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: