Archive for the ‘Lent 2012’ Category

I know that I have finished a meaningful piece of poetry when I begin to hear it inside myself, looping through my mind with an infinite repeating cadence, like a song you’ve known since childhood that gets stuck in your head. But it doesn’t just happen with my own poetry, of course. Lately, whenever I start to feel an urge to write something, or begin to think about something even remotely inspirational, I hear the refrain of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men begin its beautiful rhythm…

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

Why does that happen? It’s like we are programmed to recognize and repeat beautiful or meaningful rhythms. If someone was to play for me on a keyboard or any other instrument the three simple notes that composed the closing door sound of the TTC subway doors…I would immediately be mindful of the many hours I spent on those subways going to and from work or family outings downtown…or reaching even further back, of our missions trips to TO when we were teenagers. But I wouldn’t make that connection if it wasn’t for the specific rhythm of the tones.




Or something to that effect… The rhythm is what draws my mind to those places, not just the melody. And I believe that this is why poetry is capable of touching me on such a deep level. A beautiful piece of prose you remember mostly for the meaning of the words used. I’ll always think that prose should have a bit of rhythm too, but that is where poetry shines and why I love it so much. I love to write prose to communicate something profound or to have more freedom of description…but how much more beautiful and meaningful is a poem that communicates and describes the same thing. How much more work to write it, is really the issue…but it truly is a work of art in the end at that point, and not just a blog entry…

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love novels…and they are most definitely artful. But they contain many many more words (normally) than poetry, and hence their ability to communicate themes and develop characters is something that just can’t be memorized and recited. What poetry does is take a multitude of words and strip them down to their bare bones through the use of rhythm. And what you’re left with, if it’s done correctly, is a piece of art that becomes a background rhythm to your life…a reminder of beauty in the other day to day rhythms we experience.

I’ll be walking down the sidewalk. Right foot, left, right, left. This is the way the world ends… Right, left, right, left. This is the way the world ends…

And of course, many people have discovered the Psalms or other scripture to be meaningful in this way. Sometimes the simplest way to “pray without ceasing” is to find a piece of spiritual poetry that you can go back to over and over again throughout your day. My favourites over the years have been Psalm 23, 121, and even parts of Revelation or the gospels at certain times.

The Spirit and the Bride say “Come.”
And let the one who hears say “Come.”
And let the one who is thirsty come…

What rhythms are marching through your brain space today? Take a second to notice them and make sure they are helpful, beautiful truths that can get you through this crazy world with a sense of wonder and thankfulness. This is what helps keep me sane, anyways… 🙂

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Little to Say

Tears don’t fall in time.
Words come too much later on…
Goodbye takes it’s toll.

I am taking my good friend’s advice and writing a short haiku tonight because I feel like I don’t have it in me to write a lot of words right now. I don’t even know exactly how to write haikus, sadly enough, but I think I used the traditional English syllable count at least. This was a night of goodbyes and a night of reflection on things to pass. May the joys remembered and the hopes to come get us through these times. Amen.

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Mark 12 begins with a story about a vineyard. And it’s a sad enough story, to be sure. Servant after servant is beaten or killed by the “tenants” on the lease…actions born of greed, jealously, and misplaced indignant pride. Jesus is telling the story to symbolize the church leaders of that time and Israel’s history in general, or so much seems pretty obvious to me and is confirmed at the end of the section when it says those who sought to kill him perceived that he was talking about them.

To my way of thinking, the last verse at the end of this scripture segment is the saddest of the whole section. The religious leaders (and whoever else was already bitter at the teachings of Jesus) were intelligent and conscientious enough to realize that Jesus was talking about them. They heard the accusation loud and clear…but all they did was increase their hatred. I mean, couldn’t they also perceive the truth behind the statements…how the prophets or “servants” had been mistreated, ignored or even killed for bringing God’s word to his people. And now, the son of God had come and they were about to give him the same treatment. But why? Because he rubbed them the wrong way and offended them? He didn’t cater to their every religious whim? He wasn’t the God in a box that they had expected.

