The Familiar Glories

Glory is everywhere in these short days of summer.  A walk to the mailbox overloads the senses with unusual bird sightings, progress in the garden, and the frenzied buzzing of bee scouts filling their saddle bags with the makings for a flourishing life.

Clyde Kilby* laments:

“One of the greatest tragedies of the fall is that we get tired of familiar glories.”

YES to this, so in these fleeting days — of summer and of life — I’m putting on the brakes and lingering in a few moments that have already flown by.

Poetry is glue that repairs the split seconds.

Counting syllables; choosing one word and rejecting another; spinning a spider web netting that will capture and hold a memory; I’m pausing for a languid look at the longer realities that live behind the images.

Let’s agree together that we will never lose sight of those “familiar glories.”

The Familiar Glories

He runs from the house, his face aglow.

Expectation shines from every pore

As a gushing stream of welcome runs

Over the rocky bed of toddler-ese.

 

 

E & KWhite lace enhances youthful beauty.

Love and joy collide in radiance,

For without words, bride and groom clasp hands,

And every promise shimmers in their eyes.

Capture

Fragment of bird-life hangs suspended,

Sipping in mid-air her floral fuel

From color and fragrance that drew her

And hold her savoring; slake her wanting.

 

birch tree

White birch; emerald leaves on blue sky:

Were the greens this glorious last year?

The familiar glories press themselves

Against the day insisting, “Wake up.  See.”

 

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Photo credit for lovely picture of the bride and groom:  Carrie Mae Photography 

*Clyde Kilby was a noted C.S. Lewis scholar and professor of English at Wheaton College.  I found this quote in John Piper’s new book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally (Crossway, 2017) Kindle Location 574

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Weeping Woman of Ramah

(Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15; Isaiah 61:1-3)

There was no angel appearance to my husband —

No timely warning granted for us to flee the danger and death of Herod’s sword.

Know that I, too, would have fled.

I would have flown to the ends of the earth to dodge the flash of steel that ended my young son’s life, snuffed out to satisfy the jealous angst of a paranoid king.

Tricked out of a positive identification of his rival by the stealth of the wise men, Herod reduced a precious population of baby boys to a disposable demographic:
male child,
in Bethlehem and its districts,
two years old and under.

 My son.

Yes, my tears were foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, and the Messiah survived to live and die in the manner God had ordained.
(Is it ironic only to me that my boy died in the place of the savior of humanity?)

God’s economy is strange.

I would never have removed a creature so fine as he before his time.
There is a great hole in the universe now.

But I am a daughter of Deborah, a woman of the Covenant, and I know Who it is that sits at the Potter’s wheel, Who molds the clay.
I am the work of His hand.
My son was also His vessel.

God is building His kingdom; I know this in my head.
But I am a mother, finite, and I see through a glass darkly.

And I would trade all that promise of righteousness, all that prophetic fulfillment
for one more day with my boy.

Is there ever an era or a set of circumstances in which a bereaved mother does not
sob ragged to frame these words:
Why my child?
Why not some other?

I do not understand, and Jeremiah was cruelly accurate in his prophecy,
for I will not be comforted:

Not by time.
Not by the kind consolation of thoughtful words.
Not by the probing questions, thinly veiled queries, which, over the years
have come to revolve around a single theme:
“Isn’t she over this yet?”

Weeping, I wait for my heart to heal.

Weeping, and finding no ready answer to the evil in the world—the evil in me—
I discover that my suffering creates a space in which I wait for the deep comfort promised by another ancient prophet:

Healing for the brokenhearted.
Consolation to those who mourn.
Beauty.
Joy.
Praise.

I wait for another coming of this Jesus, and I long to believe,
for I know
that shortly after I see His face,

I will see, once again, the face of my boy.

