Resurrection: what God does with your wounds

DSC_0110I’ve been so grateful since I heard, a few years ago, that Easter isn’t a single day but Eastertide, the whole fifty day stretch from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. I need fifty days, I need a whole lifetime, to explore the truth of Christ’s resurrection as it stretches backward and forward to encompass and change everything.

The words came last year as we approached Lent:

“Winds wind

blinding hair

gold around stability

bind flesh to bone

and glory to fragility.”

The Spirit-wind pauses, hovers, and glory is bound to fragility, God to our flesh, in a young woman’s womb.

The God-man baby grows and lives, suffers and dies, and it isn’t just in that one man that divinity is bound to humanity. He gathers and holds our wounds, lets them settle deep and they pierce right through, pierce his feet and his side too, and in His suffering and death He takes our sin and our pain and makes them His own, binds us to Him, our fragile flesh to Glory.

And when He rises from the dead to walk again among us, then rises through the clouds to the side of His Father, He carries us with Him, still wearing our flesh.

“Then you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

He rises still wearing His wounds, our wounds, His scarred hands outstretched in blessing as He ascends.

 

A fellow pilgrim shares of rolling his own wounds around in his hands like dark pearls, and of the invitation to “drop them in this open place of good and glory” which Christ’s loving presence has created.

Jesus, how do I drop them?

I see the baby again, reflexively grasping whatever touches her palm. Jesus picks her up, settles her to sleep. Her grip loosens. He’s calling me to come close, reminding me that only as I know myself loved and learn to rest in that place of grace will my need to cling ease.

I listen again to my fellow pilgrim and watch Jesus “gathering the dark pearls of my wounds (when finally I could let them go), and stringing a necklace to place lovingly, lightly, round my neck in a place of honour and beauty.” (Doug Webber)

He’s giving me a glimpse into a grace bigger than I expect. Even resurrection doesn’t erase all scars; wounds aren’t meant to disappear without a trace. Instead of discarding, grace transforms. Places of pain fill with joy, places of death, life. Places of fragility, backlit, are discovered to be thin places where the greatest glory shines through. Even wounds once festering with self can become, in His love, scars which shimmer with Him.

Two days ago I saw this necklace of grace on a woman who hid for two and a half years while she recovered from trauma; I marveled at the gracious wisdom she now speaks out of God’s presence in her own story. I’ve noticed it lately on a friend who calls weekly to listen and encourage; she understands because she remembers God meeting her in her own deep places.

This is one of the gifts of resurrection: we don’t need to fear our wounds. Those holes in your hands might become the very places Christ’s love flows through to bring life to another, those dark pearls of your scars a bright necklace speaking hope to all who see it.

_______________

Images of the dark pearls and necklace used with Doug Webber’s gracious permission.

Dust you are: the Easter edition

DSCN2449

The long journey through Lent is over. We’ve walked with Jesus to the cross and seen him rise from the grave.

Every time we walk this path it’s a little bit different. We are a little bit different.

The only typical part of my journey this year was that first day of Lent when I brushed my bangs aside and let my forehead be marked with a cross of ash. The rest of this Lent I’ve danced that dual truth—that I am dust, and that I am His—in a way quite different than other years. I didn’t make it through a Lenten devotional. I struggled to enter the Passion narratives. And on Easter Sunday as I heard the trumpets shouting “Christ the Lord is risen today” and I proclaimed with the church around the world “He is risen indeed!”, I found my heart too numb to ring with joy.

I lived the first half of Lent in the womb of God, the second being a baby. The refrain that echoed through my Easter day was a child’s lullaby:

Hush my dear, lie still and slumber,

Holy angels guard thy bed.

Heavenly blessings without number

Gently falling on thy head.” (Isaac Watts)

Pastor Darrell spoke of the two angels in the empty tomb of Jesus, one where his head had lain and one at his feet, just like the angels that rested at the two ends of the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. “There”—at the mercy seat formed by the crucified and risen body of Jesus— “I will meet with you.” (Ex 25:22) There—on this strange bed guarded by angels—I can rest.