You see, I have always tried to give the religious leaders some benefit of the doubt. I know that in the same situation and circumstances I might have acted similarly, because we are none of us without pride, jealously, etc. We all feel the curse of sin still upon us. So maybe there were some that acted because they genuinely believed what they were doing was what God wanted. Maybe some didn’t see the real truth of the situation. But the verse here seems to suggest otherwise, at least for the ones that heard this parable. They knew. They knew that he spoke of them. And it doesn’t say they were hurt or confused or wanted clarification. I mean, it doesn’t say they realized their own wrongness either, but it seems to imply that they were seeking to kill him to shut him up as soon as possible…and never once does it mention this being for the good of the people or to honor God. It was all motivated by fear.

Now, whoever the author of Mark was obviously could not have known what was going on in the heads of these people anyways, unless said author was divinely instructed in the subject, which is a whole discussion for another day…but it is something sobering to think about for sure. Too often we know the mistake we are going to make before we make it. We don’t sin in ignorance. We don’t commit crimes for the betterment of society around us, we commit them to benefit our own interests or to alleviate our own fears. It is sad to think that the people who sought Jesus’ death were doing it willingly, even after realizing they were in the wrong…but this same tendency lies with all of us. We all partake in the same sort of broken fearful crappy way of living. We are all the bad guys.

But…and there is always a but when it comes to doom and gloom theology… 🙂

But there is still hope for us in Christ’s love. Thankfully the sins of the world didn’t taint the perfection of his sacrifice, and we are now free to choose love and faith and a life not controlled by fear or pride. Now, when we see ourselves reflected in his parables, and when we realize our own sin and bad intentions, we have the power to turn away from them and choose love instead of fear.

To pull out a slightly obscure literary reference (OK, not too obscure, but I try to be sensitive to the less well read types like myself)….”Timshel” (East of Eden). We were created with the ability to choose between good and evil, but now, even more so we can choose good with the power of Christ’s choice behind us. Next time you’re trying to make the right decision, just think of him deciding to go and die for the world that hated him…and then choose love, not fear.

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Epic Exhaustion

I never knew I could be this tired all the time. I was literally struggling to keep my eyes open, everything short of manually pushing the lids back up with my fingers, while feeding my daughter before bed. This is probably why she had cereal all over her face when we were done. But she thinks this is the greatest thing ever.

I can barely keep up with daily tasks, let alone pack everything that needs packing for our move next week…and let even more alone keep my committment to this blog every day. I may change my goal to three times a week, but we’ll see…

Anyways, change is sad, but it is also very good. Why did God design us to respond with such stress and strain when change occurs? Or was that really a part of the original plan, do you think? I mean, change is what keeps us going in some ways, right? If nothing ever changed in your life then you would eventually die of boredom…because we need the drive of change to sustain us, somehow…and yet…

Why is it so hard?

I don’t wonder much about anything these days, because I don’t feel like I have much time for wondering…but just now I do wonder what paradise will be like. Will we be moving houses all the time and changing jobs, do you think? Will we still feel nostalgia and the bittersweetness of saying goodbye and hello all at the same time? Is this feeling I’ve got in my gut right now a bad thing born of sin, or is it just a core part of being human? Maybe it’s neither…maybe it’s just a broken, slightly twisted part that needs fixing.

I really do hope that we never have to say goodbye again once we get to “heaven”, whatever that looks like. And I don’t have any scripture or theological stance to back me up right now, because this is pure rant straight from my scrambled brain…but I think that the goodbye part is the broken part. Maybe that’s what paradise is really like…always changing for the better and never parting with the good parts of what was before…like continual 100% efficient and pure improvement. No down sides. No “I’m going to miss that…” No wishing for the old days, because everything good about the “old days” will get wrapped into the new days somehow…

That’s what I find hopeful at this moment anyways…and I have to go and put the baby to bed now. Sorry for abandoning you again, Mark. Maybe next time… 🙂

