wonder: Was it real? Is He actually here, even now? More often than not we need to assure each other. We need to hear that these truths, Who Jesus is, all that He has done, His coming for us, they are not just our past and our future. They are our reality here and now. The glimpses we get, either first hand or pointed to by another, they give us hope. They are the foundation we need to navigate this life. These sightings of Jesus are a confirmation of the reality of a God who loves us, who has redeemed us, who has made us His own.
So my prayer for us is that in the darkness and the waiting, in the flood of distracting bliss, in the numbing noise of excess, and in the wearying weight of loss we would see Jesus. May we have eyes opened to the Light who overcomes the cold shadows to bring warmth and life. May we have hearts attuned to and affected by the Love who breaks down the stoney walls stacked high in both rebellion and self preservation. May we have minds that are transforming as the wonder of His actual presence pierces through the veil of both familiarity and doubt. May our spirits be moved by all the compassion we experience as The Word made flesh, enters our world to be with us in a relationship that changes the way we relate to the world around us. May our view of Jesus here and now, assure us, form us, and move us.
I don’t know how y’all are feeling about things, but the isolation and separation that have dominated this past year are taking their toll. The loss of togetherness, in schools and churches, among families and friends, it feels heavy. The political climate that surrounded the election, even within the church, certainly didn’t help matters. The divides feel deeper. The separation much wider. The inability to physically move toward people with care appears to be making the world less willing to do so emotionally and philosophically.
Maybe I’m just weary. Maybe I need to stay away from the parts of social media that highlight the divides. But the truth is, the isolation is making me miss connection. The separation is making me feel the lack of unity. The dehumanization of the other is making me notice the lack of empathy. And the ways in which I am taking part in or turning a blind eye to the ugliness of it all are making me cringe. Over the past week I’ve been reading through Philippians, and the language Paul uses when speaking to his people at Philippi is making me long for a different way.
Paul uses the language of longing and it is a life giving breath of fresh air. Paul speaks of his thankfulness when he thinks of them. The Philippians bring a rejoicing to Paul’s heart when he prays for them. Paul says the way he feels about them is right and good, he has them in his heart, because Jesus does too. His affection for them is rooted in the love of Jesus, their shared experience of grace, and their participation in the gospel together. Paul longs for their good over his own, and is more than willing to lose for their gain. They are his beloved, his crown and glory, and his joy. The way Paul longs for these people is a much needed and refreshing reflection of the way Jesus longs for His people.
The One who created us in His own image is a relational God at His core. Father, Son, and Spirit in perfect unity and eternal fellowship with one another. He created us as image bearers to be relational as well. We reflect the image of God, or don’t, in the way we relate with others. When Adam was alone it was not good, he needed another. Adam and Eve were made for each other. When the Church is experiencing separation and isolation and division it is not good, we need one another. We, the Church, are being re-made for each other. Our purpose of imaging God is worked out in the way we relate, the way we fellowship, and the way we live in community and in the world.
So how can we as image bearers reflect the God who longs for us to the world around us and to each other? Can we live out this language of longing? Maybe as we experience Jesus, as we relate to and abide in Him, it happens. The God who longs so deeply to be in relationship with us, is working to fit us together as a body of believers, unified in love and purpose. The Savior who delights in and sings over His people and desires to be with us, is giving us hearts that find joy in each other and rejoice to see the Lord at work and long to fellowship together. The Word that became flesh and gave up heaven and emptied Himself for our good, is causing us to walk with each other in humility, doing justice and loving mercy. The Lord who loved us when we were rebels, who pursued us when we were running away, who drew us to Himself with lovingkindness is knitting our hearts together so that we will move toward each other with deep compassion, listen empathetically to the angry and hurting, and show mercy and patience even when it isn’t reciprocal. The Creator of all life, who was obedient to death on the cross for our forgiveness, begins to create in us spirits that are quick to confess and repent of our own sins, instead of self-righteously picking up stones to throw at others. Ultimately our relationship with the One who created us for relationship, forms and informs the way we relate to the world and each other as we experience Him.
Sadly, this year continues to create separation. Holiday plans are being cancelled. School still doesn’t look normal. The way we do church feels weird and less than satisfying. There is a longing for some normalcy. Deep down we long for something more, because we were made for something more. We were made for real, intimate connectedness to our Creator and each other. The connection is broken and marred by sin, and our hearts are hardened . But God, He pursues us, He draws us near, He works in us. As our hearts are softened and opened to Jesus we long for more. As we experience His love and know His character we begin to long for Him. And as the image of Jesus is slowly perfected in us, we grow to long for each other as Jesus longs for us.
So my prayer for each of us is that as members of the Body of Christ, we would have hearts that long for each other with the affection of Jesus Himself. All because He loves us, and we have received so much grace together, and we are participants in the gospel. May the language of longing color every thing we say and do, so that more and more the good of others is our deep desire and great joy.