_____________

A few verses in Matthew are all that are granted to the tragedy of slain baby boys following the birth of Jesus. As the mother of four sons, I’ve never experienced this depth of loss, and I find myself wishing with all my heart that these women could have been among those who “sorrow not even as others who have no hope.”  I love to think that there may have been those who knew from their exposure to the writings of the prophets that a Messiah would come to live and to die and to give beauty for ashes.

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine where we were writing for Advent 2015 on the theme “Paused and Present.”

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Image credit: Guilherme Yagui

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Each Day By Name

After holding babies close,
Holding hands on the walk to the mailbox,
Holding feet to the fire,
Holding loosely to the ones who have left the nest
(Say it and say it until you believe it:
“roots and wings,”
“roots and wings”),
My hands and heart are learning the contours of a new holding:
An upholding,
A gift of words that will not be written down,
But only offered up.

Standing quietly in the sure center of an ever-increasing circumference,
I watch as my family grows.
While 7 in Scripture is the number of perfection
Six — for me —  was always the number of completion —
The number of plates on my table when everyone came home for dinner.

When six swells to nine,
And the highchair is back in the dining room,
And the daughters-in-love help clear,
There’s a thankfulness that bubbles quiet.
Since they are all priceless to me,
My deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and helpfulness.

Time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?
Even with all my good intentions,
My jars of green beans and homemade granola,
My warm thoughts and my heartfelt hopes
Will add nothing to the faithfulness of their following
For this is something that only God can do.

God in heaven,
God of Hannah who prayed for a son,
God of Esther who prayed and influenced a nation,
God of Anna who spent a lifetime serving through prayer,
Will you give me grace to pray by name each day for those closest to my heart?
Will you help me to float their names like an offering,
Giving them back to you anew with every prayer?

Just as there’s a fine line between privilege and responsibility
(I want to see this as a privilege),
There’s also a hair’s breadth between conviction and superstition
(Especially when it comes to prayer).
Jesus says, “Go into your room and shut the door,” and
I go into my room and shout from the rooftop via Facebook.
Jesus says, “Where two or more are gathered in my name . . .”
And when I interpret that to mean that if two is good, then twenty is great,
And two hundred is pretty much a sure thing,
How lightly I have reduced this privilege of moving the hand of God to a referendum —
Or even an entitlement.

In my reading, I see that Paul lifted names in almost every letter.
I wonder . . .
Did the names spring readily to his pen because they had been on his lips in prayer?

“Euodia and Syntyche at loggerheads again”
Prayer like sandpaper to smooth away the relational splinters.

“Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, fellow servant”
Prayer like a spotlight on the beautiful image-bearer and words of thanksgiving for that sweet life.

When my prayers become prescriptive
(“Lord do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”),
As if You were on my staff;

When, with cobbled-together omniscience,
I presume to second guess Your sovereignty;

Set Your cross-shaped correction upon my words
And bring me back to the simple grace,
The lavish mercy,
That comes with unclenched prayer.
Let my words be few
And my listening be large around each whispered name,
With the offering up of my hopes and a commitment to Your will.
For prayer is the hardest work of all
Since it is not my work at all
But Yours
When I cooperate with You
And agree
That You know what is best as,
One by one,
I bring each one
To You
Each day
By name.

 

Photo credit

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Why Read the Lists?

“I’m glad you’re the one reading this,” said the patient husband.

He was referring to the tongue-twisting list of names in I Chronicles 5 with all their adjacent vowels and unexpected consonant blends.

I could see his point, but, to be honest, I was enjoying the effort of decoding the names and then saying them, one by one, out loud to the air inside our min-van.

As we waded through the names in I Chronicles, I couldn’t ignore the repeated evidence that God keeps records of the names of His people.  When we look at an old year book or at the many pictures that scroll their way through our social media minutes, it’s human nature to look for the faces and names of those we recognize and love.  God needs no news feed to keep track of His beloved, and every face, every name has significance to Him.  This truth is prevalent throughout the Old Testament:   remember Moses begging God to wipe his own name out of the book rather than giving up on his people?  And the lists go on throughout the books of history right into Nehemiah and the years of exile.

