Tag Archive - God

Behold…The Bridegroom

I behold Thy Bridal Chamber richly adorned, O my Savior.
But I have no wedding garment to worthily enter.
Make radiant the garment of my soul,
O Giver of Life and save me.

It is, for me, one of the loveliest, most poignant services of the whole church year. Bridegroom Matins. And the Church is kind enough to give it to us on three evenings of Holy Week. My story is all tangled up in here. And I sometimes feel like God and I are curled up in an armchair looking through an old photo album as He gently whispers, Remember…..

On the third evening we ponder the stories of Judas the traitor and the fallen woman.

I am the arrogant Judas, frustrated that God does not act as I think He should. Willing to take matters into my own hands. Faithless. Disloyal. Greedy. As much as I abhor his choice, it is a choice with which I am all too familiar.

I am also the fallen woman. Desperate. Without resource. Without hope. Standing outside the bridal chamber, filthy and unclothed. So broken that I would risk humiliation to pour myself out at the feet of One…the only One…who can save me.

Why is one saved and the other hopelessly lost?

When the sinful woman was offering her spice, the sinful disciple was making a bargain with the transgressors of the law. The one rejoiced in pouring out the spice so great in price, while the other hastened to sell the Priceless One. The one knew the Master, the other was separated from the Lord. She was freed and Judas became a slave to the enemy. Indifference is evil, but great is repentance

Ah for the wretchedness of Judas! For, seeing the adulteress kiss the traces of His feet, he was thinking with deceit of the kiss of betrayal. She loosed her braids, and he was bound with wrath, offering instead of spice, rotted evil; for envy knoweth not how to honor anything which is good

I belong here. In the Bridal Chamber. Not because I have done the right thing. Not because I have proved myself worthy. But because I have thrown myself upon His mercy. Because He has clothed me in His own righteousness, of His good pleasure.

Near the close of the service is sung the Troparion of Kassiani. She is my patron saint, and it is this hymn, in part, that wed my soul to hers. She has given most exquisite expression to the groaning of my soul.

O Lord God, the woman who had fallen into many sins,
having perceived Thy divinity received the rank of ointment-bearer,
offering Thee spices before Thy burial wailing and crying:
“Woe is me, for the love of adultery and sin hath given me a dark and lightless night;
accept the fountains of my tears O Thou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds
incline Thou to the sigh of my heart
O Thou Who didst bend the heavens by Thine inapprehensible condescension;
I will kiss Thy pure feet and I will wipe them with my tresses.
I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear.
Who then shall examine the multitude of my sin and the depth of Thy judgment?
Wherefore, O my Saviour and the Deliverer of my soul
turn not away from Thy handmaiden
O Thou of boundless mercy”.

“May He who is going to His voluntary passion for our salvation, Christ our true God, have mercy on us and save us forasmuch as He is good and loveth mankind.”

*All unattributed quotes from the Lenten Triodion, Bridegroom Matins service. Hear the hymn of Kassiani HERE.

Early Will I Seek You

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The sun climbs as I make my way through a world shrouded in mist. Sometimes I can see individual droplets dancing in the air on their lazy meander back to the sky. I pass an untended lot where bag shaped webs hang from last years dried grass. They capture bits of mist and sunlight and glow like lanterns on a summer evening.

I traverse this early morning wonderland to receive the Body and Blood. During this week of Passion, the Church gives us the gift of daily liturgy. We gather before work, before a day with children, errands, meetings, responsibility, to consider the cross. On this first morning, Jesus tenderly prepares His disciples for His coming death and for the suffering that awaits each of them. In the service, this is interwoven with the story of the Hebrew captivity under Pharaoh and Satan’s request to have his way with Job.

In the midst of all this, we pray. For the peace of the world, for forgiveness, for illumination. We are reminded that the voluntary Passion of Christ will “raise us who are dead in sin; for He is good and loves mankind.” Then, we are nourished with the Eucharist. The “medicine of immortality” St. John Chrysostom called it. And as I carry this mystical treasure about in me all day I cannot help but remember what it cost. And I am changed by it.

Flannery O’Connor and her mother began every day with liturgy. She carried the Body and Blood with her as she returned home to write. And I wonder how much that living quality, that indefinable something that makes her works breathe and meddle and transform, has to do with the fact that she housed that extraordinary gift inside her as she wrote.

