Fight for Joy!

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

A couple months ago, I felt led to do something new: I applied for a spiritual director.

For me, that was a risky move. Risky because I’m an introvert and inherently skeptical. Even so, it was clear that I should lay aside my hesitation and pray for courage to obey the Spirit-promptings.

This week I met with my spiritual director for the second time. So far, so good! A question he’s been asking me during our sessions is: What are you hearing, feeling, or experiencing in this moment? Sometimes the question is more direct: What are you hearing from God?

Excellent questions.

In our present “stay home, stay safe” moment of sacrifice to care for each other, I’m feeling and experiencing many things. Restrictions, prohibitions, and isolation can be difficult. I want to do what I want to do. I want to eat out, have people over, and worship in my church building. Grocery shopping is stressful (more than usual), Zoom meetings are awkward, and I’m not a fan of jigsaw puzzles.

When things don’t go my way, I get edgy. And my edginess breeds a need to control through task and accomplishment. I respond with instructions to my family for house cleaning, lawn raking, and other things I deem “productive.” My unilateral edicts are often rationalized with a “dad speech” about responsibility and character development. But what’s really going on is that I feel anxiety over my helplessness.

I don’t like being unable to affect my circumstance. But this thought from Thomas Merton has been helpful: “We can be glad of our helplessness when we really believe that His [God’s] power is made perfect in our infirmity. The surest sign that we have received a spiritual understanding of God’s love for us is the appreciation of our own poverty in the light of His infinite mercy.” (Thoughts in Solitude, p.26)

This weekend we reflect again on the life and passion of Jesus Christ. As I consider who He is and what He’s done, the helplessness I feel in the midst of a worldwide crisis highlights that I’m a dependent and needy person. There’s no place for rugged individualism. And any response that sprouts from seeds of discontent regarding my “rights” only deadens my ability to exhibit the qualities of a Christ-follower. So I’m returning often to that question from my spiritual director: What am I hearing from God in these moments?

What I’ve heard this week is: “Fight for joy!”

Reclaim a perspective that is hope-filled and not usurped by headlines, op-eds, and social media cynicism. Acknowledge the legitimacy of anxieties and disappointments while remembering to “fret not” (Psalm 37). To lament, grieve, and pray. To embrace our salvation that was claimed on a cross and secured through resurrection.

So, what are you feeling, thinking, or experiencing right now? What do you hear God saying to you? And what do those things indicate about your understanding of God’s love, mercy, and expectations for you in this moment?

This Easter weekend, and in the days ahead, I’m keeping close these words from the prophet Isaiah: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3–4) Perfect peace. We all need some of that.

Our Cry

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Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

Our Cry
A reflection on Palm Sunday

Rebellion
in the Garden
was our cardinal sorrow;
lament ever since
has looped on repeat.

East of Eden,
baleful seductions
divert our longings
toward culverts
rife with deceit.

We cannot make
our way back.

This day
our “Hosanna!”
erupts
from the ache
of pandemic.

Yet,
our true
and befitting
cry
remains—

“Blessed is He!”

Opening Voids

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Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Some quickly said, “I’m in!” Others needed time to ponder the consequences. And there was one who said, “I won’t do that, but I will do something.”

My family’s pre-Lenten agreements about eliminating, minimizing, or committing to a daily practice for six weeks was a profitable dialogue. We are different people with affections and desires that run the spectrum.

In our abstinence and sacrifice during this season of Lent we open voids in our living. Spaces occupied not only by want, but invitation to something new. It could be a fresh gift of grace that leads to deeper repentance. Or courage to re-engage a strained relationship. Maybe it’s just a fuller sense of joy and contentment. The literal and figurative fasting of Lent is a gateway to spiritual transformation.

As we anticipate the celebration of the Resurrection in a few weeks, let’s continue to contemplate the path of Mary’s child — from swaddled baby to bludgeoned outcast. The God-Man rescuer of humanity from itself. A friend to sinners and hope for the world. A Savior worthy of more than we can give (or give-up).

In our temporary Lenten sacrifices may our spirits connect with our Lord’s sacrifice of Himself for our eternal good. A Redeemer who didn’t cling to comfort or power but came lowly to serve. And when tempted to renege on our 40-day commitments, may these words come to mind:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

What an Entry!

large_the-problem-of-palm-sundayWhen it comes to early April in Michigan, today is a perfect springtime Saturday. Sixty degrees with clear skies is a gift to be relished. Such days beckon many to scour garages and sheds seeking gloves, rakes, yard bags, and pruning shears.

As buds and bulbs re-activate, tomorrow begins a week of death. A time of remembering when Hope was pierced by thorns, hung with iron, and sealed with stone. But before we thumb to week’s end, let’s dwell in chapter one. Let’s celebrate a King in royal procession on branches of palm.

