Tag Archives: faith

Widening Faith

Kathleen Norris says in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith that the Hebrew word for “salvation” means literally “to make wide” or “to make sufficient.” She tells the story of a friend on a destructive path who got out; he “recognized that the road he had taken was not wide enough to sustain his life; it was sufficient only as a way leading to death.”

I went to a small group this week where the theme was Christ as Victor. We talked about the meaning of the resurrection, and it was said that death was not a part of God’s plan, and I wondered. Death is a subject that has been on my mind this summer. I read Annie Dillard and was reminded how rampant death is in nature, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a bad thing. Our skin cells are dying every second to keep us new. Death in the earth makes fertile ground, so plants and trees can thrive. This itself seems to me a sort of rebirth.

Genesis does not read as a scientific account to me, so I’ve wondered what Eden might mean in light of what is known about our planet’s history, the billions of years of life and death and more life. In the story itself, the death promised to Adam and Eve is not a literal one. God says in the day they eat of the fruit of the tree, they shall surely die, but they don’t die. Not physically, for many years. What change might sin have wrought upon the world? What could be the meaning of death without sin?

Perhaps I am losing my more fundamentalist readers who believe Genesis is a literal account and I am ignoring God’s clearly written word. I would say to you only that I love the story of Eden. I think it is beautiful and true, but I think truth comes in different forms. We could have a long discussion about the genre of our oldest scriptures, about truth and myth, but that’s not what this post is about.

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summer thoughts

I am sitting in a coffee shop with an iced mocha and a pile of books, because this is how I know to not be lonely, filling myself with chocolate coffee and words, forgetting the people I love are a thousand and more miles away. Not forgetting maybe so much as accepting, as hoping that we are all where we are meant to be.

Words are the stuff that dreams are made of for me, the beauty of a world that exists only in mind. Language is odd if you think too hard about it. What are words to the natural world? What are hope and beauty to rays and particles of light, gusts of wind, green things growing? We are trying to name the things we see and the things we don’t see but know are there somewhere. Sunlight means more to us than brightness from a burning sphere of hydrogen; sunlight means warmth and unfurling petals, looking ever up.

I think of the things that move me in two categories: nature and humanity, but we also are creation. The synapses that light up the human mind into both poetry and calculus are as breathtaking as the most brazen colors of sunset.

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Voice of God

I am often frustrated by God’s silences or my own failure to listen. I have friends who talk about feeling close to God, and I wouldn’t say I’ve never felt that way, but it’s rare for me. I understand that faith isn’t about feelings, but I want to know that I am on the right path and truly following Jesus. I want the relationship so often talked about in contemporary Christian circles. Relationships are two-sided, so why does God sometimes seem so distant?

I know, frequently, I don’t give him time. I am rushing through my days in a whirlwind, with ears only for the next step in my schedule or the clamor of daily anxieties. But when I do take time and get nothing, what am I supposed to make of that?

In Genesis, God speaks the world into existence. If you have ever looked outside, this itself is incredible. YHWH’s voice is the eruption of stars and the parting of waters, the growth of forests and the spread wings of Earth’s first birds.

Then there is Elijah who watched as

“a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

This low whisper is the voice of the Lord–not booming, not quaking, but a low whisper you have to lean in to hear.

Other times in the Bible, God seems to choose deliberately not to speak. God is quiet as Job’s sons and daughters die, his riches and livestock are plundered, and his body is covered in sores.
Job cries out for answers, but God stays silent until the very end. What he says is powerful, though not extremely comforting:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements–surely you know!

Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

He goes on like this for pages, and it seems like the message to take away is that God has no obligation to answer us. He does what he does. He is who he is.

Yet when Job acknowledges God’s greatness and his own smallness, the Lord restores his fortunes to twice what he had before. Why? He had no obligation.

I am most envious of Jesus’ disciples who saw him face to face and heard his voice. They could ask any question and expect an answer. They could hear him as he hung on the cross, crying, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

I know the Holy Spirit is with us now, to teach us and remind us what Jesus spoke, but it’s very mysterious. I do think I have heard it, felt it? (I think I lack the vocabulary to talk about these things.)

I was a brittle teenager on a band trip in Europe in July. We were visiting a church somewhere in Austria, far from all the places where I knew what to expect. London and Paris were shining cities, but this church was just a short stop on a long bus trip across the countryside.
Inside the stone walls, I can only describe it as radiance. Perhaps I remember it brighter than it was, but in my memory, light will always burst from the ceiling, white and gleaming. Images of Jesus lined every wall and surface. A pamphlet about the place said its builders wanted the church to convey the joy of Christ. Joy. In the brightness, I could see it.

The choir sang a short concert there, and one of the songs was called The Prayer of the Children, written in the midst of civil war and ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia in the 1970s. These are a few of the lyrics:

Can you feel the hearts of the children?

Aching for home, for something of their very own

Reaching hands, with nothing to hold on to,

But hope for a better day

Crying Jesus, help me

To see the morning light of one more day

But if I should die before I wake,

I pray my soul to take

I believe what God spoke to me in that church, in that song, was hope. I wasn’t exactly suicidal as a teenager, but I was very unhappy, and killing myself was something I thought about, always an option if I ever really wanted out. The children in the song, victims of ethnic cleansing, had much more reasons than I to be hopeless, but they believed in something better to come. I knew then, or at least I chose to believe, that hope was not in vain. It was real and bright, and it couldn’t be choked by darkness.

Moments like these are rare ones, I think, but they do happen, when God in his creation voice grabs us by the shoulders to tell us he is here when we thought he was long gone.