 ___________

I smelled my fellow pilgrim before I saw him, a young man walking down the aisle about ten minutes before the end of the service. Had he just remembered it was Easter? He knew he needed to come near.

He walked in and sat for a moment in the end of a pew about six from the front, placed his cardboard box with a few belongings in the aisle beside him. He glanced around, saw, perhaps, the trays of little squares of bread being passed along the aisle. What was going on? Was he too late?

There was a table at the front, pastors waiting behind it. Leaving his seat, the man went forward, stood uncertainly a few feet from the table. How to receive the blessing he longed for?

An usher came and stood with him, asked, perhaps, whether he could help him. And then the pilgrim was kneeling before one of the pastors.

The encounter lasted only a moment before he stood and, reclaiming his cardboard box, headed back out the door. But I had seen myself kneeling there at the table in blue jeans and old sneakers, seen the welcome and felt the risen Lord touch my shoulder. I was confused; He smiled on me. I longed for His love; He touched me.

 ___________

It is finished and He has done it and no matter whether I come singing hallelujah or dancing lament, wearing a new Easter dress or ancient blue jeans, I am His and He is mine and nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Heavenly blessings without number gently falling on my head.

 

Taking it deeper:

What does it mean for you that it is finished and you can come as you are and rest in God’s love?

For those who have been following the Lenten “Dust you are” series of posts, is there something from this dusty journey through Lent that you’d like to take with you as you continue the journey with Jesus beyond the tomb, some new way of loving Him—and receiving His love—with your body as well as your soul?

Dust you are—(and dust He is too!)

IMG_1320

I finish my application. Before I send it, I pause, listening to the emotions warring inside of me. Excitement—“Jesus, I can hardly believe we’re here. I’ve wanted to do this for so long.” And fear—“Is it okay? Will they let me in?” It takes me about a minute to recognize that the question isn’t really about my application at all but about me. “Am I okay? Do you like the way you made me, like the way we’re writing this story together, or am I messing it up?”

They’re not new questions for me, but I’m learning to bring them to Jesus each time they surface instead of trying to push them away. Sometimes He reminds me of something He’s told me in the past, but often there’s some new, precious way He wants to love me in that same old place.

Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. The words drift into my awareness, words that have echoed through my story since the wee hours of that dark Kabul morning as I awaited the little plane to carry me to my first glimpse of the village that would be my home. But this time instead of just letting them echo in my head I look them up. This time I see who is calling.

“Listen! My lover!

Look! Here he comes,

leaping across the mountains,

bounding over the hills. . . .” (Song of Solomon 2)

He’s leaping and bounding—toward me!

I’m not sensing much of a hesitation here, no wondering whether I really am right for him after all. He’s gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice as though he can’t wait to see my face.

He’s been calling me to come and love Him with body as well as heart, soul, and mind; now He’s showing me how. Leaping, bounding, nothing held back.

The scene shifts and I watch as He hears my cry for help and runs to me, splitting the heavens, shaking the earth, stooping and reaching and lifting me to Himself, to this wide-open place of delighting in each other. (Psalm 18)

And then. . .

He’s done with allegories now, done with images. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. (John 17)

He who is limitless Love takes flesh to have one more way to love me.

The Psalmist’s God stoops again, but this time into a womb.

And again, and I feel His touch as the water splashes over my feet and He dries them with the towel around His waist.

And once more as He kneels in the garden, sweating whole centuries of agony.

He kneels beneath the whip and the too-heavy cross and the judgment of His Father whose face, until now, has only ever looked on Him with pleasure.

One knee isn’t enough for Him; He’s down on both, again and again and again.

And when His feet are nailed so He can’t kneel, he spends the last of His strength lifting His body against the spikes to love his mother into the arms of another: Dear woman, here is your son.