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Blustery Day

It’s a blustery day,
As the Pooh bear would say,
And I won’t go outside.
Even though, I’ll confide
That no matter my place
I feel wind in my face.
I feel breeze in my hair,
And the chill in the air
Makes its way here inside
Where, like Rabbit, I hide
And pretend I am warm
And kept safe from the storm…
Still, like Piglet, I shiver
And my lips start to quiver
So I stutter away
On this blustery day…
While the Pooh bear in red
Drags his bulk out of bed,
Does some stretches to song,
And then lumbers along
With a scarf ’round his neck
Starts his honey-bound trek
And goes out in the wind
With what’s hardly a cringe.
All his thinking of honey
Keeps his heart warm and sunny.

And so maybe he’s right
To put up such a fight
Against blustery blows
And the dangers they pose…
Goodness knows I’m less free
Sitting here with my tea…

Still, I won’t go outside…
I’ll sit here like I’m tied,
And like Eyore I’ll moan
For a less drafty home.


I just kinda felt like getting back into a bit of verse tonight. Not very Lentish, I know, but I’ll dedicate this to the strange weather we’ve been having lately…and to getting up and at ’em even when it feels impossible… 😉

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I have just finished reading through the rest of Mark 11.

And since I wrote that last statement, a whole day has passed. Sigh…

Anyways…it’s interesting how the stories are arranged here. Jesus curses a fig tree because it has no fruit on it (even though the text specifies that it is not the season for fruit…hmm). Then they go to Jerusalem and the famous cleansing of the temple occurs, and then they pass by the fig tree again and realize it has withered in the mean time. Jesus responds to his disciples with another famous speech about telling the mountain to move into the sea and receiving whatever you pray for if you  believe you will receive it. The chapter ends with some priests challenging Jesus’ authority but ultimately leaving him alone for fear of the crowds…biding their time until later on.

I feel like I should be able to recognize some significance or tie between the happenings above, but I admit that I’m coming up blank. I mean, there are many truths presented through Jesus’ words and his actions in the temple, etc….but why the fig tree??? They don’t just mention it in passing either; they go back to the strange story, and Jesus uses it to prove a point. But the tree didn’t do anything. It was just doing what it was supposed to do at that time of the year. It wasn’t time for fruit yet, which makes sense since this is obviously taking place in the early spring time. I mean, I know Israel is not Canada and things probably grow at different times there, but no fruit in early spring seems logical to me.

In fact, the only connection I can make between Jesus various actions listed in Mark 11 is that they all seem to be more obvious shows of power than he’s previously desired to show. Putting the strange fig tree incident aside (although that is a show of power in its own way), it actually seems to make a lot of sense that Jesus would enter the city as the champion of the people’s hopes and then proceed to the temple (central to everything about Israel) and display his authority. But he doesn’t display it in a way that is a crowd-pleaser. I wouldn’t have been surprised if some of the people waving palms at him a little while ago were now ready to question and curse what he was doing. Nevertheless, despite his display of righteous judgement being a bit controversial, Jesus does seem to assume the Messiah role more obviously at this point in the gospels. He is the returning king on a donkey. He is the passionate prophet proclaiming the people’s sins. And he is the indignant priest who rages against the misuse of God’s holy temple. And he knows that what he is doing is going to get him killed soon.

So maybe the fig tree has some deeper meaning, and maybe not. Maybe Jesus was just really disappointed not to get any figs to eat, and he used the tree as a lesson. Or maybe I have no idea at all what I’m talking about. But I am always strangely awed and humbled by this part of Jesus’ story. Think of how satisfying it must have been to finally knock a few tables over and say things clearly and out loud for everyone to hear. But think of how terrifying, knowing that these very actions are going to push the people over the edge to the point of seeking his death more deliberately. This is the mystery and wonder of Jesus being fully man and fully God. He stood in righteous judgement in the temple that was originally dedicated to his own glory, and with the very actions that proclaimed his authority, he also submitted fully to humanity’s retaliation. In a sense, Jesus entered the temple as the final prophet and received the usual reward for a prophet’s honesty: death. Once again, we killed the one that had come to free us from ourselves…but what is really remarkable is that through his resurrection, we aren’t doomed to the fate that Israel had faced many times before. We don’t have to go into exile and wait for another prophet to bring us back. Jesus may have submitted to a human death, but in the end, it was death that was submitted to him…and he is the only prophet we will ever need.

