difficult beginnings and drying tears

Another PlaceKathy Harrison, in her honest and moving book, Another Place at the Table:

“It comes as no surprise that finding families willing to open their doors to the rigors of foster parenting is so hard. Fostering means knowing about things most of us would prefer to forget. It means recognizing that our best is often not good enough. It means only knowing the difficult beginnings of a story and being forced to imagine the end. It means loving children who will ultimately leave us, then drying our tears and letting ourselves love again.”

What an apt description of the kind of life and the kind of love that the Gospel requires of us, in response to the love God has given to us in Christ. It is not, of course, that the Gospel requires foster parenting for all, or even that it is only those who know the Gospel who can be good foster parents.

But it is true that the Gospel calls us all to a life of the kind of love Harrison describes: to a love that faces the gritty realities of sin (in ourselves and in others) which we would much rather forget; a love that makes demands of us which reveal the absolute inadequacy of our “best” efforts; that leads us out on a difficult beginning, trusting God to control the ending; and that calls us to love when and until our hearts break, and then in the grace God gives, to love, and love, and love again.

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not a god has wounds, but thou

cross

Jesus of the Scars

by Edward Shillito (1872 – 1948)

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;

Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;

We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,

We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;

In all the universe we have no place.

Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?

Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,

Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;

We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,

Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;

They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

the Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request

Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage:

“Kathleen and Thomas Hart refer to the ‘paschal mystery’ of marriage – the process of dying and rising as a pattern of life for married people. Each day we must die to our own desires and rise as a servant. Each day we are called to identify with the suffering Christ on the cross, and then be empowered by the resurrected Christ. We die to our expectations, our demands, and our fears. We rise to compromise, service and courage.

In this sense, a true Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request. Rather than saying in effect, ‘Will you do this for me?’ when we invite another to enter the marriage relationship, the real question should be, ‘Will you accept what I want to give?'”

Thomas goes on to apply this principle to the distinctly Christian shape this gives to the sexual life of Christian husbands and wives:

“Sex gives us a capacity to give to someone in a startlingly unique and human way. And yet sex is often used to take, to demand, to coerce, to shame, and to harm.

Honestly ask yourself these questions: Is sex something I’m giving to my spouse, or withholding? Is sex something I am demanding, or offering? Is sex something I am using as a tool of manipulation, or as an expression of generous love? If God looked at nothing other than my sexuality, would I be known as a mature Christian or as a near pagan?”

the air into which we are born


Eugene Peterson, quoted by Carolyn Custis James:

“Giving…is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. God gives himself. He also gives away everything that is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies – to the nations. Our life is for others. That is the way creation works. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves…afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving…and the longer we wait the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.”

bearing burdens requires burdening yourself

Jonathan Edwards:

In many cases, we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves. If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities be much greater than our own, and we see that he is not like to be otherwise relieved, we should be willing to suffer with him, and to take part of his burden on ourselves; else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we be never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?

Tim Keller:

This is a vivid illustration. A poor man is a man walking with a burden – a burden of discomfort, inconvenience. So when a Christian says, ‘I can’t afford to help the poor,’ he is really saying, ‘If I help, it will cut into my style of living.’ In other words, some of the poor man’s burden would slide over onto the helper. The helper would not be able to take the vacation he wants or buy the car he wants. ‘Well,’ Edwards is arguing, ‘isn’t that exactly what the Bible demands? If your giving to the needy does not burden you or cut into your lifestyle in any way, you must give more!'”

seeing at their feet the Deity made weak

Augustine, Confessions:

“For Thy Word, the eternal Truth,

far exalted above even the higher parts of Thy creation,

lifts his subjects up toward himself.

But in this lower world,

he built for himself a humble habitation of our own clay,

so that he might pull down from themselves

and win over to himself those

whom he is to bring subject to him;

lowering their pride

and heightening their love,

to the end that they might go on

no farther in self-confidence – 

but rather should become weak,

seeing at their feet the Deity made weak

by sharing our coats of skin – 

so that they might cast themselves,

exhausted,

upon him

and be uplifted by his rising.”

the art of a good death

Thomas Long, in his book Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral, takes on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ classic On Death and Dying.

One objection: “the implication in Kubler-Ross’s work that knowledge of impending death somehow drives people rapidly up the stairway of emotional and ethical development is a fiction of the therapeutic culture.”

“The fact is that people die pretty much as they have lived. If someone has been enraged throughout life, we can expect rage at the end. A person who tries to bargain with life, family, physicians, and God on death’s door has probably tried to cut a few deals before. A person who blesses the world at death has not learned this in the last few hours of life but has been shaped to live a life of blessing. As one rabbi said, ‘A Jew is expected to die, as he has lived, with the name of God on his lips.’

The best preparation for dying a Christian death, then, is living a Christian life.”

Long notes that in the past, Christians have developed resources to prepare for death, and specifically for confronting death well and as a Christian. The prime example he gives is the 15th century Ars Moriendi tradition. Ars Moriendi is latin for “The Art of Dying”, and was the name of a pair of latin texts developed in response to the “Black Death” which was currently ravaging Europe.

The texts help the Christian to prepare for death by running through a dress rehearsal of their final moments, and of the kinds of temptations to despair that may assail them at that time. Long notes one dialogue from the Ars Moriendi in which Satan approaches a Christian dying alone:

Satan: You’re frightened, aren’t you?

Dying person: Yes, I am frightened, but I am trusting my Savior who calms my fears.

Satan: Oh really? You think you are going to be rewarded by this Jesus, don’t you? You who have no righteousness.

Dying person: Christ is my righteousness.

Satan: Oh ho, Christ is your righteousness? You think Christ will welcome you to the company of Peter and Paul and the apostles? You who have sinned over and over again?

Dying person: No, I am not going into the company of Peter and Paul. I am going into the company of the thief on the cross, who heard the promise, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.'”

It is striking that this comes from the 15th century (pre-reformation), and was a popular and much used devotional tool. It was also, of course, extremely practical.

Long writes, that having been versed in the Ars Moriendi, “When Christians got to their deathbeds and felt the fear and anxiety and unworthiness that almost every dying person feels, they had been there before. They possessed the language to describe the experience and to speak faithfully in the midst of it.”