Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Farmer and his Sabbath

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day,
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fall the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled 
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

Wendell Berry

Great friends share books and authors. In fact, I find that a grounding tether or trust often secures me to someone when writing is shared and discussed. One of the most distinct culprits of this in my world is my friend Alexa. Over the years, I have mentioned her. Usually because of a quote, book, author that I have befriended through her. Wendell Berry is no stranger in that realm. Mr. Berry is a lifelong farmer in Kentucky who for decades spent Sundays wandering his farm, pondering God and rest and writing poetry. There's something about the practicality of his poetry that just seem so honest to me. He writes what he knows--but transforms it into something Holy. 

And I find myself wondering if that's what Sabbathing does to us. Does it take our work, our relationships, our time, our reading, our chores, and transform them into something Holy? 

Sabbath is for rest. God took His day to stop--not because of exhaustion--but perhaps because by examining the work and labor, it transformed it into something deeper, truer. I wonder sometimes if life is not best lived in the moment but truly marked in our souls by pondering it after. CS Lewis said, "a pleasure is not fully grown until it is remembered." I have to agree. Moments are pleasurable. A taste is pleasurable. But the memory of it, solidifying permanent connection, creates an essence--a scent which one can continually point to as a thread in their lives. 

Something about this winter has caused me to sit back and reevaluate my rhythms. How I've set up my life and routines. I have been taking stock of the value and intention with which I am stewarding my day and it's been disappointing and eye opening. Too much television, not enough reading, too little silence, more than enough dessert. 

And I find myself making quarter turns, not towards perfection or idyllic lifestyles, but towards presence. Or more accurately....Presence. 

I always wish to see beyond the means to the end. Jesus is not the means. He is the end. Thus, rhythms, actions, thoughts, prayers that draw me to Him are not the thing to be repeated for results. They are to be shared and recognized but not glorified. We should always pray to see the forest for the trees when we share helpful thoughts or practices. Legalism dies when I see Jesus' presence as my end goal. I think the ethereality of His presence appropriately and necessarily inhibits us from getting to write a rulebook of ways to love Him better. We love Him better in the moments we remember Him. However we choose to pursue that. 

Maybe that's the thing Wendell Berry understood. He took time to pursue the Presence of Jesus. And in that, he understood that his labor was better than he ever imagined it could be because through came an understanding of grace. Knowing that regardless of his efforts on his farm, the earth was controlled by the Creator. There was rest in knowing he worked hard because he saw the Lord through it. Not because by working harder he was given more crops or money or glory. By his labor he saw growth and death and newness and desolation and came to better understand himself and thus love our Lord dearer. 

The earth is good because it exists--not because it exists in a particular state. That is a grand truth to what the Father says over us. He loves us because we exist. Because in our essence is the scent of the Creator. And joy comes when we choose to breathe...and accept our essence. Some days those breaths are weary sighs, others they are gasps between gregarious laughter, and even others they are slow and methodical. 

I pray for better understanding and practicing of Sabbath. Resting is hard work. Stopping takes effort. My hands clench my routines tightly, but I'm asking for every effort to be for His glory and my good. Better to have that in my life than anything else. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ashes to Ashes

Remember, from ash you have come and from ash you will return.


How badly I wanted to stay lying in bed today. Knowing ahead was a 15 hour work day and many minutia to facilitate. In finest and holiest fashion, I get up, bleary eyed and grumbling, and make my way to church to be affixed with emblematic ashes and affronted by my sin.

I have been praying for a few weeks now for what to give up or Lent. I grew up Southern Baptist, went to a Southern Baptist college. Let me just tell you, the So Baps don't do this whole Lent thing. In the name of Christian Freedom, it's not necessary. Fair enough. They're right, it's not necessary. My position in Jesus' mind doesn't change because I do or do not do Lent. But somehow, I find myself a little closer when I choose to stop and look. Lent does that for me.

There's something special to me about the tradition other Christians have laid out generations ago, remembering and celebrating. Fasting and feasting. Mourning and praising. Putting concepts into action to help us experience an inkling of the gamut of emotions associated with Calvary. To remember.