He is passionate – knocking over tables and turning out the money lenders. He is passionate for our holiness and sanctification, as we now take on the role of temple and chosen people. So don’t you dare go flee into exile somewhere. Don’t you dare ignore the prophet’s call.

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Well, I can’t believe it’s already early Wednesday morning and I’m just now restarting my blogs for this week. Talk about non-perfection…it has not been the most perfect of past few days. I did not accomplish my house cleaning or packing goals. I did not succeed in cleaning the kitchen, though I got very close…but now we’re back to square one after the accumulation of dinner dishes tonight. And I did not read any more of Mark since Saturday, though I did attempt to today at one point. Lucy was chewing on my Bible periodically throughout playtime…does that count?

I fell asleep on the couch instead of cleaning up the supper dishes and yelled at my husband when he tried to wake me up. Our baby is now wide awake even though she’s dead tired. She’s currently talking to herself happily. I didn’t flip the load of laundry that’s in the washer…so it’s just sitting there wet and probably will stay there until the real part of morning that occurs after bedtime and sleep. Also, I’m wearing my nineties Winnie the Pooh gatsby-type hat because my hair is getting long and annoying and I have nothing else that will keep it out of my face.

I can’t really think of any useful conclusions to draw from the above ramble, except maybe that sometimes you just gotta go to bed and hope that when the sun comes up tomorrow that things will be somewhat better and more normal and less everything-wrong-all-the-time. And that is what I’m going to do…after I somehow convince our daughter to do it first. Goodnight for now.

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This was a crazy day. It was so crazy that it spilled over into the next day for two and a half hours…sigh…

So this is supposed to be Saturday, Feb. 25th’s post, but I’m getting to it a bit late. Oh well…like I’ve said before, there is grace for that. There is grace for pretty much everything.

And speaking of grace, in the tradition of Lent, I will be taking every Sunday off of my Lent commitments. So, no post for tomorrow, but check back in on Monday.

I didn’t even get to reading Mark 11 today, at least not all of it. I think I may have managed four or five verses before life got in the way as it usually does. The verses were about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

I think it must have been really tough for the disciples at this point in their journey. I mean, everyone always gives them a hard time because they essentially abandon Jesus later on when things get scary…and yes, Jesus did warn them of it several times, his death and  resurrection…but I don’t think they really had any clue that he would be taken away from them like he was. I’m sure they half hoped (or maybe more than half) that this triumphal entry was the beginning of a triumphal reign too…and yes, of course we now see the truth of Christ’s eternal reign in that his death and resurrection marked the defeat of death and sin, etc….but I think the disciples might have hoped for something a bit more tangible and immediate than that. How could they not hope as they watched Jesus’ supporters rally around and try in all their poverty to give him the royal procession he deserved? No red carpet, that’s for sure…but palm branches nonetheless.

We often set our hopes in the same direction. We hope for victory in every day activities, in our work and play, in our ministries even. Sometimes we don’t want to face the possibility of life through death, or, in other words, victory that doesn’t always look so victorious at first…victory that is only achieved through suffering and much prayer and waiting. I am often reminded of this tendency when I sit around with groups of Christians and exchange prayer requests before a group prayer time. Most of the requests that come up (and not all of them, of course, but most) are of a very simplistic, need-focused nature. We ask for this silly cold we have to go away or for God to provide the perfect ___________ (fill in the blanks – job, car, or even someone to love). We ask that God would bless the events that are coming up and keep us all safe.