To love the soldiers who had beaten raw his back, rubbing now against rough wood with each breath: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

To love His Father: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

And to love me, speaking the words which tell me that nothing now stands in the way of my being all His forever: It. Is. Finished!

 

Taking it deeper:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9; c.f. John 17:23)

What might it mean for you to walk with Jesus this week to the cross and watch Him loving you with all His heart and soul and mind and strength—loving you with the same intensity of love that exists between the persons of the Trinity? How might you want to respond?

 ______________

This is the seventh in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first six:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: living the mystery together

Dust you are: a celebration

Dust you are: growing small

 

Dust you are: growing small

DSC_0047

I run past trees with limbs still winter-bare, each twig curled upward, reaching for heaven.

Some days you can reach and other days your limbs are limp and the longing gone and how then do you find the strength to lift the bare twigs of your soul heavenward?

____________

We gather to explore John of the Cross’s poem, “The Living Flame of Love.” It’s a poem that has been special to me, giving me words when I felt God calling me close with a longing that surprised me. It’s a poem that, even a few weeks ago when I signed up for this day, awakened in me an echoing longing. Did I want to go, she asked? How could I not when, reading even the first stanza, I felt this Love like an elastic band tying my heart to His, drawing me close once again with such gentle strength?

We meet in the living room for group prayer and teaching, then scatter to spend time alone with God. I’ve been offered a room with a double bed and a baby’s crib. I close the door and sit on the chair next to it. Across from me the window is covered with heavy dark fabric. I sit still for a while, then open my journal and write my sadness. The longing that I want to offer to God isn’t here. The poem isn’t drawing me in. Instead of passionate love and openness I find myself wanting to pull away from the burning. I slip to the floor, my back against the double bed.

Face to face with the crib, I sense God whisper, “Just be the baby.”

The baby I picture is small, too young to lift her arms to be picked up. Too young even to know why, exactly, she is crying. I watch as gentle arms reach down and lift her from the crib. I feel the ache in the bigger heart as its caverns echo with the cries of his daughter, welcoming and absorbing them, containing her pain. The small body quivers and relaxes as her sobs slowly settle and she allows herself to be comforted.

After the second group session I find myself back on the floor in front of the crib. The prayer prompt this time is to stay with the tender expressions that fill the poem, letting them orient my prayer to the loving expressions between me and God. I read the poem again. I feel nothing. Only sadness. Failure. I’m facing the crib again. “Just be the baby.” I guess this is the point of what Jeff has been saying. Can I stop trying to assess where I am and just trust that underneath everything God is at work transforming me even when I’m not aware of it? Can I be okay with it if I never get to the place of feeling what I want to feel? Can I let go and open my heart to God in this place, willing to trust that God’s delight in me, His work in me, is not dependent on my awareness of it?

Round three, and we’re asked to write a poem of response. I head for the bed, exhausted and so grateful I’ve been offered this room. For a moment I consider trying to write a poem lying down. “Just be the baby.” Right now the only way I can offer my whole self to God is through taking a nap. A few tears slip from my left eye as I let go of my expectations for this day. I haven’t been able to offer God any of the kind of strong love I’d hoped to be able to give, only my weakness and need for Him. I haven’t done any of the assignments as suggested. I’ve just received the gift of His presence as I let myself be the baby.

______________

A day later and the pastor speaks of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished!” “What is finished?” he keeps asking.

Everything. The whole plan. The whole story.

“If the chief end of man is to glorify God, the chief end of man has been accomplished. That burden doesn’t rest on our shoulders anymore.” (Darrell Johnson)

There are moments of grace when we’re given love or longing to offer to God. There are moments of grace when we’re given the strength to lift bare arms heavenward, offering pain to be taken and emptiness to be filled. But perhaps the greatest grace-moments of all come when we can’t lift any part of ourselves at all and we’re given the grace to know ourselves carried.

