One way to dive deeper into God's love

As I was pondering and praying about this blog post last evening, I felt like I was standing on the end of a high diving board—as though I’ve been climbing a very tall ladder for a very long time and once I take this next step, there’s no turning back. As I pictured myself standing there, toes curled over the edge of the board, a song from twenty years ago that I still have on my exercise playlist came to mind:
The long awaited rains
Have fallen hard upon the thirsty ground
And carved their way to where
The wild and rushing river can be found
And like the rains
I have been carried to where the river flows, yeah
My heart is racing, and my feet are weak
As I walk to the edge
I know there is no turing back
Once my feet have left the ledge
And in the rush I hear a voice
That’s telling me to take a leap of faith
So here I go
I’m diving in, I’m going deep, in over my head I want to be
Caught in the rush, lost in the flow, in over my head I want to go
The river’s deep, the river’s wide, the river’s water is alive
So sink or swim, I’m diving in. . . (Steven Curtis Chapman, “Dive”)

It’s strange to think that when that song was released in 1999, I was partway through my first year of obstetrics specialty training. Five years of that residency training, four and a half years in Afghanistan, and ten years recovering and discovering God’s love from a whole different vantage point—I’ve done a lot of diving into new situations in those years. (And yes, sometimes finding myself in over my head!)
When I completed medical school and began obstetrical specialty training, I had no idea that I’d only get to witness and assist the birthing of new physical life for ten years—five years of training, and five of practice as an obstetrician. Nor did I know either the pain or the (even bigger) gift that would follow.
While I was working as an obstetrician, though I did glimpse the holiness of the process, my focus was on managing the situation, keeping mom and baby safe, and trying to stay more or less (preferably more) in control of an often uncontrollable process.
Then when my body could no longer handle the stress of being, for a time, the only doctor for 150,000 people in a little mountain village in central Afghanistan, I was forced to face head-on the reality that I am not in control. I couldn’t even manage my own body, let alone anyone else’s. I could barely sit up for a meal, and one long night it took two tries to drag myself, crawling on hands and knees, to the outhouse to empty the little bucket for which I had become increasingly grateful. It has been a long journey back to some semblance of health—much longer than the week it took me to get home, stopping en route to rest for a while and then be flown business class the rest of the way because I was too sick to sit up.
Why am I telling you all this now? Because one of the loveliest gifts of these past ten years has been the surprise that just as I stepped out of practicing obstetrics, I unknowingly stepped into experiencing obstetrics in a whole different way, from a variety of different angles.
I’ve discovered that I’m the baby, carried safely in the One “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). I’ve lived and pondered the privilege that we have of carrying Jesus within us and bearing his life into the world. I’ve experienced God midwifing me wisely and gently through the whole process.
As I’ve pondered these roles, it has been impossible for me to avoid the sense that God’s love is so big and his desire to draw us into it so great that no single metaphor is sufficient to communicate that love. God circles and doubles back, revealing himself in Scripture in all the different roles in the obstetrical drama: as mother, father, husband, midwife, even baby whom we, along with Mary, are graced to carry. Each of these roles has offered me comfort and encouragement and help in understanding many aspects of our relationship to God as we live this holy, mysterious, and sometimes painful life with him.
I’ve shared a few bits of this here over the years, but mostly I’ve written about other things on this blog while I’ve been completing a theology degree and spiritual director training and writing a book about learning to trust God’s love as illustrated by the story I’ve just told you in brief above. The book hasn’t yet been published, but in the meantime I’m bursting to share some of what the professor who supervised my book-writing termed “obstetrical theology,” and it seems now is the right time to share it. In case the mention of theology frightens you, don’t worry. There’s nothing abstract or dry about the way God has revealed himself in the birth drama. We’re all carried and born, after all, and in revealing himself in these roles that we can all in some way relate to, God offers us the kind of practical, tangible comfort I suspect we all need when life feels a bit out of control. So will you join me over the coming weeks as we dive a little deeper into the love of God as he has revealed it to us through all the different roles in the birth drama? I’m excited to share this with you!

____________

FOR REFLECTION:
When you relate to God, do you relate to him more often as your father, your mother, your husband, your baby, or your midwife?
Do any of the roles seem strange or uncomfortable to you? Do you have any sense why that might be?
Is there anything you’d like to say to God about all this as we dive in?

