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One Way to Open to the Love of God Opened for You

March 25 2024:

Here we are in these final days of walking with Jesus to the cross. Yesterday, children and a few brave adults walked up the aisles of the sanctuary waving palm branches, mirroring the crowds from two thousand years ago who waved branches and threw their coats on the road, celebrating this king whom, they thought, was about to free them from the Romans.

They were right he was about to free them from oppression. They were wrong about the scope and source of the oppression.

We humans are so slow to see.

4-6 BC to 30 AD (or so):

God had been revealing his love for millennia through the opening of the heavens, tangible echoes from his wide-open heart. He had sent rain and manna, prophets and—occasionally— angels. He had opened rock in the desert, pouring out life-giving water. He had opened barren wombs, too, and Pharoah’s heart (at least for enough moments to let God’s people go), and even the Red Sea.

But now there’s a whole new level of revelation, a whole new series of openings through which flows the truth of God’s wide-open heart.

God himself stretches open a virgin’s womb with his newly flesh-and-blood presence.

The unthinkable has happened. Humans can now see with their eyes, touch with their hands the very heart of God.

God now opens blind eyes and deaf ears with a touch from His carpenter’s skin-and-tendon-and bone hands.

A year or three later, blood spills from holes we tear open in these same ordinary, extraordinary hands and feet and side.

But the apparent end is not, in fact, the end. A tomb is opened, and with it, the mouth of death, its terminal power shattered.

March, 2024:

I sit with my art journal, paints and scraps torn from magazines spread before me. I’ve already worked on a couple of other pages (my first ever!), but I left the first page blank, unsure what it needed to be. And, if I’m honest, needing the courage of trying a couple of other pages before I returned to play and pray on the very first page of my new, handmade journal.

(I can’t resist pausing here to note that my favorite part of making that last page was happening upon an obstetrician’s words, published in 1889, about corsets! Could there be a more perfect image of living in unfreedom? Here’s a close-up for those of you who want to read what she said. :-))

But as for the new page, it needs to be a page of transition, I decide. There has been so much vulnerability and so many layers of emotion in putting my first “real” book (i.e. not just an e-book) out into the world that I need a place to let play and prayer, color and texture, help me express, celebrate, and let go of some of those layers in a way that words can’t do.

Some days ago, I stuck the label from a box of books across the page, a holding place for this piece of sticky paper declaring the twelve-year process finished, some pieces of my heart and, I think, God’s heart too, now in concrete form on pages that can be turned.

I decide to leave the label where it is, the fact of the book’s reality the first layer for the page of letting go.

I smear paint over some of the label and across the page, trying at first to mirror the image on the front of the book. And then layers of rock and snow, faded blue mountain peaks and coral sunset torn from magazines find their place on top. A bookmark. A door.

The words “Ends and Beginnings”—a title used in the book’s prologue, interlude, and epilogue—feel like they fit here too. An end of twelve years of work on the book. An end of having to work intensely with so many hard memories from Afghanistan. An end and a letting go of parts of the story that the book tells.

But a beginning, too. Of what I’m not yet fully sure. But at least a beginning of the time after the book is finished. A season of wondering what the next stretch will hold, of open hands and prayers and learning to play and beginning to feel some energy return.

And then as I flip through another magazine in the next-to-last week of Lent, I find pictures of the cross and empty tomb. The ultimate end and beginning entwine as the author of our salvation completes the work entrusted to him. The end of Death and Sin and Shame. The beginning of the New Creation, of the door opened for us through Christ’s body into the presence of Almighty God. The beginning of the chance to believe “into” Christ, as Paul so often puts it in the Greek, and to live in Him, us welcomed right into the life and love of the Trinity.

And then I spot the heart-shaped rose petal that has been tucked in my Bible at Song of Solomon 2 all the years I’ve worked on the book. It’s now so frail it tore the other day like the curtain tore when Jesus died. It finds a home on this page too, a reminder of God’s heart that tears right open to let us come all the way in.

Then the words come, some of Jesus’ own last words, words that can help us find a way, too, to open to God in the ends and beginnings of our own life’s seasons.

Father, forgive them.

Where do I need to settle into Jesus’ words and receive God’s forgiveness for myself?

What pain or disappointment still haunts me that might signal my need for Jesus’ help to forgive others or myself as I step into this new season? Am I willing to let Jesus empower me to pray along with him, “Father, forgive them?”

It is finished.

Jesus’ work of opening the way is finished. Can I pause and celebrate and rest a little more deeply in this certainty and the astounding love that lies behind it?

And, as I sit here in this week leading up to the cross, what else is finished? What work that God has entrusted to me have I completed? What is finished that I can celebrate, and what is finished that I’m sad to leave behind? Can I name these endings, write them out, give myself the space to honor these happy and sad ends and sit with them in the presence of the One who, better than anyone else, understands the grief and fear and also joy that can come with ends and beginnings? As I hold these out to Jesus, can I rest in Him who is the Alpha and Omega, the ultimate End and Beginning?

Into your hands.

They’re Jesus’ final words before he breathed his last breath. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And maybe these three words—“Into your hands”—are the last words we need, too, as we let go of what has been and prepare to move forward with Jesus, through the cross and on into resurrection. What do we need to place into the hands that have shaped us and held us since we were conceived, have been torn open for us and raised to life and continue to hold us still? Our work? Dreams? Reputation? A hoped for (or feared) outcome? Our loved ones? Our selves?  

I’ll be returning again to these three borrowed sayings in seasons of transition, I think—Father, forgive them; It is finished; Into your hands. As I pray these words with Jesus, they’re helping me open a little further to the One who has opened the heavens, opened the way, and opened his heart, his hands and his entire self to us.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Connie Storr

    Thank you, Carolyn, for these beautiful and incisive thoughts and images. May God continue to bless you richly as you serve Him with all your heart.

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