In preparation for Palm Sunday, I return to an excerpt from my March 26, 2015 post titled “Colt Rider.”

—————

[It was] the arrival of a King, marked indelibly on history’s pages with hoof-crushed palm fronds. Wobbling with the jagged tempo of his bare-backed donkey, fanatic accolades bombarded Him: “Hosanna! Messiah! Deliver us! Lead us into freedom’s peace! Usher in your prosperous reign!”

Immersed in His passion, the Rider acknowledged their good and right desire, well aware that days later these same mouths would erupt with rage-filled screams of “Crucify!”

Like them, we can be fickle rebels. Hapless self-seekers, unsatisfied in our quest to satiate our longings. Toiling in a barren sin-winter we are worn, feeble, sick, and lame. We long for the rejuvenation of springtime. A fresh breath for our soul.

Mark Buchanan writes, “Springtime brings the consolation of hope.” (Spiritual Rhythm, p.84) A hope not for new blooms and warm breezes, but the surety of an ever-fresh springtime of heart. A glorious hope embodied by the colt-riding man from Nazareth. The Lord of spring, King Jesus.

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Mark 11:7–10, ESV

 

The Good of Friday

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I felt trapped. Separated from home by a landmark bridge and 500 miles, my studies at college were the loneliest of my life.

Buried in snow and differential equations, I had tapered. My existence seemed shunted, bound by the limit to which the frigid atmosphere of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula could carry my warbled pleas. I was singular, distanced from the familiar, the enjoyable, the comfortable. I felt unprotected and undefended. Monsters of despair bullied my self-talk and clawed at the empty space of me.

Still, in the dim of self pity I desperately tended a flickering hope. My spirit stretched toward Spirit as neediness found readiness in another. In a Man who knows rejection and isolation, for there was a time that He was lonely, too.

Lonely because of me. I’ve said ‘no’ to Him. Deserted Him. Ignored Him — over and over. You have, too. Even His Father distanced himself in this Man’s most desperate moment. Together, we have turned our collective back and willingly cast this Man aside.

Today we remember our rejection of Him. In my remembering, I want those college days near me. To feel fresh the pain and longing. To sit again in the desperation and frustration of wanting to be wanted. To be connected, known, and loved.

We are not trapped on a celestial orb, abandoned and alone, traversing in elliptical nothingness. We have been rescued from isolation. We need no longer be lonely. That is the “good” of this Friday.

Because of the Man, Jesus.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Isaiah 53:3, ESV

New Day

An epilogue to Cock Crows, New Day reflects
on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Resurrection Morning by James R.C. Martin

New Day

The dust of yesterday settles
while the weary repose.

Morning and evening;
rising and setting;
incessantly desperate we trudge.

Another day in a monotonous strand?
Heaven says no.

A morbid cavern relents;
The Revelation wakes.
His all-seeing eyes flutter with acclimation.
Stark is the light after suffocating darkness —

Our darkness.

In the amber still of dawn
a benevolent breeze blows
bending tawny stalks
in happy syncopation.

O soul, breathe deep —
respire the air of redemption!

The Merciful One stands
to Creation’s applause.
He steps forth triumphant,
ears fully delighted —

with a cock’s exultant crow!

Copyright © 2015 Chris De Man. All rights reserved.

Cock Crows

A poem of reflection on Luke 22:54-62
and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Peter’s Denial — Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1873

Cock Crows

Again,
and again,
then again.

A cock crows with mocking validation —

Traitor.

Fear clubs the faithful
scattering them to disillusionment.

Demagogues posture and pose
seeking fault in the presence of Truth.
Their justice is blind to the Just.

End this!

Showers of spit and vociferous rage;
yesterday’s hero now naked spectacle;
shamed, abhorred —

Abandoned.

Brutes count their rhythmic flagellations
and tire their fists in His flesh.

Humanity’s whipping boy.

His spike-dangled frame,
striped with blood rills of mercy
and broad cuts of grace,
jolts with atonement’s tremors.

And there we stand,
crowing like self-loving cocks —
once, twice, three times and more.

Traitors.
God-killers, we are.

Against our rebellious schemes
redemption’s momentum builds
tilting history on the fulcrum of His Cross.

From death’s grim hollow
this story crescendos to
a revelatory dawn —

when the cock will crow
in exaltation!

Copyright © 2015 Chris De Man. All rights reserved.

Colt Rider

I finally caught the fever.

I did well avoiding it most of the winter season. February is a month of particular weakness, but I resisted. Then early in March, my immunity cracked. I was infected, almost to the point of delirium. In fact, one night I dreamt that despite the cold reality of a four-inch snow pack my underground sprinklers had sprung into action. Yep, that’s the fever for sure.