______________

If you’re excited about this series and haven’t yet subscribed to receive my weekly blog posts by email, would you consider doing so? That helps me serve you in multiple ways: you won’t miss any of these posts, you’ll have access to the extra little surprises I’m preparing for those on my email list, and you’ll help me get the book I’ve written for you published. (Not surprisingly, potential publishers want to know people are interested in reading an author’s words!)
My sincere thanks to so many of you who share the posts you find helpful with others who might be interested. I can write these words, but only you can get them to that friend of yours who might be helped by them today.

_______________

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The doorway into not-so-ordinary time

As I enter the sanctuary, it looks like it is dressed for a party. Red, apricot, and gold streamers twist their way from the wooden cross standing tall on the stage to the edges of the balcony where we bow in prayer and stand to sing praises.
Streamers of crosses have laced the sanctuary during the Lent and Easter seasons.
They have now been gathered and draped over the large wooden cross still standing on the platform, our lives that have been being woven into the life of God as Jesus walked this earth no longer strung out across the sanctuary, connected to his cross but still at a distance. Our little crosses, our little selves, are now pulled close, cascading from his cross like a bride’s long veil or the pouring out of a waterfall, pooling in a basket at the foot of the cross, the overflow of his life now pouring through us, springs of living water to quench a parched people.

It’s as though the streamers are summoning us into the party already going on in heaven, drawing us in toward the cross, toward the dove, toward recognizing the magnificent mystery that is taking place. The cause of this glorious, holy celebration? The marking of that moment when Jesus’ life became ours.
We’ve been living the milestones along the way for months. Waiting through Advent to see the mystery of God, God!, in human flesh. Walking with Jesus, watching as He lived God’s life among us and lived our life in God’s moment-by-moment presence, showing us the union that we were made to live.
A dove tops the cross, the sign of God’s pleasure in his Son, descending at his baptism, now also falling onto us, into us, at Pentecost, proclaiming that we also, in Christ, are now bearers of God’s full acceptance and delight.
The streamers are shimmering in the light.
It’s the perfect day for a party, this day of Pentecost when all that Jesus has done for us through Advent and Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, come together, and we receive the pouring out of all that God is coming not just to us in flesh (that in itself was astounding), but into us, God’s Spirit filling and animating our flesh. We no longer simply witness God’s life lived among us, we can welcome God’s life lived in us. We are now Christians—not simply observers of Christ at a distance, but united with him, and through him, with God. In us God continues the wonder witnessed first and perfectly in Jesus: God’s Spirit and human flesh come together once again in a human body, Creator and creature united. Should we not celebrate?
How is it that the church calendar calls these next six months “ordinary time”? Could an event such as Pentecost be the door into anything ordinary? Can time ever again be ordinary when we walk through each day with God himself walking it not just beside us but within us?
As we enter these months of (not-so-)ordinary time, let us walk in the awareness that God himself now lives each moment within us. And let us celebrate.

Christ in you: God’s hospitality

DSC_0100
“One thing we should have learned from his first coming,” Pastor Tim reminded us, “is that Jesus never comes in the way we expect.”
I set out to explore the mystery of Christ in us—to find some boundary markers and peek at the view—and Jesus sets aside my desire for understanding and shows me first that the living of Christ in us—which is far more important than speaking about it—is a lot about love.
And then we creep a little closer to mystery—seeking to live it rather than define it (which, I’m learning, is the only way you can creep close to mystery)—and I find that the glory of Christ in us is not to be found first in the earthquake of His power in us, or the fire of His passion, but in the gentle whisper of His presence in the midst of our mess—our fears and our failures and a barn with a cow letting loose in the corner and blood-stained straw where Mary crouches, Christ in her giving Himself as a gift to the world.
His love is so beautiful here that my desire to explore has waned; what new view could be more beautiful than this love that becomes small and whispers Himself into our darkest corners, filling us with the certainty that right here in the mess we are accepted so deeply we are asked to host Him?
I understand, for the first time, maybe, David’s sentiments:

“. . .I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child with its mother. . .” (Psalm 131)

