Schema of a Soul

Although I share many book reviews on my other blog, I don’t share them here, preferring to reserve this space as a place for beauty. However, this blog is precisely the right forum for Kimberlye Berg’s book, Schema of a Soulone of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

In a world where nearly one million books are published each year, I would never have encountered Schema of a Soul apart from a chance meeting. Several years ago, I met Kim at Larry Crabb’s Next Step School for Spiritual Direction. All week, she sat a few chairs down from me as we listened and learned together. She struck me as a kind, unpretentious woman and only later did I learn that she had authored a book. Indeed, I am doubtful that she was the one who told me about it.  With just a glimpse of what the book was about, I added it to Amazon wish list where it remained for years. I ordered it last July, but it sat on a shelf in my library since then. I finally opened it this morning and was grateful for an unofficial snow day.

Describing books is sometimes a difficult thing to do. I found that to be particularly true here. In Schema of a Soul, Kim tells of coping with the death of her son nineteen year old son Michael, but that description is woefully inadequate. It is a memoir. A eulogy. A love letter to her husband. A confession. A prayer. Poetic. Raw. Honest. Tragic. And beautiful all the same. She treasures words. As I read, I was reminded of something I read just yesterday: “Language in itself, beginning with the name of ‘God,’ is holy, a precious gift that makes it possible to live in community” (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).

Though the book is just shy of 150 pages, I cried a half-dozen times today. Before I left for work this morning, I read my wife just one paragraph and felt that familiar hitch in my throat. Kim’s transparent reflections upon her grief, with hues of anger and fear and confusion stirred my soul. I found myself thinking about my own losses and those of friends, especially those who have borne the grief of losing their own teenage sons.

One of the joys of reading books by other readers is getting a glimpse of what writers have stirred their souls. It came as no surprise that Kim and I share an affection for Larry Crabb, but I was grateful to read of her other influences, among them Chesterton, Buechner, and Lewis. Midway through the book, she reflected upon reading Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce, one autumn afternoon: “I had no idea the wringing I was in for.” The Great Divorce is not only my favorite CS Lewis Book, but one of my favorite books overall. As soon as Kim mentioned her “wringing,” I knew exactly what story would affect her so deeply, the story of a mother who goes to heaven and is looking for her son. Michael. I had forgotten his name was Michael. I wrote in the column of page 75, “Had you ever read The Great Divorce before?” It also brought to memory that when we attended Next Step, we were treated to a one man production of The Great Divorce by Anthony Lawton. I found myself wondering if Lawton brought the character of Pam to life and what effect that would have upon Kim. Upon reflection, I do not think he did.

Schema of a Soul is a gem, formed in the heat of Kim’s suffering, but polished to a rare beauty by her willingness to honestly wrestle with multifaceted changes wrought by the loss of Michael.

Thank you Kim.

Winter Kavod

The blizzard’s heaviness
omnipresent
branches genuflect
ancient trees
sigh beneath the weight
thoroughfares erased
houses too
subsumed beneath
opalescent quilt
the world’s cacophony
dulled
silence prevails for a time

How quick we are
to push back
resisting
the weight of glory
preferring disenchanted convenience
to the purity and power
of winter’s kavod.

*kavod is a Hebrew word meaning heaviness, usually translated “glory” in the Old Testament scriptures.

The Sword of Damocles

Damocles’ sword
dangles precariously
threatening separation
of head from shoulders.

Do not fail
lest God bring His gleaming blade down
upon your neck.

Is this grace?
Is this where we find the peace of Christ?

Or is it true that
there is now, therefore, no condemnation
for those who are in Christ?
That those he justifies
he will also glorify?
That he who began a good work
will bring it to completion?

Rest, child. Rest.

Mirrored

Still waters reflect heaven’s glory
mirrored cosmos, creation’s story.
It is when the world’s at rest
that the image shows the best.
The slightest breeze upon the lake
makes the picture begin to quake.
When tempests blow, the reflection’s gone
whitecapped waves replace the sun,
yet Christ himself whispers “peace”
and all these stirrings begin to cease.
He leads me back to a crystal lake
restores my soul, for his name’s sake.

-a reflection on Psalm 23:2-3

The most striking thing about keeping the Sabbath is that it begins by not doing anything. The Hebrew word shabbat, which we take over into our language untranslated, simply means, “Quit…Stop…Take a break.”

As such, it has no religious or spiritual content: Whatever you are doing, stop it…Whatever you are saying, shut up… Sit down and take a look around you… Don’t do anything… Don’t say anything… Fold your hands… Take a deep breath. Creation is so endlessly complex and so intricately interconnected that if we are not very careful and deeply reverent before what is clearly way beyond us, no matter how well-intentioned we are, we will probably interfere, usually in a damaging way, with what God has done and is doing. So begin by not doing anything: attend, adore.

-Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Creation Song

In Thumbprints in the Clay, Luci Shaw shared that fully one-third of the Bible is written in poetic form, yet we read it like an auto repair manual. In our desire to “get it right,” we read each line with mechanical precision, but we fail to notice the musical staff dwelling nearby. There is no doubt that God’s blueprints for creation were precise and logical, but I wonder how many of us, while considering God’s precision exclude beauty, consciously or subconsciously. For example, we attempt to wrestle Genesis 1 into submission, seeking to prove our preferred understanding of how God created, rather than wondering in amazement that He created. We fail to feel the rhythm.

Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, “There are two sets of three days each of creation activity. The first set of three gives form to the pre-creation chaos of [Genesis 1:2]; the second set of three fills the pre-creation emptiness…There is another interesting rhythmic variation. The third day of each three-day set comprises a double creation. So the cadence becomes: 1-2-3/3, 4-5-6/6…When we speak this text aloud, or listen to it being spoken, the text gets inside us. We enter the rhythms of creation time and find that we are internalizing a creation sense of orderliness and connectedness and resonance that is very much like what we get from music.”

As I think about God’s creation, I find myself wondering if God sang the world into creation. Words, yes, but music too. CS Lewis must have wondered this as well; in the sixth book of the Narnia series, The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan sings creation into being.

Christianity is not merely cognitive, but carditive; not merely brain, but heart. As we read the revealed word, we would do well to also pay attention to its rhythms.

And to our own.

What is silence?

From Soil of the Divine

What is silence?

I do not know
for my mind is
ever-whirring
thoughts stirring
churning
out of control.

God, what is silence?

You alone can show me.

You are my Rock of peace.

When I rest upon You,
restlessness gives way to stillness;
my tottering soul stands firm.

Be still, my soul,
be still.

Yellow

From Soil of the Divine.

With sun cresting
orbed yellow
yet casting
polychromatic palate,
I greet the morning,
“I will awake the dawn.”

Day by day
I am resurrected
brought again to life,
fresh mercies with each new day.

May my heart be steadfast
hour by hour
breath by breath
song by song.

I will awake the dawn! -Psalm 108:2

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