"Bind my wandering hear to Thee" we sang. I am the wanderer, the one always searching. So how do I let Him bind me? How do I find the roundabout that leads from the wrong way back to the right? I fast. This is my first year to try it. And I have the openest of all open hands about it. But I wonder, for me, if there is something there. If observing sacrifice and anticipation, there will be better remembrance.

I don't see Lent as a time to get my diet set straight. I don't believe it to be a time to work on self-improvement. It's taking something I find joy in, good, healthy joy in, and letting it go for a few weeks. It is about fostering anticipation for the return of the joy. And in the meantime, knowing that my every effort to be holy is worthless. Lent doesn't save me. The Resurrection at the end--the celebration of my Savior--saves me. So what better way to practice that image than holding off from something I love to celebrate with for a few weeks? How much more tangible will my joy be when I reinstate a joy-giver as I celebrate the Joy-giver.

Lent and Ash Wednesday have this religious tendency to be skewed. They carry with them the burden of self-deceit that Jesus will love us better or we can be made holier through our sacrifice. Bull. Romans so aptly reminds me that "it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

Thus far, the discoveries I am making this year are only leading me back to the reality that God is. He is just, He is kind, He is love. And because He is the incarnate of those things, He cannot be more or less of them. Thus, my learning His attributes is for my benefit. It's always about drawing me closer to the Axiom Himself.

I trust in Lent because I trust in Jesus to use Lent for my good. And I pray that for all y'all as well. Whether or not you participate--or care. I pray that Jesus uses this season to reveal Himself to be truer and deeper and more necessary to all of us. Because He is. He is the dear Father and caretaker of us. How overwhelmed I am by the steadiness of Him. He is all that is true. And He proved it by choosing to receive brutality for me. I was the one supposed to be mocked. Whipped. Held down and beaten. They were supposed to make me the helpless one. They ought to have mutilated me.

But instead, I get to sit here with symbolic ashes and remember Him.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Days to Dream

Most days I find my mind wandering. Wandering to the land of books and stories, inviting myself into thoughts of springtide and picnics, imagining myself conferring with the flowers, meandering into mindless wonder....just because I like to see it in my minds eye.

These inklings are often much related to a conception of "home". I quickly knead together this word with others like "gardens" or "spring" or "leisure" or "beauty". Lingering.

I drift here more often in seasons like this that are calendar oriented, wrought with details and appointments. And I love the details. I love the organization and the fullness of my life right now. I have longed for this for years and it is perfect. But some days it's just nice to dream.

Dreaming reminds me that Heaven is not far off. These longings, though beautiful and quite possibly attainable one day, are not going to satisfy. I'm pleased to rest in that. I'm thrilled to remember that what draws me to chase my wanderings is the same thing that satisfies my soul. Jesus loves beauty. And he fills the world with it. And he fills the world with juxtapositions of beauty. And we see beauty deeper and fuller and meatier than we would have if all we ever knew was beauty.

My soul is parched in the harsh winter sun, causing me to be drowsy in my determination to remember good things. As I stare at a tiny cup of daisies on my desk today and saunter slowly back into a world of honeybees on hydrangeas and mid-morning brunch in a tidy sundress, I am glad that my savior invented dreaming for my joy.

Good dreams stir fondness and hope within us, and good fondness and hope are cracker crumbs trailing us to the Fond and Hopeful One. It's a perfectly happy chase.

Good dreams have healthy boundaries. They allow us to love a thing to the point which it is capable of being loved and no more. They have understanding and peace that runs deeper than the object being dreamt of.

Good dreams remind of us a Good Dreamer. He is the one who thought the world into existence. Eden was his grandest imagination realized. How wonderful for our Maker to allow us the ability to share in the wonderment of seeing dreams come to fruition for our joy.

Good dreams delight. And delight is so pure and clean and untainted an emotion. We remember the delightful days.

I hope you make some time to dream good dreams today. It find it's good for the soul. Spring is coming!