I’m really not trying to say that these are bad things to pray for…not at all. We should never feel like our prayers are too simple or too needy or too anything else to bring to God. But maybe we’re missing out on a whole other level of Christianity. Maybe we should be praying that the suffering we experience will bring about his victory and that he would grant us the perseverance and character we need to suffer well in his name. Maybe we should ask that he show us ways to “take up our cross” for lack of a less cliched term. And maybe we should seek wisdom and discernment to speak into the lives of others around us who may be suffering too…

Jesus had prepared the disciples for his death and resurrection, whether they knew it at the time or not, and with God’s grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, they eventually got it and got going to accomplish his purposes in the world after he was no longer physically with them. They made it through the fire and came out stronger and more in love with Jesus than they ever were before. But they had many scary times first, I think…many doubts and many tears. So let’s remember, as we face the suffering of the world in our own lives and those lives we touch every day,  that true victory doesn’t come easy…and true triumph was found in the stance of the servant king – seated on a donkey – who resolved to suffer to make his victory complete and shunned the idea of an easy conquest.

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Tough love?

Well…this post won’t be nearly as long as its predecessors, since it is late and my daughter is less than pleased with her jumperoo right now. I won’t get into the whole chapter today, but I just wanted to focus on one part of it…one line really.

Mark 10:21 = “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'”

To give a bit of context, Jesus is responding to the question of a rich man who asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life…so Jesus asks him back if he’s kept all the commandments, etc. and the man answers yes, always…and then comes the above verse.

There is great depth of truth to this, that wealth can hold us back from the kingdom…but this is not the part that facinates me the most at this moment. I owe a great deal of credit (or all of it) to my husband whom I have heard talking on these chapters in the past recent weeks…and I think the idea that’s now floating around in my head is one that he was discussing not long ago. Did you notice how it says Jesus “looking at him, loved him”?

He wasn’t disgusted with this rich guy. He wasn’t bitter or angry, even though the guy was probably dressed ten times more extravagantly and had probably eaten better that day than Jesus had eaten in weeks. In fact, I’m guessing it was probably a challenge for this guy to even bring himself to talk to Jesus. I mean, Jesus wasn’t the most popular guy in the rich elite circles of the day – he was the champion of the poor and the downtrodden.

There is just such beauty to the way that verse is worded though, isn’t there? – “looking at him, loved him”…I guess I’ve always pictured this as one of the times where there were those few seconds of eye contact and the rich guy is feeling kind of exposed and desperate, and sort of nervous because he thinks he knows a bit what Jesus is going to say, but he can’t quite put his finger on it…that deep seated fear he doesn’t want to touch, that’s probably where this is going… And Jesus is just looking and thinking “Yeah, I know you’re afraid, but you know it’s only cuz I love you.”

It’s a sad story because the rich guy goes away disappointed and does not follow Jesus or give up his wealth…at least not at that time. And how many times have we done this too? I don’t mean that we’re rich and need to give up all our possessions (although, sometimes it does apply in exactly that way). What I do mean is that there is something or somethings for each of us that we are almost too afraid to get into. We just don’t want to go there, because we know it scares us to death and we might not be able to handle it. For me, this is my memories of my past work experiences as a nurse. That is a really really long story that I can’t hope to explain right here right now, but let’s just say there were parts of it that were very traumatic for me, and the thought of digging those experiences back up out of my subconscious is not a pleasant one. But sometimes I feel like that rich guy who is standing there before Jesus and waiting for answers, and Jesus is saying “You lack one thing…” And he knows it’s terrifying. He knows it’s not easy, but he looks at us and loves us all the same.

Let’s ask ourselves what it is that scares us and what it is that might be holding us back…and then let’s ask further for his love to bring us through it, deep seated fears and all. Because really, when has fear stood a chance against the blatantly extravagant love of Jesus for his people? And even though the rich guy said no to the challenge, Jesus didn’t give up hope on the subject, because he states later on in the chapter that “…all things are possible with God.” So cling to that when your fears make you feel like life is impossible. Cling to the love in his looking at you.

