Friday, February 22, 2013

Failing Lent

The sink is full of dishes.  Again.  And overflowing onto the counters, and stove, and all the way ‘round the kitchen until they butt up against the impressive tower of papers, books, notes, and all variety of odds and ends that collect there.  To think, just two weeks ago, a sweet friend constructed and gifted me with an organization system to tame that part of my chaos.  Her gift, sadly, is sitting in a pile in the study nook/living room, surrounded by tottering piles of textbooks, more papers, and testamental dictionaires.  There are piles everywhere.  The rec room is buried under clean clothes waiting to be folded; the laundry room is swallowed by dirty ones waiting to be washed.  The bathrooms have piles of get-ready-so-we-can-get-out-the-door messes, and splotches of un-wiped toothpaste; the kids’ rooms are interwoven tapestries of toys and clothes.  Boots, hats, coats, and bags clutter up the stairs; more toys laundry and luggage are beginning to devour my room. 

And that’s only the state of the house.  One can’t escape the endless reading lists for class, the papers and responses, the I-should-be-at-least-start-on-my-big-papers-so-I’m-not-freaking-out-later that claws at the throat in the quietest moments.  Kids’ activities to be managed, scheduled, shuffled, and remembered.  I can’t forget that I’m also a wife, which requires more than a flying out the door peck on the check, because I’m too late to aim for your lips; and a friend – even if all I ever seem to do is say that I’m praying over you; and a daughter and sister and niece and grand-daughter – yep, praying for y’all, too!  And what about that bible study we told everyone we would host this semester?  We had it all planned out; well mostly.  And yes, Lord, I hear you tugging at my heart about joining – actively participating in, giving parts of myself to – a community of your followers; but can You find one that meets when I can?  And instead of adding to my reading, can’t I just go and listen?  Oh, yeah, Lord, about that promise to work-out every day…does sleep count? 

It’s not even two weeks into Lent and the oppressive I’m-failing-at-everything has curled up on the sofa and refuses to budge; more grafted-in family member than uninvited guest anymore.  And who wants to fail God?  It’s not so much that I think I’ll lose His love in my broken promises or undone chores or missed opportunities; but I do think that in these, I fail to make Him proud.  Like I’m not earning my keep, or taking advantage of all the gifts He’s so lavishly laid before me; that I’m squandering my time and treasures, or that I’m hoarding these things and somehow disappointing Him. 

But I hear the Father’s voice, repeating Himself across my kitchen table and in the texts for class, because sometimes I have to hear things more than once before I really listen. 

God can’t love you any less than He does right now;

He can’t love you any more, either.

The Father loves you no matter what you do or don’t.

The student in me pauses, rolls the theory over and over in my head – it’s awfully small a thing to be such a big truth.  I hold it up against the scriptures, just to be sure – does the whole counsel of God agree to this, or is it a pithy thing that placates followers like me who can’t get it together? 

But there it is, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry – before the resurrection, before the cross, before the miracles, before He even read from the scroll of Isaiah or said “ego emi.”  Before any of it, the “Father declare[d] that he [was] already ‘well pleased’ with His ‘beloved Son’ without reference to his works.”*  The Father loved the Son unconditionally; not for being incarnate; not for enduring the cross; not because Jesus followed God’s will without fail; not for Christ’s work with the poor and oppressed and forgotten.  The Father loved the Son.  That’s it.

And so it is with me.  And you.  There is nothing I, or you, could ever do to earn this love.  There is nothing I, or you, could do to maintain this love.  This is a love that is completely outside of you and me.  We have no power over it.  It is there on the days we fail; it is there on the days we nail it.  It was there before we knew it; it’s there when we can’t feel it.  It is a love that, before we even knew we needed it, goes to the cross on our behalf.  And bleeds for us, dies for us. 

And lives for us.      

There is nothing for us to do, but accept it.  To wrap it around our lives.  To live in it and out of it. 

So it is with Lent.  There is nothing for us to do, but live in wonder and awe at a love so big that it covers us, every day – good and bad, failing or nailing it.  Every single day we are loved with a vast and unwavering love that is not conditional upon us; but is a love that is a who-God-is love.  And that love is the reason for Lent.       