Spring fever.

My kids caught it, too. Their behavior tipped me off. The trickle of melting snow and the first 40-degree day triggered a fever-induced donning of shorts and running in flip-flops through slush. Or maybe that’s just typical of Michiganders in March?

Even so, the return of migratory birds and clumps of budding Crocus – signals of spring – we welcome you!

During this season we reflect upon another ancient welcome. The arrival of a King, marked indelibly on history’s pages with hoof-crushed palm fronds. Wobbling with the jagged tempo of his bare-backed donkey, fanatic accolades bombarded Him: “Hosanna! Messiah! Deliver us! Lead us into freedom’s peace! Usher in your prosperous reign!”

Immersed in His passion, the Rider acknowledged their good and right desire, well aware that days later these same mouths would erupt with rage-filled screams of “Crucify!”

Like them, we can be fickle rebels. Hapless self-seekers, unsatisfied in our quest to satiate our longings. Toiling in a barren sin-winter we are worn, feeble, sick, and lame. We long for the rejuvenation of springtime. A fresh breath for our soul.

Mark Buchanan writes, “Springtime brings the consolation of hope.”* A hope not for new blooms and warm breezes, but the surety of an ever-fresh springtime of heart. A glorious hope embodied by the colt-riding man from Nazareth. The Lord of spring, King Jesus.

*(Spiritual Rhythm, p.84)

We Wait

~A Meditative Poem for Good Friday~

Holy seed.
Divine conception.
Incarnated promise.

Escape and sequester.
A home-going.
Boyhood.

Brother to siblings.
A father’s apprentice.
Temple dweller.

Coming of age.
Baptism.
A Father’s pleasure.

Wedding.
Water.
Wine.

Storyteller.
Rebel teacher.
Traveling celebrity.

Water-walker.
Storm-tamer.
Death-beater.

Compassionate healer.
Feeder of mouths.
Tender of souls.

Who is He?

Mary’s son.
Mad man.
Messiah.

A sacred feast.
A faithful few.
A traitor.

He prayed. He pleaded.
He wept. He listened.
He obeyed.

A kiss.

Accused. Abused. Abandoned.
Beaten and punished.
Mocked. Ridiculed. Cursed.
Kicked and whipped.
Bludgeoned.
Flesh and sweat.
Blood and bits.
Tremors.
Convulsions.
Exhaustion and agony.

Again.

And again.

Spare him.
Walk him.
To ‘The Skull.’

Hammer and nails.
Tendon and bone.
Execution.

Suspended spectacle.
Naked. Humiliated.
Alone.

Grief. Wailing. Mourning.
Disdain. Laughter. Self-satisfaction.
Together.

Guiltless for the guilty.
Justice through injustice.

Love.

Death.

Silence.

It is finished.
The grave is full.

We wait.

Duped?

It’s the most radical, audacious, absurd reality ever. Inconceivable. Mysterious. Wonderful.

It’s the tomb – the tomb that held Jesus Christ in his death. Three days later it emptied itself and released Him to life. Miraculous.

Yet some think such resurrecting commonplace. Typical. Normal stuff of the created order. The same type of process that happens with seeds, skin cells, leaves and the plants we eat. Life, then death, and then new life.(Bell, Love Wins, p.130-131)

Well, if the resurrection of Jesus is nothing special, then I’m a fool. And so is the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15). And so are those of you reading this who stake everything on the singular uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Have we been duped?

Absolutely not! The empty tomb was not normal. Rather, it is the fulcrum of history. The empty tomb is proof that Jesus trampled death by His death. His resurrection brings healing to our brokenness. The power of the empty tomb is fantastically miraculous and eternally effective. Jesus delivered the definitive word from God on sin and death. He displayed a love – that won. No one else could do it. Nothing else can. He alone traversed the chasm between death and life. And He invites us to join Him.

The reality of sin, death, Heaven and Hell remain. Charles Spurgeon said, “It is shocking to reflect that a change in the weather has more effect on some men’s lives than the dread alternative of heaven or hell.” Hell is real. Final. Forever. There are no trial runs, second chances or changing of minds beyond this life (Hebrews 9:27). Hell is not governed by our sentimentalities or defined by our judicious ideologies. Hell is judgment and wrath. Hell preserves God’s holiness and true love. Jesus solidified the awful truth of Hell in the fulfillment of His passion. But His passion also brought rescue, restoration and hope.

Awake to the reality of sin, death and Hell. Awake to the necessity of the empty tomb. Death’s sting is gone. Victory is ours by grace through faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

The tomb is empty – and it makes all the difference.
————
This song by Matt Maher celebrates the life-giving reality of the empty tomb. Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!