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O God, you are my God: early will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips shall praise you.
~Psalm 63:1-3

Of Paradox and Palms…

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Lent is perpetual paradox. The church is dressed in somber purple. We are a people of longing. Yet, we meet on Sundays to celebrate Resurrection. The Resurrection that has been, that is, that is not yet. In between, we lament, we fast, we wait.

This weekend the church was all dressed up in gold again. We commemorated the raising of Lazarus and the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem. After this morning’s service, we formed a corridor out of doors with candles and palms, and as the priest moved among us with the icon of the feast we cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!” We were Jerusalem receiving our King. We were all joy.

Tonight, we prayed the poignant and lovely Bridegroom Matins service. The purple is back. The hymns are somber. The coming days will be dark.

Palm Sunday has been melancholy for me for some time. Mostly, I blame it on the flannel graphs. When my children were little, I told them Bible stories using flannel graph pictures. A sweet remnant from my own childhood. It always troubled me that I was expected to use the same crowd of people who shout “Hosanna” to later shout “Crucify”. Truth is, they were the same people. And He knew it. Even as He moved among them, even as He received their adoration, He knew.

And I want to be angry at them. For breaking His heart.

Til I remember.

I am them.

I receive Christ with gladness. I adore Him. I long for Him with all that I am. Until I don’t. Until I become arrogant. Again. And seek my own way. And though I do not call out for His physical death, I close the gate against Him and behave, in that moment, as though He were dead.

Lord have mercy.

Tonight, in my head, songs of the triumphant King riding into Jerusalem on a colt mingle with songs of the suffering Bridegroom who gives Himself for the beloved. And my heart is restless as the paradox that was Lent spills over into Holy Week…

 

Artful Extravagance

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While God puts His lovely fingerprint on all of creation, it sometimes seems as though He spends extra time in certain places crafting an extravagance of beauty. Artful, elegant, and so exquisite it creates a pang in the heart. Bermuda is one such place.

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Sapphire skies hover over an impossibly turquoise sea that rushes toward pink sand beaches in a flurry of foam. Dark stones lie strewn about the shore and shallows like left over toys. The water hurls itself against them, spouting skyward in great white flumes.

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Along the beach, we discover treasures from the sea. And, even as I mourn their death, I marvel that God graced a creature that would rarely be seen with such extraordinary loveliness. Prettier than it has to be.

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Sea Glass Beach yields treasures of another sort. Trash, broken bottles and the like, rolled around by the waves, pummeled against the sand, wash up onto this beach smoothed and remade. We brought bits of it home. As a reminder. Fragments of resurrection for the garden path.

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The beauty of the natural world seems to inform and inspire the works of man. The houses that cling to the hills look like they spilled out of an Easter basket. Gardens and flower boxes are a profusion of texture and color. And we climb the world’s oldest cast iron lighthouse to find a most utilitarian beauty. The prisms that help magnify the light bend land, sea and sky into a marvelous upside down landscape.

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There is even a nod to whimsy. This is Kenzie’s favorite of my photos from Bermuda. The creative impulse is a one of the surest imprints of the Creator within us, even when the form it takes is unconventional. And Rastafarian. And awesome. 🙂

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The sun is painting with pieces of glass. She flings them like spatters of watercolor against the window frame with a Kandinsky-like exuberance. I can’t not look at it.

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Doors are flung open to breezes blown up from the sea. The song of them blends with voices in the liturgy. A curious mix, this. And wonderful. Like the languid, feathery palms swaying against the outside of this great stone church that looks as though it were plucked from the English countryside.

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Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Collision…

annun

It is an unforeseen serendipity, really. In Orthodox practice, there are intersecting cycles of worship. Some are fixed and some float according to where Easter falls (and it falls really late for eastern Christians this year: May 5th). But, somewhere in this seemingly random whirl of rubrics and such, two observations collided this year. The Sunday of Orthodoxy and the Annunciation. And I can’t stop thinking about this.

In the early church, an iconoclastic faction arose, a group that contended that to use images of Christ or of the saints in worship amounted to idolatry. It is an opinion that some might support even today. The church council called to consider this ultimately decided that the use of icons is appropriate because since Christ became man in the flesh, it is reasonable to depict Him in images. These images facilitate our worship. This decision is what we celebrate in the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”.

Of course, without the Annunciation there would be no Incarnation and Christ would not have become man. Therefore, the two are already intertwined in theme. But last night, they were intertwined in practice.