In the New Testament,  Jesus told The Seventy (when they returned from their short-term missions trip), “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  His message to them was that God’s cherishing and recording of their name is more reason for them to rejoice than their ability to “trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy,” (Luke 10:17-20).

Just as God sees all time at once, exists outside of time, and yet is available to you in your moment, so He also sees all of humanity at once — and yet He cherishes uniqueness.  He knows you by name.

Multi-syllabic,
Mostly unpronounceable,
They march across the pages.

Trailing their fathers,
Embedded in community,
Their names inscribe the ages.

There are no nameless —
There are no faceless
Followers of God Most High.
Although we read them
With hearts too numb to marvel
At the grace that’s between the lines;

For these are the people promised to Abraham,
The ones for whom God split the sea,
Who sold themselves cheaply
And squandered their chosen-ness —

Just like me.

Seventy servants
Returned from a mission
With tales of demons falling.

Sharing their conquests,
‘Til Jesus gave perspective:
“Your joy is not your calling,

“But you have names
And you have faces
You’re followers of God Most High.
And so your names,
‘Enrolled among the righteous,’
Are written in My Book of Life.”

For they are the people promised to Abraham,
Outnumbering the stars they can see.
When the Lamb’s Book is opened
They’ll hold their breaths, listening.
On their faces, they’ll be listening —

Just like me.

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Photo credit

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Wherever the Poem Takes Us

A perfect Saturday:  a hand-holding walk with a patient man, an antique store, a cafe, and, finally, a beach with two lawn chairs.  In the company of the Atlantic Ocean, the summer sun, and my snoozing husband, I was introduced to a new poet — Marjorie Maddox  — in my meandering read through True, False, None of the Above, a song about life in the key of grace.

Based on her reading, her teaching, and her embrace of a life of faith, Marjorie’s poetry examines important themes with clarity and an open-mindedness that spurs the heart on to more pondering.

To jump start your worship:  Unlike God we tilt and turn, but “the Trinity’s still point throws no shadow.”  “His face is the greater flame, but doesn’t flicker.”

To celebrate beauty in nature:  Marjorie notices and then reports.  As it happens, “lightening does, after all, saw through space — a jagged bread knife of sharp.”

Events from the evening news find their way into Marjorie’s poems along with whispered prayers over dirty dishes and clean laundry.  It is a delight when poetic imagery illuminates daily tasks and decisions — even the generational do-si-do of storing people’s stuff and then throwing it away to make room for new memories in “this world of want.”  It is a blessing to find images from an ancient Book reconfigured so that this time there is no favoritism — both Jacob and Esau have received a poem.  And on a perfect summer afternoon, it’s pure bliss to open a book, to read it slowly enough to savor images, and then just to “go wherever the poem takes us.”

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This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Partners in Revelation: Bringing Beauty into View

If it is true that, as we age, we become even more of whatever we have been all our lives, then Luci Shaw is becoming more and more difficult to “shelve.”  A poet and essayist well into her eighties, she continues to tackle topics ranging from quantum mechanics and the incarnation to the haecceity** of things and what it means to “doubt faithfully.”  Thumbprint in the Clay examines these themes and more within the context of Luci’s decoding of the rich presence of purpose, design, and beauty in the universe in which we see God’s fingerprints and His invitation to become part of the creative process.

In four places in Scripture, God is identified metaphorically as a potter, and, made in His image, we also delight in the creation of useful and beautiful things. This response to beauty should not surprise us, for it is a “mark of the Maker,” and Luci Shaw has concluded that “beauty doesn’t reside simply in what we observe or the fact that we can see and take note, but in how we perceive and distinguish with all our senses.”  The glory of this is that as seers, we become “partners in revelation to bring beauty into view.”