A lot of people think the Holy Spirit speaks mainly through God’s word in the Bible. I am sometimes skeptical, because I think people take verses out of context, treating the Bible like a magic eight ball or a prescribed textbook, when it’s 66 different books including records of kings, words of prophets, letters to specific churches at specific times, poetry and origin stories.

It’s been translated multiple times, and it’s a messy, often hard to grasp story, but it is the story of our savior, and I think he is alive in it.

In one of my loneliest days last fall semester, I will not leave you as orphans sprang into my head–the words of Jesus before his arrest, John 14:18. Perhaps a coincidence, but I think they were words for me as well as the original audience.

Moments like these don’t always come, though. There are days I read the Bible and am bored by it, when I pray and don’t feel heard, when I am listless and unhappy and even the beauty of creation does not stir me. I want God to grab me by the shoulders and speak, but often he seems to sit silent and still.

These are the days when I sometimes wonder if I am crazy, if the Lord never spoke to me at all, and all us Christians are wasting our time. But I think God is still working in silences, even when we can’t see what’s he doing, and I aspire to sit like Job when I can’t hear him, dressed in sackcloth in the dust, saying stubbornly:

I know that my Redeemer lives,

and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,

yet in my flesh I shall see God.

I’m bad at church (but that’s okay).

I’ve been trying for a long time to write a post about church, but I’ve had a difficult time sorting out what I want to say. I was at a service of my college ministry a couple months ago when I realized that I don’t trust people at my church very easily, even though I’ve been going almost four years.

It’s second nature to me to hold people at an arm’s length at church. I don’t want to build relationships with them. I would much prefer to come in, listen to the sermon, and get out. Even as far as the sermons themselves go, there are many days when I do a better job critiquing them than learning anything from them.

Simply put, I’m bad at church. I like to think I’m getting better, but some days I slip into cynical teenager mode.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. You can read a lot of articles about young people leaving church in droves. I never completely left, but I certainly checked out for a few years. My experience with church in college has felt like coming back, or maybe coming for the first time and trying to figure out what church is actually all about.

For the rest of this post, join me at Together at the Table. 


Everyday Sacred

I recently finished reading Rob Bell’s book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I know a lot of Christians in the conservative/evangelical community think Bell has sketchy theology. That’s fine. I don’t think you need to agree with everything someone says to learn from their ideas.

What struck me most about Bell’s book was his insistence that God is everywhere in everything. We try hard to compartmentalize between the sacred and the commonplace, the holy and the every day. People come into churches with the feeling that they need to clean up first, change the way they dress and talk. That’s not the way God operates.

Jesus came to earth to be a man. He was born in a stable. He is called Immanuel–God with us. Not just at church or in a temple, but at weddings and beside wells, in boats on stormy seas and in funeral processions.

Whether we are lepers cast out of society, women dragged from beds of adultery, cripples lowered through roofs on our mats, or tax collectors counting our money, Jesus came to be with us.

Friends, join me for the rest of this post over at Together at the Table.

Unfathomable God

Sometimes I find the Bible incredibly unsatisfying. I am reading the parts of the Israelite history I don’t know very well, and to be honest, they’re parts of the Bible I usually try to avoid. The God of the Old Testament seems so often fierce and unforgiving. Last week I read Joshua and cried for Achan’s and his household, the women and children all stoned to death for this one man’s sin. And so many people of Canaan similarly struck down with swords. No prisoners allowed– total destruction in the name of the Lord.

Theologians offer explanations for this violence. The people destroyed by Israel were corrupt, they say. We all deserve the same death, they say. If we’ve forgotten that, we’ve forgotten the gospel.

I can’t argue with them, but I’m still uneasy. It doesn’t seem like God gives everyone the same chance. How can people be held responsible for the cultures they are born in, for the things they are raised to believe?

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First snow

a blanket of snow, somehow warmer than every fall night
snowflakes dropped from the sky like stars falling,
in morning a bright world shines, made new
and the weather’s different everywhere,
but for me, here, it’s like the Lord taking my hand saying,
I know things haven’t been easy, but look how it glitters for you,
a miracle sent to the cold, bleak world
as the savior sent to cold, bleak hearts
born beneath a great shining star:
the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shown
his name is Immanuel, God with us

The manna is enough.

Here am I kneeling on linoleum,
because Immanuel came to set the captives free
and yet I chain myself to cruel gods
who breathe despair into these lungs
made alive by the breath of YHWH,
I have poisoned them day after day.

I was grasping at grace sent from heaven,
joy more abundant than ever before
like manna in the wilderness,
it was bundled in arms with fear
of not having enough.

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Stumbling to Eden

We are exiles in the broken world, slowly following the Lord home.
He found us and said, Come to me, all who are weary and heavy leaden.
My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
And we believed and rejoiced as he washed away crimson sin.

But soon things stop being easy;
no shining future in sight—
only a rugged wilderness, and all we can see of our savior
is a pierced hand dragging us forward.

Then one day bruised and weary, we stumble into a garden:
a fragment left of Eden and the Lord says, Grow here.

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(this is another poem)

You are born with tears in your eyes
and screams in your throat;
air in your lungs the first time is a gasp of cold—
but then you are wrapped in blankets, held in arms,
called precious for the mere fact that
You are here.
You’re alive.
You’ve opened your eyes.

For a few years you live with the belief
that people will come when you cry
to fix everything that is, or ever could be wrong

But one day they just stop coming.
One day what’s wrong can’t be fixed.

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