It’s only later I realize: the crib and the bed for two share a room. I think this is what Jesus has been trying to show me: we can only know the places of deepest intimacy through growing small and letting Him carry us into union.

 

Taking it deeper:

Is there a posture that might express what your heart wants to say to Jesus right now?

 

____________

This is the sixth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first five:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: living the mystery together

Dust you are: a celebration

Dust you are: a celebration

DSCN5597

There are still three weeks to go in Lent, three weeks more of intentionally exploring what it means to be fully human followers of Jesus, not living just in our heads but living full-bodied fellowship and followership.

Some days I feel like I’m still digging my way out of an ice-drifted driveway and already my heart is wondering when the journey will be over. (“Are we there yet?”)

Other days it seems right that our word “Lent” is derived from the Old English word meaning “springtime.” Spring fever is in my blood and I’m not just walking toward the cross but running toward resurrection.

Spring calls us to be part of her, draws us into her so we shake the rugs and clean the closets and run outside to feel the sun’s face turned toward us, warm and overflowing with blessing. Spring insists that we join in with our whole bodies. She doesn’t just call, she puts out a hand, two hands, smelling of fresh-turned earth and daffodils, and tugs so we ache to dig in the earth or wish we had a child’s small hand in ours so we could skip down the road without anyone looking at us funny.

The claim of spring on our bones doesn’t always wait for Easter. It can stir even on the way to the cross. I watch Jesus step firmly towards His death, eyes on His bride. A woman kneels and anoints Jesus for burial, their dance tugging her to bend and wipe His feet with her hair. Jesus Himself stoops and lifts the feet of his disciples and washes them clean.

 “All of these bodily postures were postures of risk. They were postures that relinquished the control of a planned response; they were authentic responses to the Spirit working and moving physically in their midst. These physical postures of response reveal a wild God, one who breaks boundaries, etiquette, and our preconceived ideas of responding.” (Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer, 133)

The sign in my bathroom declares, “I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing” (Hillel). It’s a reminder to this girl who clings to control: the point is not perfection but surrender and wholeness and Him.

I can’t help but grin as I remember this eighty-eight year old bopping her way down the front steps of her house. There are a host of ways to dance and mine won’t look like hers but this I know: I am body as well as soul and learning to let my body be part of my worship is one more step in surrendering my whole self to this wild and passionate Lord of the dance as He leads me out to wash feet, out through the cross and on toward resurrection.

IMG_0421_2

Photo by Tricia Herera

 

Taking it deeper:

Try it. Dance. (Yes, you. I dare you.)

If you’re itching to get started, please stop reading and go for it! If you have hesitations like I’ve had, maybe these few thoughts and practices that have helped me will help you ease into this practice too:

  • Too embarrassed? Close the blinds and give yourself space to dance alone. Or if that’s still too much, try dancing in your imagination. What posture might express what your whole self wants to say to God right now? The point is not to force ourselves into something unnatural but to stop shushing our bodies and learn to welcome them as they cry to be part of our worship.
  • Too down? Try dancing this lament. Let your body be part of expressing the cry of your soul.
  • Too sick? May I whisper a secret? This hard place might just be one of the best places to learn to dance as we let the impossible weight of our body surrender to the strength of Jesus’ arms and discover ourselves carried into the dance. And, as I discovered last week, sometimes joining in the dance doesn’t even mean moving from your chair but uncrossing your legs and opening your hands and listening to the music with your feet and knees as well as your ears.
  • No time? Who says I can’t wield that toilet brush or broom with a little rhythm as I surrender to the joy or longing of the worship music playing in the background and let my whole self open a little wider to God?
  • Guys—having seen you cheering for a goal, not just arms but whole bodies in the air, shouts erupting, I’m pretty sure your body is also eager to be part of worship. I’m also pretty sure you’ll have your own unique way of expressing it. Thoughts? What might it look like for you to let your body be part of worship?

_______________

This is the fifth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first four:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: Living the mystery together