I could rest here, quite content, for a long time, here in this smallest, profoundest corner of the truth of Christ in me.
Maybe there’s rest here because His smallness makes space for my smallness: I’m welcomed to stop wrestling and rest.
Maybe the rest comes from finding that the hospitality He asks of me is always founded in the hospitality He offers me: Christ in us is always rooted in us in Christ.
Christ in us is mentioned ten times or twenty; us in Christ a hundred or two. And every time Jesus speaks of living in us, he pairs it with us living in him.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56)
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4)
“If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)

It messes with my mind that likes to think in pictures. One person can live in another—a baby in a womb—but how do two people live in each other at the same time?
And then I remember the moment seven months ago when, as I was listening in the pew eight rows back, Darrell Johnson drew my attention to the remarkable truth: we, in Christ, are brought so deeply into the inner life of the Trinity that the apostle John speaks as though the Holy Trinity is the Father, the Son, and us!1

“On that day [when the Holy Spirit descends and fills you], you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)
“I have given them the glory that you [, Father,] gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. . .” (John 17:22-23)

“As we are one”—This flowing, belonging, difference-within-union dance of the Trinity is the love into which we are welcomed.
The same kind of joyful hospitality that the Father and the Son offer to each other, they offer to us: a real, living delight in each other. A full-of-life, three-dimensional enjoyment in which no one is swallowed up or merged, flattened or taken over, but each is uniquely himself, secure in the love of the others.
And as I read verse after verse, my image shifts. No longer do I picture “Christ in you” as a solitary person with another inside—a baby in Mary’s womb, say, or the Spirit living inside my body (though both are part of the truth).
The image now is more fluid, more like the interweaving dance of the Trinity in whose image we are made: Christ in us and us in Christ, a word-defying, image-defying mystery of love in which we are at once fully our small human selves and, through Christ, also loved right into the life of the Trinity where we are forever welcomed and held.
 
_________________
1Based on work by David Crump.

The Mystery of Welcome

 

Eternal God,

 

How can a product of creation

envision the Independent

Alpha before the beginning?

 

How can a mind formed within time

understand the Eternal

Giver and Shaper of temporal flow?

 

How can one held, a sparrow or a human

imagine the Infinite

Nourisher of fragile finitude?

 

 

Unbounded God,

 

Whose being defeats my comprehension,

 

Thank you.

 

Your welcome does not depend

on my ability to understand

nor your care on my capacity to comprehend.

 

I kneel

 

before love that bends

the Inexpressible into a fragment of fragility

yields to moments, dependence, death

 

So that, not understanding, we may know.

 

The real reason for theology

 

Turns out it’s one of his favorite lines: “Theology is for doxology.” I love this constant reminder from J.I. Packer that “the first thing to do with [theology] is to turn it into praise and thus honour the God who is its subject, the God in whose presence and by whose help it was worked out.” (J.I. Packer, “God Has Spoken,” p.7)

 

When theology becomes more about debate than worship, our focus more on knowledge than on love, it’s a good sign that we’ve gone wrong somewhere.

 

“Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in both senses, cold: cold-hearted and uninterested.” (Ibid)

 

I long for our lives to be places where understanding of God flows over into delight in him. Places where, together, we can enter into God’s invitation given through the apostle Paul, “Be glad in God! . . . Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!” (Phil 3:1, 4:4 The Message) 

 

It’s becoming my new favorite question: “What, today, have I learned of God that makes me revel in him?”

 

Today, it’s this. “Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach his people himself.” (Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul, p. 9) Pastors and professors, the Church Fathers and writers from throughout the centuries, as precious a gift as they are in helping us hear God’s heartbeat more clearly, do not have a corner on the truth. The One who is Truth is here among us Himself, eager to speak His truth to every one of us. God himself is our teacher! As incredible as it sounds, God opens His heart and mind to us, daring to give each of us direct access to his innermost thoughts, as we, in turn, open our hearts to Him. But let me step back and let Him speak for Himself:

 

“It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6:45)

 

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17)

 

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (Jn 16:13-15)

 

“As it is written:

“No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord

that he may instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-16)

 

So let’s not be afraid to enter this wonder and ask God to make clear to us the deep truths that He longs to share with us. Then dig into what’s being given and delight in God!

 

God of all truth

who has spoken yourself in your Son

open our hearts to receive today the Word that you still speak

that we may delight in you as you do in us.

Through Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

Amen.