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Disclaimer: The blog posts for all the days of Lent will be Christian/Bible themed. I usually hate to use cliche Christian terms and phrases that are foreign to many, but since I am aiming for non-perfection (see last post), I can’t take a lot of time to screen what I’m writing. I appologize if I sound too pretentious or just plain annoying. 🙂

I read through Mark 9 this morning because I am trying to follow with our church youth group as they read through the book of Mark. I am a couple chapters behind, but will hopefully catch up soon since I’ll be posting here everyday.

I would challenge you to find another chapter in the first four books of the new testament (the gospel books) that contains more confusing facts and statements than this one. It starts with the transfiguration. Oh yeah, no problem. I totally understand what’s going on there. (obvious sarcasm)

In reality, I would probably do what Peter did (offer to set up tents? really?) or something equally as pointless. You know…it’s like when you get into one of those really awkward situations, you either shut up and make yourself scarce, or, if you’re like me, you say stupid things and try to help.

To top off this first story in the chapter, Jesus gives a confusing speech about how “…Elijah does come first to restore all things…” (verses 11-13). Is he talking about himself metaphorically? Is he actually referring to the Elijah that was just there in shiny white clothes….? And is it just me, or does anyone else not really get why Elijah gets so much attention compared to all the other prophets. I mean, he doesn’t even have his own old testament book! Anyways…

Then Jesus goes back to see the rest of the other disciples and they are having a problem because they can’t cast out this one demon in this little boy. Jesus gets frustrated (at who? I’m not sure…) then after he casts out the demon himself, he tells them that they couldn’t do it because “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” And yet, he didn’t seem to pray very long to cast it out. Also…what does he mean by “this kind”? But the best part of this story is what the father of the boy says to Jesus after Jesus tells him “All things are possible for one who believes…” and has not yet healed his son. The father says “I believe; help my unbelief!” Now there’s something to think about…

After this, Jesus fortells his death and resurrection. No surprise here, he does that a lot in this book…but then he moves onto discussing one of my favourite paradoxes of the Bible:

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (verse 35)

I love this statement for many reasons, but let’s finish the synopsis before I get into my take on things.

Jesus then instructs them that “For the one who is not against us, is for us.” (verse 40) when they ask him about stopping someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name but not following with their group. (It’s a bit of a reversed order statement to what our culture normally quotes.) After this, the last section of the chapter is another speech by Jesus that contains many interesting tidbits, including:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (verse 42) – really? betterto be thrown into the sea?;

“…if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…” (verse 43);

some interesting descriptive words about hell;

and finally some stuff about salt, losing your saltiness and how that’s irreversible.

Now…I am not trying to either explain everything above (essentially impossible for me to do) or to say that it’s all confused gibberish either. Instead, I’d like to suggest that sometimes being confused after reading the Bible is not a bad thing…and living in paradox is often the only way to live in real life.

You can’t explain why food that is bad for you tends to taste so good…or why you feel 100x better if you discipline (and/or deprive yourself of something for a while – i.e. Lent) and reap the benefits of health and wellness. Why doesn’t bad food just taste bad, right? Because paradox is all around us. It is the soup of our surroundings and the atmosphere that we breathe.

So anyways, I have run out of time in the day to delve too much deeper into all of this. I started this post at 11:30 AM and am just finishing it now about 12 hours later…but let me say this much: Mark 9 gave me some pause, but it also struck me deeply in a couple ways. The first shall be last; the last shall be first – it’s a comforting thought for someone who feels like they are always falling behind and coming in last…it’s a reminder that being first is not really the goal. Again…it’s not perfectionism that wins you any prizes. I have a feeling that Jesus was not much of a perfectionist, although I don’t like to make too many assumptions that I can’t defend…but maybe that’s why people got so annoyed at his seemingly haphazard way of telling stories to explain points or asking questions to inspire contemplation. The second paradox that is strangely comforting is the one mentioned in the title of this post. “I believe; help my unbelief!” You know you have felt that. You can’t explain it, but you understand it completely. So let’s make that a prayer for all of us this season of the year and of our lives:

We believe, Lord…but help our unbelief!

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