*Sanders, The Deep Things of God

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Coram Deo: a theology of presence

Again Lent crept up, silent and unassuming.  And rather suddenly, as it is wont to these past few years.  There it is, tucked into the middle of my week, the day before Valentines; and I’m supposed to know exactly which spiritual disciplines will best lead me to what end for the growth and betterment of my soul.       

I wonder if that’s how the desert found Christ.  If He was walking, purposed on being close to the Father after His baptism, looked up and suddenly He was in the desert.  As He intended to be, no doubt; but did He intentionally note the crossing of the line from society to wilderness.  Or was it just something that happened as He considered His Father’s words to Him?
Whatever the case, I prayed yesterday, as I hung red and silver whirly-gigs from my ceiling, and draped all conceivable surfaces with hearts, that the Holy Spirit would lead me into this Lent with insight as to what I ought to do.  For there is much on my mind and heart this Lenten season, not so external as last year, more internal; and I have been seeking means for addressing the shifting in my spirit and I just knew that Lent would pair so well with this pursuit.  And I prayed again, driving through fog and traffic on the way to class on this day of commercialized love; wishing I wasn’t already a day behind in the liturgical calendar, so that it felt like failing to even be asking.       

And in my own head, I came up with a few good and decent ideas:

·         Practice self-care for 40 days – Because I have a tendency to neglect myself in certain ways; and this neglect shows a poor respect for the gift of my physical body, a poor theology of time and of humanness, and, frankly a disrespect for the price Christ paid to free me from sinful behaviors and attitudes concerning an anti-gnostic view of me.  Thus, I had concluded the following would be my means of practice:

o    consume only Paleo food and drink [like the Daniel fast, only with lean meat proteins and omitting grains]

o    engage in physical activity every day

o    nap when I need it

o    get enough water

o    go to bed at a decent hour

o    Give up alcohol*

·         Memorize scripture – A good discipline to ground my thoughts and deeds and days in God’s Word; to have it available when I need it; to let the Holy Spirit work through the scriptures directly on my heart.

o    Find 4 sections (not verses, but passages that include the contextual emphasis) of scripture – the trouble I was running into was: which passages?

o    Devote 10 days to the memorization of each passage

o    Write them on my mirror, make flip cards, tuck them into my books for school, they would be constantly before my eyes and on my mind.


·         Give up make-up for 40 days – If you know me, this doesn’t sound like much of a stretch.  But when I wear it, it is representative both my desperate attempts to control a tiny bit of the situation I’m in, and my warped theology of beauty (how I want people to view me and how I am programmed to view myself with and without it).  Even I was surprised to find myself balking at the very idea.  It was a telling few moments of my commute.  

Each of these is a good idea. Thus, I had decided to implement them together, in a holistic self-care Lenten regimen.  I was contemplating the lateness of my Lent’s beginning (Ash Wednesday was yesterday) as I pulled into the parking lot; and having an internal argument as to whether Valentine’s celebrations could count as “non-Lent-ish” since a piece of chocolate cake and a glass of wine were in my plans for this evening.  Shouldn’t I keep my make-up on for the Officer, if this was my last day of it for a month; and who wants to workout on Valentine ’s Day anyway?    

I walked into class, as is so often the case, completely unaware of what God was going to do in that space – just for me. 
Yes, I know how selfish it sounds to say that God did something only for me, in a graduate course full of students and visitors with their lives full of God-needs, too.  But He has done it over and over again—knocked the wind out of me through the prayer of a teacher, or through the wisdom of a professor, or through the insight of a classmate.  Maybe because it’s there, in those rooms, at those times, am I really listening and really believing all of what God says about who He is.  Or maybe it’s because these people, in that place, listen to Him well and bring Him with them in their hearts and their words.  Or maybe it’s just because.    

We’d discussed it before; and will no doubt again.  But today in the professor’s prayer, in my heart, in the talk about what we believe about God and how our lives are lived out of this belief, however well-formed or poorly represented; today, it struck me as exactly what I was hoping for in my Lent.

Coram Deo :

-- carried out before, or in the presence of, God.