In a beautiful vesper service, members of several different Orthodox congregations in the Nashville area converged upon our church. We sang and prayed together. There was singing and commemoration in Greek, Russian, Serbian and English. We processed with icons. We broke bread together afterward. And woven all through this evening was the celebration of the blessed moment when the angel gave the news to Mary that she was to be the sacred vessel that would contain the Son of God.

I cannot tell you what it meant to be in that place. To experience a foretaste of the Kingdom where all tongues and tribes will sing together. To remember the great condescension in which God became like us so that we might one day be like Him. To commemorate the purity and the devotion of Mary, of her willingness to be the handmaiden of the Lord. The very first to welcome Him into her heart. Into her body. Into her life.

This morning we will celebrate liturgy for the Feast of the Annunciation. And we will remember the moment when Christ began His physical movement toward us. To step into our lives. To be God with us. To redeem us so that we might be with Him…

Thanks be to God!

 

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A Ballade of Place…

We almost missed it. Many people do.

It was our last morning in Paris, and we had seen everything on our list. We had one ticket left on our City Pass. Sainte Chapelle. A church. We had a little time to spare and it was near by.

Sainte Chapelle was built to house relics brought back from the Holy Land, including what was purported to be the crown of thorns worn by Christ. It was constructed at the pinnacle of the Gothic age when architects had perfected the flying buttress system to an art. Hence, the church is filled with windows. Three walls of her are very nearly windows only, beginning a few feet of the floor and soaring into the heavens, separated by only the finest ribs of support.

It is made even more dramatic by the fact that you reach it by climbing a dark, close spiral staircase. You wind your way up and up through the darkness until you are suddenly turned out into a magnificence you could never have imagined.

Standing in that place was, and still is, one of the holiest moments of my life. God was a presence that could be touched and breathed and worn there. His grandeur leaked from every pane of glass.

I have never explained that moment to my satisfaction, though I have tried. My latest attempt at giving it voice was inspired by a creative lectio experience with my beautiful friends Nita and Patsy. It is, perhaps, the closest I have come. Yet.

Sainte Chapelle

The steps have been hollowed out
by centuries of use. Still they spiral
upward through the dark, close
column of stone till they spill me out
into the upper chamber.

I am assaulted by color.
Jeweled windows hang
suspended from the sky.
Sunlight scatters the jewels across the floor
and in my hair
and on my skin.

And I find that I have forgotten
to breathe. And my face is wet.

And I think of poor, hungry peasants
who gave of their meager means to build
great edifices for God, and how I scorned
their impracticality.

And I realize I would gladly starve
to stand, just once, in a place
where holiness rests
like jewels
on my skin.

 

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sainte chapelle ceiling

Thin Places…

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The walls of the ancient church are impregnated with incense. Candles flicker before the icons. Faded frescoes of Saints crowd round us; on columns, walls, ceiling. And in this moment I am aware of a palpable Presence. Centuries of worshipers have stood where I stand. Liturgy. Eucharist. Body and Blood. I hear them still…

The storm raged all afternoon. Dark as night. Rain hurling itself against windows. Thunder shaking the house. Explosions of lightning. Now, its fury is spent. And like a child who has cried itself all out, the world is soft. Clean. Curls of mist rise toward a sky that is painting itself in swirls of violet and azure, with flecks of gold. I stand barefoot in the wet grass and am completely lost in the extravagant glory of this…

We fall to our knees, faces to the floor, as the priest intones a lament, “Today is hung upon the Tree, He who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him who is King of Angels…” When the singing ends, silence lays heavy…like a blanket. Then the silence is rent by hammer slamming against wood. And I feel each blow like a kick to the stomach. And I am there, kneeling in the mud of a Judean hillside as the sweet body of the Lord is brutally nailed to a cross…

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“A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time…you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.” ~Frederick Buechner

The Celts called them thin places. Sacred thresholds where the veil between us and the world beyond dissolves…for a space. Much of the time, they just happen. They are gift. We cannot construct them. Or reconstruct them. Most of the time, we cannot even adequately explain them. All we can do is ready ourselves to receive them.

“Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?”
“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”
“Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”
“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”
~Zen master to his disciple

Herein I recruit voices of wise ones to speak to some of the practices and ways of being that tend to make us ready for these up close encounters with the Holy.