A collector of pottery through the years, Luci invites her readers to consider the beauty that results when something is imprinted or stamped upon clay — or upon a life.  Impressions are made and influence has its “in-flowing” way with us and we are changed.  As reflectors of the image of a creative God, all believers (and artists in particular) are called to reflect that image authentically so as to impact culture.  By way of illustration, Luci shares a heart-warming story in which she helps a homeless woman, and the happy-ever-after just doesn’t come true.  The help of one person was not enough to fix the “sad, smeared print” of a whole life, and yet out of that untidy tale of disappointment has come a more informed community of believers who are working together to help the needy.

Luci’s generous sharing of the sting of inadequacy (“Oh, God of living compassion and tender mercy, what could we have done differently?”) gives me courage to view my own failures with more grace, perhaps as part of God’s marking and molding of this lump of clay.  Certainly God used various methods in Scripture to mark His people:  Jacob’s limp from wrestling with God never left him; Miriam was marked with leprosy and Moses with radiance in direct correlation to their demonstration of faith; Zechariah was stamped with a nine-month silence.

Most joyful and inspiring is Thumbprint‘s underlying narrative of Luci’s own yielding to the Potter’s shaping and molding.  Her heritage of “missionary blood” with all the baggage and expectations that cling to it, her wrestling with faith and doubt (something she reminds me that one cannot do from a distance), and her ever-curious approach to life through travel, outdoor adventures, and asking the questions have all marked her.  Poems sprinkled liberally throughout the pages serve to document her progress and to pull me into the quest for fresh ways of saying the ancient Truth.  I’m challenged by this observation about words and The Word:

“. . . we must be prepared to open our eyes, to move from what has become a well-worn bit of dogma in our minds to a vivid picture vigorous enough to freshen a relationship with God.”

I can just barely imagine the experience of being present when THE wardrobe from C.S. Lewis’s home arrived at the Marion E. Wade Collection in Wheaton, of finding his coat still hanging inside, of looking for tufts of Aslan fur.  Insights into Luci’s formative relationship with Lewis scholar Clyde Kilby and Luci’s creative collaboration and friendship with Madeleine L’Engle are a treat for those of us who have followed Luci’s career (and say that we want to BE Luci Shaw when we grow up!).

“Generativity” is a word that shows up in one of Luci’s books, a word about growth and pushing forward into the future, and the reality of that word emanates with blazing brightness from between the lines of Thumbprint in the Clay.  Having been imprinted by Christ, the questions to His followers hang in the air like a challenge:

  • Can we live in awareness of the rich evidence of purpose, the fingerprints of God upon His world, and then invite others into the creative process?
  •  Can we listen and respond to the voice of God as He speaks Truth to the world (and directly to our searching hearts) through beauty, order, and grace?
  • Can we view the circumstances of our lives (whatever they may be) as the continual reshaping and remaking of our Potter God?

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** I never read a Luci Shaw book without gaining a new word.  Naturally I had to show this one off.  It literally means “thisness”and refers to “the essential unique quality of every created thing.”  The idea was proposed by 14th century philosopher John Duns Scotus and is demonstrated well in the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Christmas Eve on the Hill

Not in the curl of smoke from cozy fire;
Not in the fir trees, cloaked in snowy white;
Nor chickadees in formal dark attire;
Not in the wintry stars’ pinpricks of light;

Neither in the window candles, spilling
Their golden rays across the powdered ground;
Nor in the crimson berries’ vivid contrast
To holly’s green may Christmas Eve be found,

If not seen first with angel-startled shepherds
Through eyes and ears awakened by God-Light
To baby squalls and cattle stench alongside
The Truth of poured-out deity tonight.

Since we here on this quiet, country hill
Stand to our knees in fresh Bethlehem straw,
Soon all will be redeemed by His appearing —
Creation waits and holds its breath in awe.

Merry Christmas!

May your celebration of Christmas be
enhanced by truth,
enjoyed with beloved friends and family,
and enlivened by your anticipation of another advent
in which all creation will be redeemed.