The professor read the whole of Isaiah 40:9-31 aloud, over us.  I could hear my Father’s voice in my heart; within me, my spirit responded.  As this reality of who God is was pouring over me, I asked the question: is every aspect of my life conducted coram deo; and I knew the answer is not fully and wholly, “yes.”  I am still trying to control so much of it.  Every day.  And there are deep places in me that cry out still for the fullness of the gospel to reach them; like so many petals needing to be peeled away so that light can finally reach the center.
So that what was left after this sounding of my spirit was the realization that the practices I had purposed earlier wouldn’t merely do – they were exactly what I needed.

·         If I truly believe that God created me, and has ransomed me for His own, then I need to practice self-care.  It is not a selfish pursuit.  Nor should it wear the trappings of vanity; for the moment I think, “I want to be skinnier/prettier/firmer/etc…” I move from stewardship to sin.  I must care for this physical and temporal body not because it’s the vessel that holds my soul, but because my body is as much me as my heart and mind and spirit.  Each was made by God, with only me in mind.  And each should be cared for because they were made by God – not because I want the world to respond to me in a certain way. {Self-care} 

·         If I truly believe that God inspired humans to write down His words, centuries apart in different context for different audiences using different genres and literary devices, then I need to seek His voice therein.  If I truly believe that somehow, incomprehensible to me, His Spirit and Power are alive in His Word, then oughtn’t I devote time and energy to tucking these into my being – into my mind and heart?  {Memorize Isaiah 40:9-31}

·         If I truly believe that God is the Creator of the universe and time; and that He is the orchestrator of all good things, should I not completely surrender control to Him? {No make-up.  Focusing only on the 24 hour period in which I am presently; and doing what I can in that time and space.}   

·         Finally, an addition: If I truly believe that God is YHWH, then I need a better theology.  Not newer or more “relevant” or more academic.  More holistic, more well-rounded, more thoughtful, more aware.  I will use my course assignments not merely as papers, but as formation exercises.  I will find what theologians say about certain topics (the Doctrine of revelation, of sin, of human being, of creation, of God, etc…), and what the scriptures say; and I will find where I fall.  For out of my theology will come my praxis of life coram deo.  {Research, articulate, and practice Theology on 4 topics}

Of course, these disciplines are just that: mechanisms to keep me mindful of living my entire life as before God.  They will not unlock some secret spirituality within me.  They will not, by virtue of their practice, usher me into a more intimate communion with the Lord.  But, like any training exercise,  they can help me center my mind and focus my heart and bend my spirit to hear God, and daily [even moment to moment] help me to live my life coram deo.           

May this Lenten season find you seeking deeper relationship with God the Father.  May His Holy Spirit guide your weeks ahead.  And may His Son, Jesus Christ once again win your heart with His unquenchable love.



*A note on Giving up Alcohol – While I do not hold a teetotaler philosophy {this in itself is not a judgment on either side of the debate, merely a personal note}, I find that removing certain substances from time to time a beneficial practice that allows me to focus on mental, spiritual, and physical health.  To do a sounding of my whole person and decided: does this particular element have too great a hold on me (I have done this with alcohol, sugar, and caffeine in the past).  It allows me to find this ingredient’s place in my life and make sure it has not become either a crutch or a screen to something deeper in need of attention. 

Linked with: I Still Hate Pickles for Lent.  Visit Kiki's site, read her words, and be enoucraged by her insightful transparency.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I am Leah.

There is a story from the ancient scriptures that is oft told around Valentine’s Day.  One of determined and persistent love: the story of Jacob and his Rachel.  Theirs is the story of how he, after being overwhelmed by her beauty, worked for seven years simply to earn her hand; and then, having been duped into marrying her older sister, how he worked seven more.  And while this is terribly romantic, I am given pause at how often we neglect the other sister, the one Jacob first wed.  And when I open their story, I feel that I know this woman better than the two tenacious lovers – the undesired sister. 

I have heard so many teachers and pastors and lay ministry leaders claim that she was purposefully and actively complicit in her father’s treachery against Jacob.  But because the scriptures don’t say, I wonder.  Because, when researching of late a full theology of beauty, I find that even the scriptures say Leah was not beautiful; and certainly not in comparison to her sister, Rachel.  What stands behind this stark declaration is the fact that there is not a woman in all of creation who wouldn’t have felt the weight of this truth – every single day – as she grew, as she hoped for love, as she watched her younger sister capture the heart of this stranger with her beauty.  Leah knew; she lived in this truth: she was not beautiful.  She was not desired.  Not wanted.  Not good enough. 
Thus, I can be compelled to conclude that even if she were actively complicit in the plot to trick Jacob into marrying her, her spirit had been so wounded, so abused, so crippled by the knowledge that even her own father didn’t think she could be married off without deception, her part in this scheme would have come from a desolate place of wanting.  Wanting what is the crux of humanity – to be loved.