Silence

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals…
~Henri Nouwen

The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must be heard by the soul.
~St. John of the Cross

Stillness

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.
~ Richard Rohr (from Psalm 46:10)

Awareness

We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery.  God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.
~Kallistos Ware

…Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Humility

Give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me the humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens.
~Thomas Merton

The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality.
~Richard Rohr

Contemplation

Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.
~Thomas Merton

…I don’t know exactly what a prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver

In the beauty of God’s own economy, these encounters are not gift for us alone. As these moments spent in the Presence permeate our being, we become gift to others.

If our lives are truly “hid with Christ in God”, the astounding thing is that this hidden-ness is revealed in all that we do and say and write.
~Madeleine L’Engle

God utters me like a partial thought containing a partial word of Himself. ~Thomas Merton

If the idea of thin places appeals to you. If you crave a space to be refreshed and inspired…to converse, to commune, to be… I invite you to join me at Luminous. I am especially excited to hear from one of my artist heroes,  Makoto Fujimura. I have written about his remarkable illuminated gospels HERE, and his intriguing talk on Liminal Spaces (a prophetic/creative slant on thin places) HERE. The painting at the top of the post is Fujimura’s “Still Point Evening“.

*This post was inspired by the Luminous Project. Luminous is a creative spiritual event in Nashville May 1-3, 2013. To find out more, check out luminousproject.com. You can use the promo code ‘BRINGitHERE’ to get 35% off the registration price.

Lord, You Know

“You carry so much stress in your body!” they both say to me. (The chiropractor/kinesiologist who has been treating my ailing ankle, and the massage therapist who once a month or so tries to untie the knots into which I tie myself.)

My first thought is, “Like I can do anything about that!” But then, I begin to wonder, “What is it, really, that I have to be so stressed about?”

I…am a worrier. I never thought it would happen to me, but it has. And what’s more, I am coming to see this worry as sin.

Hear me out…

I learn my child or my friend is in crisis. I immediately absorb this crisis into myself. My stomach hurts. I can’t sleep. Because I need to fix it! I begin rolling the situation around in my head. What should I say to them? What can be done? Who should I talk to on their behalf? What if they won’t listen? What if they persist in self-destructive behavior? What if someone hurts them? What if they do not understand how serious this is? (Read this faster and faster getting louder with each phrase and you will have some notion of the cacophony in my head.)

Do you have any idea how long I will stew over this before it occurs to me to mention it to God?

And even then, I have to say it just right. I need to present Him with a solution and implore Him to implement my plan. Is this arrogant? Is this foolish?

Truth is, apparently, I trust myself more than I trust God.

Ouch.

Fortunately, He has been good enough over the last few years to provide me with some situations that are completely out of my depth. Slowly…slowly…I am learning a new way to pray.

Lord, You know.

Someone I love is making choices that have potentially devastating consequences. I struggle with what to say and what not to say. I am terrified for him. I have NO answers. So I offer him to God. Every morning. I have stopped telling God what to do. Lord, you know. That is my prayer. Lord, you know how to help him. Lord, your resources are illimitable. Lord, please make haste to help him.

Every time I think of him throughout the day…every time I am tempted to begin scheming about how to fix this…I pray.

Lord, you know.

And in the night when my restless mind presents to me a laundry list of dear ones who are hurting…

Lord, You know.

I am sleeping better than I have in a long time.

But, far more important than that, I am reminded every morning and all throughout the day that God has each of my beloveds under His wing. That the power of heaven is being unleashed on their behalf. And that is worth far more than any “solution” I might come up with.

Does this free me from the responsibilities of being wife, mother or friend? Absolutely not. And I will still serve those I love with all I have. But I am letting go of the arrogant notion that it all depends on me.

With silence, tolerance, and above all by prayer we benefit others in a mystical way…What we are unable to do, His grace will achieve. ~Elder Porphyrios

P.S. I use the following prayer from the Orthodox prayer book every morning to bring before God the names of my family and my very close friends, along with others who I know to be at a point of particular need. They are the words I would pray if I were smarter. I am glad someone wrote them down for me. I offer them to you…

O God, our heavenly Father, who loves mankind and art a most merciful and compassionate God, have mercy upon Your servants (Name those whom you wish to remember) for whom I humbly pray to You to care for and protect. O God, be their guide and guardian in all their endeavors, lead them in the path of Your truth, and draw them nearer to You, so that they may lead a godly and righteous life in Your love as they do Your will in all things. Give them Your grace, and mercy so that they may be patient, hard working, tireless, devout and charitable. Defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption, and direct them in the way of Salvation, through the goodness of Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the prayers of His Holy Mother and the blessed saints. Amen.

