Use your tools beautifully

In 1991, a man wielding a hammer beneath his jacket attacked Michelangelo’s David, one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world. In 1972, Michelangelo’s Pieta–in my opinion the most beautiful sculpture in existence–was also attacked and disfigured.

Michelangelo crafted the Pieta in the late 1400s and David in the early 1500s, wielding a hammer and chisels. In the case of David, he was faced with a giant block of marble that had stood rejected by other artists for 40 years. Yet in that shapeless piece of stone, he saw beauty. He released David. Removing rock and shaping limbs, he released the hero, revealing beauty.

Each of us are given daily choices. We can use the tools we have been given to highlight and reveal beauty, or we can use them to destroy. So much of what I see on social media is disintegrating and destructive. People seek to press their opinions without seeking to embody love. Yet divisiveness isn’t limited to social media. How we speak with our families can also prove destructive rather than encouraging and upbuilding. Our judgmental glances, looks, and words toward those who are different from us are destructive.

Each day, we are given choices to seek peace or conflict; to live beautifully or cruelly; to seek commonality or promote division.

What are you doing with your tools?

Dandelions

In the spring of the year
they rise from their slumber,
slender stalks supporting
saffron heads,
their bright composure
punctuating the cool green;
yet they are transient.

Bright blonde giving way to
tousled gray
until a breeze blows upon it
and it’s gone.

But God is a forget-me-not.
His steadfast love never ceases,
though He plucks and blows
upon the flower,
He spreads the seeds
upon the wind…
His breath carries life abundant
where many see death.

 

A reflection on Psalm 103 from my book Soil of the Divine.

Seeds Descend

Seeds descend
into darkness
lives extinguished
in the cool earth.

From death, life emerges
pressing through the soil
to reach the Light
always stretching, reaching
toward life’s Source
new life superseding old.

Why do we fear the darkness?

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing–to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from”–Psyche in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces

Why are we so afraid?

Why do we so commonly teach people to be afraid?

Afraid of bridges. Afraid of spiders. Afraid of the dark.

Afraid of red meat. Afraid of processed foods. Afraid of water from the tap.

Afraid of guns. Afraid of immigrants. Afraid of culture. Afraid of public schools. Afraid of democrats. Afraid of republicans. Afraid of Muslims. Afraid of our neighbors. Afraid of strangers.

Afraid of cancer. Afraid of ebola. Afraid of death. Afraid of life, at least one fully lived.

Afraid of conflict. Afraid of vulnerability. Afraid of truth. Afraid of exposure. Afraid of friendships. Afraid of disappointing people.

Afraid of being unknown. Afraid of being known.

Afraid of being a disappointment to God.

We set up cultures of fear. We lead people to believe that the Christian life is lived upon a tightrope. Blindfolded. One wrong step and…disaster. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said to his best friends, “why are you so afraid?” He invited them, and us, to live lives of love. St. John wrote that we cannot embody love and remain afraid.

Our mission is not fear, but love. We were not called to live life upon a tightrope weaved by the Old Covenant standards and laws of our own making, but to dance in a wide green pasture. We were not called to live with blinders on, but with our eyes wide open to the beauty and wonder of God.

Radiate

Indwelling Spirit,

I am aware of so many sinful tendencies within myself,
self centeredness,
lusts of the flesh,
chasing distractions.
They crowd out the God-life.
I end up pursuing ten-thousand things that do not glorify you.
I live for self and fail to love.
Life becomes about satisfying my passions
and fulfilling my comforts.

So overwhelm me with your Holy Spirit
that I am left with no option
but to radiate peace, goodness and beauty.

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.

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