Yet another option remains: that she was not an active participant in this plot.  That she was forced, outside of her will, to enact this ruse on her sister’s fiancĂ©.  It is a cultural possibility; though again, not explicit in scripture, so we cannot truly know.  And if it were the case, one must add to the desperate feelings of being so completely unwanted, the guilt of having to betray her beautiful younger sister and deprive Rachel of the love she had found.    
Either way, Leah was bound to this marriage of great compromise; for there were no mechanisms for a woman in this time to divorce herself of such abject un-love.  So that Leah remains the sister who was forever unwanted.  Even after the marriage consummated and the veil lifted, Jacob didn’t want her.  How that must have felt, after giving her body, herself, to this man – whatever her hopes or guilt or dreams – to be publically declared unwanted.  Branded as not good enough by her now-husband, her father, her sister, her people; to finally have the label of her lifelong pain spoken aloud.  Undesired.  Unwanted.  Unloved. 

And all because she wasn’t pretty enough.   
Leah tried those seven years that weren’t hers, to win Jacob’s heart.  But we know these few millennia later, what she didn’t: Jacob only had eyes for Rachel.  His Rachel – the woman who was beautiful, the one who was wanted. 

And yet, still Jacob lay with Leah.  She bore him children because the Lord saw that Leah was unloved.  Year after year, Leah made herself available to Jacob; hoping to win just a portion of his love.  Through sex, through bearing him sons, through being the best wife she could be [ok, that last one’s a hermeneutical leap].  But Jacob doggedly made it known that Rachel was the one whom his heart desired.  And implicit in his constant proclamation was the over-and-over annunciation that Leah was not.
Sadly, it was only after Leah gave up hoping that Jacob could love her, she found peace in her spirit.  After all the sons, all the striving, all the praying, all the never-ending rejection, she had her last son and finally said, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”  And she stopped having children.[1]  What we don’t know is whether she was thereafter unable to have children, or if she stopped sleeping with Jacob.  Both are possible.  Perhaps Leah finally gave up; quit trying to win the love of a man, and instead became content with herself, her life, and her Lord.    

While Leah’s story isn’t a romantic one, I find myself drawn to it as I ponder beauty and love.  A combination with which so many are infatuated even to this day.  And I think of all the women hurting themselves in the pursuit of both.  Living lives out of the desperate loneliness of not good enough  and unloved.  Being driven to sacrifice the best parts of themselves on the altar of false hope and phantom promises. 

If only I were prettier/skinnier/smarter/younger. 

If only he loved me. 

And all the myriad of wishes that assault us, when we are empty of love. 

This year, on Valentine’s Day, I have decided to be mindful of Leah; to burn a candle for her, to buy her flowers, and offer her just a bit of my day.  I will do this for the wife who was unloved; and for all the Leahs since.  Women who have wanted so very desperately to be loved, of whom I could number my younger self.  Women who have sought this love in the arms of the wrong man; who have traded their bodies chasing after phantoms of love; women who have sacrificed their time and great portions of their lives on the altar of this false hope.  Women who have heard over and over and over again, that they are not enough. 

I will buy them – us – flowers because there is an unquenchable love that is as strong as death and as jealous as the grave.  We have only but to look to Christ, for He loves each one of us so much that he would sell off all of the universe just to ransom you.  And me.  Regardless of the nights spent in the arms of our Jacob, men who don’t want us.  Regardless of where these lonely paths have taken us.  Regardless of what we have traded for the hope of love.  Because that is a love more powerful and more beautiful than Jacob’s.  And through it, you and I, beloved, are made more lovely than Rachel; and more content than Leah.
The love of Jesus Christ – the only man who knows all that we’ve done while pursuing love, and cares only for our hearts.  The Son of God, who loves each one of us, be we Rachel or Leah, anyway.       

[1] Genesis 29:35

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


This week I have to take a hiatus from posting.  I am already burried in school work.  I will be back next Tuesday.  Thanks for checking in.