Lifted by Angels

I read the whole book in one day. I just could not stop reading. In language potent, precise, and poetic, Joel J. Miller crafts an enthralling narrative supported by impeccable research on a topic that most of us know precious little about.

Miller begins by inoculating us against our sentimental, but erroneous, misconceptions about angels. He paints a picture, “...using the pigments provided by the Scripture, art, services, hymns, and teachings of the ancient Christian church. The image that forms from these sources is, I think, more exciting, more frightening, more humbling, more inspiring, and ultimately more real than our popular conceptions.” Yes! Oh, yes!

The following chapter tells the ominous story of the “light-bearer”, that radiant angel Lucifer who, because of his great arrogance, becomes “ring leader of the apostasy” (Irenaeous of Lyons). He then seeks to use that pride as his primary weapon against humanity. “As Augustine understood it, pride is the source of all sin, and envy flows from it like a fetid stream.”

Chapter three shows us angels interwoven all through the story of Israel. Joel’s masterful storytelling kept me greedily flipping one page after another to see what happens next, even though I mostly know what happens next. A promise to Abraham, courage for Gideon, nourishment for Elijah, and a celestial army to protect Elisha, are only a few of the angelic errands explored. Then the chapter takes a sobering turn as Israel herself becomes arrogant and rebels against God. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel will all have powerful interactions with angels as God prepares them to speak on His behalf. Angels will also have the regrettable task, at times, of carrying out God’s judgement against His beloved, but recalcitrant people. By the end of the chapter I am crying out with the rebels and exiles for deliverance. As the author tells us, this time God will not send an angel, or even an army of angels, but the Lord of the Angels Himself.

Chapter four wrecks me. “The story of Christ is shot through with angels,” Miller begins. He then threads these divine appearances through the narrative of Christ. When Gabriel begins to speak to Mary of the child she will bear, I am undone. Even now, reading it again for this post, my heart burns with his words. By the time the “skies erupted over the birthplace in Bethlehem” I can hardly breathe. Then he show us the story from the vantage point of Revelation 12 with a woman travailing in birth and a great red dragon who would devour her child, and my heart pounds. We continue to see angels ministering to their Lord at his baptism, his temptation in the wilderness, as he heals and casts out demons, at his crucifixion, and finally his resurrection and ascension.

Angels and ministers of grace, defend us.  ~Shakespeare, Hamlet

Chapter five is a beautiful and illuminating treatment of our guardian angels drawn from Scripture and the teachings of the early church fathers. My favorite passage is this, from the lips of Christ, “See that you do not despise these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father.”

Chapter six is an exciting reminder that when we worship we enter into a service that is already underway, joining the angels and the saints who have gone before us who perpetually offer their praise to the Father. We get tastes of this in Isaiah chapter 6, as well as John’s vision in Revelation. Also, God instructed that cherubim be depicted both on the tapestries of the tabernacle as well as the ark of the covenant as symbols of this. The early church followed suit by adorning their places of worship with images of the angels as well as the saints, a practice which continues in many churches today. Included in the chapter is this beautiful version of the cherubic hymn, from the liturgy of St. James, sung as the priests process with the gifts of bread and wine.

Let all mortal flesh be silent and stand with fear and trembling, and meditate nothing earthly within itself: For the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Christ our God, comes forward to be sacrificed and to be given for food to the faithful; and the bands of angels go before him with every power and dominion, the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces and crying aloud the hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Fittingly, the final chapter looks at angels as our “guides from one world to the next“. The chapter concludes (or nearly so) with this passage that I mean to commit to memory and perhaps recite to myself daily.

“This is the staggering assymetry of God’s goodness. There is more grace than envy, more love than hate, more heaven than hell.”

Lifted by Angels: The Presence and Power of our Heavenly Guides and Guardians is a remarkable book. Compellingly written and replete with good theology about far more than just angels. I commend it to your attention.

*All quotes in the post are from the book. Unattributed quotes, Joel J. Miller.

 

 

The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse

“Our art and our humanity are inextricably entwined, and within these pages I hope to–through story and reflection–examine the soulish ground from which creativity arises.”

Elder Porphyrios said, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.” A poet has a way of seeing that is cleaner, purer, more acute than most. One of the compelling poet voices of our age is Michael Gungor. He and his compatriots are creating art that is deep and rich, beautiful and true. Art that is born out of stillness and out of communion.

In his remarkable new book, which releases today, this poet/prophet explores thoughts about art, about the roots that shape our art, and about nourishing our soil so that what we create is life giving and worthy. He’s a great storyteller, and the book is filled with vulnerability and good humor. I have had to resist the urge to bombard you with a zillion quotes because his wordcraft is gorgeous and the ideas so important. Herein is a sampling. I strongly urge you to read the book for yourself.

Part 1: Art

“Art is the body’s pronunciation of the soul.”

“The book of Genesis begins with a poem about a Creator who took a universe writhing in chaos and formed it into something cohesive, visible, and beautiful…” Gungor reminds us that as images of the Creator, we are called to do the same. He also alerts us that how we go about that says much about who we are,

“If you want to know what is in the heart of a culture, look at its art. Read its poetry, listen to its music, and you’ll begin to know the tree from which it fell.”

Part 2: Roots

Noise

“The world is getting so loud. We are over-stimulated. Numb. Bored….We consume our art like moths. We gather, momentarily, around wherever the biggest, brightest light seems to be. The danger of art created to rise above the noise is that it may end up being noise itself.”

Technology

With auto-tune, anyone can sing “on pitch”. With self-publishing anyone can be an author. But are we cultivating a culture of mediocrity? And are we robbing our art of its humanity? He speaks of their sometimes pianist John and how his humanness infuses his playing,

“His hands carry stories, emotions, doubts, and passions, all unique to John. A man cannot spend thousands of hours sitting at a piano without having some of his soul soak into the wood.”

First World Mindset

Indolence has destroyed the arts. –Pliny, ancient Roman author

In a comparison of the cultures of ancient Rome and modern America he sounds an ominous warning about where the sensationalism we demand could lead us, and about the insidious crippling of entitlement and luxury.

Capitalism

“Art’s primary value system shouldn’t be monetary. Art is too soulish, like love or sex, to be treated like a mere commodity.”

“Money is not the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money is. It’s also the root of a lot of bad art.”

Celebrity

“The crowd’s affection, with all its adrenaline-inducing power, is a fickle and shallow drug.”

Religion

“All art is an expression of the soul, an expression of faith. All art is sacred. All art is religious. And no art is Christian.”

“There is a humility in faith, a hope, an acknowledgment of the possibility of error and the need for growth and change. This openness
leaves room for creativity.”

 

Part 3: Soil

Faith

Gungor speaks of how faith is formed of the stories we tell ourselves. And he speaks of the power of the one story. Of Body and Blood. Of community and the Table…

“So I listen to this story again and again. I let it do its work in the places that I can’t reach on my own. In a culture numbed and indifferent from overstimulation and noise, this story begins to infuse life and feeling back into my limbs, awakening my senses with the anticipation of new creation. It begins to enliven my dulled imagination with new color and possibility.”

Doubt

“Doubt asks questions that need to be asked to make our faith pure and healthy.”

Hope

“This is why people have long turned to practices like solitude, prayer, study, and meditation. These disciplines help us find our breath; they help us become more human. They help us hear the Voice.”

Love

“Faith, doubt, and hope are the stuff of good soil for creating and cultivating, as are honesty, integrity, patience, courage and any number of nutrients. But all of these only find their true value when they are made consummate in love.”

He closes the book with a benediction of such exquisite loveliness that I would like to include the whole of it here. That seems to be taking a bit too much liberty. So again, I offer you a taste. It is my fervent hope that you will give yourself the gift of reading this book. Whether you consider yourself a “creative”  or not, you are leaving your imprint on the bit of earth that has been entrusted to you. This book probes the heart and invites us to be intentional about the imprint we make. May it be so.

“…May your heart be opened to the love that formed you and everything else, the love that holds all things together and shall make all things new in the end, and may that love that was broken and poured out for you impel you into the world to break your own self open to be poured out for the world that God so loves. Poured out in acts of justice and mercy, poured out in good and hard work that brings order rather than disorder. Poured out in songs and liturgies, business plans and water colors, child-rearing and policy-making.

May your life be a brush in the very hand of God—painting new creation into every nook and cranny of reality that your shadow graces. Be courageous. Be free. Prune that which needs pruning, and water that which thirsts for righteousness…”

*All unattributed quotes in the post, Michael Gungor, lifted from the book.

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